Sunday, October 30, 2011

Risk and Euchre

I used to believe that I was completely different than my family.

I am an engineer, I wanted a boss, I wanted clear goals, few risks. My dad's side of the family are entrepreneurs, they are either starting businesses, or running them.They aren't always successful, but that doesn't stop them from finding something new to do when things don't pan out. There is always a new opportunity, or hard work to keep the current business afloat in tough times.

I have realized that even though I don't want to start a business, I actually have a pretty steep appetite for risk, and a high tolerance for failure.

Many pundits write about how my generation is risk-averse. We try to lead perfect lives, get perfect grades, have the right mix of activities. One missed step and our little lives will come crashing down. We don't protest, we don't speak our opinions loudly, we're too busy keeping our noses stuck to our phones to see the world.

I make important decisions like I play Euchre. I call trump, because you can't win if you always let someone else decide for you. If you wait for a sure thing, it will never come. So you need to make the most of the cards in your hand, and pick a suit you have the best chance in, not lament about not getting a loner.

This means making choices without full information, deciding to do difficult things, getting people to bend the rules because you are too young, and being willing to spend the time if things are going sour.

It's funny because in this time of endings, I had been fixating on the fact that I am leaving a lot unfinished, and in a sense failed. However, I have accomplished a lot since June of 2009. I worked hard, occasionally screwed up, but generally managed to get things to work. It was a risk doing Direct-PhD, it was a risk working on a nanotechnology project, it was a risk deciding not to take the overview math class, and it was a risk deciding to work for a guy who hadn't graduated any students yet. Overall I can look back, and see a lot of success. It was my call, and it was a decent one.

In high school and college I pulled a lot of tricks to challenge myself, to not be bored, to get paid more. It didn't always work out. When it did work I believe in increased my appetite to try again. The other funny thing is that it often gave me good interview material, because I had to find workarounds when things did not go right. Now, a little older and wiser, I feel I've gotten myself to a place where I am not exceptional, and I am constantly challenged. The risks I take now are not the same sort as ten years ago. Now it is a conscious choice to not do something because it is easy.

Of course, there are costs to taking on risks. Just like in Euchre, when you make a risky call, and it doesn't work out, the other team gets 2 points, and prolongs the game. By not betting on a sure thing, I probably added a least a year to how long it will take for me to walk out with my Doctorate and I lost a great adviser. For this second, and likely last try, I cannot afford to screw up.

We dissect ourselves everyday, turning over every sinew, searching every shadow in our soul. Never thought to feed what we had, only long for what we lack.
Dad, I am much more like you than I had thought. I hope I am every bit as tough as you are too.

Take care,
Molly : )

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