Anais Nin Knows Things.
I'm a former writing teacher, and I was a student of literature for seven years (earning two degrees in a discipline that I just couldn't break up with). You can't change what's in your DNA and those two things - teaching and literature - are as ingrained in me as my dark hair and brown eyes. So, you've been warned.
Now skip this post if you don't think there's any way a mid-century American writer connects with business... except that she totally does.
Anais Nin wrote mostly feminist essays, dramas, and romance novels. Although she may be hailed by modern day writers as a beautiful linguist and trail blazer for the feminine voice, she actually knew a lot about what it takes to not only survive, but thrive, in business.
I think she sums this up best with, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." It's true. No matter what field you're in. No matter your background. No matter how many degrees you have on the wall - life is what you make it. If it remains constant and predictable, it remains small. Or - if it is wavering, unpredictable, with high highs and low lows it opens up opportunity after opportunity.
We see this every day in our business lives: when we don't voice our opinion in a meeting because we're in the minority; when we don't bring a new and radical idea to our supervisor because we are unsure of their reaction; and sometimes it happens before we even walk in the door - by not even applying for a dream job because, "Well, I probably won't get it anyway."
That's true. We might not get our dream job. Our colleagues might disagree with our opinions. Our supervisor might shut down our ideas. But those things will just happen to someone else if they don't happen to you - because that's how the universe operates. And those people who learn to hear "No" and expect to hear "No" more than they hear "Yes" become braver every new risk they take. "No" becomes the norm - until the law of averages balances out and they hear "Yes." Yes to the dream job. Yes to the promotion at work. Yes to earning respect among their colleagues.
Life - all of the stuff outside of us that we cannot control - reacts to us. When we shrink, everything shrinks with us. Instead of clawing to get ahead and mumbling bitterly under our breaths when things don't go our way, we can choose to take the risk that seems improbable, we can choose to take the risk that feels very uncomfortable, we can choose to take the risk just to see what would happen.
I wasn't a risk taker most of my adult life. At the beginning of my career, I rarely spoke up in meetings so to not alienate myself. When I felt unmotivated by supervisors, I let that dictate my own work performance. I was the person mumbling under my breath when things didn't go my way. I let myself shrink. Then slowly - and not overnight - I took more risks, personally and professionally. Just to see what would happen.
My being able to write a blog post about risk on a website with my company's logo at the top of the page is tangible proof of several hundred risks I have taken to the moments leading up to this. Many (oh, so many) were failures, but just enough - and all the right ones - were not.
So, thank you, Anais. You know of what you speak.