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Which is the bigger risk?

When I talk to budding entrepreneurs and leaders, they often fear that if they chase their dreams they will inevitably be taking a huge risk. They fear that if they start a business or non-profit, or  pursue their passions they will:

  • Face bankruptcy or debt
  • Have to live a life where they are just getting by for a year or two while they launch their dream
  • Destroy their future employability if the venture doesn’t work
  • Make them the laughing stock of their friends and family

Just getting by isn’t so bad

There is some truth in the possibility of dealing with bouts with poverty. Many great leaders started off very poor and achieved financial stability over several years.  But living in a shitty apartment and eating ramen every night isn’t so bad if your days are spent doing something you love. I know because when I started Ignited Leadership I lived in a small apartment for two years and literally ate boiled pasta for dinner every night. I had to turn down offers to go out with friends because I couldn’t afford a ticket to the movies or a drink at the bar. But you know what? It was totally worth it. I’d do it again.

One caveat: you should avoid significant debt at all costs and carrying a balance on your credit card is a terrible idea 98% of the time.

Taking a risk makes you more employable

I don’t buy the argument that spending a few years pursuing your dreams makes you less employable. I believe the exact opposite is true. Everyone else on the market is busy being a sheep and following the normal path. They’re sending in boringly professional cover letters and resumes listing off typical experiences (college education, summer internships, a  passionless job, etc) believing that they will somehow stand out. People like that are a dime a dozen to potential employers.

People who are willing to think and act for themselves, who are willing to take risks and start something amazing are much more valuable to an employer than yet another cog in the machine. Leaving the beaten path to start a business, chase your passions, or stand up for a cause doesn’t destroy your future employability – it maximizes it.

It’s stupid to worry about what other people will think

And honestly, if you’re spending time worrying about what other people will think, you’ve got it backwards. As long as you spend your days trying to impress other people, everyone in the world – except for you – will have power over your thoughts and feelings. That’s a miserable life. Get over impressing others and start being true to yourself.

The real risk is the failure to pursue your dreams

When you do fail to pursue your dreams, you run the phenomenal risk of creating a mediocre life for yourself.

Your two options are clear:

  1. Fail to pursue your dreams and accept mediocrity. If you do this you run the risk of dying knowing that you never truly lived the life you dreamt of.
  2. Take a “risk” and begin creating the most beautiful thing you can imagine. If you do this, you run the risk of “failure.” Of course if you fail, you can always return to the beaten path.

The choice is yours and yours alone, but to me it’s quite clear: the real risk is following the beaten path. The real risk is not pursuing your dreams. The real risk is betting on mediocrity and accepting the inevitable apathy and regret that follows.

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