• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

How To Change Your Perception Of Risk

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By Rajashree Karwa (Co-Founder, Velvet Aroma)

It’s that time of the year again. Yes, it’s time to come up with New Year’s resolutions!

As a fellow entrepreneurial woman I would like to suggest one, that if truly embraced, should take your career to new heights.

Make a small shift in the way you perceive risk.

“Take risk and you will reap rewards.” We’ve all heard some version of this saying. We’ve all been told that as women, we need to start taking more risk in our careers. Some even say that we are naturally more risk averse than men and must fight this natural instinct.

For most of my life I’ve believed that risk meant two things:

  1. Taking an action exposes you to risk.
  2. It generally involves being in an uncomfortable situation: the kind that make you nervous, make your heart pound and expose you to potential failure.

If I was doing those two things, I knew I was taking risk. And taking risks is good.

It’s the path to success. So I applied those two principles over and over again and I did fine. I got good grades in school while participating in lots of extra curricular activities. I was able to get good paying jobs and was a valued employee. Things were good and I thought I was doing a fine job at taking risks.

But my career didn’t have an exponential growth until I turned those two principles on their head — the shift was to change my perception of risk to mean:

  1. Not acting is itself a risk; inaction risks the entire potential upside to taking any risk.
  2. Focusing on being uncomfortable is a distraction and reduces the effectiveness with which the risk can be taken.

When I began applying these new ideas to my career, I found myself making significantly different decisions. I started doing more and putting myself in extremely uncomfortable situations.

And the best part — it got a whole lot easier. Focusing on the upside of the risk made the uncomfortable feeling more incidental rather than a substantial part of taking that risk. Also the inertia of not taking a risk suddenly had a heavier consideration in my risk analysis.

A perfect example comes from my own experience working at a startup hedge fund.

When I came across the opportunity to join a small hedge fund as a software engineer, I knew that working there was going to be harsh. I had to deal with long days and as it turned out long nights. There would be no such thing as work-life balance. I had to be one of the only female engineers on the team. I would have to deal with a lot of stress. And I would likely have to do this every day; over and over again; for years.

There was a high probability that I would fail. I personally knew many who already had. Intelligent men and women who left or were let go sometimes in a matter of months of joining. Also, I really felt like I was risking everything I worked so hard to achieve in my current job. I had a good job with a solid career path in sight. I was midway into a Masters program that I would not be able to continue. There were many personal and professional decisions that I had to rework.

Despite the risks, despite the possible or even likely failure, despite everything bad that could happen, I decided to take the job. And, not only that, I stuck it out every day for years becoming the first and only female partner at the firm.

I believe applying this small shift in the way I perceived risk every day led me to become a partner at the hedge fund. It now leads me to embrace and translate my passion for cooking and technology into my own business, Velvet Aroma.

So for this new year, besides resolving to go to the gym more often, why not make some dramatic changes in your career by subtly changing the way you view risk every day.

Happy New Year!!

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

Photo credit: Graeme Nicol on Flickr.

About the guest blogger: Rajashree Karwa is Co-Founder of Velvet Aroma, a company which inspires cooking by creating a personalized digital culinary magazine and cookbook. Her career includes several years of technical leadership in the financial and media-entertainment industry including being a partner at a Los Angeles based hedge fund. Follow her startup on Twitter at @velvetaroma.