Be Outstanding: Choose MORE Risk

snake (2)Photo taken by John Miller in June 2013 three miles out of Fraser, Colorado

When I saw this sign, it occurred to me that it’s risky for snakes in the Rocky Mountains to simply cross a dirt road in search of food—but if they want to survive they’ll have to take that risk. For you and me, there is also some risk in simply living life each day. But if we want to move beyond surviving to thriving, more risk is what we’ll have to choose.

It was February of 1986 and I was leaving a secure salaried job with benefits at Cargill to sell management development systems for an unknown training firm of twelve people. Risky? Well, married with daughters, Kristin, age three, and Tara, eight months, it felt like it. But Karen and I decided I should go for it, so I called my dad to tell him of my career move and this exchange took place:

Dad: “So what will you be doing?”

John: “I’m not totally sure, but my new manager says I’ll be ‘cold calling.’”

Dad: “What exactly does that entail?”

John: “Well, I think it means that all day long I’ll be calling people who don’t want to speak to me.”

… long pause …

Dad: “Well, son, I think you’ll be very good at that!”

And that’s what I did, from the furnace room of our Brooklyn Center, Minnesota home—asking for appointments with managers at all levels. And …

Learning how to get past receptionists and assistants. Having people hang up on me. Hearing prospects gruffly ask, “What do you want!?” or “What are you selling!?” And if they were nice: “Call me in a month!” These prospects thought I wouldn’t follow up. But I did.

Persistence does pay.

To be truthful, it was the hardest, most emotionally challenging work I’ve ever done. In fact, just plain scary at times.

Michael J. Miller,
Michael J. Miller,

So when my son, Michael, founder of Sun Prairie Films, told me that he was going to walk up and down Main Street in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin to knock on doors of businesses to see if he could make a video to place on their website or Facebook page to help them “tell their story to the people who need to hear it,” I inwardly cringed.

Outwardly, I said, “Go for it, son!” I even gave him a few “sales manager to sales person” tips.

In the final chapter of Outstanding! titled “Try! Risk! Grow!” we stress how critical it is to try. And do. Thus risk. Otherwise, there is no growth.

I recall in January of 1986, when my soon-to-be sales manager, Jim, was interviewing me for that sales position I left Cargill for, he asked, “John, how do you feel about cold calling?” I responded this way:

“Well, Mr. Strutton, I don’t think I’m going to like it.” Then I added, “But I’ll do it.”

And now Michael is doing it, too. Is this dad proud? You bet. But this message is not about selling, managing, or parenting. It is about this truth:

When we do not TRY and DO, we do not RISK. With no RISK, there is no GROWTH. Life then brings fewer REWARDS.

But if we seek new results, rewards, and riches—no matter how we personally define them—doesn’t it behoove us to look for ways to s-t-r-e-t-c-h ourselves?

To try, risk, grow?

Yes, I believe it does.

Several years ago, Michael, bound for college and a musical theater degree, said, “Dad, I’m not like you. I’m just not a salesperson.” Now, at 25, he’s knocking on doors to sell a service that he believes in.

That’s trying, risking, and growing. And, it is … inspiring.

How about you? If Mike can try and do new things, so can you. I say … go for it!

If you always do what you’ve always done,

you’ll always get what you always got.

Points to Ponder:

What do I need to try? What actions do I need to take? What risks would bring new rewards into my life?

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36 Responses

  1. Another great post, John! Too many of us are afraid to stretch ourselves because we might be….wrong! Probably the best thing anyone can do to improve their life is to take a deep breath, take the risk and be perfectly OK with it not working out. The flip side of course, is while we may be wrong…occasionally we’ll get it right too…and knock one out of the park. All because we took the risk.

  2. Looking back over the last 30 years or so, my adult life has been filled with risks related to the development of nonprofit services for others. And now at 52, I am faced with yet another opportunity. I find that my confidence is still there, it’s that my energy level is not quite the same. All things considered, I think I will step out and do this one more time. The pay off for others is just too great not to.

  3. Wow…this was timely. I just left a job where I have 10+ years experience working with people I like and for a solid, reputable company…to start a new career. I expect the failure rate is high in this new line of work but my wife is behind it 100% (probably more than I was initially!).

    It’s a risk that has incredible potential for rewards. After a year of talking with the firm, and saying no, I finally said yes. At 48 I’m too old to start a new career, at least that’s what I hear, but, I took the step today anyway.

    Thanks for this post…it was encouraging.

  4. I am 53 and coming out of a long depression. I decided to live a daring and fearless life. I was feeling old and ugly ( ok and fat too ). I have lost 50 pounds in the last 2 years, and have decided that I want to change careers from nursing ( which I have done for almost 20 years ) to art therapy. I am able to take art classes at a community college level and just finished my first semester’ s classes, drawing and sculpture. I learned how to weld and knit in the same 2 week period of time. Welding, using a power torch and angle grinder opened me up to feel more powerful and stronger than I ever imagined. And knitting class with my granddaughters made me feel balanced and like I have something to leave another generation. And all because I decided to take a risk!

    1. Beth,
      I’m so impressed by what you have done I had to chime in! (also I’m going to be 53 this year and I was a nurse!) The weight loss alone is fantastic! Life must look so much brighter now that you have made all these changes! Congrats!


  5. Define “older?” I’m 45 years old. 1 1/2 years ago I finished by bachelor’s degree and I changed jobs from being the assistant to the executive director at a non profit organization to being a paralegal for a Fortune 500 corporation. As a single mother, quitting my job to pursue an entirely different career was a leap of faith, but I’m so glad I did it! Now I’m working on my MBA with plans to pursue a career in international business development for that corporation. I’m trying to make the changes I’d like to see in my life, rather than looking back 20 years from now and wishing I would have.

  6. Great risk means Great reward. I watched Nik Wallenda walk across a span longer than 4 football fields some 1500 feet above the Grand Canyon without a net or a tether and I thought “He is risking it all!’ When he stepped out one of his first comments was “What a view!” This man has done something that no one else has ever done. He is the only person alive that has seen and felt this. Keep reaching for the stars.

  7. Do you think this is what Eleanor Roosevelt meant when she said, ““Do one thing every day that scares you”?

  8. Six month short of my 50th birthday I took a job in a field I knew little about. That was 13 years ago. I am still with the same company. Over those 13 years new opportunities with my employer come my way. Today I am a happy man, all because I took a risk and continued taking risks.

  9. John, I am as proud of Michael, as I was you back in 1986 and all throughout the nearly 30 years of our friendship. You have taken risks, grown and found great rewards! However, the risks you took were not so great because of your deep seeded belief in yourself and the service we provided others. There was never a doubt in my mind that you would become the successful man you are with a great family supporting you.

  10. Excellent information and timing. I’m 53 and I struggle to step out and risk for myself, especially on an interpersonal level such as wanting to meet new people and establish new friendships – Will I be interesting to them? What will I ask them? If they aren’t interested in me, how will I handle that rejection? etc.

    Thanks, John, for always providing useful information in your writings. I can’t recall a time I have not gleaned useful info from them, NOW, to put that info to productive use!

    1. Camille, I am thankful for your words. Thanks. Personally, I don’t struggle on an interpersonal level because … I’m a loner with little need for friends! 🙂

  11. Thought provoking post John, as always! Being mid-40s, the posts here from people in the same age bracket coupled with a conversation just this morning with a friend in the same age group, gives me pause for serious thought. It takes a long time to “know thyself” and understand your passions. My job is a good fit for my skills but is it my passion? I find myself increasingly thinking about this. Maybe now is the time to take the first (risky) step on a more passionate route.

  12. John: Thanks again for the positive motivation to change my life. Next year, right after I turn 55, I will be leaving a job I have been in for 10 years that has become stale. Not exactly sure what I will do yet, but whatever I do I will do the best that I can to succeed. My ultimate dream would be to travel the country with my camera to see, feel and capture new adventures. But, who knows, except that it will be a big risk.

  13. I love hearing all of your stories! I believe life is all about risks. This goes right along with my side business. If I am unwilling to make the call and take the risk, there is no reward. I think I am willing to take more risks at the age of 50 than when I was younger. Persistence does pay off!

    Thanks John. I am cutting this one out and posting it to read daily!

  14. Inspiring – Thank you, after 25 years of working with the same company, I was already in senior management with promises of promotion- I left! Why? I had security (if there is such a thing) but no longer believed in what I was doing or the organization I was doing it for. I had only known one industry my entire working life and took the Risk! With my family’s support, I left a 25 year position for the unknown position and industry. As we know, “risk has risk” and the new position did not work. But.. the risk did! I learned a lot, basically years’ worth in a matter of 6 months about myself and the world outside “my little box” that 6 months experience prepared me for my new challenge with an opportunity I believe in and people I enjoy working with. I grew and improved personally because of risk!

  15. John,
    I love your inspiring posts. For more than 10 years I have wanted to start my own business. Risk/fear has kept me from doing so. I have had several signs lately that now is definitely the time. The timeliness of your post is one of them. I am a bit fearful but I need to do this now more than ever. Thank you for your profound thoughts and encouragement. I plan to report back by year’s end that I have done it!

    1. Diana, thank you! Profound? Well, maybe. But it’s just some “wisdom” collected after living 55 yrs of life. And yes, that fear can sure hold us back. But I say “Go for it!”

  16. Due to some tight deadlines, I’m just reading this post and I am touched by what everyone has shared! I could be Diana in disguise and I feel I have identified what I should be doing and start to move in that direction. Yes, I’m scared of leaving the “security” of a career environment I’ve been in 27 years just after my 49th birthday. The signals life is showing me right now are just too loud to ignore. I plan to finish my master’s degree over the course of this next year and take steps during that same time to make a transition. Beth, Angie, and Frank – your posts have been especially inspiring to me and John, thank you for bringing us all together!

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