Women and risk

“When you have come to the edge of all the light you have
And step into the darkness of the unknown
Believe that one of the two will happen to you
Either you’ll find something solid to stand on
Or you’ll be taught how to fly!”
~Richard Bach

I came across an interesting article today in The Washington Post called Not a risk taker? Then chances are you’re a woman by Selena Rezvani. In the article she talks about how men and women react differently to risk taking and how men tend to be much more likely to take risks in their professional lives than women are. The following quote from the article is just one example:

“HP did its own research showing that women applied for open positions only if they thought they met 100 percent of the job requirements listed, while men applied if they felt they met 60 percent of the requirements.” ~Selena Rezvani

I certainly know that I’ve done that; I tend not to apply for anything that I don’t think I already have all of the qualifications to do, even if the missing qualifications are things that I could easily get on the job.While there are, of course, women who do take risks and men who don’t, what lies behind this general trend for women to be so much less likely to take risks to obtain the things they want in their professional lives?

According to Rezvani, this is largely a function of how boys and girls tend to be socialized differently. Boys are often encouraged to take risks; girls are generally warned that risk is dangerous and should be avoided. It’s no wonder then that these attitudes persist into our adult lives.

So what does this mean for me? I know I strongly relate to the story that risk is dangerous, so I’m pretty sure those were the kinds of messages I heard as a child. After all, that fits well with the idea that woman is the weaker vessel—and idea I remember hearing often. How do I deal with this deeply ingrained view of the world in light of the fact that I am about to add a great deal more risk to my life?

For me, it’s helpful to at least know where some of my resistance to risk is coming from. It allows me the opportunity to perhaps re-write that particular story that I carry around. I can learn to focus on examples of times when I took risks and succeeded, rather than just focusing on those examples I know of failure. I can seek out other women who have taken risks and succeeded as a means of support and encouragement. All of these things will help me shift my mindset to become more open to risk-taking.

But I think that there is only so much preparation that can be done. Taking risks is as much something learned from practice.

And sometimes, all that’s left to do is jump—and learn to fly midair.

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