Risk Aversion and the Importance of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Part Two

Last week, we talked about risk aversion (especially in millennials and the younger generation) and the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone in all areas of your life. We are continuing that theme this week. (If you missed last week’s blog, you can find it here.)

When we think about our favorite feel-good movies—those with memorable heroes and heroines and happy endings that make our souls feel full—what’s the general plot line that comes to mind? For many of us, they feature protagonists who boldly step out of their comfort zone, defy the status-quo, and take risks with highly uncertain outcomes. We see them believe in themselves enough to try, work their tails off, overcome obstacles of all sorts (including fear), and eventually, win the prize.

We like these kinds of movies because they make us feel empowered and hopeful. But, honestly, how many of us actually live out our day-to-day lives like the heroes and heroines in our favorite movies? Are we willing to push back against the nay-sayers, summon the courage,, and boldly forge ahead, even if we don’t know how things will turn out?

This week, in our second installment in our series on risk aversion, I’d like to share three more benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone and living a fearless, confident life.

  • Successful people go for it. It’s one of the most identifying hallmarks of a true leader. They take each situation as it comes, and make a decision out of confidence rather than fear. Successful people do not fear what others think, nor do they let their insecurities hold them back from pursuing their goals. And, they’re not shy about expressing their views, even if their opinion might be contrary to others.

    (In the same vein, know that it’s perfectly normal to care about or acknowledge what other people think of you. The key is making sure you do not fear their opinion, nor let their opinion determine the way you feel about yourself.)

  • One of the greatest joys in living life—our biggest confidence booster and our biggest source of motivation—is stretching ourselves, trying something new, and being surprised by an amazing outcome. In most cases, whenever you decide to simply “go for it,” you’ll be glad you did.
  • We often try to avoid uncertainty, because, well… it can be uncomfortable. However, life is full of uncertainty, yet true leaders take the time and initiative to solve problems. Understand that life is a learning process, and the process itself sometimes matters more than the outcome! Even if things don’t turn out as hoped, at least you tried AND you gained a learning experience to help you the next time.

 

Consider making a list of the things you’ve been wanting to do or try but you’ve been hesitant to take the plunge. Do you see any common denominators? What’s the underlying risk aversion or insecurity? Vow to yourself that you will consciously decide to step out of your comfort zone and follow those pursuits. Trying is a sign of self respect!

Many (and I mean MANY) people cite their biggest life regrets as the risks they didn’t take. So, I encourage you today… raise your hand. Be the first to answer the question. Accept that job. Move to that city. Take on that internship. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and refuse to live your life with regret! Maybe it’s time to take off those training wheels, and give it a go!

The Most Important Lesson For This School Year?

In a world consumed with constant distractions and multitasking, it seems like we’re becoming more like bumblebees—paying short visits to one flower after another. We’ve never faced “incoming” like this before, and it’s affecting our attention spans, stress levels, and ultimately, our productivity.

So, how can we help our children navigate this noisy world where they’re being pulled in so many directions?

In my years of evaluating leaders, I’ve come to appreciate what virtually all of them have in common:

  1. Vision: an overarching idea of where they want to go. The person they want to become. The impact they would like to have in this world. The life they want to live.
  2. Intentionality: a commitment to setting goals and plans to turn their vision into a reality. Goals that are challenging but realistic, specific, and measurable.
  3. Relentless Effort: they are self motivated and focused like laser beams to achieve their goals and implement their plans. They don’t just work hard—they work smart. They have high standards and manage their time effectively and efficiently. And, they regularly review whether they’re on track and make midcourse corrections along the way.
  4. Resilience: an ability to overcome and learn from their mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. They don’t let disappointments defeat them; rather, they face their challenges head on and persevere.

With a new school year upon us, this is a great opportunity to teach your children and students how to apply these concepts in their lives. Arguably, this could be their most important learning lesson of the year!

So, whether you’re a parent, teacher, mentor, or coach, have the children under your influence set new goals and strategies for the coming year. Encourage them to develop at least one goal in each of the following categories, and to create action steps (with deadlines!) for achieving them:

  • Career: surveying career matches, attending job fairs, creating a resume, sharpening interview skills, meeting people in careers of interest, etc.
  • Education: improving a GPA, taking valuable courses, reading specific books, watching/listening to media-based programs/trainings, etc.
  • Character: developing strengths, addressing weaknesses, modeling qualities/soft skills of admired people, etc.
  • Relationships: improving existing relationships, building new ones (peer, network), etc.
  • Skill: learning a new skill for personal growth, fun, creativity, etc.
  • Service: volunteering time and talent to support your community
  • Experience: checking off a “bucket list” item or two

The more we can instill the value of setting goals, plans, and strategies for life in our children at an early age, the better positioned they will be to achieve success, fulfillment, joy, and impact. Otherwise, especially in this day and age, they’ll be destined for distraction and random (at best) outcomes. It may be a mindshift for them, but they and their dreams are worth it! And, trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it!

An Out-of-the-Box Holiday Idea

Tired of shopping from gift card-laden lists that remove the element of surprise? Tempted to play it safe yet again? Or, are you willing to take a calculated risk and think “out of the box” for the special people/person in your life? Allow me to share a true story that might just influence your decision… and add a little magic, too.

I grew up in a family with limited financial means but who went “all out” at Christmas. Imagine a Norman Rockwellian Christmas on steroids. That would be us! Cookies and candies made from scratch. Tinseled tree. Snowball fights, sled riding, and ice skating. Midnight mass. Caroling in the neighborhood. Home made eggnog. There was nothing like it.

But things were looking different for us in the Christmas of ’79. Earlier that summer, I moved from Milwaukee to Seattle to attend grad school. I didn’t have the money to fly home so this was destined to be my first Christmas away. We avoided the subject during my weekly calls and for good reason. I knew this would be hard on all of us—probably me the most.

However, I decided to play a hunch in early November. What if I flew out to Chicago on a cheap ticket and had someone drive me the rest of the way? Ka-Ching! I immediately made the arrangements with my friend Bruce and didn’t tell a soul. I even sounded a little extra “down” during our December phone calls to help “set the stage.” Okay, I was milking it!

After the four-hour winter drive from O’Hare, I arrived at my brother Rick’s house where I plotted the big event for the following morning. I would be placed inside a large cardboard box sent from the North Pole on my parents’ upstairs apartment doorstep. Rick would ring the doorbell and “ditch” out of sight. And, at the appropriate time, I would jump out of the box and shout, “Merry Christmas!!!”

Now, I’d like you to imagine this for a moment. You are inside a box about to startle the living daylights out of your parents who are clueless to what they’re about to experience. Try to imagine.

My heart was pounding like never before as I sat inside the box. Eventually, my mom answered the door and immediately called out to her (visiting) friend to see what was on the doorstep. For reasons of space, I can’t replay the entire event, but imagine two ladies in their sixties trying to lift this mysterious carton into the apartment, utterly clueless as to what was inside. After they put in some effort, I knew it was time. I counted to three, and jumped out, providing the most delightful shock of our lives. Within five minutes, the story spread like wildfire throughout the apartment complex. A surprise for the ages.

My first Christmas away would have to wait for another year. Simply unforgettable.

As I reflect on that moment, I am reminded of what made it so special:

  1. It was a complete surprise—certainly not on their list!
  2. It was a gift from the heart—it spoke volumes about their importance to me
  3. It was creative—you might say, “Out of the box!”
  4. It made a lasting memory

And, wouldn’t you know it, but years later, I would receive my all-time favorite gift—one that possessed these same qualities.  It was an engraved license plate frame from my kids on Father’s Day that says, “Dad’s are Cool!” Now, that’s a keeper!

So, to you adults: who might benefit from an out-of-the-box type of gift that reveals how much you care? And, to you teens: what might you share with your parents, teachers, mentors, etc., that honors them for their investment in you?

It needn’t be any more elaborate than a handwritten note, straight from the heart.

Merry Christmas everybody!

 

 

Humility Over Pride

The general election is just days away! Things always get pretty crazy during this week every four years—lots of promises made, reflections on presidents of the past, inflammatory rants on social media pages—the list goes on. As I think about what a new president will mean for our future, I also find myself thinking about history, and something I think we are all looking for right now: a little bit of humility.

No matter what political party you are affiliated with (if any), I think we can all agree that Abraham Lincoln was a pretty remarkable man.  Despite his humble beginnings, he accomplished some incredible things (beginning the process of ending slavery, maintaining the union during the Civil War, and setting an example of integrity and wisdom). I wish we had more role models like him today.

One of my own role models during my long investment career was a colleague named Ernie Ankrim, a brilliant financial thinker who became the chief market strategist where I worked. However, as smart a strategist as he was, Ernie was equally gifted in public speaking.

Everyone admired how Ernie shared his insights with such humor and wit. He was the total package and audiences could never get enough of him. (It was painful to follow him!) Yet, despite all of his accolades, Ernie is the one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. If anyone had bragging rights it was Ernie, yet he was always the first to give others the credit.

Ernie’s humility has had an enormous impact on my life and my behavior. Whenever I’ve been acknowledged for a good work or some success, I often think, “How would Ernie respond?” My answer is always the same. First and foremost, I owe my success to others.

Abe Lincoln had a similar philosophy. He famously said, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”

As you travel along your life journey, you’ll have many proud achievements along the way. And you know what?  They’ll likely speak for themselves. You won’t have to toot your own horn to get people to notice you.

Here are three tips to help you become more humble (and I think we can all hope our presidential nominees will apply these to their lives as well!):

  1. Ask for feedback from others. Instead of insisting you’re always right (or your way is the only way), consider asking others for feedback on your performance (what went well and where can I up my game?). They may offer some insight you never would have thought of yourself!
  2. Understand that adversity can be preparation for greater things. Setbacks are a part of life, unfortunately. Humility allows you to accept these obstacles without the fear of failure, to dust yourself off, and start again.
  3. Confront your negative opinions of others. Do you have any deep-rooted prejudices? Chances are, you’re too proud to admit it. It’s important to recognize these (for example, negative views on certain people groups, etc.), and then make the effort to listen and learn with an open mind.

 

And, when successes come your way, rejoice and be grateful to those who helped make it happen. Your acknowledgement of others first, before you give yourself a pat on the back, will be greatly admired and will set you up as a leader of integrity.

When you do something great, is your first instinct to give yourself the credit or others who have helped make you the person you are today? Who comes to mind as someone you would like to thank or give credit?

I Still Believe in Happy Endings

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth

 may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Walt Disney


 
We’re just now coming out of the holiday season where the focus is often on joy, peace, love, and hope. That’s all well and good on a Christmas card, but we can’t gloss over the fact that, in the midst of all the cheer and goodwill, some people are going through very tough times. In our every day world, many are dealing with any number of personal tragedies or crises that are magnified during the supposedly festive season. Financial hardships. Divorce. Illness. Job loss. Estranged family members. You name it. Bad news can come at any time to you or me.
 
One of life’s greatest adventures is seeing what becomes of our trials. At our bleakest hour, it’s hard to fathom that something good might come of our challenges. Often, though, this is precisely what happens.
 
One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned (but certainly didn’t appreciate when I was younger), is that good things often arise from our most difficult times. It may take years for us to realize it, but our toughest times might be preparation for something better. Consider these real life examples:

  • My wife’s health challenges prepared her to mentor others who are experiencing similar issues.
  • Bombing my calculus final made me aware of my math limitations and motivated me to select a different (and better fitting) major.
  • A difficult investment performance period taught me important lessons about humility and how to service clients in tough situations.
  • A heart attack victim’s extended hospital stay gave him the needed time to reflect on his life and repair broken relationships.
  • The employer who didn’t hire me conducted massive layoffs in the next year.

 
Periods of adversity don’t always turn out rosy, but it happens more often than you’d think. You just don’t know it while you’re living through it.  Experience tells me that, more often than not, something good will come from something bad—even if it’s a needed life lesson. That’s why, even when things look bleak, I still hope for—and believe for—a happy ending.
 
When you’re experiencing a personal trial, it pays to consider that it might be preparation for something greater. After all, our greatest character growth comes from enduring life’s greatest challenges!
                                                                     
Consider some of the major life trials you’ve experienced. Are you able to see some good that came out of those periods? How was your character affected by it? Can you think of people you know who have experienced significant adversity? How has it shaped them for the better? Share your experiences and encouragement with our online community; we’d love to hear from you!