January 18 – Risk, Reward and Fear

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if needed. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” (Anonymous)

I am not a risk taker. I once even heard that in a performance review at work. My boss told me that I needed to take more risks in order to be more successful. The ironic part of that review was it was the same boss who previously had me become the Risk Management lead for projects, a role where I had to counsel other Project Managers on how to manage risk and minimize the negative effects of it.

Because of that Risk Management assignment, I tend to look at a project, or a choice in life, and break down what the risks are. I look at what might go wrong, and work to try to mitigate the risk (reduce the likelihood or impact), or develop my fall back or contingency plan. I guess you could call it the curse of being a Project Manager.

I have never been one to do risky things. I remember when I was in Cub Scouts. I was about 10 years old and my group wanted to go to a local park and climb “Mount Baldy”. Mount Baldy was a rock face that was about 60 or 70 feet high. This was the 1970s, so things like helmets and ropes either hadn’t been invented, or were too much of a burden for us. The older boys just started scrambling up the rock face. I was faced with a tough choice, endure the fear of rejection by staying at the base, or face the fear of heights – and falling – by climbing. I ultimately decided to climb, and with considerable effort needed to keep my knees from knocking, I made it to the top. When I got there, I didn’t have the euphoric sense of accomplishment. Rather, I was sick to my stomach from the fear of heights. As it turns out the older boys didn’t accept me any more after the climb than before, so it was mostly in vain.

That incident, and many others, served to teach me that there really wasn’t much reward to be had from taking big risks. In that case I had possibly risked my life, and no good came of it.

This quote reminds me, though, that big steps ARE needed from time to time. I do need to be able to take the leap of faith in order to reach goals that are unaccessible.

A few years back I tried my hand at selling some of my photography. For a variety of reasons I failed at it (if you know anyone who wants some matted photos of various sizes, I have them in my garage). One of the reasons I think it didn’t go well was that I took conservative approaches on too many things. I didn’t completely throw myself into the effort either from the artistic, or the business side. I elected to take safer, steadier routes. I took and displayed pictures that were too ordinary, and presented them in a way that was boring. I had no pop in my art. So, I ended up with a booth full of pictures that an average person could walk by and say “I can take pictures like that”, or even “I have pictures like that in my phone”. If I ever go back to having a business – photography or something else – I know that I will have to be willing to take a bigger risk.

As much as I hate taking risks, I also know that there are some places in my life where I will need to leap, not just stretch, to get there.

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