“I don’t know when I became so boring.” Ellen told me. “I used to be fun. I used to be more daring. Now, I’m too afraid to take a chance.” Ellen worked in an office park in North Haven, Connecticut and found the setting dull. She worked in a company and in an industry that provided “a job” but not much more. Taking a chance to start her own business – even if initially just on the side – did not have that much risk. But she had succumbed to the fear of uncertainty. “What if it doesn’t succeed?”
Part of my work is helping our career counseling clients deal rationally with fear. I add that I am highly mindful about suggesting to anyone at a career pivot point to take an irrational risk. I tell our career seekers that being a rational risk taker makes sense and that I am not in the business of creating starving artists. But what I have noticed in Connecticut – the land of steady habits – is that many people are irrationally afraid of risk.
Examine Ellen’s situation. She was 32, unmarried, no children. She had $7,000 in student loans remaining, $4,000 in a car payment, and about $2,000 in credit card payments. She didn’t have a big life style but her current job left her saving only about $500 month – if she was Spartan like in her entertainment and discretionary purchases. Realistically, this meant that she was saving only a couple hundred a month. She was staying in her current job to pay off all debt so that then she could start her business. There was no upward mobility or raise expected at her current job. It would take her at least 5-7 years to pay off that debt under her current savings plan. That’s a lot of life. That’s a lot of boredom.
Ellen’s business idea was low-capital and she already had potential clients. She also knew she could work part time at her cousin’s store. Initially, she would earn less than she did now but it was reasonably likely that she could make as much within a year and within 2 years it was highly likely that she would make more money. Part of the reason was that Ellen did not make much money now (around $30,000).
Ellen’s parents lived in Hamden. Ellen’s boyfriend lived in New Haven. Ellen’s sister live in Woodbridge. If her business struggled, she could live with any of them. Her parents also could help her out. And, she thought that if she really had to do so she could work in her cousin’s store enough to pay her bills. So what was the risk? Leaving a steady job. However, Ellen knew that her company was not doing great. The chances that she would be laid off in the next couple of years were around 50%.
It made no little rational sense to stay.
Ellen left delighted that our session gave her “permission” to go back and live life like an adventure.