As I write this, it is almost three years since I made the decision to leave my job running a successful women’s magazine with no next-rung-on-the-ladder to climb on to. At the time it felt risky, to say the least. Well paid, glamorous, and often fun, my 25 years in magazines had allowed me to travel, wear unfeasibly high heels and spend time with interesting people. And I was at the point in my career that I’d worked so hard to reach. But my job was far from perfect. It was, predictably, less glamorous than it looked. The shoes felt increasingly crippling, the people less interesting, and I had a suspicion that there was a diferent life for me beyond the corner oice I’d once coveted. Armed with an idea for a new business, I decided, at the age of 45, to pack up my desk and take a leap into the unknown.
So why did I do it? I’m as interested as you are to know the answer to that question. As a child I was sensible, infuriatingly so. I was too terrified of heights to climb things, too fearful of falling of to master riding a bike and I never did take a gap year because, you know, anything could happen. But by my early 20s, an imperceptible shift had taken place. Despite living pay-cheque to pay-cheque, when I found myself working for a man I clashed with, one Friday lunchtime I picked up my bag, cashed my latest cheque and hid away for three days. Then, just over 10 years later, I chose to leave another safe job to write my first novel. I was heading out into the cold with no guarantee of success. It turned out okay. Perhaps it is a combination of these experiences that shaped my decision to jump ship once again. I wasn’t exactly what you’d call risk averse, but I was no Joan of Arc, either. In the weeks after I resigned, I felt dogged by this terror that it was all going to go catastrophically wrong. What’s the worst thing that can happen?my brother asked. Your business could tank and in a year you will have to go and get another job. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it?
He was right. Embarrassing, it would be. Humiliating, for sure. But the end of the world? No. In fact, no matter how dramatic and debilitating the worst-case scenario, I do not doubt that the what-iffactor of not taking the risk would have haunted me far longer. As the ever-wise author Cheryl Strayed once said, I will never know, and neither will you, of the life you do not choose. It’s a theme that drives the character of Helen in my novel, The Woman Who Ran. A war photographer, she takes physical risks by putting herself in life-endangering situations. Of course, risk-taking does not have to be based on some dramatic, life-changing decision. Emotional bravery can be just as unsettling be it speaking your mind to your boss, telling your husband you are not happy about something in your relationship or talking honestly with your children. To paraphrase Strayed, you just have to be brave enoughto do the thing that will make a diference to you.
I’m not going to tell you it is not terrifying, because it is. It was, the day I handed in my notice. It was, the first day I woke up with nowhere to go and no pay cheque to bank on. And it has been, day after day, since; raising investment, recruiting and training a team, going live for the first time and letting the world see The Pool (the-pool. com), the mobile site for women that was the fruit of over two yearslabour. And on many many days, it still is. But beyond that fear is a sense of achievement that nobody can ever take from me: the knowledge that I never have to wonder What if?again.
Butterfly or tiger?
How you approach risk says a lot about who you are as a person and how you experience life, says Jo Emerson, author of online course Five Steps To Lasting Confidence. While a healthy approach to risk can help you move forward, a cautious approach could be hindering you from reaching your full potential. Take the quiz and find out…
Your children have flown the nest, giving you the opportunity to downsize and live mortgage free. Do you A) Sign up to Rightmove straightaway B) Call a financial advisor to work out the money C) Ask the kids what they think you should do D) Feel nostalgic and stay where you are You’ve been asked to take on a major new project at work, which would involve you learning a whole new set of skills. Do you A) Say yes and worry later B) Negotiate with your boss over their expectations C) Ask your boss if you can have some support from your colleagues D) Say no way… you have too much on your plate Your best friend has just had the all-clear from a two-year battle with breast cancer and she’s asked you to run a marathon with her to fundraise. Do you A) Say yes straightaway you only live once! B) Agree and draw up a monthly training plan C) Suggest you start with a 5 or 10k race instead D) Admit that you are not a natural runner but ofer to cheer her on You’ve just been told your job is being considered for redundancy. Do you A) Start planning the small business you have always wanted to launch B) Call an employment lawyer C) Ask your partner for advice D) Cry over your colleagues with panic and despair Your travel operator tries to oer you an alternative holiday because of political unrest in the region you have booked. Do you A) Accept gladly this way the money won’t be wasted B) Insist on a detailed description and quality guarantees C) Put the decision to your partner if your family is happy, you are happy D) Book a trip in the UK. It’s probably safer to stay on home turf anyway MOSTLY A THE BUTTERFLY goes with the flow You see risk and change as opportunities for adventure and growth; trusting that everything will work out in the end. When taking major, life-changing risks, take a look around before committing, but never stop spreading those wings. Greatest risk asset A can-do attitude. MOSTLY B THE TIGER looks before she leaps You are one of life’s visionaries you will take a calculated risk but only after considering the implications. Once convinced, you will make change happen. Others will also have trust in your decision because they’ll know you have taken time to make it. Greatest risk asset Seeing the big picture. MOSTLY C THE DOLPHIN considers the values of the group One of life’s carers, you will take a risk but only after you have canvassed opinion. Start trusting your own inner wisdom and develop your assertiveness. There’s a big diference between unhealthy co-dependency and healthy interdependence. Greatest risk asset Listening to others. MOSTLY D THE DEER a cautious character who seeks safety You’re the first to admit you feel daunted by the unknown. But when you do make a change, you make sure the process is as smooth as possible. Life is constantly changing, and embracing this from time to time could leave you happier in the long run. Greatest risk asset Your attention to detail.
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