Transition has changed my relationship with risk. I understand it now at a whole new level. The only parallel I can liken it to is my understanding of men now that I’ve parented a son. An entirely new level of comprehension…
I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a new company. The former entrepreneur in me is excited about the ‘possibility’ of a new venture. The exiled corporate contributor in me is intrigued by the ‘flexibility’ this venture would offer. The prospect has got me thinking about risk and asking what is it? Does it matter? If transition is about shutting off the judgment voices and living fearlessly — what role does risk play if any?
When I worked in corporate America or even at start-ups, risk was a neutral 3rd party. Something to be discussed, understood, actively managed. Risk had boundaries. We usually knew the downside — sometimes it was failure. We’d analyzed it. Even when I was personally accountable for an outcome, risk was oddly depersonalized.
Pivot to transition. Now risk manifests itself almost entirely as uncertainty. Will risk or my willingness to accept it determine the outcome of my transition? Remember Len Schlesinger in Novofemina’s Must we all be Entrepreneurs? He is the Au Bon Pain executive who lives by the credo…’the one who structures the question correctly – wins.’ I guess I’m struggling with framing the question. Do you have a perspective on risk? Or managing uncertainty?
Here is a story that has stayed with me for a long time.
“I don’t know who I am without it,” said a friend almost twenty years ago during a tearful exchange. She was telling me about an eating disorder that she’d had since being a teenager. The remark was in response to my somewhat naive question, “why don’t you just stop?” She was frozen at that moment because of the risk of the unknown.
Risk a-la-wikipedia is ‘the potential that a chosen action or activity could lead to a loss.’ For who have the luxury of transition – hard-won luxury for me after twenty years of 6 days a week, 12+ hour work days – I think transitions lower risk. The concept of loss is diminished in any real sense. Wasn’t I more at risk to losing what is important to me when I worked an extreme job? Towards the end of my last 4.5 year gig my daughter was being bullied at school. I was so exhausted I’m not sure I could process what was going on – let alone advocate for her.
During my early thirties I started a small business from my home. We had great victories but ultimately those involved in the business agreed that it wouldn’t scale. I and others involved deemed it a FAILURE. I was devastated! I remember crying during an entire car ride <5 hours> to my in-laws the weekend immediately following the business’ closure. My then newlywed husband just couldn’t understand the source of my tears.
While it may sound trite failure at that point was great for me. It made me realize later on that failures are rarely colossal. The world continues to spin. Kind of like Rudy Giuliani in his remarks after the 9/11 attacks, “New York will be open for business tomorrow.” He took tremendous strides to assure the world that Americans were not going to cede his great city. While my experience pales in comparison, I don’t fear failure anymore.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about risk in The Sure Thing (New Yorker, January 2010, pg 24-29). In it he debunks society’s common view of entrepreneurs as risk takers. He uses examples like Ted Turner of CNN/Turner Broadcasting fame and John Paulson, a relatively obscure hedge fund manager, who was one of a few people to foresee the mortgage crisis. Paulson’s foresight netted his firm $15 Billion in 2007 alone (New Yorker, pg 27). Gladwell’s analysis reveals that these famous few entrepreneurs aren’t risk takers at all — but rather highly risk averse. They are excellent deal makers. In fact he refers to them as “predators, and predators seek to incur the least amount of risk possible while hunting.” (New Yorker, pg 25)
Transition has upended my previously held notions of risk. It isn’t fear of failure or someone else’s notion of what I should or shouldn’t be. The risk now is of not acting on what means the most to me. The downside is deferring yet again, my dreams, my unique vision. Albert Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” While I think he’s right, I’d like to amend. “Transition introduces a person to themselves…and narrows the road forward, beautifully.” Are you on a detour? Has uncertainty stalled your forward progress? Let me know how you view risk.
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