From a young age, we’re taught to favour certainty. To prefer plain, old predictability. To avoid ambiguity. Not to talk to strangers. To play it safe. To stick to what we know.
After all, risk is scary.
Risk opens us up to losing out. Losing money. Losing face. Losing the sense of comfort that comes with what is safe and predictable.
So when we’re faced with a monumental decision that has the potential to re-route our lives and change the course of our futures, to switch up the safety of what is known for something exciting but unpredictable, how do we deal?
How do we learn to lean in and embrace risk when we’ve been conditioned to be risk averse?
I first learnt the term ‘risk averse’ in first year economics as a business undergrad (exciting stuff, right!).
If you’re risk averse, it means that when faced with two options with similar expected payoffs, you’d take the one with the least risk. Even though the riskier one could end up having a higher payoff, it could also have a much lower payoff, and you’re just not cool with that.
I can identify. While sometimes it’s fun to choose the more risky option (like wearing that cute pair of suede shoes in Melbourne in winter!!), a lot of the time, choosing the path with less unknowns just feels more comfortable.
But, what’s important to remember here is that not all risk is bad.
In finance speak, risk means uncertainty.
That is, there’s the possibility of a poor outcome, sure, but there’s also the possibility of a really great one.
So while taking a big life-changing risk may not be your default position, there is merit in getting comfortable with the unknown and learning to accept some risk.
Recently I had a pretty darn big decision to make.
I’d put in the hard yards, worked diligently with my head down, developed a strong reputation at my company and because of that, an opportunity presented itself for a career switch. It was the right job, at the right company, at the right time. So far so good.
However, there was one thing about it that I guess you could say was ‘not so right’. The new job would be based in Sydney. I live in Melbourne.
That was not part of the five year plan.
There I was. The week before Christmas last year, my path splitting into two before me, coursing in very different and distinct directions.
One path was familiar and comfortable. A great job with plenty of opportunities. A talented, ambitious and fun team, many of whom I consider friends. My family (and new baby niece – hi Ivy! <3) and oldest friends all living within a few kilometres radius. And yet, I wasn’t sure I could pass up this new opportunity…
The second path was in equal parts exciting and scary, energising and intimidating. New job! New industry! A whole new career! A career that I only recently realised I’d been searching out for a long time (I’m talking way back to my high school years here – it feels crazy that I’ve come full circle). Despite the roundabout path it has taken me to find, it feels very right. And yet, could I really manage all this newness at once? A new city on top of everything else that this new role would undoubtedly throw at me?
I chose the new job and the new life in Sydney. I had to. It felt too right. The timing too perfect. The opportunity too good to pass up. I pack up and move to Sydney later this month.
I’m still regularly experiencing minor freakouts about the whole process (mainly the moving and packing – so painful!), but not for a second have I regretted my decision.
And while I could rant on for pages about this decision, the uncertainty and how I took the plunge, I think that’s about enough for one post. Next week I’ll dive a little deeper into my decision making process. Make sure you subscribe to The Modern Ascent to get the next installment straight to your inbox.
Have you made a big move lately? I’d love to hear about how you made your decision.