When I started CCAW, I left a pretty comfortable corporate job. I spent four years getting a degree, worked every summer as an intern, and did tons of networking. All so I could land a “prestigious” job at EY. Not only did I quit that job, I did it with impeccable timing. I quit in the midst of the financial crisis.
When people hear that story, they assume I have extremely high risk tolerance. I don’t. I’m wired to have little tolerance for risk. I think in terms of logic, facts, and probability. So how does a guy with low risk tolerance quit his great job to start a company during a recession?
Easy . . . I saw a clear path. I understood the needs of automotive consumers and the struggles of parts distributors and manufacturers. I figured I could solve all their problems by connecting them. I tested my thesis while I still had a day job. I eventually figured out how to convince people to give me money. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d loosely found product–market fit. With paying customers, I thought my chances of success were pretty good. I saw quitting as a low-risk decision (everybody else thought I was crazy).
I now think of risk tolerance as being natural or adaptive. By nature, I’m risk averse. But my experiences (both successes and failures) have made me comfortable with embracing more risk. My adaptive risk tolerance is medium in most situations and high in areas where I’m experienced. I still don’t bet the house on a single decision and I try to use guardrails where appropriate. One thing that helped me get to this point is recognizing that succeed or fail, what I learn from any experience will be immensely valuable. I accept that it will be painful to learn some things—painful, but valuable. That knowledge sets me up for eventual success, which happens only if I continue to take risks.
I guess the old saying is true. No risk, no reward.
The next time you’re skittish about doing something risky, consider the value in what you’ll learn. It could be the stepping-stone to breakout success!