What Risktakers Like Mark Cuban and Rosa Parks Can Teach Us

Magic Happens Outside Your Comfort Zone – John Lee Dumas

In 2006, I started a blog related to my profession.  On the one hand, I thought I was late to the blogging game, but on the other hand, my profession was notoriously stodgy and risk averse.  So no one except a few of my friends read my blog.  But I kept writing.  Every Sunday night, I sat down and made the words happen.  I did very dull case studies but I was excited by them and they were pretty specific to my little slice of the world.

A year went by, then two.  And one day I landed a multi-millionaire client who needed my professional expertise.  I asked him how he had found me (usually clients come through by referral) and he said, “I found your blog.”

Years went by.  I went to a professional trade conference and was shaking hands with folks at the table.  Then the gentleman next to me said, “Hey, I’ve read your blog.”  That was a big moment for me.

So last year I celebrated my 10 year blogaversary and I reflected back on how I had significantly grown my client base and established myself as a knowledge expert because I said “yes” to blogging.  My boss thought it was a waste of time and told me nobody reads blogs or newsletters.  I wasn’t getting paid to do it and I had a miniscule readership.  Ten years later, people are now telling me how they wished they had done the same before.

But that’s just little ole me.  What about famous people who do something unexpected or go outside their comfort zone?

Billionaire Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban didn’t start his life out with a silver spoon.  He grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and his father was an automobile upholster.

His first big yes? He moved to Dallas, Texas.

There in Dallas, he worked as a bartender but that didn’t stop him from later taking a job as software salesman.

Did he have any software expertise? Well, his previous jobs had been as a bartender, disco dancing instructor, and party promoter.

He took a risk to go into an industry he knew nothing about, got fired a year later and then started his own software company.  He could have backed away from that and stayed with what he knew (which seemed to be trending towards entertainment and hospitality) but he continued to take risks.  And that move to Texas? Well, one of his biggest clients ended up being Ross Perot’s Perot Systems.  Mark Cuban could have stayed in Pittsburgh or Indiana (where he went to school) but then he wouldn’t have made the contacts that made his first big company profitable.  In 1990 he sold his software business to H&R Block for $6M and netted a third of that after taxes.

He didn’t stop there.  He kept saying yes to risk, investing in Audionet, which became Broadcast.com.  Within 5 years, Broadcast.com was acquired by Yahoo for $5.7B in stock.  That is how Cuban leveraged his millions to become billions.

You could say he was lucky or you could acknowledge that he knew the right risk to say “Yes!” to.


Activist Rosa Parks

In 1955, Rosa Parks defied segregation laws and became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.  She grew up in an era of suppression and fear.  She was in poor health but kept a fighting spirit.  Her first big yes? She graduated from high school at a time when only 7% of African Americans had a high school diploma.

Her second big yes?  She became a secretary for the NAACP.  She had many other jobs after that, but largely she was known as a seamstress and housekeeper.  Society was telling her to accept something subpar but she accepted that equality was her right as a human being.  She was well known in her community and her friends urged her to join the resistance.  Others before her had already refused to sit in certain sections of the bus or give up their seats.  They however didn’t have the support and strong social networks that Rosa Parks did.

Charles Duhigg gives a moving account of Ms. Parks and why she succeeded while others failed, further discussed here.

Her third yes that we know her for was to say yes to Clifford and Virginia Durr, a liberal white couple who sponsored her to attend Highlander Folk School, an education center for activism in workers’ rights and racial equality.

Those early choices to do something others were not doing shaped her and gave rise to her decision not to give up her seat years later in 1955.


What Can You Say “Yes” To In Order To Change Your Own Life?

I have previously raved about how much I enjoyed Shonda Rhimes in Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.  The scene that stood out so vividly for me is the one where she described bragging to her sister about all the invitations she was receiving.  One was to a fancy gala event where she would sit with President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama as a guest in their box.  *gasp*  

Shonda’s sister said, “You never go to those things anyway.”  Shonda went to the event and had a fabulous time.  But admits in her book that given a choice, she would not  have said “Yes” to the event.

Given a choice, she would have stayed home.  To me, this was a powerful illustration of how we let ourselves stay in our comfort zone.  Shonda had to leave her comfort zone and let the magic happen.

However, what also might help you is this book: Right Risk: 10 Powerful Principles for Taking Giant Leaps with Your Life.  It’s a bit spendy but I suggest looking for it the next time you are at the library.  Basically the author “Chief Encouragement Officer” points out that everything you do as an infant learning is a risk.  You learn to stand, but you fall quite a bit first.  That principle does not change when you are a grown up!  Great read to push you out of your comfort zone and help you assess which risk you should take.

Diver Photo Credit: balazsgardi Flickr via Compfight cc


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