Originally Published: 10 October 2021
<Audio file available for download here>
Arguably the most highly-associated idea with entrepreneurism is risk—calculated risk, that is.
Generally people are averse to taking risks; the inherent uncertainty is deemed undesirable by the more “levelheaded.” Risk is defined as “Exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance.” Not the most ideal situation, as far as situations go. Next, defining levelheaded, we get “Having common sense and sound judgment; sensible.” I would imagine that one who could be described as “levelheaded” would also be better-equipped to calculate and act on a risk. But the idea behind risk is uncertainty; generally and instinctively, people are averse to uncertainty, and with good enough reason. The ambivalence incites anxiety in most. It makes sense from a survivalist perspective, as well. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Established certainty promotes stability and security. Taking this into account, why would anyone even want to entertain the idea of risk?
Risk-taking has its own allure, you see. It’s rather exciting, wouldn’t you say? Putting it all on the line for an outcome that may be completely inverse to the one for which you were hoping; heaven on one side of the coin, hell on the other. Exercising what little control you have over an outcome and seeing it through for better or for worse. And then there are those times when you were SO CLOSE; so close, in fact that you cannot be expected to bow out now (double or nothing, right?). The illusion of control and near-misses are what problem gambling (which has its roots in risk-taking psychology) is built on: the ideas that 1) you have exercised a modicum of influence on your environment and (may have) created a positive outcome as a result and 2) your conditioned feeling of being so close to the mark that the law of averages HAS to be on your side…this time…
One study on the psychology of gambling done by Dr. Luke Clark of the University of Cambridge reveals that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays an important role in the reward cycle perpetuated by risk-taking sensations like gambling. The Mesocorticolimbic Dopamine Pathway (MCLP; a.k.a. “Mesolimbic Pathway,”), the part of the brain that deals with reward sensation, plays a leading role in risk-taking and addiction. The instantly gratifying act of participating in something that requires a perceived level of skill and a close outcome is enough to condition someone to eat a loss and try again (“I almost won that round! All I have to do this time is XYZ…”). And again. And probably a few more times after that. Sadly, it is all a farce. There is no control. There is no real skill involved. There is no game you can beat; only play along until you decide to cut your losses (or you’re one of the lucky few who cut out early enough to profit).
The illusion of control extends itself beyond gambling and risk. It is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to steer events toward a desired outcome of their affect. Personally (this is where the opinions REALLY get going), I feel that this illusion is simple human nature. We all seem to have this innate “rage for order,” this desire to introduce structure and meaning to everything we touch.
Freedom is the word, here. All freedom is situated by circumstance. We create additional circumstances in the form of loci of control (whether you believe you have control over your own destiny or that role is played by a higher power, what/whoever that is). “Caged birds accept each other,” said playwright Tennessee Williams, “but freedom is what they long for.” The “cage” would be convention, tradition, institutions (educational, corporate, governmental, etc.), what have you. We joke and rub elbows with each other within these cages, but not everyone is content just following someone else’s directive. You see more and more startups popping up in every possible sector; and with technological advancements, it is becoming easier to successfully put into motion a business model. The social stigma surrounding the maverick entrepreneur who circumvented “the system” is being transformed into the heroic, self-starting go-getter worthy of admiration.
And everyone seems to want a piece of the pie; the independence is difficult to ignore. The freedom, the control, the feeling of personal accomplishment. As an entrepreneur myself (who still has a day job), I can personally say that there is no other career path I would more strongly consider.
Of course, it is not for everyone. Some would rather follow. Some prefer the stability of “the system” (benefits, consistent income, resource pools, camaraderie, more established career tracks).
Why does one consider taking risks? Why does one forgo the stability of certainty? On the other hand, why would some rather follow than lead? It is a matter of personality and preference; the path of the entrepreneur is not for everyone and nor should it be. But for those distinguished few who feel a burning need to take control of their own destiny on their own terms, who feel so strongly about it that they are willing to put personal security on the line (homelessness, bankruptcy; the list goes on), then there aren’t too many other options out there, as far as I am aware.
You need to ask yourself: What do you want out of a career? What do you want out of life? What are you willing to sacrifice? What aren’t you? If and only if your answers to these questions point you towards an entrepreneurial track, you may (I’d say definitely) want to consider if it works for you. Do your due diligence, though: Do your market research, see if there is a demand, establish ways to differentiate yourself, and make sure you have a comprehensive business plan!
The path of the entrepreneur is absolutely terrifying, as it should be. But the rewards can be invaluable! “If you dare nothing,” says author Neil Gaiman, “then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”
- Clark, Luke. “The Psychology of Gambling.” Behavioral & Clinical Neurosciences Institute – University of Cambridge. Published: 01 April 2007. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/the-psychology-of-gambling.
- Dictionary.com. “levelheaded.” Random House, Inc. Accessed: 18 May 2017. http://dictionary.com/browse/levelheaded.
- Dictionary.com. “risk.” Random House, Inc. Accessed: 18 May 2017. http://dictionary.com/browse/risk.
- Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins Publishers LLC, 30 September 2008.
- Horvath, A. Tom, Kaushik Misra, Amy K. Epner, and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ed. C. E. Zupanick. “Drug Seeking and Cravings: Addictions’ Effect on the Brain’s Reward System.” CenterSite, LLC. Accessed: 18 May 2017. http://www.centersite.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=48375&cn=1408.
- Johnson, John A. “Freedom and Control: Does being in control really make us free?” Cui Bono (blog) – Psychology Today. New York: Sussex Publishers LLC, 30 April 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cui-bono/201104/freedom-and-control.
- Thompson, Suzanne C. “Illusions of Control: How We Overestimate Our Personal Influence.” Association for Psychological Science. California: SAGE Publications, 01 December 1999. DOI: 10.1111/1467-8721.00044.
- Williams, Tennessee. “Tennessee Williams > Quotes > Quotable Quote,” Goodreads Inc., Accessed: 18 May 2017, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/468582-caged-birds-accept-each-other-but-flight-is-what-they.
Mittal, Tarun. “Why is entrepreneurship gaining so much popularity as a career choice?.” YourStory Media Private Ltd. Published: 21 March 2017. https://yourstory.com/2017/03/why-entrepreneurship-is-popular/?platform=hootsuite.