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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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.