In defense of risk-taking
— Or: Not risking anything means risking everything
TGIF. “Thank God it’s Friday”: as an entrepreneur, that expression always puzzled me. It saddens me to think about people that agrees with a sentence like this; they are probably not having fun along their week. No, much more than that: they must lack passion for what they do in about half their conscious time, presumably reserving all of it for whatever time they have for leisure. From where I’m standing, if one’s goal is to live a happy, fruitful life, there just can’t be a path riskier than that!
I love Mondays as much as I love Fridays; in fact, when I see 9-to-5 people implying they can only have fun outside their work, I wonder what is fun for them. Fun is being truly excited about something, and although that definition seems reasonable for most, the same people tend to think it’s just not applicable to work-related activities. I’m an adrenaline junkie, just like many other entrepreneurs and executives who release stress and anxiety from the daily grind by engaging in extreme behavior. We have a high risk tolerance in order to build or invest in companies. For me, fun can come from anything from hikes, skydiving, to an outstanding book — intellectual ecstasy , or to an unconventional challenge in my quest to build a meaningful, successful venture capital company.
I firmly believe that a key trait of entrepreneurial success is having fun along the day, even while dealing with the inherent risks that such a lifestyle entails. You just can’t live otherwise — the alternative is fear and paralysis, and just as in skydiving, inaction means death for any entrepreneur. However organized I am, the only certainty I have about my workday in the morning is that I have no idea how it will play out, having fun with this kind of lifestyle you need to appreciate the uncertainty. Learning not only to be ok with this, but to embrace it as a wonderful aspect of your life, is paramount to anyone venturing into a business of their own.
In this sense, living by my own rules was and still is a BIG RISK, and I truly love it.
But attitude towards risk, as it deals with the issue from an inside-out perspective, is only one part of the entrepreneurial equation. Once you decide to become an entrepreneur, you will face two opposite feelings: the thrill of thinking you will achieve your goal, and the anxiety about failure. Both are equally powerful and compete for attention inside you, and the cognitive dissonance of having the two conflicting thoughts at once may seem overwhelming. The ability to deal with these feelings, an outside-in perspective to dealing with risk, is another key success factor in entrepreneurship, which I deem tolerance of risk.
I don’t mean to say that successful entrepreneurs don’t believe they can fail. They see failure as part of the process — to have “entrepreneurial blood” means that, even while one thinks about both success and failure, he or she just isn’t afraid of failing. That state of mind comes from having both a positive attitude towards and a good tolerance of risk, which can only be achieved by loving the risk-taking process itself.
And as true passions don’t come in half measures, you will be 100% committed to it, sometimes not even noticing it;
Warren Buffett might put it as ‘tap dancing to work’. To me, I’d say it feels as being on a first date with your high school crush, every single day. The excitement and the anxiety, the hopes and dreams and worries — it’s all there.
Finally, while there is no way of training or forcing someone to be passionate, passion is less a feeling than an infection. To the extent you can communicate what you feel to the people around you, you may just spread it to them, and end up with a team as passionate as you are — and building anything together is just so much more fulfilling. In my example, being authentically passionate was the only real way of breaking into the Venture Capital industry; successful entrepreneurs and investors easily recognize that in you, as it is the fundamental building block of real connections that may end up in great business partnerships, investment opportunities and friendships.
So, to everyone that is bogged down in their life, facing a dull work and relying on whatever is out of it for fulfillment and leisure, I would say: dare a little. If you are passionate about something, go ahead and pursue it. If you’re not, search for passionate people, surround yourself with them and let their passion spread to you. Remember: whereas you might only be ‘tolerating’ half your life, entrepreneurs tolerate only the risks in their lives — and they enjoy everything along the way.
Step into the entrepreneurial life. This is how your one wild and precious life deserves to be lived.