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Posts Tagged ‘risk’

Risk Is Not A Four-Letter Word

In behavior, books, business, culture, design, domestic life, education, family, journalism, life, love, Media, men, women, work on June 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Trapeze artists Kia and Lindsay at Circus Smirkus

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I’ve been thinking about risk a lot these days.

My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was born of risk. It began as a personal essay I wrote for The New York Times, published in February 2009. I was absolutely certain that publishing it would kill my writing career, as in it I said that working retail was better than working as a journalist.

Wasn’t I torching all my bridges?

In fact, I was on CNN two days later discussing it; then on the Brian Lehrer Show and, within months, had found an agent and sold a book based on my oddest risk of all — taking a low-wage job and being willing to talk about it for publication.

I had no clear idea why I worked retail, other than — like many others — I needed steady cash. There was no Grand Plan, just needing and valuing a new job where I might re-build my shattered confidence after my Daily News debacle.

The irony?

Taking these risks has now brought me, and my work and ideas, far more attention than anything smaller and safer and more conventional I’ve also produced. I’ve spoken at a Marie-Claire staff event, keynoted a major retail conference (with another skedded this summer) and, if the stars truly align, may see my name on the small screen.

I recently took a few more risks, some big, some small:

– I cut my hair really short, not the prudent choice given my current weight. I feel so great and so liberated I also now feel a lot more motivated to shed the damn weight, instead of dutifully waiting until I am thinner to reward myself with a pretty cut.

– I met up again for the first time in decades with a few former beaux, a high school crush and the man I’d lived with in my 20s, now divorced. I wasn’t at all sure how these meetings would go, but am really glad I went to both. I’m happily partnered, and it was good to catch up with two men who meant a lot to me in earlier days, who are still funny and attractive and with whom I share some serious history, growth and memories.

– I asked a stranger on LinkedIn for help making some connections for Malled and he made a great introduction. Now I have to find the cojones to ask for the business!

– I’ll be going on a silent Buddhist retreat July 23-31, a gift from my partner. I can’t decide what freaks me out most: not working (tough for a full-time freelancer); no liquor; not talking; being surrounded by people who fervently believe in ideas different from my own. It’s all good. But a little scary!

In this relentlessly awful economy, it’s very tempting to avoid just about any risk — whether confronting a toxic friend or love relationship (I could end up alone!), dealing with a bully boss (I could get fired!) or ditching an annoying client (I could starve!)

I think it’s at times like these it’s even more essential to choose a few risks and take them.

Courage is a muscle — use it or lose it.

I like this blog post from a businesswoman who urges us all to use a little “creative chutzpah.”

As Seth Godin writes here, taking a risk can be the smartest choice we make.

Here’s a great story from the New Yorker about a Hollywood therapist who urges his patients to eat a “death cookie” — take a risk!

When did you last take a risk?

How did it turn out?

Do you regret it?

Or did it jump-start your life in some unexpected and lovely way?

Wanna Hear What I Really Think? Got $6,000?

In business, Crime, Media on May 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm
Money

Image by AMagill via Flickr

So much for “free” speech.

Just got off the phone with an agent who sells “E and O” — errors and omissions insurance — as I start to figure out how to protect my ass(ets) as a writer. He’s sending me several applications, one of which, the multimedia version, is really long. Of course it is!

The joy of “independent writing”? Anyone can sue us anytime. The latest darling of the suit-happy are SLAPP suits — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Which means, unless you work on staff for a Big Media Company (with in-house staff attorneys whose highly-paid job it is to protect you and, more importantly, your employer) you’re toast, baby.

More and more, writers are strong-armed into signing contracts that leave us holding the bag in case someone we cover sues the media outlet for whom we’ve done the — freelance — work.

There’s no better way to make sure we write about puppies and kittens and rainbows than knowing one false move can mean our IRAs are going to get garnisheed in a settlement. The saber-rattling by those with very deep pockets – hmmmm, the wealthy and powerful? — means many of us slap duct tape over our mouths every morning, no matter what madness and malfeasance we discover.

“Independence” is a relative term.

One lawyer I spoke to, knowing the writing life, (beyond lucrative TV and film), delicately inquired, “Do you have any assets?” The answer, having worked long and hard and been really disciplined about driving clapped-out old cars and wearing (mostly) consignment shop shoes is “Yes.” I save 15 percent of my income every year, even when that income is so small I think: “Why bother?”

And, this being the U.S, a nuisance lawsuit is both nauseating and much more probable than I’d like.

Suiting up, then, is quite the challenge, requiring the (paid) services and advice and expertise of my accountant (becoming a company); an attorney (making sure it’s all done properly) and an insurance agent. Unlike car or home insurance, I can’t cough up that dough each month — it’s one lump sum, on my income, a fortune. There is cheaper insurance but — funny thing!– it’s capped at a much lower amount.

Why should you care?

Every day, there are posts I don’t write — or write and don’t publish — because, who needs it? Like many of my colleagues, I’ve got other things to worry about without some $$$$$-mad aggrieved plaintiff ruining my life. That costs you, dear readers, because there’s all sorts of (interesting) stuff it simply isn’t worth mentioning, for fear of such a suit. I know, personally, other independent writers backing away slowly, if regretfully, from smart, incisive, tough, investigative work for this very reason.

Believe it or not, not every writer wants to focus on all-fluff-all the time. But without a safety net, you can’t safely leap too far.

I’m thinking of setting up a Paypal account — you really want my unvarnished opinions? Help me speak truth to power, and not lose my home/assets/savings in the process.

Testosterone + Money + Pressure For Profit = Too Much Risk. Time For Women To Run Wall Street?

In behavior, business, men on March 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm
An assortment of United States coins, includin...

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This week’s New York magazine has an interesting piece by ex-Portfolio staffer Sheelah Kolhatkar asking “What if Women Ran Wall Street?”:

Despite what we’ve been led to believe, the market isn’t rational or efficient at all—it’s all about feelings. The major plot points of the crisis largely turned on emotion: Dick Fuld was too egotistical to sell Lehman Brothers when he had the chance, so his pride drove it into the ground; Bear Stearns hedge-fund managers lost huge sums of money on subprime mortgages despite the fact that they suspected the worst (“I’m fearful of these markets,” Ralph Cioffi e-mailed a colleague back in 2007); Merrill Lynch was the “fat kid,” as the investor Steve Eisman has put it, so desperate to be like Goldman Sachs that it barreled into every dumb investment imaginable and had to be bailed out by Bank of America. Almost every single bank chief doubled down on mortgage junk at exactly the wrong moment. Emotions led otherwise intelligent men—because, let’s face it, all of them were men—to make terrible decisions.

According to a new breed of researchers from the field of behavioral finance, Wall Street’s volatility is really driven by our body chemistry. It’s the chemicals pulsing through traders’ veins that propel them to place insane bets and enable bank executives to make risky decisions—and those same chemicals tend to have the same effect on everyone, turning them into a herd of overheated animals. And because the vast majority of these traders and finance executives are men, the most important chemical in question is testosterone.

Here are a few things we know about testosterone: Both men and women produce it, but men make fifteen times as much of it as women, on average… Behaviorally, it does all the things that one would expect: It is linked to increased aggression and dominance, confidence, hostility, violence, sensation-seeking… One of the most fascinating things about testosterone is the way it can be influenced by the environment.

The link between risk-taking behavior and high(er) levels of testosterone has been posited before.

How much worse — or better — could women make it?

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