My answer to whether the risk is worth taking is, it depends. Here are four recommendations I’d make to anyone who is contemplating making a really radical life or business change, yet is seemingly paralyzed by the fear of losing job security, balancing family, or other practical, modern-day considerations.
1. Make sure you are “on purpose”.
Before you can answer whether the risk is worth taking, ask yourself this: Is this my purpose? Is this truly what I’m about and the reason I was put on this earth? If you come up with a resounding yes, then the risk may very well be worth taking. Consider for a moment you found your purpose which, for many people, often takes half a lifetime. Now that you know your purpose, why would you want to waste your time on anything else? Your life will go by quickly. You don’t want to be on your deathbed wishing you had done things differently, do you? When we are on purpose, we resonate more, we feel excited and invigorated, and we attract the resources and people around us that we need to achieve our vision. That resonance will have more impact on us being successful than if we were just given a big pot of money and told to create something we weren’t that into.
Purpose is the platform to our vision, which in turn drives our everyday actions and choices.
You can’t ever succeed if you don’t risk it. But risk it with purpose. You will often read in popular entrepreneurial writings that entrepreneurs hardly ever do something because they are driven to make a lot of money. Many of the ones who became successful did it because they believed in their idea so much and were driven by the value it could bring to the world. If you believe in something that much, then the risk is worth it, because with that drive and passion, you are that much more motivated to find the right path forward.
2. Minimize the risk.
Leaps don’t just happen over night. I think it’s time to insert a surf life metaphor for you. A big wave surfer doesn’t just drop down Mavericks (a big wave in Northern California) one day without first having started in baby waves. She practices for years and years and keeps pushing her limits. She trains. She visualizes. She gets her mind as well as her body prepared. She grows her competency. In other words, she does things to minimize the risk.
The concept is similar when thinking about risks on land, in life and in business. When I started my first social impact organization, I had contract jobs on the side and worked on my idea with the other part of my time. I didn’t start by renting office space and carrying monthly payments, making a website and then looking for clients. That would have opened me up to too much risk. I thought about minimizing the risk through partnerships, and through making baby steps by collaborating with other programs and institutions to serve their clients first. Then I spun off. Whether it’s considering leaving a career and going after the idea of your dreams, or taking a leap of faith with a courageous conversation, think about how you can start to do a pilot run of it.
Test the idea. Take baby steps. Shrink your idea into parts.
Be sure you can answer these questions:
Why am I doing this?
What do I want to get out of it?
How will I do it?
3. It’s more about persistence and less about failure.
In my work as a social entrepreneur, I actually had to deal with the difficult decision of winding down an organization. It had succeeded in meeting its mission for women for 11 years. On the outside that seems like 11 successful years! But the truth of the matter is, there were many failures over that 11 years, too. Looking back, if I stopped everytime I failed, there would not have been an organization. But I chose to be persistent, and that is the reason the organization kept going. So, you will fail. It’s actually inevitable in many courageous and creative pursuits. But it’s not the failure that matters; at the end of the day, persistence is most important.
How many waves does a surfer wipe out on before they can pop up on just one? (Yes, here I go with the surf metaphors - they're just so good!) Many. And it’s not failure - it’s learning. We need to have a growth mindset when thinking about courageous transitions. Instead of seeing failure as failure, see failure as learning and move on.
4. Forget about what others will say.
This is perhaps the #1 biggest fear I see in people – fear of how you will appear to others and the shame you might feel if you fail.
Take it from me, if you live your life fearing what others think of you, you WILL be held back from your potential.
When you are worried about what others say, you are relying on others to define your potential and (worst of all) to give you permission. I learned this the hard way in my leadership. As a young leader with some amount of organizational power, there were some times I uncomfortable with the power, and would rely on seeking permission from others – from my board, from my colleagues, from advisors, from my team. At the end of the day, I wasn't listening to what my voice inside me said. It is very common in organizations for many people to work through the leader and it is important for the leader to hold multiple stakeholder’s agendas. At some point, however, you might find yourself needing to make a decision for yourself, and only YOU know you best.
Now, when I am in a highly creative state of change or new creation, I purposely distance myself from certain critics and people or just don’t offer too much information on what I’m doing. If they aren’t resonating at the same frequency that I am and are doubtful of my plans or ideas, they often become critical and quick to judge. This makes it harder for me to be successful, as I then find myself in a spiral of doubt, and well, doubt doesn’t help anyone. Surround yourself with the people who aren’t going to judge you for the moment, and keep yourself at a distance from those who are. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying to avoid people who can give you honest and critical advice, but at the end of the day make sure they are in support of YOU and not just projecting their own fears of risk onto you. It can make all the difference.
Have you found yourself in a position where you feel stuck and are afraid of venturing down a new path for fear of failure? What did you do to decide whether the risk was worth taking? Inquiring minds want to know!