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A Note from Jo on Risk

by Joanna Gaines
Published on May 11, 2020

Illustration by Lida Ziruffo

Here you can read Jo’s thoughts from our summer issue of Magnolia Journal on how some risks, whether big or small, will be forged in patience, steady and unhurried.

Slow Yes

It wasn’t love at first sight for Chip and me. For one thing, I was typically attracted to guys who were more on the quiet side. Based on our first date, it was clear that Chip was anything but quiet. He was all over the place, talking about the businesses he’d started, and these ideas he had, and how he was buying up little houses and flipping them, and I was wondering if he was just a bit crazy. In my mind, I somewhat instinctively checked his penchant for risk and chatty nature as two reasons we probably wouldn’t go on a second date.

But there was also a part of me that was intrigued. All the ideas and dreams he held for himself were anything but ordinary, and he talked about the world around him through the lens of untapped potential. When Chip did eventually stop talking, if only to take a breath, I found myself wanting to fill the silence with plans and dreams of my own. Ideas that I kept close and half-baked for fear that I didn’t have what it would take to turn them into realities. Dreams that I knew required the heart of a risk taker, a quality I’d long considered to be one I simply didn’t possess. Somehow those aspirations felt real, achievable even, in Chip’s company. This near-stranger had drawn out a side of me that I didn’t yet know existed. My gut told me there was something there worth waiting for.

Our lives have beat to this same rhythm ever since.

Once we were married and both in the business of buying houses to flip and sell, Chip would often surprise me with our next project, with a sort of blind optimism that I might be equally excited for this grand new adventure he’d embarked us on.

You see, Chip has this incredible ability to see the long game before the muck and the weeds have a chance to blur his view. In the case of flipping houses, what was always more clearly in focus for me was the deteriorating exterior, the stained walls, the prospect of having to move our family into a place I barely wanted to step foot in. For Chip, it was the prospect of transforming a run-down house into a dream home for our family. Never mind the moldy carpet.

In those days, what became crucial was the second walk-through we’d do of a new project. When, instead of only seeing what couldn’t be missed like the giant holes in the wall or the orange shag carpet, I could more easily imagine that wall and carpet gone completely and the open space it would create for our family—and whoever might live there next. I could envision possibilities that outweighed any anxiety I might have had before. And in time, I found that I actually enjoyed the challenge of proving my first impressions wrong.

Being married to a freewheeling risk taker feels eerily similar to riding a roller coaster. Every time I’d build up the courage to step into the unknown, Chip and I would be gaining momentum in one direction ... up ... up ... up ... and in a flash we’d find ourselves in complete free fall all over again. Our lives were already being built on a steady diet of risk, failure, and growth. But as I was learning, Chip and I always landed. Feet together. Side by side.

We’d recently finished renovating a house that was intended to be a flip but that I’d come to love, that truly—finally—felt like home for our family, when one day Chip announced a new prospect. A client of ours would soon be selling her farmhouse just outside of town. Based on the details Chip had, it sounded like a long shot, and a few days later when we drove out there, I would have said it was a closed case. For starters, the house sat on 40 acres. Tending to that amount of land was daunting enough. Then there was the house itself, which only had two bedrooms and would need a lot of interior work to make it home for our family of six. It was a no for me right from the start. There was no way we were leaving our comfortable finished family home to potentially go broke fixing up a farmhouse and all the uncertainties it came with.

I really believed we could not afford an investment of this magnitude. I was running the books for our business, and I knew money was tight. Every time we’d go out to the farm, renovation costs kept adding up. We told the owner we’d think about it, though in my mind, there wasn’t much left to discuss. Still, she invited us to visit whenever we wanted, which we did, mostly on weekends when we found ourselves antsy for space to clear our minds. The kids would run wild while Chip and I sat beneath one of the oak trees that towered over the backyard. The more time we spent out there, I’d catch glimpses of how good it could be for us. Something felt right about our family being there despite all the very good reasons we didn’t belong.

Like Chip, the farmhouse wasn’t love at first sight. But in time, we both agreed it was a risk worth taking. So we made an offer, and miraculously that offer was accepted. Sure enough, as we started tearing down walls and reenvisioning the place, I fell in love with its rich character. I had to learn more than ever before how to lean into the bones of a house to find direction for its future. To begin with its history in order to bring it back to life. All while sticking to a really tight budget. And gradually, beneath all the uncertainties, a quiet confidence was growing in me the clearer it became that our family was meant to be a part of its story.

Not all risks will make a big splash. Some will be forged in patience, steady and unhurried.

Chip and I had already proved in our own relationship what can happen when I let something grow on me instead of making a snap judgment or an unwavering conclusion at first glance. Chip calls it my “slow yes” and I’ve learned to trust it above all else in matters of both work and home.

It means choosing instinct over criticism. Intuition over doubt. The courage to trust what you already feel deep down in your bones. And it doesn’t always look like following some harebrained idea. Sometimes it looks like standing firm, holding to your convictions and ideals, because that can be a risk too.

And when I do feel that tug to lean in or learn more, that’s my cue to hold steady while it gets worked out. To see where it’s leading me. And sometimes, what might have looked like the easiest no in the world becomes a slow yes.