Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Risk Gene

For as long as I can remember, our father brought us up with the belief that you should “never work for the man”. He believed that true freedom lie in being self-sufficient and making enough money to support you and your family by working for yourself.

This fostered in me, and I believe in my siblings, a life-long dream to be self-employed. To get up every morning and go to work for yourself. To be a business-owner, an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately it also engendered in me, a deep and abiding dissatisfaction because I had to work for the man in order to support myself. I say had to work for the man because, while Dad inspired this dream deep within me, he did not pass on the equipment that I needed to make it a reality. So, if my siblings are anything like me, they’ve had this ball of unfulfilled longing in their gut that they have been unable to act upon for most of their adult lives.

I’ve tried to tease away at that nasty little ball several times over the years. After I’d been working in social services for 10 years, I realised that I wanted to get out and do something else. Starting my own business was a vague idea in the back of my mind. It grew into a clearer picture of perhaps owning my own teashop, or my own bookstore. No lofty ideals, just something simple. I’ve now been in social services for 23 years. So, for the last 13 years, that little ball of unhappiness and longing has been growing teeth and biting me in the ass. I’ve left many jobs in the helping field, vowing never to return, planning to walk off into the horizon of self-employment. I’d save a bit of seed money, quit my job and try to make a go of it. I never get through the front door. In fear and panic, I’d quickly spend my seed money and crawl back to the man with my tail between my legs, that nasty ball forever nipping at my heels.

I now recognise that what my father failed to pass on to me was the risk gene. Striking out on your own is like embarking on a roller coaster ride. Your planning and preparation and saving get you on to the ride and clink, clink, clinking to the peak at the top. Fear and uncertainty are just two of the overwhelming emotions that you have to learn to cope with when the roller coaster dips over the edge and you take off, spiralling out of control. They are not my favourite emotions. In fact, I’d do just about anything to avoid them. I can now identify that in the past, I crawled back to the man at the very first sign of either one of them.

The key to developing the risk gene is to ride them out. How do you ride them out? With planning, research, knowledge and, when that roller coaster hits it’s highest peak and begins it’s decent into the fear of the unknown, you need, quite simply, blind faith. I learned that you will need to encounter these peaks and troughs every couple of weeks or so. Things will go smoothly for a time. That’s the roller coaster clinking towards the top. Then, something will happen, some frightening factor will hit you, and the ride will take you down that steep drop and into the abyss.

I cannot stress the importance of blind faith. You’ve run your numbers, you’ve studied all of the variables, and you’ve done your research. But eventually, you’re just going to have to go for it. And, in going for it, you will have to accept that you simply don’t know everything. Something’s going to present itself to you, something you don’t know the answer to, something you have to adapt to. So, you hang on to the sides of the cart and launch yourself over the edge, submersed in faith. Faith in yourself and your ability to handle whatever comes your way.

I’m not suggesting that you recklessly risk everything that you have. I think you have to set your parameters before you start. How much money do you have to invest in your venture? How will you support yourself while you try to make a go of it? What would happen if you lose it all? Do you have a back-up plan? In other words, define your boundaries and decide what you are comfortable risking. And then, hop on that ride.

Part of the fun is learning how to stretch those boundaries and still be comfortable. Because, I guarantee you, you will have to stretch them. For example, I learned that my initial research was flawed. I had a budget and a timeframe in mind to start up this venture and neither was accurate. My budget was way too small and my time frame was way too short. And so in the first few months, the peaks and troughs were quite steep as I adjusted to a more realistic budget and timeframe for start-up.

If you give yourself over to the risk, you may just be entering the most exciting phase of your life. It’s a huge learning curve relying on yourself, relying on your own decisions. You are essentially providing your own security system, something the man previously did for you. It takes some getting used to. You live much more in the moment, and that’s a thrilling place to be. It vibrates with life. I feel like I’ve spent the last five months studying at the University of Living.

Here’s the good news. The peaks and troughs haven’t disappeared for me yet, but they have become less extreme as I’ve adjusted to coping with the unknown. While I still fear them, in a way I hope they never completely disappear, because they are actually what makes this journey so exciting. They really keep me on my toes, and every day I learn more and more that I can rely on myself.

I’ve never made it this far before. Usually by this point my dream of starting my own business, that little ball of discontent has been suppressed in my return to the 9-5 grind, my return to the security that someone else has given me, my return to the man.

Now, I’m just completing the purchase on my first property and expect to launch my business by May 1st this year. I’ve educated myself, I’ve stretched myself and I’ve put myself out there. So far, I really like it. I am truly fortunate to have been given this chance to try to fulfil a life-long dream.

I now believe that the risk gene is something that you can develop. It lives within you, ready to be tapped into whenever you are.

And I’m ready.


  1. This is your oldest sister commenting on your latest blog. I know exactly what you mean. As you know I've gone back to school, quitting my job of 14 years and moving into a new apartment after 7 years of being in the other one. I'm wondering if I'll even get hired at the age of 50 - which is how old I'll be when I graduate. I decided to risk it all because I finally was discontented enough (mildly putting it) about where my life was going. I decided to just jump right in - blindly, you could say - and do it. I hate failing and I've had people and classmates trying to sway me. I'm sticking to my guns because I want something better than what I have. Okay, after I finish, I'll be working for the man, but at least I chose this path. Any help you need, I will gladly give. Monetary help is out of the question at the moment, but a sounding board I can be. I'm afraid I'm a bit too distant to offer muscle (which will only be for family from now on), but you can pick my brain - what's left of it - for any legal information. I can't advise, but I can help with whatever knowledge I have accumulated. Good going sis! Being born a Watters, we can sink or swim together (hahahaha).

  2. Oldest Sister

    Yup, I was so proud of you when you made that break. No matter what happens, you decided to take that risk. You're on a different path now, I wonder where it will take you?

    Thank you so much for your offer of help. I extend the same to you. I wonder what will happen with these two Watters' women? Watch this space.

  3. Hi Sis,

    Excellent blog as usual. You and Kim have taken the step. Maybe I can be next. :)

  4. Hey Sis (Charlene),

    Thanks! I'm very proud of my oldest sister and all that she has accomplished. I know it's hard to leave the security of working for the man. I know that Dad preached against working for the man, but Mom very much preached for it, encouraging us to get "a job for life". Is it any wonder we're torn?

    If it's the right thing for you, I really, really hope it happens for you. The one thing that has been left unsaid in this particular blog is the wonderful support that I've received from my husband. He has relinquished his need for the "quiet life" and accepted that he's unlikely to get it with his 43-year-old-suffering-her-mid-life-crisis wife. I'm proud of him for taking this step by my side, he's been great.

    Keep dreaming, don't give up!