Stories Without Risk Are Meaningless*
In my very early twenties, I went on my first business trip with my then boss. It was a quick trip to Bangkok (I was based in Hong Kong at the time) and I remember four things about that trip.
First, I got to fly business class, which was awesome.
Second, I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Erawan, which was amazing.
Third, I sat in Bangkok traffic, which sucked - a 15 minute drive took an hour plus.
Fourth, and most important, I remember a long conversation over breakfast with my boss, an opportunity for me to pick his brain, to receive career advice from someone who had worked in a large corporation and then taken the entrepreneurial route. He had made career choices and succeeded.
Given that I was at the very start of my career, I was keen to understand what I needed to do to “succeed”. And, I thought, if anyone could help me figure out how, it ought to be him.
So, we talked, and the conversation focused on what I wanted to do. I shared my thoughts, and he offered his counsel. I asked for specifics, but he gave me broad guidance. I wanted validation that I was making the right choices, but, for all my questioning, he wasn’t telling me what to do.
After an hour or so, when I still didn’t have “the” answer, I asked (in exasperation, I’m sure) how I could be certain that the path I would choose would be the right one? How could I eliminate risk? How could I know?
He looked at me and said, “Omer, you can’t. You have to make your choices, and you have to take a risk. You will never know for sure until you do it.”
I didn’t fully grasp it then, but, today, almost three decades later, I can clearly hear the subtext:
“You choose” (emphasis firmly on both words). You. Choose.
It took me a long time to understand, but he was right.
You can never be certain. You will always make decisions amidst uncertainty.
For our personal stories to be meaningful, to resonate and make an impact, we have to take risks. And the more epic the story, the bigger the risks we need to take.
I didn’t realize it then, at the tender age of 21, but his response planted a seed.
We keep looking for absolutes, for certainties, so we gravitate towards the tried and tested, towards known quantities, branded entities. That’s your choice.
But if you’re looking to change things, if you want your story to be “epic”, then you have to shake things up. Make an educated guess, roll the dice, and take a risk.
Because stories without risk are meaningless.
(*The title and this riff about stories isn’t mine - I’m paraphrasing Donald Miller from his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which I’ll talk about in a future post. It’s one of the greatest books I have ever read. You should read it, too.)