30 September 2015

What Skiing in a Tutu Taught Me About Taking Risks in Business

A few months ago I published a piece for LinkedIn outlining the four things skiing in a tutu has taught me about taking risks in business. The story was fun to write and got some great feedback, but since it didn't happen unless it's on my blog, here it is again in case you missed it:

Photo by Ryan Thurston.

What Skiing In A Tutu Taught Me About Taking Risks In Business

I like to ski. I like to ski A LOT. I like to ski so much that I've devoted the last 44-months to Turns All Year - a hardly rational and completely ridiculous pursuit wherein I hike for many, many hours until I can find snow, then I hike some more until I'm far enough (or tired enough) to ski down. This means I spend very little time skiing compared to the time spent "earning my turns", but skiing makes me happy, and the slog to get to the top makes me happy too. I think we should all spend more time doing what we makes us happy.

As part of my endeavor to find happiness I came to embrace skiing in a tutu. Yes, you read that correctly: I ski in a tutu - a bright pink one in fact. I didn't always ski in a tutu, and it wasn't always such a natural thing, but by risking ridicule with the tutu I've carved out a niche for myself in the backcountry ski community, and I’ve helped spread my happiness to others. It was a risk but it paid off.

The same can be said about taking risks in business. No, I'm not implying wearing a tutu to a business meeting is a good idea, but the general premise of finding success is the same. Chasing your job success and happiness is inherently risky, but can reap big rewards. Here are the four things skiing in a tutu has taught me about taking risks in business:

Start a conversation
If you saw someone on a trail wearing a tutu, would you walk quietly by and say nothing? No, you'd talk to that person and, at the very least, ask "what's the deal with the tutu?" A tutu is an instant icebreaker - the ultimate mountain conversation piece, and it positions me at the head of the table. You want to be at the table, because if you aren't at the table, you're on the menu.

The translation to business is the same: start a conversation. This means sometimes you are going to have to stand for something, and not all of your customers are going to be in 100% alignment with your company's core beliefs. That's okay. Be open and welcome all of the feedback - good and bad. You may  be surprised by the positive attention you attract. But you won’t find out unless you start the conversation. Be the first to break the ice.

Use your imagination
I chose a tutu because it forces me to not take myself too seriously. I am a reformed ski-racer, and spent years suffering from a debilitating superiority complex. After taking some time off, I revisited skiing with a new outlook. I left room for fun and creativity and imagination - I left room room for a pink tutu. Suddenly my days on the hill were full of lightness and glee. I prioritized happiness. The results were only positive.

As adults we don't make enough time for creativity. Working as a Marketing Manager for the last two years at a small nonproft, I am responsible for both the strategic thinking and tactical execution of my campaigns. Stretching myself in this way was quite challenging at first. I hadn't flexed my "imagination muscles" in some time. But I've gotten better at it, and you can too. Just like any other pursuit, being creative improves with practice. Some of my most successful campaigns were also the most unexpected - at least from a brand point of view. They were fun without being too serious - just creative enough to make a statement.

Play to your strengths
A tutu is a statement piece. You can't ski down a mountain adorned in pink tulle and expect no one to see you. But I'm a good skier - I've been doing it for 28 years so I should be - and I don’t mind people watching me practice something I enjoy. I want them to watch because if I can catch your eye I know I can get a smile. With my enthusiasm, I’ve even managed to convince  a few of my ski friends to rock a tutu too. But some my friends have shied away because they don't feel they're strong enough skiers to warrant that kind of attention. Which is fine. We all have our own "tutu activity".

Changing my winter wardrobe wasn’t a reinvention of the wheel or mastering a new skill. I set out to make something I was already good at more successful by upping the fun factor, and it worked. In business we have the tendency to try and improve on areas where we are weak, instead of continuously developing areas where we are strong. Strength comes in owning your weaknesses and identifying the most efficient ways to make personal improvements. Lots of time this means surrounding yourself with people who fill in your gaps. So what if you're bad at math? Hire an accountant and focus your time executing business strategy. You'll be happier and your business will be healthier. You may even uncover a new personal passion you never knew about.

Follow your gut
Risk-taking is an inherent part in backcountry skiing. You're traveling through untested terrain across dangerous slopes. Avalanche danger is always present. You have to communicate with your ski partners to make sure you're always making safe decisions. You can do all sort so research and preparation before a trip, but one bad decision could mean disaster. At the end of the day a lot of it comes down to listening to your gut to stay safe. This practice has put me - and my tutu - in better touch with my intuition.

Risk-taking is also an inherent part of business. Without risk there is no reward. You can't possibly expect to get ahead by doing the same things you've always done or the same thing as the next guy. Slow down for a minute and listen. That feeling in your stomach telling you to quit your job and start your own business? Listen to it. Feel like you’re a stronger team leader than a colleague? Prove it! Each of us has naysayers in our lives. Consider all feedback, filter out the negative voices, and listen to your gut. Only you can truly know what's best for you.

It's worked for me in business, and it makes me happy in the mountains. Wouldn't we all be more successful if we embraced what makes us happy?

Kristina Ciari is the Membership and Marketing Manager for The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based nonprofit devoted to getting more people outside while protecting the outdoor experience. She shares her personal adventures on her blog and manages the content and communications for www.mountaineers.org. She can be reached at ciari.kristina@gmail.com.

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