Risks and Rewards, Opportunities and Downsides
The call came on an early March evening in 1995, while I was wrapping up my senior year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Whar- ton School. My college boyfriend of a year and a half had been killed in a car accident by a woman driving recklessly to escape the police. Within two months, I was a 22 year-old college grad with a heavy heart and a wrecked emotional state, $40,000 in debt and a plane ticket to a new city with a new job where I knew nobody. It was not an aus- picious start to my professional career.
Within two years, another call came- my mother had been diagnosed with Leukemia- a battle she lost within 12 months. That was followed shortly thereafter by my stepmother losing her life due to lung cancer. And since tough things seem to come in waves, I then endured my own undiagnosed mystery gastrointestinal illness that at the same time bloated my abdomen to the size of a third trimester pregnant woman and sucked the life out of me, which itself endured for almost three years. The weight of each incident created a cacophony of emotions that I can’t even describe, from depression to frustration and anger to exhaustion.
Over the course of a decade, I endured death- three of them- from three of my closest confdantes, but managed to also fnd love again with my husband. I went from the burden of debt to a seven-fgure net worth. I navigated a new city where I hadn’t one friend. I battled against an illness that no doctor could fgure out, being a veritable guinea pig, until the debilitating sickness was no more.
But despite what you may think, these challenges were not my biggest roadblocks in life. My biggest roadblock was me.
In each of the above situations, I persevered by being willing to do any- thing. I didn’t let fear, sacrifce or environment hold me back; I told myself that “no” was not an option.
I got past my grief to fnd love again by being willing to be vulnerable. I put myself and my heart out there, facing the fear that it could be taken away again.
In my fnancial situation, I passed over the everyday luxuries that many of my peers were indulging in and focused instead on paying off my debt and building my bank account. I was willing to live meagerly and sacrifce until the debt was gone.
With my illness, I tried just about everything that could be imagined. I took pills, I did acupuncture, I went to a real-life witch doctor who hooked me up to a computer and had me hold metal balls (they weren’t brass, but that would have been ftting). I was so willing to be open, that I- the linear, fnancial thinker- even agreed to see a person called a medical intuitive. She told me that my stomach issues stemmed from, “the soul of an unborn baby that wanted to be born through my body” and that I had to have discussions with this soul to make it understand that that wouldn’t happen. My frst reaction was, well, not ft for print. But I did it anyway- I talked aloud to the mythical baby soul (it didn’t work, by the way…). I kept on keeping on, until one day, some unknown combina- tion of the dozens of efforts that I was undertaking worked. I pressed on when there was no answer to my problem.
So, how ironic is it that I got past the roadblocks in every other aspect of my life, but in planning the rest of my professional and business life, the things that would stop me would be my own ego and fear. It was a fear of failure, a fear that if I set a big, balls-to-the-walls crazy goal, I might not achieve it and then, ostensibly, something awful would happen (like people pointing and laughing in a ft of hysterics a la Tickle Me Elmo).
I apparently was MacGyver when it came to dealing with death, fnances and illness, but I could not fgure out how to get past my ego when it came to the thought of failure. I was not willing to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, perhaps because change had a recent negative history.
I realized that I wasn’t happy. I was the “successful underachiever”, accomplishing milestones like raising over a billion dollars in capital, but not feeling like I had even scratched the surface of contributing what I could.
So, eventually I asked myself what the downside was in going for what I wanted in my professional life. When I evaluated it, the downside truly was limited, especially in the face of everything else that I had endured. If I went for a big goal and I didn’t make it, I would pretty much be in exactly the same situation that I already was in (and would be for the foreseeable future), with the real risk being not much more than a bruised ego. But if I did go for it, and even made it part of the way towards the goal, the upside was immense.
That was my turning point and I haven’t looked back.
I challenge you to fgure out what is truly holding you back and ask yourself about risks and rewards, opportunities and downsides. Do the preparation, and if the risk/reward tradeoff makes sense, you must “do the work”. Be willing to be comfortable with being uncomfortable for the situations that have enough upside to justify what you are risking.
Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen? Will you let “no” be an option for you?
Don’t let yourself get in the way of being all you can be.