Risk has been much on my mind lately. You can take risk across all areas of your life: Professionally, personally, artistically. Or you can avoid risk, wrap ourselves up in a cocoon of perceived safety, trying to avoid any downside. But with real risk, there is always a downside, to go along with the upside of real reward. With real risk, something of real value must be put on the line. That could be something tangible, such as money, or intangibles like time, reputation, or even ego.
There have been some big issues at my corporate job, as I alluded to last month, and the situation has only grown bigger as some deadlines loom. This has gotten me to thinking about risk… We are dealing with these big issues because we took big risks. We took big risks, seeking big rewards. When you take big risks, they don’t always work out positively. Were there mistakes made along the way? Sure. Hindsight is always 20-20. Is it a failure that things aren’t working out as planned? I don’t think so. We are still much further along the path to achieving our goals than we would have been. The issues are more about responding to new information as it comes in, rather than completely starting over. The only real failure is if you fail to learn from the situation.
I think of risk as flipping a coin. There are two sides to that coin – heads or tails. There is no inherent “good” or “bad” in a getting a head or a tail, it’s just the outcome of the toss. If we took uninformed risks, there would be an equal likelihood of either result with the toss of our coin. You can move the odds in your favor though, by being smart about taking risk. Smart risk taking involves getting as much information as you can, making a decision and committing to a path. It involves keeping your eye on the situation as you move forward and making adjustments as necessary. Smart risk taking is like working to change the results of the coin toss to be heads more often. But it’s still a coin toss, and it still could come up tails. That’s always a possibility with real risk. If there were no possibility of the coin coming up tails, you aren’t risking anything.
And if you aren’t risking anything, you are not growing. Growth, be it in business or in life, requires risk. It requires stepping out of the comfort zone, moving into an unknown space. Even though I talk about taking “smart risks” and getting the information to move forward, you will never, ever have all of the information you want or you need. If you are taking real risks, you will never have a perfect record in the outcome. It’s called the “unknown” for a reason. You have to take the information you have, along with your desire to reach out for that big reward, apply judgment and intuition, and then go.
We often shy away from risk, because we are scared of failure. We don’t want the discomfort or pain of a “bad” result. So we stay stuck. We don’t move forward, we don’t expand, we don’t grow. We don’t reap any new rewards. We might tell ourselves we are waiting until that next piece of information comes in, for that next door to open up, for the perfect moment to step out… but the reality is there will never be a perfect moment, a perfect opportunity, a perfect decision. While we hesitate and wait, we shrink. We may try to avoid risk at all cost to avoid pain, but life has other plans for us. Life hands us things to which we must respond. Things like health issues, loss of a job or loss of loved ones. We are much better equipped to respond to the pain and discomfort of these unforeseen events if we’ve been pushing ourselves out there, taking risks and learning to deal with the downside.
I’m living the results of real risk right now… At my corporate job with the resolution of these issues, sure, but that’s only one tiny example in the course of my life. There are so many places along my personal journey and career I’ve taken risks and they’ve paid off: Taking the assignment in Italy, sharing my art and my heart here online, starting Kat Eye Studio. Those are just a recent few. If I look back at my life journey, I can see every big, important, positive change in my life has come when I’ve taken a risk. A real risk, where something of value is on the line, and I’ve stepped out into the unknown.
Are you avoiding risk somewhere in your life? Are you stuck, trying to create a cocoon that will protect you from discomfort? I encourage you to take a look at those places carefully, take a deep breath, and flip the coin. Heads or tails, you learn and grow. And with growth, you always win.