Rethinking risk

By Alyce Viens

Build-A-Bear Workshop CEO Sharon Price John recently said in a Fortune magazine article, “We often spend so much time creating a thousand reasons why we can’t do something, we forget that we can, and in doing so, lose out on the very process that transforms us and prepares us for the next challenge.” When I read this quote I immediately had several memories flash through my mind of how many times I came up with excuses. I thought of how many times I used the phrase “I can’t.” Once I moved past thinking about myself I started to think about women and how often this occurs. While all human beings are uncomfortable with uncertainty, it turns out that for women this sense is heightened. Women have been found to hold back unless they are 100 percent sure of a positive outcome. Men are not controlled as powerfully by the fear of the unknown. In fact, one Hewlett Packard study found that women at their company only applied for a promotion when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Their male counterparts applied if they only felt they met 60 percent of qualifications.

Women especially are positioned to be what I would call “excuse generators.” There is a multitude of contributing factors that lead to this. First, the media continually creates an environment in which women are expected to strive for nothing less than perfection. Second, women are constantly struggling to find the balance between standing out, but not so much as to be disliked for being self-promoting. Finally, and possibly the most troubling, is that women are in an internal competition with each other, judging each other for the decisions we make. This is certainly nowhere near an exhaustive list of influencing forces turning women into “excuse generators” but it does serve as a foundation from which to improve.

Whatever the reason may be, the stark truth is that we often do not take enough risks which is holding us back in our careers, and in our lives. Women too frequently have been plagued with questioning themselves and thus falling into patterns of self-doubt, second guessing and a lack of risk-taking. The solution to this issue, as with all the issues, is not cut and dry nor easy. However, I believe the first step is that we need to rethink the way that we frame risk-taking to women. There needs to be a shift in vantage point where risk-taking is not seen as a possible path to failure, but rather as an opportunity to shine and to tap into the potential that is inside each and every woman. As with many social movements all it takes is one agent of change. It takes just one person to begin a continuous chain of risk-taking women. I encourage every woman reading this to take a healthy risk and begin that chain, because when you do, you are also inspiring the women around you to do the same. Don’t be another excuse generator; be a generator of change.

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