In the space that I'm in, discussions of risk come up a lot. This is an especially hot topic when it comes to students. They get hung up on whether they have the right skillset, the right connections, the right team, and I've started noticing a few patterns. You see, the more I have these discussions, the more I notice that people's fears of what could happen when they take on a project tend to outweigh almost everything else. These fears seem to rest on two things: (1) how possible failure is (the more likely someone is to fail, the less likely they are to endeavor), and (2) the magnitude of their failure (the larger the consequences, the worse).
Why Lack of Confidence Hurts
First, lack of confidence adversely affects tangible, critical skills necessary to achieve your goals. It distracts. It takes your focus away from the task at hand and unproductively reroutes that focus towards thoughts about perceived incompetence (many times unfounded) and consequences of failure (often exaggerated). With these distractions, you find yourself not performing as well, creating evidence to yourself that you are not doing well, only feeding into this lack of confidence until the cycle ultimately results in complete failure. In effect, you keep shooting yourself in the foot because you're not moving fast enough until you can't move at all. The solution to this is simply dispelling those thoughts, but how can it be done?
The best way I've discovered to handle these situations is to be honest with myself about the work and the real consequences involved in the endeavor. Too often, when people are faced with an ambitious project, they reject the opportunity simply for the fact that it is an ambitious project without really considering whether they could do it or what the consequences would be. When I take on a project, I tend to consider both things, and they really translate to two questions that address the two things that I mentioned earlier: possibility of failure and consequences of failure.
- Is it really that hard?
- What's the worst that could happen?
For the first question, it's really just a realization that every project is just a collection of smaller tasks. Breaking down those problems and considering each individually is how you gauge your ability to take on the project you're ultimately pulling together. It's much easier to consider large projects as those individual pieces, and oftentimes, it makes the whole thing seem much more achievable.
The second question is the one that I think most people have trouble with. When you're having trouble making a big decision, think about the worst thing that could realistically happen. If you can recover from that scenario, go for it. If not, back away. The key here is to be realistic about this. Failure seems to be something that most people consider absolutely bad in every way, without considering that it's really about the degree to which one can fail based on what the consequences would be. I could fail at something and not have it truly adversely affect me. In many ways, this almost trumps the first question. If there is really no real risk to pursuing your goals, there's not much stopping you. Even if you're not sure you can pull off the individual tasks from the first question, if there aren't severe consequences to it, the only real barrier you have is your time and your willingness to work.
One last thought
Something that tends to come up a lot, almost to my annoyance at times, is about quantifying risk as a statistic. "Only 10% of all businesses succeed," some say. So they abandon their venture. "This program only has a 10% admission rate," others bring up. So they don't even apply. It is striking to me that many people consider these sorts of things similarly to tossing a coin. It is striking to me that many people ignore that your work, your mindset, and your ability are factors in whether you end up in that successful 10%.
So just try it, especially if you don't really have something to lose.