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How I learned to live with risk

Some people live their life as if they’re in the stands of a stadium. They watch the action on the field – commenting and passing judgment on it. The stands are safe. They’re comfortable. From that position, you get to critique every stuff up on the field. But the problem is, nothing exciting happens in the stands. All the action is down below. The players on the field – the ones winning and losing, scoring big and messing up – they’re the ones actually living life. Life IS risky. No matter what you do, it’s risky. Many think that safety lies in not taking risks. What those people need to do is actually list all the opportunities and benefits they stand to lose if they maintain the status quo.

If you want to live a life you look forward to everyday, not just weekends and holidays, then you should know that this life is often found on the other side of risk, or fear. Of course, there are smarter ways of taking risks to give you the best chance for success. Often, the biggest challenge we face is that risk is scary and our brains are programmed to keep us safe. Wanna get more comfortable with risk for a life less ordinary? Here are some selected tips from Jennifer Chang at Fauzia Burke from along with the best lessons I’ve learned from making bold choices.

1. Stop planning and start acting

So many people say they have a dream to start their own business, or to move to another country. When you ask, “What steps are you taking toward that dream?” they respond with a research plan. In some ways, constantly searching the internet for tips and making lists can paralyse you.

Don’t get caught up in planning. Not everything is going to go smoothly, no matter how much you plan. The best research often comes from getting your hands dirty and taking action. Make a plan for sure, do your research, but give yourself a deadline so you can stop planning and start acting. If we wait until we feel comfortable to take a risk, we will never leap. We are never fully ready for change. Taking risks is challenging because it is new and no amount of research can change that feeling. Act.

2. Take the first step and don’t make it perfect

There is never a right time to take a risk; there is just right now. You either jump or you stand by hoping and wishing. When you take a leap from a job you like to start your own business, you know the risks. But staying with what we know is just an illusion of safety.

Is there something you are not doing because you think you are not ready? Maybe you worry you won’t be good at it? Try it anyway. I bet you are more ready to step into your light than you think. You can always change course without regret. If your dream feels overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, just take one step forward. Break big dreams down into small steps. Have faith that the little steps will bring about big things for you.

3. Fight the negativity bias

The world is full of uncertainty. Take, for instance, the business world, which is especially prone to unforeseen disruptions. In the past 50 years alone, we’ve seen the rise and fall of Fortune 500 companies and the creation of entirely new industries. Every decision, including the decision to do nothing, carries some element of risk. “The problem is the negativity bias—we tend to exaggerate the riskiness of certain moves and underestimate the opportunities of others,” entrepreneur and productivity expert Tim Ferriss writes on his blog.


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4. Build self-efficacy

As the popular Ralph Waldo Emerson quote goes, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Researchers have found that Emerson was onto something. In their 1994 study on risk and decision-making, entrepreneur researcher Norris Krueger Jr. and strategic marketing professor Peter Dickson discovered that small, measured risk-taking behaviors can increase confidence and self-efficacy, the “I think I can” positive psychology that enhances goal achievement.

So the more experiments you make, the better you get at making them. And the more risks you take, the more positive your risk experiences become. If the idea of risk-taking still makes your palms sweat, try to increase your comfort level by taking a small risk before embarking on a bigger one.

5. Evaluate the potential hazards of maintaining the status quo

Risky behavior is everywhere. Instead of fixating on the consequences of a risk you’ve never attempted, try to evaluate the entire scenario, including any potential hazards of maintaining the status quo. “Risk is an unavoidable constant of life, so your focus should be on taking the right kinds of risks that offer the right kinds of opportunity,” Ferriss says. Some questions to ask yourself: Which risk is worth taking? Which risk would impart more meaning or happiness to my life? Which risk would pay off more in the long run? As Facebook co-founder and Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg famously stated, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

6. Be smart.

Taking a risk doesn’t mean gambling with your future. It means you follow your heart but in a way that does not burn bridges.

If you leave a job to start a business, make sure you leave on good terms. Often the people around you will be your first clients. Save money if you are not sure about your income prospects. Take smart risks. Use smart grit. Don’t take risks you can’t recover from. Don’t take a risk if you’re 100% not ok with the consequences of that risk should things go wrong. Be smart while being bold.

7. Remember it’s OK to “fail.”

While the “Fail fast!” mentality of startups might sound strange, expecting failure could actually be seen as a method for success. New York University conducted a gambling experiment in which some participants were told that losses were completely inevitable and acceptable, while others weren’t given the same pep talk. At the end of the study, participants who expected losses didn’t become dejected when losses occurred, and they were able to outperform their peers by taking more intelligent risks.

Know that failure is an option and come up with a plan on how to handle loss. Being mentally prepared enables you to make positive risk-taking decisions without fear of the unexpected, which can be the most crippling component of taking a risk.

In a recent podcast for Harvard Business School, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey defined entrepreneurship in terms of risk-taking. “The definition of entrepreneurship is actually taking on significant risk, usually financial, in order to build something,” he says. “That means anyone can really take on an entrepreneurial attitude. An entrepreneur does not necessarily create a business. It’s just a very bold attitude of taking on risk.”

When you push through fear, exhilaration lies on the other side. Worrying about an outcome or feeling a loss of control about a decision is normal. From personal experience, I’ve discovered that you have to normalise fear. You can feel it (that’s normal), but you can’t let the fear of uncertainty stop you. Because exhilaration awaits on the other side.

The chances you’ll take will not always go as planned or expected. Successful or not, every risk comes with the reward of a vital learning experience. Change happens to all of us. By being bold and pushing through fear, I realised we actually grow and gain some control over the changes that happen to us. Every change helps us realise our full potential. So set a deadline for smart planning, and then, ACT.

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