At Work

Risk and Reward Don’t Always Go Hand-In-Hand

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When you decide to take a risk, it’s not unusual for a happy-ending scenario to unfold in your mind.

A bold decision to finally pursue a dream, followed by many months or years of hard work, and —finally—a successful outcome.

Ah, the risk was worth it!

The difficult truth is that you may or may not be rewarded in the end as you expected. The outcome of risking it is not guaranteed.

You can take all of the necessary steps, do the work, even do all the “right things,” and still not achieve the outcome you hoped for.

We may fail in the process of taking a risk. Contrary to what we want to believe and what we might envision, risk does not always mean reward, at least in the way we might expect.

Inherent in the definition of risk is the possibility of a variety of outcomes, some of which may be less than desirable. Failure is one of those options.

It’s Hard to Talk about Failure

American culture does not like failure, nor does it make examining failure and talking about it easy to do.

To admit that we have failed at something typically brings shame and discomfort.

Upon being asked how we are, it is uncommon or even unwelcome to say anything other than, “Fine, and how are you?”  We are afraid to reveal the real nature of the challenges facing us and the internal emotional struggle we may be going through in confronting those difficulties.

In our self-talk, a setback or failure is an admission that we don’t have our act together, that we may have “missed it,” that we are less than truly successful. Hence our desire to project something to others that is not really representative of what we’re going through.

If you look at social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, they often project a rosy story, a picture of success and positivity. We like to put our best selves forward in order to portray successful and fulfilling lives.

It doesn’t matter that our personal lives might be upside down, or that our house is a mess, or that the kids were screaming five seconds ago—we’re probably inclined to put up that photo of the kids smiling like angels or of us standing in shorts, well tanned, on the deck of the cruise ship.

It sure would be interesting if, instead of posting the highlights of our days, we posted the reality of our days and revealed more of our authentic selves. I’m willing to bet that our friends and virtual followers would relate to and even enjoy our normalcy over a problem-free front.

It’s Okay to Take a Risk—and Fail

It is okay to take a risk and to fail in doing so. It’s even necessary to fail in some situations.

If you drill deeply enough into their stories, the most successful and powerful leaders in nearly every domain owe their successes to having faced meaningful adversity, challenge, and failure along the way.

Though I don’t like failure any more than the next person, what I know is that you will learn in the middle of it, and, if you will allow it, you will be changed.

In fact, failure will be one of the best teachers of life lessons you will have. The poignant moments I experienced during two very difficult, failure-filled years of starting my own consulting firm (Lifevision, Inc. in 1998 and 1999) are still with me today. Some of the lessons I learned include:

  • Why it is crucial to focus on what a client really needs as opposed to what I want to deliver to them.
  • How not to underestimate the competitive nature of the marketplace.
  • Why it is important to keep short accounts of those who have offended or wronged me.
  • And quite frankly, how some things are out of my control.

There’s a reason why Jesus encouraged his followers with these words found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16 (The Message translation):

Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.

As you embrace difficulty, you’ll discover a profound teaching moment in the middle of trouble. God’s very presence in that circumstance will strengthen and encourage you—and better prepare you for future challenges.

If I have learned anything about risking it and failing in the last twenty years, it is this: God is present with you in the failure. He is FOR you, not against you. His grace is sufficient for you. And he wants to show his favor to you.

The failure you experience is always an opportunity, a stepping stone to where God wants to bring you. Even in the gravest challenge and the deepest unknown territory, this is powerful, refreshing, and life-giving truth.

So, keep stepping out, keep taking risks, keep pressing forward, even though the outcome of risking it is not guaranteed.


Editor’s note: View risk and failure through the lens of God’s big-picture plan for his creation. Read more in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.

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On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on July 8, 2015.

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