Risk Perspective

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?

 

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Summertime: Ramping It Up

I strive (and often fail) to live my life in the same ebb and flow of the energy of the seasons. Spring and summer feel like natural times of year to be busy, enjoy being outdoors, connect with friends, try out new opportunities, etc. I try to skid to a halt in the autumn, and by winter, I want to sink into a pseudo-hibernation so I can recharge. Would that I could sleep through the winter… especially in Chicago… but really, what that means for me is attempting to stay home more, be still and quiet more often, and try and cultivate a feeling of regenerative peace. Never works. But I still make a worthy effort each year. I wrote a little bit more about the hows and whys of this practice last year over at Nature Nurtured.

But this is summer! Well, almost … it’s just around the corner. Suddenly, I look at my calendar and I am overwhelmed by the places I have agreed to be and the people I have chosen to connect with. This is all a good thing — it makes my little extroverted heart sing with delight.

Recently, I got to volunteer as a member of Game Control for the D.A.S.H, an annual nation-wide puzzle hunt. (Actually, I should say international – since this year they expanded across the pond to London.) My job was not incredibly difficult: pass out puzzles and, occasionally, bagels. But I still had a great time. It was enlightening for me to peek behind the curtain of a puzzle event and get a chance to connect with folks that not only really love puzzles, but really love creating this kind of experience. Since ‘creating experiences for people’ is my new mission in life, I soaked in as much as I could and laid some groundwork for continuing conversations about how to provide these sorts of opportunities on a regular basis. Oh, and the fact that I got to hang out with incredibly cool people didn’t hurt. Nor did the end-of-the-hunt margarita. All in all, a great day.

My online class on entrepreneurship with Coursera.org has started up. I’m now in week 2, and while there hasn’t been a whole lot of hands-on instruction yet, I am learning quite a bit about the entrepreneurial mindset. I am identifying areas where I have a lot of strengths and some traits that I might need to bolster in order to be successful. For a free course, it’s not bad at all. There are thousands of participants all over the world. I haven’t taken much advantage of networking over the online forums yet, but the opportunity is certainly there for me if I choose to use it.

In other news, I mentioned before that my dear friend and former roommate, Kevin Newhall, has his first CD coming out in a couple of weeks. (You can check out samples of his stuff on Reverbnation.) He is a piano player and songwriter with such a unique and beautiful sound. He asked me to perform with him at the release party, and we test-drove the duet we’re doing at an open mic a couple nights ago. I have never done an open mic before, so I was more than a little nervous. (Tried not to show it.) But we had a blast, the crowd really loved the song… and I think the actual show in a couple of weeks is going to be great. It’s a great, truly uplifting kind of song… really hard not to get engaged with it. It’s called “Today’s the Day,” and it’s all about taking life by the horns and getting stuff done — which sums up the energetic feel of my summer quite nicely.

Delight Report: 5/12/13

The last couple of weeks have been pretty rough work-wise. Frustrating circumstances and staffing conditions led to me working lots of additional hours on projects that were fairly stressful. But things have finally leveled out, and I can relax and get back to a few of the more important things on my agenda, like planning a wedding (not mine — I’m officiating) and continuing to work on my master plan for self-employment. Part of that master plan includes a class on entrepreneurship I am taking through Coursera.org, which if you’re not familiar with it, I encourage you check it out. It allows you to take college level courses from a number of reputable institutions — all online, all free. I think it is a remarkable service, and I am looking forward to seeing how this class pans out. It covers both the psychology of entrepreneurship as well as practical skills like drafting a business plan. Online learning hasn’t always worked out well for me, since I thrive on face-to-face interaction — but I am determined to give this one my full attention. Feel free to ask me how it’s going and help keep me honest.

I did get to take a mini-break during the work madness and drive out to Minneapolis. One of my nearest and dearest friends moved out there about 5 months ago, so it was the perfect excuse to visit her, see a bunch of people I love, and get to see the spectacle that is the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre Company‘s annual May Day Parade and Festival. “Spectacle” is truly the right word for it. Puppets on a grand scale, a ceremony that celebrates the return of the sun (Minnesota really needed that magic this year), and all sorts of wonderful moments and surprises. I was honored to help build the 7-circuit labyrinth that is a mainstay of the festival each year. I got to see so any wonderful folks I haven’t seen in a few years… it was just great to be there. Truly regenerating and truly magical.

I managed to survive the stressful work week and turn in the projects that were plaguing me – so I got to enjoy my weekend. Yesterday was spent with more gaming (referenced in the last Delight Report) and then an evening of relaxation, something that was a long time coming.

Today I got to go over to my friend Kevin’s place to rehearse a duet for his upcoming CD release party. If you’re near Chicago, the pertinent information can be found here. (A website with even more info and sample tracks is coming very soon.) Kevin is an incredible pianist, songwriter and lyricist. I have a hard time describing what his music is like… it really needs to be experienced. He lists his influences as David Byrne, Jill Sobule, Stephen Merritt, and Rufus Wainwright – but I think he truly has his own unique sound. And his lyrics are brilliant. Truly, truly brilliant. The man has a gift for wordplay and musicality that is quite impressive. I might be slightly biased… Kevin is a dear, dear friend – and a former roommate. But I can tell you, he would practice piano for hours when we lived together – and even though he played the same songs over and over, I never once got sick of hearing him … and believe me, that’s saying something. My attention span is not long. Getting to go over to his place today and hear him play made me both very happy and a little wistful. I miss having music in my life like that. But I digress. If you are in Chicago and free on June 15 — come see the show. I can guarantee a great audience, fabulous music and a wonderful time.

Kevin and I also have a long standing tradition of seeing comic book movies whenever they come out, so after rehearsing we topped off the day with lunch and a matinee of Iron Man 3. Lots of stuff blew up. In other words… it rocked.

I hope your week was full of all kinds of delights as well. Feel free to share them in the comments if you’re called.

I found it!

My heart is beating a little faster all of a sudden. I just stumbled onto a company website that does exactly the sort of work that I want to do in exactly the way I think I want to do it. They’re not local — at least a thousand miles away — but that’s perfect. I don’t know of anyone in Chicago that is doing what they’re doing, and even if there is, they could use a little creative competition, right?

No spoilers, yet. But I think I have found a perfect example of the kind of structure I’m looking to implement. I’m not looking to copy their business model, but the fact that a company is out there that is doing this work AND is successful at it? I find that incredibly motivating.

Wheels are turning, my friends.

An unexpected book title emerges (and a bit of motivation as well)

I have been toying with the idea of entrepreneurship for the last, oh, 20 years of my life. I fantasize about running my own company on a daily basis. (This is not an exaggeration.) What the business is … that would be something I have struggled with for just about as long. I have far too many interests and for a long time I have been nursing this troubling mindset that I don’t have enough expertise in any one area to make a decent go at anything substantial. Plus, there’s the whole ‘you need money to make money’ thing. Plus I don’t have a business plan or sense of how to start… Plus… this is usually where my cycle of self-deprecation and defeat slides in and locks comfortably into place.

Recently, however, I have been shifting my thought process around what entrepreneurship looks like. For the longest time, I had this vision that I would have ONE BUSINESS, and that ONE BUSINESS would be my sole source of income. But I just couldn’t come up with what I felt was an actual workable idea for what the ONE BUSINESS would be. Then something clicked. I can’t remember what or when or how — but I’m guessing it was probably in the shower. (That’s where most of my good ideas happen.) I realized that if I am someone who thrives on having a wide variety of interests, any one of which can grab and hold my attention at any time, then why not consider that a strength rather than a liability when it comes to my paid work? What if I could have a bunch of smaller businesses or projects that could sustain me just as easily as one could? And if I really think about it, a bunch of smaller businesses that didn’t require my entire focus at every given moment might actually sustain me mentally as well as financially. At the risk of sounding cheesy, multiple income streams could possibly mean my ‘soul’ source of income rather than my ‘sole’ source of income.

(And now that I’ve come up with the title for my first book on living the entrepreneurial life… “Finding Your Soul Source of Income” … gods, doesn’t that just drip with self-help-y goodness?  … I really should move on.)

I think I’ve started to get a handle on what the foundation of this multiple-income-stream master plan might look like. And  can I just say… FINALLY. At the height of my depression over the last several months, because believe me, I have been immersed in a pretty dark place for a while — I would get really defensive whenever anyone would ask me about my plans for getting out of my current job situation. I would try to be polite, but anyone who knows me might detect the seething, red-hot anger just below the surface of my pat line: “I’m working on it.” Thing is, this response was a result of feeling stuck, scared, trapped, upset and helpless. And frankly, I still feel all of those things. Daily. I need to get away from my job – but it pays well enough and is comfortable enough that I find myself mired in it. Were I 10 years younger, I might take the risk I took when I quit a lucrative job at a great company and moved to Chicago on a whim with no job prospects. I am not in my 20’s anymore, and I am far less stupid. Granted… that stupidity turned out to be one of the best choices I have ever made … but my older, more mature and reasonably-economically-situated self doesn’t like to bring that up.

But in order to make this goal happen, eventually I am going to have to take a plunge. I’m just going to do it smarter than the 27 year-old I was when I showed up in the Windy City. But I can finally say that I have plans and schemes and dare I say it… a direction. I am ready to brainstorm and figure out how to make this all work. I am excited for the first time in months, and that’s no small thing.

Details to come. But for now, know that change is a’comin’. I don’t know exactly what the form will be, but I can’t help but feel a giddy sense of anticipation.