Ready to Risk: Choosing is Powerful

Most of us can name a past project that consumed our full attention and resources. What happened when that project ended? If your answer involves immediately jumping to the next, equally demanding endeavor, this post is for you.

This past spring, any action unrelated to completing my doctorate fell by the wayside of my dissertation journey. Writing blog posts and other social communication joined household and administrative tasks pushed aside for the duration. I took on no new clients in order to devote laser-like focus to the effort. And, yes: I successfully defended my research on transformative leadership experiences.

After picking up that diploma, I headed off on a 5500-mile road trip. Upon return, I made a significant dent in my postponed to do’s. I allowed myself to binge read five nonacademic books of new and favorite authors. Most importantly, I gave myself space to contemplate my own learning and professional growth from the experience. Enticing opportunities are hitting my inbox. I’m excited by the “what’s next.”

Each morning, I’ve been catching up on a few favorite blogs I subscribe to. A James Clear post, You’re Not Ready for Marriage, describes a recording studio collaboration between the rapper Wale and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. At one point, Seinfeld compares the excitement and uncertainty of what will come after engagement with approaching the crest of a hill on a roller coaster ride. Clear captures the following moments of conversation in his blog:

Wale paused for a moment, looked at Seinfeld, and said, “So, even if you make plans you never think you’re really ready for marriage?” 

“No,” Seinfeld said. “It’s like any growth. You can’t be ready for it because it’s growth. It’s going to be new. You’re going to have a new life. You’re going to be a new person.”

Clear concludes his post by honing in on growth, suggesting that while a person may not be ready for what can not yet be seen, he or she should embrace the uncertainty. Clear writes, “Start before you feel ready.”

Life is full of opportunity to take smart (and not so smart) risks. While we might do the work to equip ourselves, anticipating and preparing for various possibilities, risk taking still requires we step forward in faith.

In my executive coaching and leadership development practice, I periodically ask a client to describe the risks and rewards of a contemplated decision or action. The exercise of laying out the continuum from “what’s the worst that can happen?” to the “best possible outcomes,” considering the likelihood of each point on the chart, and determining what planning might mitigate risk and maximize the positive potential offers valuable insight. Scenario and contingency analysis moves the needle from purely unknown towards “smart” risk taking.

I invite clients to take an additional step: define the connection between possible options and that person’s passion and purpose. Using this filter often clarifies the choice from amongst opportunities. Choosing is powerful. What we say yes (and no!) to lays the track for our very own roller coaster. How high will we go? How fast? How exciting will we find the ride? Our personal experience should have us saying, “Let’s do it again!”

Choosing is powerful. What we say yes-and no!-to lays the track for our very own roller coaster.

Whether you are in the throes of an all-consuming project or making choices about what’s next, your opportunities include expanding leadership capacity, living meaningfully, and working with purpose. What are you doing today that involves a leap of faith? How are you approaching the readiness process?

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