There is a wealth of academic research that suggests that differences in risk appetite are at the heart of differences in career and business trajectories. We wanted to go beyond the theory and ask real people from the community about their perspectives and experiences with risk and risk taking.

Penn Francis | Musician, Producer, Multi-Instrumentalist, & Visual Artist

I’ve always had a hard time being open and expressing my feelings. Vulnerability has never come easy for me so naturally taking the risk of displaying my emotions in song form was a struggle and a huge risk for me. It’s been a journey, as I do still feel uncomfortable sharing my inner turmoil at times, however, I understand that there are other people like me that can relate and hopefully find value in the words that I present. It’s also helped me to be more open and upfront in my personal life and changed the way that I approach dealing with others. My work typically touches on topics such as injustice, isolation, depression, anxiety, inner turmoil, etc because those are things that I have and/or continue to experience. In a society where boys & men are told to suppress their emotions, I feel that it’s important for me to combat that and let my listeners know that those feelings are natural and they aren’t alone. I use my work as a diary of sorts and choose to be honest and upfront with where I am at that point in my life. In my opinion, honesty is the first step to overcoming any issues at hand and bringing awareness to mental health is crucial in these trying times. Read more>>

Shelley Heffler | Artist and Educator

Born and raised in the Bronx, kids were not under the scrutiny of watchful eyes. I was free to explore the city’s five boroughs. At 6 years old, I was able to decipher the New York city subway maps. I rode the subways to the Staten Island Ferry, Greenwich Village, discovered the Metropolitan Museum of Art and galleries that surrounded Central Park. Looking back now, that was very risky for a young girl. I developed street smarts where curiosity and exploration motivated me to take risks. I moved to Los Angeles where I worked designing carpets for Edward Fields. I met my first husband who was embarking on a year- long journey to travel throughout Europe, India and Central Asia. Invited to join him, I dropped everything and set off for a journey that changed my life forever. The sights and sounds of places like Kabul, Afghanistan, where you see open markets of spice trade and woven rugs, women in burkas and beggars on the street. I slept in abandoned temples and was welcomed by Sikhs at the Golden Temple. Read more>>

Rebecca Jane | Musician

I believe that it is essential to take risks. It can be scary, it can be tough and it’s natural to fear the unknown. I took a risk by moving alone across country to California. This opened up an array of possibilities career-wise and music-wise. I then took risks in those fields by pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone. Read more>>

Cynthia Ferngren | Outsourced CMO

I spent the first 10 years of my career working in New York, which is where I grew up. I can remember the moment I decided to take the biggest risk of my life. I was working on a new business pitch and was asked to put a slide together of my personal life. There I stood staring at this blank PowerPoint slide, I had nothing to put on it. I had no hobbies, or interests, or really anything but work going on in my life. I decided at that moment to change it. I quit my job, sold my house, and moved to California with nothing but 7 suitcases, with the mission of finding my passion and my purpose in life. As a result of this quest, I have taken many risks, I have gotten certified in diving, learned to race sailboats, spoken in front of hundreds of people, hiked Yosemite, gone beekeeping in New Zealand, and started 3 companies, including Cynthia Ferngren Consulting, where I help startups start their companies. I believe that what holds us back from taking risks in the first place is fear. Read more>>

Aimee Jennings | Experimental Filmmaker

My entire career is about risk. My films are based on the risk of traveling alone as a woman, not to mention a woman of color. I was asked once after my first film premiered, “Who told me I could do that?” I simply answered, “Nobody told me I couldn’t”. It was never a question for me. As a woman of color, I had very few role models in mainstream media to look up to. Even fewer behind the camera but I just knew they were out there. Pursuing a career in the arts was a huge risk but the only thing I ever wanted. I will always try to get the things I want. Read more>>

Lenny Tim | Entrepreneur

Risk taking is a real concern when trying to do anything worthwhile in life. there’s always risk in anything and everything you do. Personally, I’m very cautious but I know that to get anything done you have to take some risks. I think a big factor that limits most people from doing things is that they’re worried about the risk of failure. It’s not always a conscious realization, but it’s there in the back of your mind. It’s almost a natural instinct. When I worry about the risks of doing something, let’s say in the business sense, I try to not let it overtake the overall idea. There are risks and the possibility of failure in the sense that your project may not ultimately work out, but there are so many things that may work out very well. Your project may work out, you will learn things either way (which is a big one), you may meet some great people, you’ll get new ideas, etc. Ultimately I think the close relative of risk is perfection. You may think that unless everything is perfect, it’s a failure. Read more>>

Marlow Everly | Multi-medium Artist and Content Creator

“There are far more favorable ways to go than swimming with sharks or jumping out of a plane.” But creatively, when I am passionate about a project or an opportunity, I say “yes” and jump in 100 percent every time. That’s how I ended up in L.A. in the first place. I ran – or rather clunked – to the land of possibility (and tacos!) in my beat up Ford Explorer after graduating from university with no money or connections and not an inkling of what was to come. Spoiler alert it was not the glittering, perfectly packaged storyline that was perpetuated in movies like “Raise Your Voice” and “Coyote Ugly” where the bright-eyed optimist moves to their dream city and becomes a success in 90 minutes and a montage. It was an extremely hard transition and I fully understand why other transplants leave after a few months or year. But through all the bad apartments, crazy day jobs, and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches (which was sometimes all that we could afford), I created. I would get an idea for a new project and rather than thinking of all the reasons it wouldn’t work I simply went all in and started creating. Read more>

Fernando Lopez | USN Veteran, Founder & CEO

If you take on huge business risk, it is wise to have a track record of taking risks, specifically in business. VETERANS who go into business for themselves typically have a high tolerance for risk and followed with a track record of experiential pain. Risk taking is a necessity in business. If you are a business owner who does not take risks in growing your business then your business will inevitably fail to grow. WHY? Because change is inevitable and business owners must take risks in order to sustain the challenges that come with change. Read more>>

Julian Montgomery | Film/TV Composer

To me risk and faith are closely related. There is a Biblical scripture that states, “faith without works is useless”. I think that statement also pertains to risk. Risk can be calculated, assessed, and minimized but at some point it is something that has to be realized by the taking of some kind of action for which the outcome is not guaranteed and, whether great or small, for which there is some element of the unknown. In my case, along with my wife, I decided later in my life to move from the Midwest where I had spent the majority of my life. I moved to Los Angeles where initially I didn’t know a single person. I didn’t move to pursue film composing or music in anyway. It was solely because I wanted a warmer year round climate, a bigger city, more to do and more diversity. LA was the place that checked all the boxes. So, after years of planning, my wife and I sold the four bedroom, 2.5 bath, 3-car garage, full basement, professional-grade studio, home we built. Read more>>

Hana Wu | Therapist Turned Actress

For most of my life, I played it safe. I did what I was told. I did what was expected of me. Looking back now, I marvel at how my parents took one of the biggest risks I can imagine– packing up their lives and moving their young family across the Pacific Ocean, starting a new life and looking for grander opportunities in a different country with a foreign culture, an unfamiliar language, and no immediate support system. The pressure to make a place for ourselves and succeed was immense, and the safest, most reliable way to do that was clear: impeccable GPA, impressive SAT scores, acceptance into a prestigious university, get a sensible degree and a stable job that would lead to home ownership and starting a family of my own. In no way am I disparaging this path. I envy those who were able to take it and run with it. I ended up attending UC Berkeley, obtaining two Master’s degrees, becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who adored the part of the job that involved being with my clients in their healing process. Read more>>

Kathy Gruver | Speaker, Author, Coach and Trapeze Artist

Risk has played a huge role in my life and in my career. At the age of 22 I packed everything I owned in the car and drove cross country from Pittsburgh to live in Los Angeles; without a job, without any contacts, to pursue a career in theater. I look back at that now as a 50-year-old and have to applaud my bravery. At the time it just seems like something I had to do and now I realize the impact of it. I have always been a risk taker, the first to say yes to the adventure, trapeze, jumping off the cliff or driving the race car. I have reinvented myself careerwise at least five times. Moving from actor to massage therapist to PhD to author to speaker to hypnotherapist to life coach. Who knows where the path will lead next, I just follow the breadcrumbs. I think without taking risks and pushing the envelope our life is just not as full and rich as it could be. My motto since high school is ‘go for it’. I try to live that everyday, whether it’s embarking on a new business venture or trying an unknown food or wine. Perhaps it’s traveling to some corner of the world that is unknown slightly scary or pushing myself to the new trapeze trick. To me it’s the only way to live. And it makes life that much more interesting and full. Read more>>

Em Johnson | Writer & Director

Taking risks goes hand in hand with the industry that I am in. Film is quite cruel and involves you to have an unrealistic amount of time and patience in order to keep persevering and find success. As is with most artistic careers, risk-taking is normal, and so, I was prepared to bet everything I had on my work. I don’t see risks as being scary or something I shouldn’t do, because every risk that I’ve taken has, in some way or another, benefitted my growth as a writer and director. Read more>>

Greg Gunn | Illustrator, Educator, and Metalhead. Creative Director at The Futur.

The biggest risk in life is not taking one. Because if you’re not risking something, then you’re probably not gaining much either. Which is why I like to look at life decisions through the risk/reward lens. If I risk this to potentially gain that, is it worth it to me? Before starting my junior year of college, I took on a summer internship at a motion design studio. They were at the top of their game, creating boundary-pushing and award-winning commercial work. As a young, green creative I was awestruck. And learning heaps of new things by the day. I would intern there for two Summers, prove my value to the team, and eventually earn an invitation to join their staff. Complete with a signing bonus. Which for a broke college student is akin to winning the lottery. So there I was: about to graduate, thousands of dollars in student loan debt, with an offer to work my dream job that would pay me a healthy (and consistent) salary. Read more>>

Aly Talaea | Songwriter, Founder of AmadeusRockBand

Risk is actually your drive: validated, valued and working for your ambition. The first risk you take in your life is the most important one. You get to taste your drive for the first time. This first risk gives you a wider and deeper perspective about life in general and your life in particular. It gives you boundaries to break, reality boundaries, your boundaries. Every other risk afterwards just materializes more and more your aspirations. The better you get with your faith leaps, the more of what you want to achieve reveals itself. Read more>>

Sicong Sui | Artist & Curator

I look at risks like gemstones growing on the cliff. To harvest one will be a difficult task, but it also brings exciting rhythms to life and there’s no telling what is beyond the cliff. For me taking risks requires the combined force of responsibility and romantic emotions. I wouldn’t be able to start a life in a foreign country by myself and share thoughts with people from entirely different cultures if I didn’t take the risk of traveling from China to the US. I wouldn’t have created many colorful images and dive deeper into the practice of visual art if I didn’t take the risk of switching from science study to illustration. Taking risks allows me to continue to experience the flavorful journey based on my own choices, laughing as well as crying along the way. Read more>>

Tamar Zohara Ettun | Interdisciplinary Artist

I think any kind of worthwhile art has risk embedded in it. Art that is unique requires risk to create and to engage with. When I was younger I thought the process of making art had to be risky — in one video piece I performed a difficult pose standing on one leg on a rotating chair on a rooftop of a 20-story building when a friend is pulling a rope tied to the chair that moved it in circles. What feels risky to me now is different than when I was younger. These days – either because I matured / became older and boring – I get the same rush of adrenaline when I have a good idea that pushes my comfort zone. A new thought that takes me out of the safe zone of habitual thinking into a brave zone of vulnerable exploration and confrontation. Committing to a life of a working artist requires a lot of faith, and faith is about blinding oneself to sensible risks and creeping doubts, so that you can keep doing the work. Read more>>

KAI XO | Singer/Songwriter

Risk is often seen as something scary and unpredictable…and it is haha. But more often than not it is the catalyst to take something from mediocre to great. There are all those famous quotes about not being able to cross a chasm with just small steps and believing in yourself and I do believe it is true. I think what is most scary about risk and why most people avoid it is out of fear of failure, and as a human being that fear is always a part of life. But you can’t be ruled by it. When you don’t take a risk out of fear of failure, you do just that–solidify failure. Taking risks pushes you to your limits and forces you to have to figure things out and that can be uncomfortable as it has been in many moments in my life–from sleeping in my car for a year to invest in my studio equipment to creating relationships and also ending them. Even deciding to pursue music. Risk is scary, but it is necessary to evolve and magnify your capabilities, and the only thing anyone should be truly afraid of is getting in their own way. The only thing anyone has to lose in life IS their life…everything else can be fixed and rebuilt. Read more>>

Jamila Dawson, LMFT | Sex Therapist, Writer & Speaker

When I was younger, one of my favourite books was called A Calculated Risk; it’s a tale of sex, money, power, deception, and a brilliant and odd group of friends, Because of that book, I learned to think of risk as necessary to succeed in life; that it’s critical to be aware of one’s own attributes and limits but to also pay attention to the larger systems that impact resilience, safety and survival. As a Black woman, my level of economic, emotional and physical safety is chronically under threat more than a white woman or a white man. My resilience is chronically sapped by the microaggressions and macroaggressions that I have dealt with through my life. And yet, avoiding discomfort and sucumbing to fear wouldn’t lead me where I wanted to go and so that idea of calculated risk has become a deeply ingrained practice for me. When I began as a sex educator and then eventually went on to became a licensed sex therapist, there wasn’t anyone whose path I could follow, no clear steps about how to manage personally and professionally. Read more>>

Janelle Escandon | Candle Maker | Creator

To me taking risks has played such a huge factor in my life. If you don’t take risk how are you going to get results? As some say, “You got to risk it to get the biscuit”, I couldn’t agree more. A few years back I felt stuck, and desperately wanted a change. I then took a big leap out of faith and put all fears aside and moved from big busy city, Los Angeles, California, to a small city I have never heard of named, Lubbock, in Texas. I had encountered a roller coaster of events on my journey, trying to find an established home of our own was a big yoyo for us. My little family and myself, we moved back and fourth, from California to Texas a handful of times. From family memebers houses to friends houses. Each time we moved, we took big risks doing so. I left my family and friends behind to start a new journey in life. I did what none of my family has done, which was move out of state and be away from our big loving family. The biggest risks I can say I have taken, so far, would be starting my candle making journey and becoming a business woman. Read more>>

Jada Tsion | A Creative

I like to think of myself as a bold and daring person who lives their life out loud and unapologetically. I think that with great risk comes great reward. I know that I have to go out on a limb sometimes and while that can be scary, I know that I have my network of social support beside me. Taking risks often leads me to new opportunities, doors and growth and those are risks worth taking. Read more>>

Michael Grecco | Photographer, Director, Producer, and Entrepreneur

Risk is everything. Anything easy to do, without much risk, brings little to no reward. There is a saying in the business community, if it was easy to do, everyone would be doing it, and everyone would be champions, rich and successful. There is nothing that is worth it that does not have risk to it, including personal things like marriage and having kids. Read more>>

Theodore Svenningsen | Philosophy Major,UCLA, Advaned to Doctoral Program, Also MFA in Painting, Otis College of Art and Design.

The entire concept of risk, as I am aware of the use of the term in the art world, is one that I feel should be discussed. As the term risk is properly used, it would apply to someone running into a burning house to save a child, or some similar state of affairs. I have always been bothered by how many in the art world use the word risk. One hears of an artist taking a risk when that artist takes some action such as changing from doing realist painting to abstract, or changing their style to expressive, or changing some other characteristic of their art, I have never seen this as a risk, except as an adjunct to the actual art making, such as a gallery suddenly not representing them anymore because of the change. There was a risk regarding financial concerns but that is not where the “risk” is said to lie when the artist is said to have taken a risk. Read more>>

Chelsea Dennis | Textile Artist & Maker

This year has been one giant exercise in risk taking as a small business owner. The entire landscape of my business has been affected by covid19. Prior to march 15th Whimsy_Makes was Whimsy Enchanted Gatherings. My organic cotton candy cart and was booked for 2020 events including my first 2 weddings, which I was convinced would jump start my concept to the next level. Up until that point I pictured Whimsy Gatherings hosting magical events with candy clouds and dances around a portable maypole that I built and painted out of pvc piping. That project, designing the maypole and hand dying the silk for the 12 ft. long ribbons sparked this exciting combination of concepts for me. I was integrating art into my business plan. I knew that I wanted to keep dying fabric and experimenting with natural dyes but couldn’t dedicate the time to it while working on Whimsy Gatherings. Read more>>

Marco TOMA Tomaselli | Cinematographer

Consciously or not, taking risk is the core philosophy behind a freelancing career, especially in the movie business. Leaving everything behind and jumping towards the unknown, moving to LA from a little town in Tuscany on the other side of the world, might be the most iconic risk (let’s be sincere, also quite an exiting one) I ever took. Some could see a risk as something dangerous, something to stay away in order to keep a safe state of order in life. As much as this could be essential in some situation, I believe taking risks could also act as a big powerful push towards a possible next step in life, career or personal evolution. For instance, I found this mentality key once I started shooting documentaries with my friend and creative collaborator Emanuele Mengotti. Like in “West Of Babylonia” an anthropological, observational documentary we shot inside of the community of Slab City in California, we immerge ourselves on what it was a very unfamiliar reality for us. Read more>>

Ava Alamshah | Analogue Photographer / Ghost Collector (Vintage Seller)

When I think about risk, I think about moments where I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone and felt scared and exhilarated all at once. I said yes to projects that I’d normally shy away from, and started to create art that was more personal. I went out and made friends who were doing similar things and looking back, it felt like this big ball of energy being exchanged. My early thirties were a time for self discovery and growth, with many personal challenges. Art eventually took a back seat and it felt hard to find purpose in it. I had my day job and was shooting events on the side, but that never truly felt like the right thing. I’ve always had some kind of existential dread, but this heavy handed year really threw me. Feeling comfortable was no longer an option at a job where I am considered essential. I know for a fact I’m not the only person rethinking their path and shifting perceptions of importance. That’s risky, too, right? Change takes risk. Read more>>

Imma Almourzaeva | Freelance Animator & Illustrator

As an immigrant, I have a natural aversion to taking financial risks. It’s funny, because the act of immigration, in and of itself, is a major risk. Having lived through the hardship of starting over from scratch in a new country, I found it difficult to put personal creative goals ahead of my family’s security. My solution was to gear up and go into full work horse mode – have a full time design job while simultaneously working to grow my personal freelance career. It’s not for everyone (and I got lucky in landing a full time position still relevant to my field), but it’s an option for those who need it. After two years for working two, three jobs at a time, I’ve finally made the leap. Yes, it’s still a risk, but not at the expense of anyone else’s security. Perhaps this is not the message everyone wants to hear (“Take the risk! It will pay off! Plunge yourself into the unknown!”) but for those of us living with heavy hearts in their creative quest, my advice is work like a maniac on your parachute, and take the leap once you know its seams are tight as hell. Read more>>

Hana Wu | Therapist turned Actress

For most of my life, I played it safe. I did what I was told. I did what was expected of me. Looking back now, I marvel at how my parents took one of the biggest risks I can imagine– packing up their lives and moving their young family across the Pacific Ocean, starting a new life and looking for grander opportunities in a different country with a foreign culture, an unfamiliar language, and no immediate support system. The pressure to make a place for ourselves and succeed was immense, and the safest, most reliable way to do that was clear: impeccable GPA, impressive SAT scores, acceptance into a prestigious university, get a sensible degree and a stable job that would lead to home ownership and starting a family of my own. In no way am I disparaging this path. I envy those who were able to take it and run with it. I ended up attending UC Berkeley, obtaining two Master’s degrees, becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who adored the part of the job that involved being with my clients in their healing process. Read more>>

Meghan Quinn | Fine Artist

Risk is usually something you’re afraid to do, but know you need to do to evolve in some way. My gut has always been my guiding light. On paper some of the decisions we make may not sound like the most responsible, but if you keep having that nagging feeling in your gut, you need to take the jump and a net will appear. I’ve never regretted taking a risk, whether it was a physical move, a career shift, or trying something out of my comfort zone. Read more>>

Phil Langone | Film Storyboard Artist

Anything truly worth doing involves risk at some point. Sometimes the risk is simply taking a story risk on a project as a storyboard artist and a director shutting the idea down. Sometimes it’s a life risk such as quitting a job that other people would die to have because it’s not a job you would die to have and don’t want. That happened to me when I was boarding on “Family Guy” and I wanted to quit to be a freelance artist and work on films. There’s nothing wrong with working on “Family Guy”. It just wasn’t the job for me and with a kid on the way the decision was hard. However, I believed in myself and knew I could make the transition. The alternative would have been to become more trapped in a job the longer I waited to pull the trigger. There was a little bit of luck involved along the way, but most of the time luck is something you make through hard work, drive, and focus. In the end, taking the risk has put myself and my family in a much better position both financially and creatively. Read more>>

Mariel Molino | Actor

Pursuing a career in entertainment is risky, you’re throwing yourself into a life that is so competitive, so subjective and full of rejection. But with such a high risk comes an incredible payout because on the days you get to do what you love you realize the risk was worth it – even for a fleeting moment. Read more>>

Laurel Stearns | Music Management

Risk taking is inevitable in the music industry , Anyone who gets involved in this business either knows or will soon find out that they will be placing a bet with time and money on the art they believe in getting behind. I have never had any hesitancy in applying my entire focus on what I’m passionate about . If you love what you do , it becomes a lifestyle not a job and you become tireless when immersed in it . I knew from a very early age, hitchhiking to LA from Palm Springs when I was 14 years old to see punk shows, I have to follow that passion and risk taking in my every day life . I will never forget and still experience the unparalleled feelings of discovery and elation from music and honestly all the arts. No matter what the risk is, I always feel driven to follow these paths . At the core of almost every successful business and positive work environment you will most likely find these types of stories. Read more>>

Rachel Rios | Actor & Writer

Risk taking is essential to making art. You have to come to the table as your most honest, vulnerable, and weird self, which can feel like an emotionally risky option. In writing and acting, I try to commit to being my most authentic self, even if that means my art is rejected or misunderstood. My quarantine web show, “Parker & Olive and the Pressing F*cking Issues” was an exercise in that. I promised myself I would make whatever felt funny to me, even if others wouldn’t like it. (That resulted in a lot of weird characters and vagina jokes that made my dad uncomfortable, but that’s my Truth right now, okay??) Do the “You” thing. Show the side of a character that makes you embarrassed. Write the joke that feels too personal. Be too big, too loud, too odd, too emotional. Being radically Yourself means sacrificing your need to be accepted or easily consumable. And that is the only way new and exciting art is created. Read more>>

Ava Bianchi | Actor

I believe that the film industry and being an actor is a risk at every turn. My example would have to be the audition process and taking risks to be different or add something to your character that might be out of your comfort zone. Play it safe and you will never book the role. To stand out, it is vital to take these. Read more>>

Michelle Bitting | Poet & Professor of Creative Writing & Film Studies: Loyola Marymount University & U of Arizona Global

At the tail end of this 2020 moment, I’d say just living is taking a risk! And then there are the many everyday heroes who step to the line and into the fire to keep the rest of us kicking and breathing. There’s a corporeal alchemy, a wiring, and blood metallurgy, perhaps, that goes with that. For some, there is no other choice. I’ve always admired that kind of devotion, rigor, and tenacity in the face of crazy insane odds and obstacles. No doubt there’s a heartbeat of dysfunction somewhere in me, thrumming in the shadows. That finger-in-the-socket survival instinct. Well, we do the best we can, right? It’s all energy, and I suppose evolving on a personal level has much to do with learning to wield and channel that force–the good, bad, and in-between, into something…Beautiful? Worthy? Artful? Or at the end of the day, simply…Kind? Still, how many times have I stood under a cold, bright moon in a dark parking lot somewhere wondering What the hell am I doing?! And yet, the books get written, the children raised, degrees completed, jobs claimed, the prizes won. Read more>>

Karen Quimby | Small Business Owner

My life has always been full of risks. Though I’m an A type personality and typically like a plan and a lot of organization, I have always taken risks with career. I have a passion for real estate as well, and those endeavors have always been risky but almost always rewarding. I never think about failure. It really doesn’t cross my mind. Passion enters the picture and takes over and erases any fear or apprehension. I always had a positive role model in my grandfather, who ran a very successful small business. I know that’s not true for everyone and small business often has many more failures than successes. I’ve owed retail clothing stores since I was 23. I took an 18 year break and literally fell into the cosmetic industry where I climbed the ladder quickly and became a Vice President in Product Development for companies like Urban Decay and Smashbox. The risks I took in that career were big ones as well. Read more>>