Taking risks is something I've always sought out ever since childhood. The uncertainty of taking a risk excites and motivates me. It has proved to be helpful in my experience as a business owner, but it has also been a problem for me in other circumstances.
The first time I can remember taking a risk was going on an airplane by myself at age 10 to visit relatives in California. After that solo trip, I was hooked on traveling. When I was 12, I begged my parents to send me overseas (with a friend) to visit family in Sweden. My dreams of world travel were ignited from these 2 trips.
Travel was the best risk taking experience for me as a kid and young adult. It encouraged me to set goals, plan ahead and save money to make trips happen. Risks can be healthy when well thought through, but it wasn't always the case as I grew up.
I ran into a few sketchy situations while traveling abroad in my 20s that were mostly due to my naïveté and lack of planning. When I was teaching English in Thailand, I took a weekend trip to a nearby island for its infamous full moon party. I rented a motorbike and was driving around one night on my way to meet a friend (I had booked a very cringey hostel and decided to stay with her instead). I was driving in the dark and a man on a motorbike rode up next to me, flashed a big smile then snatched my beach bag right from the basket. Luckily there wasn't anything too important inside, but if I had planned properly ahead of time, I wouldn't have been such an obvious target with my personal items riding around in the dark.
Don't worry, I always wore a helmet while riding a motorbike!
Another time in Thailand, I was gone for a weekend trip and headed to the bus station to get back home. I was late so all the bus tickets were sold out and I had to get home for work the next morning. The only option available was to ride underneath the bus where all the luggage was. I agreed and sat with a few others in the same sticky situation. Needless to say I was never caught without a return ticket home again.
Taking risks can be scary and can hold many people back from achieving dreams, but it can also be the best life changing decision one can make. What holds people back? Fear of failure & rejection, uncertainty and of course, safety.
Failure & Rejection
I've failed plenty of things like college algebra, sports (yes to all of them), relationships, my first & second attempt at a business, countless job interviews, grad school projects and the list goes on. Every time I fail, I go through the process of feeling all the yucky emotions then reassess whether it's worth trying again. What is your relationship to fear, failure and rejection? What pressures have you felt in life to avoid failure? How to do you feel when you've been rejected? Ashamed, excluded, depressed, idiotic? These are all feelings I've experienced and although they really hurt, they seem to hurt a little less every time I encounter failure.
The unknown can be quite scary. Not being in control of the outcome can be enough not to do something. How do you feel when you've started something without knowing the outcome? Anxiety, stress, anger & irritation are all feelings I've had. As a business owner, there are so many uncertainties that can be frightening. Not being able to pay rent and bills, not filling classes or selling products, the risk of a customer injury, a bad Google review, etc. Some of these uncertainties were often stressful for just a short period of time where as running my own business was a very positive feeling most of the time.
Taking a risk with a new business space. Art work done by my aunt, Lisa Bierer
This one seems like a no brainer. As a mom, I don't even consider taking a risk when it comes to safety. Anxiety always makes its way in just thinking about it. Now in the time of COVID, most people are still taking health risks when going out, including myself. Depsite being masked up, there's always a possibility of infection. However, we still need to live our lives as normal as possible since we must work, grocery shop, etc. What levels of safety are within your comfort zone? What pushes the limits? What boundaries have you had to set with friends and family during this pandemic?
With each of these fears, it's important to assess the level of risk you're willing to take. What are the pros and cons of potential failure and rejection, uncertainty and safety? What is a goal you want to achieve but haven't moved forward with it? What holds you back?
Start small! Taking a risk could be as simple as trying out a new cuisine from a different country. What is something you've been curious to try?
Now what happens when you take risks and they turn out to be positive and successful? Confidence grows, the unexpected happens and curiosity & wonder are ignited.
I was never a confident kid, I wasn't really great at anything. I was average in school and was always intimidated by smart people. I never thought I was college material because I was an awful test taker and couldn't retain information well. Once I actually decided to go (after years of persuasion from my dad), I applied myself, worked hard and did really well. My confidence grew exponentially and I found so many more opportunities open up for myself. What experiences boosted your confidence? How has that opened doors for you? What would you say to your younger self? I would tell myself to keep trying until you figure out where you want to be in life.
The Unexpected Happens
In grad school, I was late to applying for a social work internship so I met with my academic counselor to see what my options were. She mentioned a paid internship through the American Cancer Society for a semester long internship in pediatric oncology at Mayo Clinic in MN. I basically laughed at her saying I wasn't Mayo Clinic material let alone pediatric oncology! She was so encouraging and supportive, so I applied (what did I have to lose?). I was so nervous when I got a call back for an interview. I drove 5 hrs to Rochester MN (freaking out most of the way) and had the interview. I felt like I totally bombed it and was so hard on myself for even trying. I was so upset and told my counselor that there's no way I was going to get it and that I just didn't see myself there. Self doubt creeped on in, then I got a call back and was offered the position. It was one of the best experiences of my life, not only because was it incredibly rewarding & challenging, but it's where I met my wonderful husband Ben.
Curiosity & Wonder Ignite
When confidence grows & incredible opportunities happen from taking a risk, it's hard to go back to the way life was before. People always told me that this happens after you travel, which was 100% true for me. All of my experiences sparked curiosity and wonder about the endless possibilities and pushed me to take more well thought out risks. There are always options to grow and challenge yourself no matter where you live or what resources you have or don't have. There are tons of experiences just a few clicks away like going back to school, learning a new hobby, finding a therapist, starting a business etc.
Being a lifelong learner helps keep the curiosity and wonder alive which led me to start The Doodlery in 2018. There was a lot of risk involved in opening a business for me; 2 small kids, a lot of student loan debt and little start up cash. But I jumped in to see what could happen even if the business failed. I actually started making a profit the month before we had to quarantine! Once summer rolled around, I scrambled to keep everything going for as long as I could, but realized everyone's safety wasn't worth the risk anymore and closed for the fall and winter. Aside from the unknown future of The Doodlery, taking this risk has been one of the best decisions of my life and I can't wait to take the next risk.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on taking good and bad risks. Feel free to leave a comment below or email email@example.com