I’ve been thinking a lot about risk these days.
Totally Awesome Dude Matt Lauzon and I spent a 1/2 day fly fishing, about which we’ve been emailing for some time and were able to swing finally (a photo from him up top). Matt has started two companies thus far. We talked about risk as we went to/from the river.
A friend of mine has made some huge personal changes, including a sudden and massive move to the suburbs. Another friend, as we speak, is cooking dinner for a date and sounds more happy and more alive than I’ve heard in over a year.
Risk comes in many forms and at many degrees.
In my own life, I’ve tolerated different levels and different types of risks at different points in time. Frankly, when I was out of college, I took very little risk. I did a “standard” corporate career track, from i-banking to consulting to business school. Nothing wrong with it, but it feels in retrospect as a Path Well Trod Upon. I didn’t tolerate any ambiguity.
Part of that was that I didn’t have much money. Part of that was that I married fairly young and was only in my late 20s when our first child came. I didn’t feel that I could take much risks.
But, as I aged, I began to think that, perhaps, “risk” was all in my mind. After all, how risky was it to switch career tracks? Many people do it. And, that’s what led me from a safe and comfortable management consulting job to VC. But, really, that wasn’t all that risky in retrospect. It was a well funded and very respected VC firm.
Then, in 2006, I quit to start a new VC firm, one whose culture I could help shape. Many “corporate folks” thought I’d gone bonkers. Interestingly, all of my founders lauded my decision. I didn’t have a Plan B. I knew it was a ton of risk. Thankfully, it all worked out.
On the personal side, having a large family seemed daunting and risky. But, it no longer does. In fact, it has been completely awesome. Forcing difficult discussions on critical topics can be painful short-term, but can lead to deeper bonds going forward.
I write about this, for I tonight was chatting with a friend. We agreed that “risk was all in your mind.” Now, of course, you need to provide for yourself and family members. But, honestly, once very basic needs of food and shelter are met, I wonder if everything else is gravy?
Case in point: as a guy in his 40s, I own a lot of “stuff.” But, what do I really need? I own a lot of clothing I don’t wear any more. I have lot of stuff in the basement, like some gardening tools, that we almost never use. I have mementos from high school in the attic. If a thief secretly stole all that stuff, there’s a chance I would never know. I don’t notice that stuff now and I probably won’t notice them when they’re gone.
Truth is, I don’t need that “stuff.” IMO, stuff holds me back. Stuff keeps me from taking risks. Declining risk in order to keep my stuff doesn’t feel right to me. In fact, as I get older, I increasingly want to own less stuff and be less attached to material goods.
I’m like a person on a long hike, initially weighed down with an enormous backpack filled with every fancy gadget. Then, as the miles trudge on, I start to ditch equipment and keep only “the essentials.” I’ve begun to realize that most of the stuff was extraneous. And, I’m finding the hiking to be much easier with a lighter load.
So, that’s where I am. I want to spend less time defending and keeping “my stuff.” I increasingly want to live for up-side, both business and personal. As I age, I frankly care less about what others think. As I get older, I value more my family and my friendships. I care more about experiences rather than possessions.
It feels very freeing.