How to Take a Risk

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I spoke recently to a group of undergrad business students. There was a Q&A after my talk.
Someone asked a question I have been asked many times before.
“How did you decide to take the risk of opening your own business?”
When I have been asked this in the past, my answer has been some version of brainstorming all the things that could go wrong and then mitigating them.
To work hard at writing a business plan until it wasn’t very risky at all.
And so on.
For some reason, this time the question took my mind in a different direction.
I thought of the times that my careers in law and banking had been painfully disappointing. Pay raises I didn’t get, files I didn’t land, work I didn’t like, whole areas of law I didn’t want to do, promotions that went to someone else.
I thought of all the times that Andrew tells me about people leaving the bank when they are not yet ready to go.
Times over the last couple of years when my son has worked hard to take his career in a new direction, only to be disappointed in the results.
My friend who has been transferred to a city she loathes.
Welcome to corporate life, my friends!
For some reason we like to put entrepreneurism in its own little box of riskiness.
A box that requires superhuman courage to go into and is likely to blow up in your face.
I actually don’t think that assessment is wrong; it is just that it also applies to every other single career path the young person who asked the question might choose.
True, the corporate job she may take in a couple of months might be heralded by a letter of employment on heavy stationery with a big annual salary mentioned somewhere on page 2.
And when she starts, the office may be swish, the art on the office walls the best in the city, and the pay deposited every two weeks.
But these trappings don’t reduce the risk of one day that same job bringing disappointment, even heartache. Such is the nature of life, including corporate life of every type.
Maybe it’s because having a small business is very often intertwined with investing one’s own money that it has the aura of being super-risky.
But money is only one thing you can lose.
From the day you enter any type of job, you can lose face, lose personal time, lose the huge salary that you and your family have become deeply attached to, lose the city you love or the work you really wanted to do.
The question is not whether you should take a risk. Risk is a given – take a job, turn down a job, act on a business idea, don’t act on a business idea – each choice is a risk. I think the lens needs to be a little wider.
Look at where you are now in your life, with what you want to contribute, to create, to do, to learn- how best can you do these things? Where best would you be placed for the next few years?
Then do that. Go there.

About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean is the president of Toronto's best cupcake and cake bakery - Prairie Girl Bakery. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock

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