Real security only comes from taking real risk
Have you ever noticed how much and how often the notion of “security” permeates the thinking and actions of individuals, organizations and nations? Security is viewed as the sanctuary from anything and everything that can go wrong. Securing security often seems to consume individuals and companies in a way that trumps all else. Think about it: There is job security, Social Security, Homeland Security, national security, home security systems, security guards, Internet security (or so we thought) and on and on.
Conventional wisdom believes eliminating or avoiding risk increases the likelihood of security. When given the choice between “risk” and “security,” a heavy preponderance of individuals and organizations will pick security. Even the national media is noting this trend, concluding that Americans have seemingly “gone soft” on taking risks resulting in fewer entrepreneurs, fewer Amazons and Apples, and ultimately, fewer new companies and jobs.
What’s happening here? Well, security might be a good feeling to have, but there is an inherent false impression – especially among individuals and businesses – as to what security really means and how best to achieve it.
Security is not what it seems
Coming to grips with this misconception means recognizing that security has a dark side: The quest for what is commonly perceived to be security often robs individuals and businesses of their momentum to drive forward and try new things since “risk-avoidance” is considered essential to achieving security. What many don’t recognize (or choose to ignore) is that the higher the level of security there is in your life, job or business, the lower the level of individual opportunity and freedom of action.
The citizens of the Soviet Union were offered the ultimate in security, but at what price? They became slaves to security. The American government dangles the promise of national security in exchange for the loss of individual rights and privacy. How many millions of people sought jobs with local and state governments based on the promise of job, health and retirement security? Yet they were to discover – when it was too late – that the promised security was illusory and they were left with few options and no security. How many individuals lead lives of quiet desperation and despair in the bowels of corporations, all because they equated taking a risk to do what they wanted to do with the loss of security? Yet they ultimately found themselves downsized or outsourced; their perceived security ravaged.
What many fail to comprehend is that security given is false security. The only real security is security that is earned and owned. Genuine and lasting security comes from strength and control, not weakness and dependence. Peer pressure thrusts upon us the idea that security comes from avoiding risk, but the truth is just the opposite. Real security is possible only when one embraces risk as an opportunity; an opportunity that when realized will create real security.
Defining the Terms
It is important to understand the concepts of risk and gamble in relation to security. A gamble is a situation in which the outcome is uncertain, and the individual has no power to influence the outcome. A risk is a situation in which the outcome is uncertain—but one has the power to influence the end result.
And here’s the takeaway: The more one is willing to assume a risk, with the confidence that their effort and talent will determine the outcome, the more likely the reward will be real security. Accepting risk does not guarantee security, but it is a gamble to assume that avoiding risk will result in security. The point here is that there is a far greater chance of achieving security when you risk taking control of your future than when you gamble your future security by allowing someone else to control your future.
Allow me to offer a personal example of the benefits to be gained by embracing risk to create security.
In 1987 I was president and CEO of a life insurance company that was owned by Hartford Insurance. I was also married with six young children. The company was growing and doing well. I was receiving CEO pay, generous bonuses and a nice pension plan. The future seemed bright and secure. But then I and four other executives decided to quit the company cold and venture out to start a new insurance company.
You can just imagine the storm of skepticism that blew up and washed over us. It was a given by most that the new venture would fail, but the overwhelming reaction of friends and family was one of incredulity over our willingness to give up the security we enjoyed in our existing jobs. The epitome of this reaction was expressed by my parents when they said, “Bob, you had such a good job, making good money and with a large family to support. How could you take the risk to give up all that security?”
What my loving parents and most others who expressed the same viewpoint did not understand was that the real risk to my future and family security was in not taking the risk to take control of my future. You see, the price for the security that a company like the Hartford offered was to accept the stifling control of a corporate environment that was entombed in stultifying bureaucracy. I knew that if I didn’t kiss enough ass – which I was unwilling to do – I would be out on my ass. By taking the risk to take control of my future, at least I had the chance to build real security.
And the rest of the story? Well, the company that I and the others started – LifeUSA – went on to become one of the great success stories in the insurance industry. After a short 12 years of growth and success the giant international insurance group Allianz SE purchased LifeUSA at a value of $540 million dollars. Trust me, this transaction offered me more security than I could have ever imagined. But even more important, the success of LifeUSA created equal amounts of security for hundreds of others who had been willing to take the risk and use their talents to help the company be successful.
But the point to be made here is not about what my story has been, but what yours can be. It is important to understand that the real risk to achieving security may be an unwillingness to take a risk.
Life is full of risks and an effort to avoid those risks in the name of security means there will not be much of a life. It may seem incongruent, but risk is the catalyst for the creation of security. The fear of failure from taking a risk often motivates individuals to do things that will create real security.
Risks in a career can come in many forms: Do I take a job with a big company or a small company? One may offer the security of size, while the other offers a risk of creative opportunity. Do I stay with the security of what I know – even though I am not happy – or venture out for the risk of what I really want to do? Do I move my family to another city for a better opportunity, even though it may be a risk? Do I stay put and hope that I will win promotions, or do I take the risk of finding another job where the opportunity to do better is in my control? Do I sell my soul to the company store in the hope that in exchange I will be given security or do I take the risk of earning and owning security?
Taking a risk offers the power to control your future; while avoiding risk in search of security is to gamble with your future.
And the Moral of the Story …
There are many – especially in the corporate world – who want us to believe that security is the reward we will receive for avoiding risk and allowing others to control our future. It is a false promise. Security given is false security and the only real security comes from being willing to take a risk to earn and own it.
Security may feel like a warm blanket in a cold world, but if you don’t take the risk to own the blanket, it may be ripped away and you will find yourself out in the cold. Not being willing to take a risk to create your own security may be the greatest risk of all. Don’t risk it!