Is risk really risky?

On Friday I had a conversation with a firm owner over dinner, and we meandered our way around to talking about careers and risk.

Then he said (paraphrased) the thing that every independent I know (barring the 1% of 1% who have never contemplated for a second working for someone else) thinks about every so often during low or self-critical moments:

“Man, sometimes I have the thought: ‘What if this just all goes away?’ I know it won’t. And everything is great right now. But sometimes it creeps into my head that it might just be easier to go do this for someone else.”

These are exact “grass is greener” thoughts I often have when I start to over-focus on the things that I’m working on that others might perceive as “risky.”

risk really risky grass

I use “risky” in quotes for a reason.

And it’s because perceived risk and actual risk are often separated by a vast, undetectable, chasm.

That truth underpins many of the positive decisions we all end up making that position us for success as our businesses evolve.

But hot-damn sometimes that sinking, “I should probably stay near the bathroom in case something unexpected happens” feeling you get when you start to overanalyze what those “others” might say about what you’re doing doesn’t make it easy.

Reading Nassim Taleb helps.

From Antifragile page 84:

“Artisans, say, taxi drivers, prostitutes (a very, very old profession), carpenters, plumbers, tailors, and dentists, have some volatility in their income but they are rather robust to a minor professional Black Swan, one that would bring their income to a complete halt. Their risks are visible. Not so with employees, who have no volatility, but can be surprised to see their income going to zero after a phone call from the personnel department. Employees’ risks are hidden.

Thanks to variability, these artisanal careers harbor a bit of antifragility: small variations make them adapt and change continuously by learning from the environment and being, sort of, continuously under pressure to be fit…

…avoidance of small mistakes makes the large ones more severe.”

He directly addresses the invisibility of the risks vast swaths of the population are (willingly or unwillingly) comfortable with accepting.

And hearing that helps me give a nice little internal “F-you” to the grass-is-greener thinking.

Last week I listened to David C. Baker and Blair Enns’ take on this issue on this podcast to further reassure myself (through confirmation bias or otherwise) that my thinking on this is correct:

BLAIR: So, “Stability is destabilizing, that’s because long periods of calm induce behavior and innovation that make the next downturn more violent.” I read that quote, I think of our listeners, our clients, and the ones who are like they get comfortable. They build a comfortable business. They’re not constantly reassessing their business model. Then along comes change and they’re just caught flatfooted. It’s like your friend who says, “Yeah, my wife left me and I …”

DAVID: It was a surprise.

BLAIR: We didn’t even have any trouble. We never argued, and you think you idiot. A married person needs to be just slightly paranoid about the state of their marriage, the way an entrepreneur needs to be slightly paranoid about the state of the market. Something could come along, the karate instructor or whoever it is.

And that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Not that karate instructor thing. Although my wife isn’t into martial arts as far as I know…

But that our collective paranoia is normal and actually healthy at the appropriate dosage.

It’s just our paranoia about our paranoia where the trouble comes in.

Have a slightly paranoid week 🙂

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