The other day I asked a 40-something guy what he would tell his 20-something self…he immediately responded “take more risks, you can’t “eff-up” your twenties.
This is a universal 40:20-ism. Most of the women I’ve interviewed over the years are more comfortable with risk as they get older. IT seems counter-intuitive, as you often have more to lose…more space, more family more debt…but they have seen the gains in confidence and life experience outweigh the failures.
This 40-something woman left a secure job where she had great relationships to go to a company to work with a well known, but known to be difficult CEO. She pushed herself in salary negotiations to see it pay off. In the end, it was the wrong choice…but a choice she could live with:
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” you know?”
She learned that she was a damn good negotiator, a skill that came in handy with her next job as a CMO at a non-profit. She also learned what her limits were when it comes to the emotional costs of a dream job “on paper”.
This 40-something in the travel industry quit her job to travel for the first time in her twenties and then again in her forties. She recognized that the consequences were bigger now as a 40-something — less time to make up lost salary and age bias for starts. Yet she was willing to take her chances.
I actually think that I take the same risks at 40 that I took at 20. But now I am 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 than 20 but I was able to say to myself with confidence, ‘it will work out’ and it did work out.”
Some women come to feel that the real risk is in not taking risks…the risk of living a life unfulfilled. They were more risk averse in their twenties because they felt pressure to do the right thing …to follow the expected path.
This 40-something woman, who chose the safe banking career in her hometown rather than a commission based sales job in an unfamiliar city, wishes she hadn’t feel the need to be so responsible:
For a long time I lived a life self-protection. I didn’t take a lot of risks because I was afraid. I felt like I had to do the right thing — be the good daughter, get the right grades, and get the right job. I have only come more into my own later in life. I was a late bloomer. Now I’m being fully alive and that means putting my self out there. What allows me to do this is that now I don’t care as much what people think of me or whether I’m carrying an extra 10 pounds. I could care less as long if I experience more moments of joy or even just being fully present and not distracted…that is a huge win for me.”
To her the big shift is the realization that risk is not permanent:
Risk in my 20s was doing something that I thought was going to affect my life forever. You think it is going to define your life but it doesn’t. If you choose “A” or “B” you think that is for life, but it’s not. The thought that we have this whole planned out life and I am going to do this career or get my MBA or get married and live happily ever after …is naïve. We have no idea what will happen. And that is a good thing.”
Make the best decision you can at the time …and yes…take more risks!
Tell us about the biggest risk you took in your twenties, thirties or forties…and what you learned!