I think it’s a myth that you have to be a risk taker to be successful or to follow your dreams.
Richard Branson is a good example. He’s a serial entrepreneur who runs a multi-billion pound empire.
When Branson was in his early twenties, he ran a record magazine and a record label and a few other businesses. He wasn’t that well-known.
He was in the Virgin Islands and he needed to get to Puerto Rico that night, but his flight was cancelled. Rather than rebooking another flight, he found a private plane that he could hire. He didn’t have the money on him to pay for it all, so he put up a sign that said “Virgin Airways – $39 to Puerto Rico”.
He then showed the sign to everyone who was on the cancelled flight. He sold all the seats and made it to Puerto Rico that night.
He then called Boeing and leased a plane, in the same way you would lease a car. He knew that it if his business wasn’t profitable, he could return the plane. He negotiated a route between Gatwick and Newark and he had a one-plane airline.
That was the start of Virgin Atlantic. Branson could’ve bought an existing airline or taken out a heavy loan. But each step of the way, he mitigated risk. He did it on the cheap. And that’s why he’s still in business today.
We often evaluate risk with an automatic emotional response. There’s more people afraid of flying than being a passenger in a car, yet you’re far more likely to have an accident in a car. If we accessed risk logically, we’d be far more afraid of travelling by car than we are.
Our automatic emotional response to evaluating risk is a product of our evolution. It was a way of staying alive. Is the coast clear or am I likely to be eaten by a lion? We do everything to mitigate risk because it’s the safe thing to do.
While our automatic emotional response might be useful for saving us from lions, it’s not very helpful in moving us towards what we want to do in life. Using your automatic emotional response causes a knee-jerk reaction: “Oh, I can’t do that—it’s too risky.”
When I was thinking about quitting my job and starting a business, it felt like it was too risky. But then I asked myself a simple question:
What is the worst case scenario? If everything went as badly as it possibly could, what then?
When I asked that question, I realised that even if I didn’t get any work for 3 months, we’d be ok. We might have to live on rice and beans for while. But things wouldn’t be that bad. Life would go on.
Although my automatic emotional response told me otherwise, I wasn’t going to be homeless on the streets. Or die.
So, ask yourself. That thing you really want to do… what’s the worst that could happen? And if that happens, is it really as bad as you think?