The Risk of Not Taking Risks

How will I know when I can take a risk? This may be the most popular question I get. Some hear about my career path and some are hovering around a decision and they wonder—How will I know when to jump? How will I know if it is worth it? How will I know if I should take the chance?

We are confronted with these decisions everyday and I assert almost every moment. Managing risk, choosing options, deciding not to say something or text something, making choices about how you spend your time, being lazy or being productive, doing something well or taking the short cut, listening to your angel or your devil…….You avoid or take micro, big or enormous leaps across a chasm of risk. You make hundreds and perhaps thousands of decisions like this that cumulatively impact your brand, your present self and your future self. We make bad and good decisions, but risk is a matter that we encounter while we are awake. Risk is not a foreign idea. Risk

I was speaking to the kick-off meeting for AAPA, Asian American Professional Association, which has a primary objective of mentoring. 300 mentors and mentees showed up to connect and help one another. This weekend, I also taught a half day workshop for the Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program for high school students. And I emphasized in both these sessions that the greatest network starts with connecting with yourself. The young and more mature brought up the question of career risk taking. And the way the question is framed, can conjure up sky diving or alligator wrestling where you put yourself in harm's way. There are great dangers in career and life changes. The most lethal of which is not being who you are and what you want to be.

It takes courage to listen to your goodness, and acton it.    Pablo Casals

For me, and the way I answered the question, is the greatest risk is regret. I made a promise to myself not to accumulate regrets. Met and know people who have spent their lifetimes developing their regret collections. They seem very old to me. I have always said, "The number  of regrets is a much better determinant of your age than years."

So I use use what I call the regret matrix to make decisions.

  • Will I regret it?
  • How much will I regret it?
  • Or which will I regret more?

Often on the other side of the equation is a deceptive, attractive and convincing opponent–her name is Miss Stability. She is a siren that beckons and whispers that no grass is greener and leaving her would be not only unfaithful but dangerous. She does represent a lot of truly good things–the known, the more predictable, and most important what you have. But for those of us who dream, have ideas, undeveloped talents or still want to change the world, she is a formidable foe. She guards the status quo with her powers that generate self-doubt.

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.  Shakespeare

Here's the real problem. Stability is a mirage. In fact, you don't even want stability. Do you really want world peace, global warming to end, animals to be protected, cancer to be cured, a promotion at work, your kids to have better lives, your company's stock to rise, your home value to increase etc etc? Then you are very dissatisfied with the present. You want lots of change at the macro and the micro levels. On personal, professional and even global levels.

No you can't say, "Can't some things stay the same?" Let me tell you oh selfish one, your wish will not be your command. In fact, the opposite will happen and will always happen. Change is the standard and the normal. Start adapting to it. And you want it too!

When I was in grad school, a faculty member told us that we would have 5-7 careers and maybe as many as 18 jobs during our lifetime that would not be able to predict! That has already happened to me. Today it is more volatile and change is more swift and comprehensive. In other words, if you are not changing you will be changed.

Hanging on to what you have is a nice theory. But if the stuff, ideas and even people you are coveting are evolving and morphing, then you have to stop and smell the change. Stability is a nostalgic moment that we can admire and use to model the next stability and so on. But Miss Stability is a fleeting femme fatale that has no intention of marrying you.

One of the financial institutions has a great ad: NO Risk or KNOW Risk. Clearly, you need to have a cup of coffee with your risks and get to know them, meaning your life's goals. The clock is ticking and regrets are piling up. As I said, the greatest risk is WE lose YOUR dreams.

Thanks for reading John.


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