Risk is the solution you owe to yourself
“What have you got to lose?”
I find myself returning to that sentiment over and over again in discussions with clients and in a recent appearance on the Call Paul / Mailchimp podcast, during which I discussed small business survival during COVID-19.
Remember this scene from Risky Business?
If you can’t say, “What the f*ck…,” you can’t do it.
No guts, no glory.
One of our most popular blog posts is one I wrote back in 2013. I was living in Connecticut at the time, and everything was crushing. Life was pure pressure—personally and professionally—and I felt utterly alone and desperate.
I was suffering from imposter syndrome. I was suffering from lack of support. I was suffering and suffering. Just suffering.
At the same time, I knew that I wasn’t the only entrepreneur who felt this way. Early on in the entrepreneurial journey, someone will share, “It’s hard on families and marriages. People will doubt you. People will try to prevent you from reaching your goals and claim to be ‘protecting you.’ Decide now how much you’re willing to sacrifice.”
For those of us who hacked together our businesses, who didn’t get a grant, loan, or trust fund, who bled for hours, days, weeks to get to where we are—but who had just a few dollars in their checking account far too many times—it’s very f*cking personal. It has to be.
As conscientious business owners, we try to project into those ridiculous situations grace and confidence and energy, even when we don’t feel it. The strain affects us (and often those around us) because it’s not just work. It can’t just sit and it often won’t wait. It’s personal because it’s about your reputation and ability. It’s your little Frankenstein, your creation, and it’s your job (usually solely) to ensure it doesn’t implode.
Now during this pandemic, the world can see how very f*cking personal it is.
Fight or flight.
How did I eventually surmount that crushing suffering? I had a sizable breakdown about a week after writing that post in 2013. Not my proudest moment—but inevitable and critical. Not long after that, I broke free, moved to New York City, and started over with a brand-new mindset. Turns out I was willing to sacrifice everything for what would become 816 New York.
The source of my suffering was knowing what I was capable of being versus being stuck where I was. It was a lot of work to recover, but as a result, I can better support and uplift my clients—personally and professionally—so they avoid the breaking point.
Am I encouraging that level of break-big-and-run risk during COVID-19? No. Well, maybe. Deep down, you know where you’re at and where you need to be.
This is an opportunity if you see it as an opportunity.
Don’t fold up. Don’t give up. Reinvent. Re-purpose. Re-envision.
I’ll put it another way: How would you want to be remembered? If a pandemic doesn’t make you keenly aware of your humanity, I don’t know what will.
During this crisis, the fighters are those who survive with little assistance from the government or banks, and instead turn to community and creativity. They show vulnerability, welcome support, and build strength through reciprocity and unity. They strengthen humanity by being the best version of humanity.
Love this personal thank-you from No Kid Hungry. What a beautiful way to acknowledge community, especially on a platform like Twitter.
@816nyc Thanks a million to everyone who has donated to #NoKidHungry! Sarah, your donation is going a long way in helping us get kids the meals they need. Thank you! #ThankAHungerHero pic.twitter.com/Q95WXrwXMR
— No Kid Hungry (@nokidhungry) May 27, 2020
As a business, that does not mean you disregard public health, thumb your nose at legislation or law enforcement, or otherwise flex the size of your… ego. This is not a call to be irresponsible. It means that you demonstrate to the community that you’re sane, safe, and stable. And expect the same from them.
- Show that you recognize what is happening,
- you’re adapting as state regulations change,
- you empathize with others’ suffering and are grateful for their support,
- you’re responsive to the needs of the community, and
- you’re pivoting your mindset willingly to stay afloat and active.
You’re still here.
Think of all the times you’ve doubted yourself because the situation seemed insurmountable. You know why you can do that? Because you’re still here. Listen to that entrepreneurial voice; it’s still there. Everything around you feels uncertain because of the predominantly fear-based political and media narrative. It’s natural to lack faith in that environment.
You had no choice but to survive before the pandemic. You still don’t, I would imagine. We need motivated business and community leaders now more than ever—to strengthen and rebuild the towns and cities that are hurting. That doesn’t happen when this is “over.” It doesn’t happen if we “wait it out.” It happens now.
If half the energy of a complaint culture could be harvested into solutions and calls to action…
— Sean Penn (@SeanPenn) May 27, 2020
But before you get to the How, you have to figure out the Why. Who can you be in this new normal—as an entrepreneur, a leader, a member of the community, an example to others… whatever it is? Why does it matter that you shift and survive? You may have to take a risk to find out. Say what the f*ck.
What have you got to lose?