Be a Risk Taker

Throughout our careers, we manage risk in many shapes and forms. In this issue, Tricia Stephens and Andrea Rimoldi share their perspectives about risk. Stephens highlights the necessity to get out of a comfort zone as the first step along the path to new opportunities. Rimoldi shares his experience of moving to a new position in Angola. Be it the risk-management decisions that are critical to the safety of operations or the career moves that affect us personally, risk is part and parcel of our industry.

Take that first step, understand the risks, and learn how to manage them. No risk, no reward.—Syahril Hussin, YEPP PerSPEctive Editor

The pitfall of failing to take risks is a message heralded in coffee rooms worldwide. There are articles pasted to vending machines being read by people who find that the riskiest thing they do all day is consume forbidden calories from Cadbury. And, frankly, this topic is fraught with platitudes and quotes by people who appear to be living life in airbag suits. At the first sign of career or personal trouble, their jackets inflate with hot air that floats them out of the crisis zone and back into a Starbucks commercial. Or at least that is the only thing I can imagine when they make risk taking sound so easy to do.

Back to real life. Unless your cubicle is about to be converted to a cu-bubble, you can expect to land squarely on your posterior taking some risks in your career. Then you need to figure out how to recover your self-esteem, and, if you are incredibly smart, you might even learn to fail without damaging your credibility. In truth, I have not yet learned how to do all of that, but I have figured out a bit about the path to risk taking in our careers.

Put Down Your Security Blanket

There is a place called the comfort zone, the emotional sweet spot or even job routine. This state of being is important to everybody. It is often the mark that we have climbed a hill technically and mastered the task set out before us to the point that we understand where we are going intuitively. So celebrate finding a comfort zone and take the room to breathe. Just do not get stuck.

I started as a consultant immediately after completing my graduate studies. My company has a reputation for tackling technically complex problems in everything from frontier to conventional environments globally, covering from the reservoir to the surface. Whew! In fact, there are three juniors in a sea of experts, and we are expected to push our development technically, carry our consulting load, and learn the client-management aspects of the business. Sometimes it feels as though my learning curve is wrapped up and over Everest and nobody brought oxygen. So projects that I understand from beginning to end (rare, I assure you) ease that nervous tic in my tummy, and life is sweet for a moment.

However, that pleasure has its limits, and it should, because too much comfort signifies a learning plateau. There is a danger of boredom and, more importantly, a danger of becoming a suboptimal engineer. Work becomes a series of repeatable patterns, and you become the hundredth monkey locked in a room with a computer. This can be critically career limiting because you are wallpaper at every meeting and develop a reputation of—well, nothing, because your superiors stop noticing you. The lack of enthusiasm for the “daily grind” starts to communicate itself to everyone around, and nobody associates you with innovation, creativity, or growth. The problem is that getting out of the comfort zone means stepping into risk territory, and that is unknown and loaded with fear.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”—Mark Twain

Unleash Your Fear

So be afraid. Be very afraid. Fear is nothing to scoff at, and it is formidable. Our fears are instinctive and developed as a key survival mechanism long before we moved warfare from the field into the boardroom. But it can become the hurdle that we cannot cross because we are haunted by the possibility of rejection, dejection, and perception.

I read about a girl born with an extremely rare disorder. She does not feel pain. My first thought, in dazzling ignorance, was that she is so lucky because nothing can hurt her. Of course, it is exactly the opposite. Most people with this disorder die before 25 because of infections or some facile accident. They have no warning system and can poke their eyes out as babies, rest their hands on hot surfaces, and would not even feel a heart attack. Teaching them to fear as children is incredibly difficult, but they cannot survive without it.

So our goal is not to deny our fears, and forget about platitudes of embracing our fear. Start by acknowledging it. Start to understand which fears are crucial and which are groundless.

It Takes Only 30 Days To Form a Habit

If we want to become regular risk takers in our careers, we need to develop a routine of thoughtful, intelligent risk taking. The emergence of uncertainty analysis in every sector of the petroleum industry is not about removing the risks involved with drilling an ultradeep high-pressure/high-temperature well; that would be ridiculous. This strategy is about minimizing risk where we can and understanding risk where we cannot minimize it. And despite legal woes, potential well-control problems, and the ultimate dry hole, we persist because the potential rewards associated with the risk are enormous.

  • So start by taking small risks in order to understand our own fear responses.
  • Look at a range of possible outcomes, be realistic, and then imagine the far-fetched so that you have seen the plan from different angles.
  • Talk to trusted mentors, and acknowledge the pitfalls of your ideas.
  • Do not settle for managers who will not let you fail successfully. They should let you learn by trial when possible, but be ready to support you if things go wrong and stand up for you when people talk.
  • Talk when it is awkward and even push when it is important.
  • Prepare to meet resistance, be challenged, hear nay-sayers, and believe in the great feelings on the other side.
  • And always reassess and learn. Do not stop reading your SPE monographs, technical papers, textbooks, and everything you can get your hands on inside and outside of the industry.

Risk takers are vital. They have high achievement levels, and they learn perspective. They do not allow dissatisfaction to rule their work environment; they create opportunities for themselves, and they can be a lot of fun to have around.

The truth is that this industry is filled with risk takers. Every one of us was capable of finishing medical school and probably increasing our dating potential 10-fold. We could have done a sexy degree like law and been able to fight our own traffic tickets. Yet given all that, we chose an industry that changes direction more often than a dog chasing its tail. But we knew there are challenges and adventure to be found in petroleum. So be a risk taker, and live up to the claim on your résumé that you think outside of the box.


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