I’m in to week 3 of my online class on entrepreneurship over at Coursera.org. We will shift into macroeconomics soon (eek!) but right now we’re primarily focusing on the behavior, mindset and motivation of successful entrepreneurs.
Nearly every video lecture mentions something about risk behavior, which makes sense … this is a course on entrepreneurship, and starting a business in the current economic climate is certainly a gamble. The instructor argues that while a certain level of comfort with risk is necessary, there are other traits that a successful business owner has that mitigate a tendency toward recklessness. I won’t bore you with all the details – but one of the most interesting things that I learned is that an entrepreneur is not more prone to taking risks than a non-entrepreneur. I had assumed the opposite, and was actually a little nervous about whether or not I have the right kind of mindset to start my own business. But my professor cited studies on the subject, and those findings showed that one group was not any more likely to take risks than the other group.
The difference between risk-taking between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs is not frequency … it’s perspective. A whole new world has opened up to me, even if it seems kind of obvious in hindsight.
Non-entrepreneurs, or at least folks less likely to start a business, view leaving a comfortable job with a steady paycheck and benefits as huge risk. Note I say “comfortable” and not “good.” The job may not match their personality or even their ethics – but it is providing a level of comfort that would be too difficult to leave without something else stable lined up. I am currently in a “comfortable” job, for instance. I make decent money, I know the ropes, I have benefits, and there is a certain measure of job security in my current position. But it is far from a “good job” in that the atmosphere is out of alignment with my values, and I really dislike what I do. But hey… paycheck, right?
The fact that my skin crawls when I think about staying in this job for any longer than I have to makes me think that I might actually have an entrepreneurial world-view after all. Folks that leave secure jobs and start businesses tend to see what’s at risk entirely differently. It’s a bigger risk to stay. I can’t picture myself in this job or even this field 10 years from now. I don’t see any advancement opportunities, nor do I have any desire to advance even if I could. The risk is losing my soul, my passion, and my drive all because I am giving my energy to something I don’t care very much about.
What’s more – I don’t think this would end if I found a new gig. I find it very difficult to picture myself in any position where I am beholden to anyone but my clients and customers. I struggle to imagine a fabulous job that involves a desk in an office. I don’t get excited at the prospect of selling myself to a new manager. I can’t think of anyone who enjoys job-hunting, but I’m not even excited about the end result of a job hunt.
What does excite me — generating passion and desire for a creative project. Seeing new and unique ways to approach a problem and then having the free rein to implement them. Having fun, even when the work is tedious, because the end result means something. I know there are any number of companies where that kind of environment exists – and if I find one, I will be very tempted to join them if they’ll have me. But honestly? I want to do it myself.
So do I have the skills to pull this off? Maybe. There are definitely some traits I need to hone before I start a solo venture. But do I have the mindset? Definitely… because I truly believe it’s more dangerous to stay where I am. I need to risk in order to thrive.
And good gods, that’s scary. But what’s scarier still… complacency. That remains my greatest challenge and fear. And what’s risk if not facing fear and acting anyway?