In my last blog we discussed the fundamentals of risk management. What we did not discuss was personal risk and how it affects our professional lives. Personal risk is setting the bar low, in essence selling ourselves short. Ever thought the other side was smarter than you? Ever shy away from something because you didn’t think you were good enough?
It is when we set the bar low that we fuel personal risk, the risk of not trying our best. The reality is most of us are pretty much equals, but it is those people who set the bar high who distinguish themselves, and it is those who set the bar low who disappoint us. When we set the bar high, we respond with our proverbial “best effort.” It is when we give our best effort that we are both more productive and professionally fulfilled. People will admire your efforts and follow your lead, no matter who they are.
I recently served on the nominating committee of the Chicago Bar Association (“CBA”). Comprised of the most famous lawyers in Chicago, the committee nominates influential lawyers to prestigious positions at the CBA, positions everybody wants. The CBA dates back to the 1870s and continues to thrive as one of the nation’s most admired and active bar associations. I was named to the committee not because of any accomplishments but merely as an unexpected perk from volunteer work I have done with the CBA—essentially they had a seat which needed to be filled. Of course my initial thought was this is way out of my league and I’ll succeed only in humiliating myself. I was going to turn down the invitation, but thankfully a friend shamed me into soldiering on.
I soon learned that my colleagues on the committee were great people—respectful, smart, kind and funny. Everyone dressed up and the meetings were always run on schedule. It is amazing how real pros can make such a difference both in productivity as well as enjoyment. When the bar is set high, everyone in the room responds. Because I did not set the bar low, I learned that no matter how famous and/or accomplished someone may be, we are a lot more similar than we are distinct. The difference maker is the setting of the bar, and that is something we all can control.
A final note on the committee. Even though my so-called (fingers in the air making quotes sign) “career” is a tiny sliver compared to my committee colleagues, I was one of them, an equal. We all mattered. After the last meeting a committee member and I grabbed a cocktail on our hurried rush to catch a late train. Laughing as we ran on the platform with our Styrofoam cups yelling “wait!,” we made the train. My new famous friend, sitting next to me, was chuckling while gasping for air. Just like me.