Creative Risk-taking

The following is a speech created by Hope Donnelly for Tuesday’s Together, a local chapter of the Rising Tide Society.

So this conversation is personal and vulnerable because it is not all about success. I particularly liked an article recently on embracing failure, as failure is often what most prepares us for the reality of running a business, for resiliency, for adaptation, and even for appreciating success. When I was preparing this discussion, I started reading “Daring Greatly”, by Brene Brown and it took me on a different path, but oh so honest. I definitely suggest the read for anyone who is facing fear or doubt in any area of life.

Here is the introduction and a quote by Teddy Roosevelt that inspired the title:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be- a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation- with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.

We are going to start and end with a visualization, which is a little difficult virtual but I am trusting you to participate. I intend to make you uncomfortable at first to prove a point so be prepared, but we will get through this together. After which, I will tell you a little about my creative risk taking in business and some concepts that helped me through the process, which is still evolving and “in-process”. I encourage you to jot down things that ring true for you but also challenge yourself with questions and concepts that are relevant to your current situation as a form of brain dumping while I talk.

Visualize with me as I walk you through a once familiar risk to me.

You walk into an empty auditorium. No, this isn’t the naked dream, but close. You have on a swimsuit and you walk towards a panel of people, some of which you recognize, and many you don’t. Slight smiles, behind which, is judgement. It’s their job and you know it. You walk to your mark, state your name and a quick fact about yourself before hitting a pose and waiting, trying to hide your heavy breath and heartbeat that surely they can hear echoing in the auditorium, until the music starts. You have practiced, you can do the steps backwards and forwards, and then the music starts, 5, 6, 7, 8….two or three 8-counts in and it happens. You freeze. You can’t move, until eventually they stop the music. You politely ask to start again and they allow you to. And this time you don’t miss a beat, through two routines, extra skill requests, questions, until they say “thank you”. You walk out shaking, breathing heavy, reliving every second over and over for days. Was it enough? How did you compare to the others? Could you have done more? And for those moments, your value, self-worth, abilities are tied to whether or not eight people ranked you above enough people who put themselves in the same situation.

Any sweaty palms? No? Do you enjoy being judged by people when you are in a vulnerable state? Business, especially small business, is personal and vulnerable and exposing so I feel as though these experiences prepared me, or at least exposed me, to the process of taking risks and being able to survive whatever the outcome.

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For five years starting in college for the professional level, I put myself in this position over and over. The first year I auditioned for the Buccaneers Cheerleaders, I wore what I would wear to my college cheer auditions, hair in a ponytail and minimal make-up, and walked into a room of 350 women more prepared than myself for the pro cheer world. I did not make the team that year, but I did the next and went to the Super Bowl in San Diego, and then did not make the team the following year. That year, I went on to make the team for the Orlando Magic Dancers which is a much more rigorous process, before becoming the Entertainment Manager for the Lightning for five years and UT Cheer and Dance coach for four, to become the person in charge of those auditions and teams. While coaching for UT and teaching high school art, I began 8-Count Productions in 2011 and then purchased the Rialto Theatre 2013.

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My biggest risk was not starting 8-Count. That was simply an online registration and a fee to become an LLC. It was just a concept on paper while I was still making a paycheck from other work. At the time, I did not think I was qualified enough to run my own business, especially doing consulting work, although I had been a coach, mentor, and instructor for many years. I actually consulted with the business and alumni counselor at my alma matter, Eckerd College, who told me “do it now”, and “don’t wait until you feel prepared. Don’t go back to school first (coming from someone in education), you are qualified”. I ignored her advice and got my Masters Degree first and other than having more education and another piece of paper, was not more prepared. Side note that still gets me: she passed away from cancer the following year. I don’t know if she knew at the time of her advice but it made me heed her warning more so later.

My biggest risk came at the tail end of my degree when I purchased a historic building that had nothing, and balanced everything I had to do it. It was twice as big and 3 times as expensive as I had hoped and not exactly what I had envisioned. I was not only taking my business from concept to brick and mortar, before it was even a functioning business, but I was shifting my business model without realizing it until later. Six months into renovations, George and I were married in the theater, and the photos were picked up on some blogs and a couple articles in local media about our project, and we soon discovered the Rialto was a place a lot of couples wanted to get married. I had to put 8-Count on hold and follow the money with Rialto Theatre bookings. This was hard to swallow and I wanted to fight it because it was not my plan. If you know me, you know how hard a decision that was.

One of my closest friends, who does a lot of performance work and strategic planning for large organizations by teaching them how to be most productive virtually, sat me down for some serious brain mapping and hard truths. Right then, 8-Count wasn’t going to pay the bills and Rialto Theatre was. I had stepped down from coaching at UT but was still teaching high school full time while supervising construction and trying to get the business going but the goal was to sustain myself and our family with this business so I had to listen. Three years later, I have finally created Rialto Theatre LLC and am beginning the process to convert 8-Count to a non-profit, and both George and I now work completely for ourselves. I will never say it was easy. But for me, it was worth it.

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There are a million inspirational quotes that ring true for entrepreneurs, like the one by Clancy “You are 1 defining decision away from a totally different life”. But I prefer another author, see if you know who it is: “You will come to a place where the streets are not marked, some windows are lighted but mostly they’re darkened. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?” Whether you guessed correctly or not, the author is Dr Seuss.

Do you dare to go in? As Brown stated, are you in the arena or standing on the sidelines criticizing? Fear can keep you safe, but safe isn’t always where you need to be. Risk is scary, it’s called a leap of faith for a reason. For me, safe would be a regular pay check and guaranteed insurance, and home with family at a regular time. That is exactly what many people crave and want in life. And then there is the entrepreneur or creative who has a vision, a craving, for something different. It might be less consistent, it might not have regular hours, and I won’t start on healthcare, but it can also be amazing and fulfilling in ways that the other would never be for you. And you know that.

Ski Chalet Jacqui Cole (21)

Plan, but do not plan forever. Do not jump blindly, talk to everyone, talk about your idea frequently, have others hold you accountable, consult professionals, but do not get stuck in planning. Brain mapping is a fantastic exercise to clarify jumbled thoughts, and can create a map and a path, where you didn’t see one. Sometimes brain dumping is also necessary, where you simply need to get all the thoughts in your head out, so you can begin to create a clearer plan. Do you understand what I mean by both of these?

Take steps, even if small, and keep moving forward. Always forward. Don’t let missteps deter you, just enjoy the path. Most of the beautiful paths are not straight lines. Think of the scenery along the way, the learning and growth. My master’s degree is in Sports and Ex Psych, where I trained to offer performance coaching to athletes, and my focus was dancers and creatives, but it translates to organizational psych and infinite situations. Mini goals make large goals more attainable. If you create small action items and mini rewards each step, you are less likely to be deterred by challenges towards the ultimate goal.

Transitional fear- Different from fear of change, this is tipping point fear. Can I make my side hustle my full hustle? Should I shift my business model from my plan to something that is more profitable or stick it out? Athletes face this even in times of success- am I good enough? Do I deserve this? Or transitioning out of sport to something different, which is still okay and can be a better fit for the individual if they get out of their own head. But transitions can be scary.

What is the worst that could happen? I asked myself this frequently in the planning stages and especially before I signed away every collateral item I had to close on the theater. And the answer is everything. I could literally lose any property I owned, any money in savings, the relationships that needed time and energy I would not have. Then I asked, could I bounce back from that? Are those things important? And I always believed that the stuff was replaceable, the people who mattered would stick through it with me, and me, the person, would survive to try something else.

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So let’s visualize something different. Something more personal for you.

Close your eyes (Ok, don’t really because you are reading). Put yourself in a happy but productive place, so get off that beach in Bora Bora. Are you at a coffee shop working on your laptop? Are you in your studio in a creative flow? Are you in a beautiful location, photographing a happy couple and the lighting is just right? Stay in that place and push out thoughts of invoices and paying bills, of time and energy, and just be in that place. Notice your surroundings from the smells of coffee to the paints in your studio. Hear the sounds of the ocean or people laughing and joyous around you. Notice if you are slightly smiling right now? You want more of this.

Now open your eyes and hold onto that vision as either something you do right now and want more of, or something you are working towards obtaining. In my opinion, if it is something you can identify and can’t let go of, it is worth the risk.

Ski Chalet Jacqui Cole (11)

Q&A

What is a risk you are considering?

What is your biggest fear in your career or endeavor?

Who comprises your tribe (the people that encourage and motivate you) and what are they saying?

What is the worst that can happen if you fail?

What is the dream scenario if you succeed in your risk?

What thing in work makes you happiest?

When do you feel most fulfilled in business or creating?

What is really holding you back?

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