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Extension > Family Matters > In 2017, I will be taking more risks.

Monday, February 20, 2017

In 2017, I will be taking more risks.

headshot of Mary Jo Katras
By Mary Jo Katras, Program Leader — Family Resiliency

Throughout 2016, the opportunity to take risks bubbled up more than once in my personal and profession lives. For example, I had the opportunity to try aerial fitness, which stretched both my coordination and athletic ability to the max. An opportunity to take risks at work came up when I was I was challenged to develop new ways to deliver online programming that allowed for greater accessibility for our audiences.

As I think about taking risks, I am reminded of my youngest daughter Josie learning to ride her bike. She first began to learn to ride her bike in a baseball field. In her mind, falling on gravel was much less scary than falling on a concrete sidewalk. After she had built up her confidence on the baseball field, she began to practice in the empty school parking lot on weekends. Then she moved to riding on the sidewalks in our neighborhood.

Each of these new settings involved a new level of risk, potential for greater injury, and a whole new set of rules that she had to follow, including stopping stop signs and passing pedestrians safely. And at each new level of risk, I supported her in different ways. At first, it was just getting her to the baseball field where the only risk was injury to herself. As we moved to different settings, I supported her by looking out for potential barriers, such as other pedestrians, cars — and dogs! I supported her with words of encouragement, at times of success, like when she successfully dodged our neighbor’s dog; at times of frustration, like when her pedals got stuck; and at times of failure, like when she fell and scraped her knee.

Over the past year, like Josie, we in Family Development have all been faced with new challenges in our work. We may have been asked to tackle an old issue in a new way, or to address a new issue in the communities we serve. When we are faced with these challenges, we tend to want to revert to the ways we have always done things — we are, after all, creatures of habit.

Sometimes, however, when faced with a new challenge, using conventional methods may feel like fitting a round peg in a square hole.

red square peg pounded into a round hole
Not to hammer the point home or anything.

So then we must accept these challenges as an opportunity to be innovative and creative. In A Call to Embrace Program Innovation, Extension Program Leader Nate Meyer and colleagues show that in order to tackle wicked problems effectively, we must develop complex solutions. To reach these complex, effective solutions, we must be willing to “tinker” and be creative to achieve greater impact. Tinkering, like going from biking on a baseball field to biking on a sidewalk, involves a new level of risk, potential for greater injury, and a whole new set of rules. There will be successes, frustrations, and failures. There will also be support, from your supervisors and your colleagues.

This year, I challenge you to take risks. Tinker. Be creative. Share your successes, frustrations, and failures, and support your colleagues when they share with you.

I am happy to report that Josie has now moved beyond the sidewalks of St. Paul and has taken on the challenges of riding to local parks, crossing bridges, and even riding her bike in a different state!

girl in blue dress riding a bike on a bike path
Josie riding with confidence last week in Florida.

I still often ride behind her to give her with the occasional word of encouragement (and an extra set of eyes to avoid those dogs).

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