I used to tell people how simple it was to change their physical appearance, leaner, fatter, bigger, faster, etc.
Then I was in college. Some may doubt the rigors of my academic pursuit of marketing in comparison to the study of materials more scientific in nature but nonetheless what I studied proved difficult for some and I didn’t understand why.
Eventually you realize that your confidence exists because of the foundation your success rests on. Its obvious but its implications are less so.
My physical ability rests on a strong, but not as strong as many others, foundation of genetics coupled with a basic knowledge of human performance. This foundation has proven strong enough to make the tasks mentioned earlier seem simple.
Move to college and my work ethic, my ability to focus in class, early in my college career built my foundation for those years and the years ahead in my specialty of marketing. I could prove a level of efficacy in college that I didn’t demonstrate in high school because it rose from a new foundation. One that didn’t rely as heavily on my earlier academic competencies. I’d imagine this is a familiar pattern for many. A form of redemption for those whose early education lacked proficiency either by choice or by circumstance.
A foundation becomes a strength. Once it is built it allows you to explore into deeper territories. You can explore algebra after understanding the basic number line principles that define arithmetic but you can’t do it before or you’d have to do it all at once, a feat substantially more difficult. Once you understand one you can continue to explore further, resting on the foundation that has already been built.
Now I had said that all of this is obvious but its implications aren’t. This is where the line starts to blur for many of us. We understand this in academia but frequently forget it in the pursuit of the more nontraditional or less linear goals of our careers.
For those who have taken certain careers with defined growth structures based on known evaluation criteria the same path of foundation to growth remains obvious and will always be straightforward. But for those who are risk takers or who exist in careers without defined success criteria it’s hard to know when to go exploring deeper into your field or into new fields entirely.
This is when many of us who are young entrepreneurs or just overly ambitious make a naive mistake. We listen blindly to those who tell us to take risks. We listen to entrepreneurs who reflect back on the risks they took, who have forgotten the foundation they rested on when they took that risk. Like me discussing with my peers how easy it is to change something about their physical appearance. I arrogantly had forgotten my foundation.
Almost all successful risk takers took those risks from a position of strength. They had a foundation. Daniel Ek only founded Spotify after being a self-made millionaire. Cornelius Vanderbilt only invested in railroads after building a fortune with steamships. John D. Rockefeller only invented pipeline for transporting oil after he had become one of the richest men in the country for refining kerosene. Apple launched the iPad only after taking a foothold in personal computers, MP3 players, and smart phones.
These are all risks. There is a probability that these ventures fail, which is by definition a risk. However, these are substantially smaller risks than initially perceived by onlookers because these men or companies’ abilities to withstand the failure of their new pursuits dwarf the potential failures. If they were to fall they would be caught by their foundations.
When you heed the advice to “take risks” remember the words that follow that advice, either knowingly or unknowingly by those who give it, are “from a position of strength.”
In other words don’t attempt to paint the Sistine Chapel without being able to draw. Always have a foundation. Always gamble from a position of strength, not want, not need, not desperation, but strength.
Those are the words frequently forgotten from the advice we so love to hear. From a position of strength. Risk with a foundation.