When I was 10 and he was 14, my older brother would follow me around wanting to play Risk. Ten-year-old me would shriek, "NO. It is boring. It takes forever. I never win."
I literally feared Risk, (conveniently brought to you by Hasbro), because I did not want to fail.
On Saturday, May 30, 2009, I went to the Helzel Colloquium, "Risk and Reality" hosted by the John F. Kennedy University museum studies department. Walking in, I expected the day to be filled with cloudy conversations just out of reach, but all about defining risk. I expected us all to be encouraged to take more risks in our professional lives to benefit the field; you know, heady conference-y type stuff that I would put in my back pocket and let gestate until I would need to use it later. Smartly, organizer Susan Spero (with Brianna Cutts and Gail Anderson) pushed past the diffuse toward two goals of the day: understanding and tools. We'd all walk out with a clearer understanding of risk, as well as gain - or just see - new tools to use when confronting or initiating something institutionally (or personally, or field-wide) risky. This was one of those days when I wanted to go right back into the office and get to work. Exciting stuff. I hope to post this entry, then invite others in attendance today to add their two cents.
Though I'm still processing, I've realized how personal risk-taking is. Everyone has different levels of comfort, and as Robert Garfinkle from the Science Museum of Minnesota appropriately posited, almost everyone feels like they take a good amount of risk in their lives. How many would characterize themselves as complete sticks-in-the-mud in all aspects of their life? We all have our own comfort level, and sit in our own specific platform to allow for creative freedom. I, for example, feel very risky writing this blog entry. I fear harsh critique by those in the field more experienced and smarter that I. I am not quite comfortable having my words on unlimited display. I fear future-me, looking back and thinking, "oh geez, you really rambled there, didn't you?" However, the way to make a break from that limiting behavior is to just jump in, I think. The benefits outweigh the detractors. Anyway, enough about me.
Well, not really. Jonathan Katz, CEO of Cinnabar, said this very short sentence early on in the day: "It is not personal." I've heard it before from colleauges, and I'm still trying to wrap my arms around it, mostly because it is a break from how I think about my career. I care and am passionate about museums. I'll venture an easy guess, and say we all are. I take it personally when I hear a harsh critique about the place I spend my days. I wince when I see cell phone commercials that have someone in a gallery...but the person is texting. (I should be happy they are in the gallery, right?) Is that a risk I shouldn't be taking? Should I take myself out of the equation when thinking about taking a professional risk? (Here I go being diffuse.) Like I said, I'm still processing.
Thoughts that are still rolling around in my head and in my notebook:
- The disconnect between feeling and cognition. (My gut says yes, my brain says "are you ******* kidding me?")
- Risk takes tenacity.
- Risk takes patience.
- "It is not personal."
- Know what you don't know.
- Make plain your risk factor: if it is fear of the unknown, be okay with that. Own your risk factors. Be authentic.
- Change happens on the fringes; museums used to be on the fringes. Some still are, and have that freedom.
- There has to be a strong goal in order for risk to be worth it. (Risk without reason is silly.)
So I ask you, dear readers, what are your risk factors? What nets need to be in place before you jump? When did you take a risk and it failed? How long did it take you to admit it? When did you take a risk and it was a wild success? How long did it take you to admit it?
Kristen Olson is a second year masters student in museum studies at JFKU, and the Academic and Educational Technology Liaison at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. She is laughing while writing this in the third person. She blogs irregularly at koko500.wordpress.com and rambles more often on twitter.