Privilege Blog

Risk And What To Do About It

You may not like your career, now, or as you look into the future. If this is where you find yourself, you have two reasonable options, in my opinion. First, increase the amount of risk you are willing to tolerate and act accordingly. Adventure out onto the high seas. I have to tell you though, this is terribly difficult. This is to be or not to be, and screwing your courage to the sticking place, and once more into the breech dear friends. This is what the self-help people make a lot of money on. How gurus make their name. Why patients spend years with psychoanalysts. And at the end of the day tolerance for risk and stress may just be something built into your soul and not worth battling.

Your second option is to reduce the risk of finding a satisfactory career. In a systematic manner. Reduce the risk of failing at what you want to do. Reduce the risk of succeeding at what you don’t want to do, which can be almost as bad.

In some industries, where job requirements are known and rewards are high there is an ENORMOUS infrastructure built up to reduce risk, to winnow out those who can’t do the job. Law school eliminates those who can’t handle the workload of a law firm. Venture capitalists screen startup management teams. There are other such systems. Think hip hop producers. College and high school basketball scouts. American Idol.

For the rest of us, aiming for a career less visible or more spontaneous, we have only one option. We have to find stuff out. Get information. There is no other answer that I know. Not even the California summer. We have to find out what the jobs we think we want feel like day to day and what it takes to succeed. Then compare what you have found out to who you know yourself to be. That’s all I mean by, “Stories stories stories. Stories stories.” You are your very own American Idol. You have to assess, can I do it? And as important, will I like it? You cannot do that without knowledge. There’s enough risk in the world without adding your own by operating in ignorance. Even innocent ignorance. This isn’t news. I say this remembering the fear I felt at 23 about what I didn’t know. I wish I had known it was normal, not a flaw, not a weakness. Wouldn’t have made me unafraid, but would have made my feelings about my fear less powerful. Which is the equivalent of bravery.

So. How to find stuff out? Not complicated. Not always easy.

Mostly you have to get off the sofa. You can do some research in the virtual world and by all means should. But the majority of what you want to know you will learn from other people. Whom you will need to sit opposite and talk to. Of course the best thing is to simply find a job and try it. But the next best way is to talk to people who have the job already. Reaching out can be scary. I remember when I wanted to work in the New York theater management world I sent out 17 blind letters to producers and theaters. 17. Then I called every contact and asked if I could have an interview. I was terrified. But I was more terrified of sitting on the sofa. Oh, and I got a job. At the end of the day bravery is a series of pretty mundane actions. Actions and some of your time. Which if you don’t decide how to use will just pass from your hands like dried grasses at the end of a harvest. Rise up like gnats and move off in a cloud without direction.

None of this is brilliant. It is only naming what we already know and might be embarrassed to acknowledge. Or what we have been shamed into believing is our own lack rather than a universal response. By the time you hit 50 you may say to yourself, with a that tone we reserve for finally getting it, “Oh, wait, I see. Why did I worry so? What did I think was at stake?” If you haven’t hit 50, here’s a voice from your possible future. It’s a friendly voice. It might even ask you if you’d like a cup of tea.

10 Responses

  1. i have been gone too long! what a great post. really. in the past year i have come to realize that i have allowed people and past experiences pigeon-hole me into a category i wasn't ever satisfied with. though my understanding does not reach into your years of tried and true conclusions, i thank you for your post as it seems to keep spuring me on to continue to break my own mold and take risks.

  2. "At the end of the day bravery is series of pretty mundane actions." Love it. Ain't that the truth.

  3. this is great and totally the kick in the pants that I needed to hear this AM!


  4. "But the next best way is to talk to people who have the job already."
    I am always terrified by this step and tend to talk myself out of doing it because I'm not sure what I should be asking them.
    I'm getting better at figuring out what it is I DON'T want to do when I grow up. Now I'm trying to figure out HOW to become what I really want to be.

  5. This is a great post! I needed to be reminded of this. Thank you for posting it! xoxo

  6. I'm already liking my voice at 46 than I did at 25! We must be on the same track. I made 3 list this morning: 1. What I want 2. What I don't want 3.I would consider..

  7. This is post. Of. The. Day.

    "At the end of the day bravery is a series of pretty mundane actions."

    You *so* get it Miss Privilege, your capacity to synthesize things in a way that folks like me can comprehend is amazing. Hopefully this isn't insulting, you aren't thinking 'Oh great, now she thinks I am writing bumper stickers here." I don't.


  8. Found your blog via Reggie Darling, and absolutely loved this post. As a 30-something female exec in the software industry (and as someone trying to figure out whether "bliss" is really something I should be experiencing…what is it in practical terms? Should I just soldier on or "correct" course? Sometimes I feel I could figure this all out if I could just get a good night's sleep for once), I often wonder what my 40-something self would say to me.
    I'm sure I don't fully comprehend the meaning of your words based on my own limited experiences. I wanted to thank you wholeheartedly for these posts and for sharing your insights.

  9. Catelina, it's more than my pleasure. It's a tricky thing, setting a course. I, of course, am looking backwards. Were I to sum it all up, I would say, you have more options than might first seem apparent. Intelligence is, in fact, pretty rare in the world.

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