Flash Friday: What’s Your Risk Quotient?

Today is Flash Friday – when 40:20 Vision tackles an issue from both the 40-something and 20-something perspective. Joining me on this mission is Molly Ford of Smart Pretty and Awkward. Today’s topic is risk: What kind of risk (financial, emotional, physical) are you willing to take at 20 vs. 40 and how does the tolerance for risk change as we experience more life?

The 20-Something Perspective by Molly Ford

Risk is putting yourself in a situation where the outcome can be uncertain; risk can be financial, emotional, physical, and/or romantic. Risk has three main components:

1. What is defined as a risk
2. The level of risk involved, and
3. How to mitigate, or lessen, the risk.

How do 20-somethings define, manage, and mitigate risk?

Kim, a 26 year old nurse, leads off the conversation by saying she thinks “Everyday is a risk when you are 20-something.”

Indeed, the general agreement among 20-somethings tends to be that 20-somethings risk more often than older age groups because they feel they have smaller consequences. Rosie, a 26 year old Client Manager, says “Being young enough to make mistakes without worrying about, for example, children (because I don’t have any yet), allows me to move to certain places, switch jobs, and travel without worrying about anyone but me. Your 20’s are a good time to take risks.”

Lora, 22, Operations Manager, elaborates, “since I am currently a 20-something without children, I’d say I am taking way more financial risks than I would when I have a family, and enjoying every minute of it! While I still have savings for rainy days, I spend more on clothes and shoes and also TRAVELING. This is the time of my life where I know I have the most freedom, so I am spending most of my money seeing the world.”

The physical freedom to travel and/or switch cities seems to be a big area where 20-something’s experience risk, as Rosie, Kim and Lora all mentioned it when asked about risk. Lora even moved abroad after college, “Moving abroad is the biggest risk I have ever taken in general. After graduating college I moved my whole life to Europe for my career and relationship. It was so scary thinking it may not work out, but so far it has and it has been the most amazing experience of my life.”

Moving and traveling costs money, and financial risk, especially when it relates to career, is something to consider. Nicole, a 20-year old student, says “I feel that moving out and paying for everything, on top of school, is a huge risk, in that we could be thrown on our butts at any time. We have to learn to budget out money for groceries, gas, rent, etc.”

Paying off student loans, and being financially independent can feel risky until a bigger “nest egg” is built up, which often comes later in your 20’s. Lora also speaks about moving to a new city for her job, saying she worried “What if you can’t afford where you live on how much you’re getting paid in your job?”

Nicole also touches on the topic of romantic risk: “I said yes to my boyfriend, and we’re now engaged. I feel that it is a huge risk because we are so young (he’s 23), but we feel that it’s right.”

Lora agrees, saying “Relationships are always risky as a 20-something, because you never know which boyfriend will actually turn out to be ‘the one.’ I’m scared that the person I put so much of my time into may not be the one, but at the same time I want to enjoy every minute and live in the moment.”

But not all romantic risks are large life-changing risks like getting engaged, however. When asked about the risks she takes, besides listing career and traveling risks, Isabelle, a 23 year old engineer, also says, “asking for boys’ numbers at the bar is a risk!”

Relationships touch on the topic of trust, and Kim, the 26 year old nurse, says that in relationships, romantic or otherwise, figuring out who to trust can feel risky. “Trying to figure out what you want to do in life, while also figuring out which people in your life outside of your family that you can trust (boyfriends, coworkers, etc.) is also a risk.”

No 20-something I talked to spoke about physical risk, except for Nicole that said, “I would say finances and relationships are the biggest risks that a 20-something faces. Not including the going-out-to-clubs-and-getting-too-drunk-that-we-go-home-with-an-axe-murderer kind of risk.” Sometimes when people look back on their teenage years they think about all their physical risks (like reckless driving) they didn’t realize back then: will 20-somethings look back on all-night-clubbing and similar escapades with the same feelings that it was a physical risk they didn’t realize?

To sum up, Rosie does says she thinks she will take “fewer risks – of all kinds—“ as she grows older and settles down, but Lora reminds us that “good risk” is important, saying “without taking risks, you prevent yourself from growth. Step out of your comfort zone!” True advice no matter what your age.


The 40-something Perspective by Christina Vuleta

40-somethings agree. Everyday is a risk!  But how we perceive the consequences of risk changes.

There is an inverse relationship between confidence and risk. The more confident you become the less risk you see in your choices and therefore older women think they take more risks in a way.  This 40-something woman who took a big risk on negotiating a big job and a big salary only to find out it was the wrong choice…puts it quite simply:

“I guess my bottom line is that your attitude toward taking risk doesn’t change that much…but your confidence increases to what once seemed like a risk is really just making a decision

She ended up quitting the big job without a new job in sight. The emotional drama of the job was riskier to her self-worth than the certainty of a paycheck.

It’s the comfort level with risk that increases with age. This 40-something in the travel industry feels that things that were risky at twenty are less risky now.

“I take the same risks at 40 that I took at 20. But now I’m more comfortable with it and can enjoy it more. In my twenties I quit my job and travelled. I did the same thing at 40. I think I had more to lose at 40 but I was able to say to myself, ‘it will work out’ and it did work out.”

She went on to say that she didn’t want to hold off on doing something important under the false assumption that having a job was safe in today’s times. While she had more to lose than in her twenties – lost salary, age bias — she also realized her sense of safety was really an illusion:

“I could be doing the best job in the world and still be the first to get laid off because I make the most money.”

She touches on another 40-something insight.  You think the risk is bigger than it is because you think you can control it. Then in your 40s you realize you can’t control anything. This formerly risk-averse women thinks of it as the “risk is not permanent” theory:

“Risk in my 20s was doing something that I thought would affect my life forever. You think it’s going to define your life. You choose A or B and you think that’s it for life, but it’s not.

The irony is that we all think we have so much control and we actually have zero control.  We get up in the morning and we have no idea what’s going to happen. So the thought that we have this whole planned out life of ‘I’ll do this career and get that MBA or get married and live happily ever after …is naïve. We have no idea.”

Actually it’s the avoidance of  risk that some women feel results in more permanent outcomes. This PR executive wonders if she would have found her “dream” job if she had taken more risks in her twenties.

I wish I took more career risks in my twenties as then I might have made more mistakes and found a different career path than the one I have now.  If I had followed a dream or two, I might be in that dream job I once wanted.   Take more risks in your twenties as you have plenty of time to play catch-up.”  

Similarly, this 40-something woman who works in marketing for a global financial institution wishes she had chosen risk over responsibility:

I probably could have and should have taken more risks early in my life. My decisions were ruled by an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. Or a fear that I didn’t even know was there. I grew up overly responsible and felt like I had to do the right thing — be the good daughter, get the right grades, and find the right job. I was too afraid to take a real risk.

Now I have come more into my own. I’m being fully alive and that means putting my self out there. I could care less what people think of me or whether I am carrying an extra 10 pounds as long as I experience more moments of joy. Just being fully present and not distracted – that’s a huge win for me.” 

Interestingly, almost every woman spoke of risk in relation to career. When it comes to relationships, 40-somethings have taken “risks” that either paid of or didn’t…and survived. It just makes you stronger as this 40-something divorced woman in a new relationship shares:

“I take more emotional risks now as I know I will bounce back and be fine no matter what the world gives me.”

I was curious how risk changes after children. This mother of one has never been afraid of risk…

“I never thought twice about taking risks. I acted on my gut and did what I did.  Some decisions I made were bad, but most turned out okay. Taking risk is fundamental to change, and change is usually good. The biggest risk I took in my twenties was taking my graduation money and moving to New York City!  I knew almost no one. I had very little money and I had no job!  18 years later, I’m still here and everything worked out! 

…and she didn’t really feel her attitude has changed much with motherhood.

I always have my daughter in mind, so risk is mitigated in that sense. That said, after being laid off from my last job I decided start my own business rather than go back to work!  I guess I felt that we were financially “okay and what we gained was more important then money.”

When you’re responsible for another life you are more responsible with your own. This married mom has changed her physically adventurous ways since having children…but little else.

“You are definitely more risk averse when you have kids.  They rely on you.  I used to be a daredevil, in a physical sense.  I still am at heart, but now I think about it first.  Financially I still take risks – but perhaps a little less as I get older (and hopefully wiser).”  

This full on adventure seeker doesn’t regret a thing … except her risky financial behavior.

“I’m high risk across the board! You only live once. Although now at 42 with little to no savings left I wish I had maybe been a little more cautious with money.”

Money is often one risk that people have regrets about. Perhaps because looking back it is something you can control. At the same time, many women at 40 start over, changing their careers lifestyle or starting businesses. While often it means less financial security, they realize they don’t have time to wait for what they want.

Whether you call it a risk or a choice toward uncertainty, for many 40-something women the real risk is not being fulfilled. Do think about your motivations and the potential consequences, but don’t think you can figure it all out ahead of time. It may or may not work out, but you will rise to the occasion, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Trust in yourself.

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