Scare Yourself Busy

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Much has been written in professional and personal development circles about the importance of doing things that scare you.  Tackling projects that take you out of your comfort zones.  Roles that challenge you to grow.  This has been the justification for exhilarating thrills like climbing Mt. Everest or life-changing moves like leaving an abusive relationship or embarking on a new career.

I have never thought of myself as a risk-taker.  I generally had a “big fish, small pond” mindset.  I liked to tackle projects that I believed I could do successfully.  I have prided myself that my hobbies, my relationships, and my work are not drama-filled.  I don’t even like horror movies.  Alas, I am missing all the tell-tale signs of a risk taker, so I figured I wasn’t one.

Until now. 

I now see that I am just a different type of risk taker and here are three things I am learning about managing risk.

1. Sometimes it’s the stop-watch, not the altimeter which measures the risk

It might not be the altitude of the mountain that is the risk, but the speed at which you are trying to ascend or the number of hills you are climbing at once.  When I get overwhelmed or scared, it is generally not because of the enormity of any individual task or commitments I have made.  It is rather because I am trying to do them all at once.  I scare myself in this way regularly and I know I am not alone.  Recognizing that deadlines and commitments, served up simultaneously, adds stress and complexity to otherwise reasonable tasks, is important to acknowledge.  Those of us who rush to do more can give ourselves permission to recognize the risk for what it is and pull back or lunge forward as necessary.

2. “But isn’t multi-tasking bad?” is a trick, and surprisingly personal, question

Behavioral scientists say multi-tasking is a fallacy and that this lack of focus costs organizations millions of dollars a year in lost productivity.  I respectfully, I don’t believe it.  Maybe for some it is a bad thing.  Making people work outside their natural work style can certainly backfire, but for me, it’s the only way.  Experience has taught me that when I multi-task I accomplish more.  I achieve better results.  I think more clearly.  I make connections between things that lead to new insights.  I remain more open to ideas from others.  I have certainly had professional failures and disappointments, but throughout I have found that action itself is a source of energy.  The busyness isn’t the secret sauce, but it is certainly in the winning recipe for me. 

3. Managing risk is about knowing your risk tolerance

You don’t gamble, what you can’t afford to lose.  Whether you are analyzing the risk of an investment portfolio or contemplating bold moves in your career, managing risk appropriately requires an appreciation of risk tolerance.  My risk tolerance has to do with judging my commitments against my priorities.  Despite my multi-tasking ways, or perhaps because of it, I am a big believer in looking at my life in chapters.  There is a time and place for everything.  The good things need to find more time and space in my schedule and attention, crowding out things of lesser importance or urgency.  Avoiding the fallacy that tasks or priorities are permanent or immovable.

Ralph Waldo Emerson summarized it well when he said, “Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person‘Always do what you are afraid to do.’”  So, you might just scare yourself busy.

This article was published on LinkedIn