About a year ago, with our daughter entering the second half of her junior year in high school, many of our family dinner conversations began to touch on college planning. What colleges to visit? When to sign up for standardized tests? When was the next meeting with the college counselor?
During one of these conversations, my daughter asked me how I chose which college to attend. Before I tell you what I said next, you have to understand something about me: I grew up in a small town, in the same small town where my father was raised, and where his father was raised. I don’t exactly come from adventurous stock. So, at age 17, when deciding where to go to college, I chose the best school within a 50 mile radius of my home. Fortunately, it was an ivy league university, and to this day, I’m thankful they accepted me.
Back then, I evaluated opportunities by thinking of things that could go wrong, the potential downsides. What if I went far away to college, got sick and needed my mom? What if I didn’t have enough money to travel home for Christmas? Would I find a safe place to store my things over the summer break? You get the picture.
However, I’ve changed since then. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the positives that can come from risk, and I now evaluate opportunities by looking at all the things that could go right. And I’ve found myself saying yes to things that my younger self would have talked herself out of. One example from the past year? Joining Athentica, an early-stage startup, as the CEO. When I was being recruited, I looked at the impact we could have with our first product, the business we could build, what I would learn, and the ways I would grow my network. Sure, there was the risk that we wouldn’t be successful, but I didn’t let myself focus on that. Instead, I looked at the upside and said yes.
Well, it turns out things didn’t go according to plan; I recently made the difficult decision to leave the startup. Did I fail? That’s not how I’m looking at it. I learned a lot about early-stage startups. I made strong connections with the venture capital community and with people working to improve online education. I led the development of the initial product offering. I worked with great people. So much good came from it.
Perhaps most importantly, my kids saw me take this professional risk. And, they know I’m doing just fine, even though it didn’t work out. I hope they’ll think back on this time when they need to evaluate options in their future careers. I want them to be able to take a risk—to take on a stretch assignment, to move internationally, to switch jobs—and not be held back by the fear of all the things that could go wrong.
In other words, I want them to be able to transform risks into opportunities.
© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.
(Photo credit: BigStock.com)