Trying new things requires a willingness to take risks. However, risk taking is not binary. You probably feel comfortable taking some types of risks and find other types quite uncomfortable. In fact, you might not even see the risks that are comfortable for you to take, discounting their riskiness, but are likely to amplify the risk of things that make you more anxious. For example, you might love flying down a ski slope at lightning speed or jumping out of airplanes, and don’t view these activities as risky. If so, you’re blind to the fact that you’re taking on significant physical risk. Others, like me, who are not physical risk takers, would rather sip hot chocolate in the ski lodge or buckle themselves tightly into their airplane seats than strap on a pair of ski boots or a parachute. Alternatively, you might feel perfectly comfortable with social risks, such as giving a speech to a large crowd. This doesn’t seem risky at all to me. But others, who might be perfectly happy jumping out of a plane, would never think to give a toast at a party.
On reflection, there appear to be five primary types of risks: physical, social, emotional, financial, and intellectual. For example, I know that I’m comfortable taking social risks but not physical risks. In short, I will readily start a conversation with a stranger, but please don’t ask me to bungee jump off a bridge. I will also happily take intellectual risks that stretch my analytical abilities, but I’m not a big financial risk taker. On a trip to Las Vegas I would bring only a small amount of cash, to make sure I didn’t lose too much.
I often ask people to map their own risk profile. With only a little bit of reflection, each person knows which types of risks he or she is willing to take. They realize pretty quickly that risk taking isn’t uniform. It’s interesting to note that most entrepreneurs don’t see themselves as big risk takers. After analyzing the landscape, building a great team, and putting together a detailed plan, they feel as though they have squeezed as much risk out of the venture as they can. In fact, they spend most of their efforts working to reduce the risks for their business.
Below is a fabulous video clip of Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize, talking about the importance of taking big risks to reach remarkable goals.
This article is an edited excerpt from What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, by Tina Seelig, published by HarperCollins in April 2009.