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When Risk is Good

February 20, 2019

5 Questions to ask yourself before you step off the ledge.


Is now the right time to start a family? Should you invest your savings in that new start-up?  What about that Non-Profit you’ve always dreamed of?  Am I too old to make a career change?


These are all good questions – and all of them could be risky – when is it right, though?



The status quo, while not particularly fulfilling, can seem like an easier, less scary, option. Indeed, advances in brain imaging technology can verify that we human beings are wired to be risk averse. In other words, we find it much easier to settle with the status quo, keep our mouths closed and our heads down rather than make a change, take a chance,  or speak up in a courageous way.


Some people would say I am a risk taker.  I do try things that I am not sure I will be successful at.  Always have.  But, over the years of both succeeding and failing, I have found asking myself certain things can help guide the decisions around how much risk to take.


1.  Is my mind racing with potential ways to succeed? When I have a flood of ideas on how I can succeed, I know I'll be able to tap into them and keep going until I find a way


to make it work. It's when I see only one path to success that I know the risk is too great at the moment. (Except in rock climbing - there is usually only one way down - and that is up!) That's when I pass, but focus on how to get to the point where I could go for it.  If you are a believer in fail fast and move on, certain risks might not be for you.  But, having multiple ways to reach the desired result can help keep you going.


2.  Can I rebound from the setback of failure in a reasonable time? If failing will create a setback, I need to know I can turn it around within a reasonable time period so I can get back to taking more calculated risk. I believe in the Experience=Learn=Grow model. Thus, I don't want any one failure holding me back too long from pushing forward with another new experience.


3.   Can I proactively take (multiple) steps to minimize the risk of failure. If I can identify and implement several strategies that can insulate me and offset the failure (e.g., offset money loss with another stream of income, etc.), then I have more confidence in my ability to take the chance. I try to create my own form of insurance policies against failure.


4. Am I sure failing won't have a major negative impact on people in my life? It's one thing if my failure hurts me, it's another if it hurts someone I care about. I have to make sure what I'm risking doesn't extend out to others (husband, co-workers, etc.), and if it does, I need to include them in the decision.



5.  Can see how I'll grow if I fail? If I can't see what failing will do to make me better, then it doesn't make sense to risk it. As I mentioned above, I believe in the Experience=Learn=Grow model. If I can't see how I will move through all three phases, even if I fail, then it tells me I need to pass.


Yes, there are times when I take a risk that doesn’t give me the answers I want to all 5 questions – but I think the last 2 are the most important to me.  You can decide for you what questions assist you in deciding if you are willing to take a risk or not, but it is a good idea to come up with your non-negotiables before deciding to take a risk.