The Biggest Risk I've Taken
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? That is one of the questions I read every week in an online Q&A with female entrepreneurs. I’m going to be honest — the first time I read it, I thought that question was really corny. In fact, I’ve many times skimmed past the answers given by the interviewees. I care more about their business advice than some random, risky adventure. Eventually, though, I caved and read a few of the answers. To my surprise, they were pretty unique. Sometimes these women talked about their business risks, but more often they talked about random trips or solo adventures. Totally random things that scared the shit out of them. Naturally, I began considering my own answer to this question. And the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the question. What is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken?
To my surprise, my answer came to me fairly quickly. I immediately thought back to December 2013, when I moved from Ohio to Washington for my first job in journalism. Fresh out of college and with very little money, I decided to move across the country. As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy decision. In fact, I initially turned the job down.
You see, there was a lot I had to leave behind in order to take the job. I had a long-term boyfriend, a job prospect that offered a better salary and nearby friends and family. Ohio was familiar. Living there felt easy. Plus, the two part-time jobs I was working didn’t exactly help me feel financially ready to move across the country solo. So I did the responsible thing and turned down the job.
But when I turned down the offer, I felt sick to my stomach. Even though part of me felt justified in saying no, another part of me felt let down. I was sitting in my car parked in my then office’s parking lot when I nervously choked out the words to the newspaper’s editor: “No, I’ve decided not to take this offer.” To my dismay, the conversation didn’t end there. I didn’t hang up and accept my decision. Instead, I had to explain it to the editor who asked me, simply: “Why?” Why didn’t I want to accept the offer?
It was a genuine question. The editor was simply gathering intel, trying to understand what influenced my decision. I panicked and told him that I wanted to take time off from work to travel. Yes, you read that right. The girl working two part-time jobs with no money in her bank account wanted to “take time off to travel.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to gobble them back up. Not because I blatantly lied about traveling (though that was part of it), but because I realized I was lying to myself about why I wasn’t taking the job. I had valid reasons for saying no — my relationship, my other job prospect — but when put on the spot by the editor, those reasons didn’t seem valid. Why? Because, while they were definite sacrifices, they weren’t what was keeping me in Ohio. Fear was.
I wasn’t saying “no” to the job because of my then relationship or because I didn’t want to leave Ohio or even because I didn’t have the money to fund a move. I was saying no because I was scared. Moving to Washington meant leaving friends and making new ones. It meant potentially ending a relationship (which, spoiler alert, I did). It meant hustling to make enough money to make the move possible . And it meant taking a huge step toward a career I really cared about. What if I wasn’t good at it? What if I failed?
A day later, I emailed my editor and asked him for more time to consider the offer. Eventually, I accepted, and I moved to Washington a month later (after quickly making just enough money to rent an apartment and fund the move itself). That decision put me on a path I never would have envisioned for myself. It also taught me the value of hard work and showed me at a young age that I have more grit than I ever thought. Since moving, it’s been one adventure after another — in all the best (and sometimes the craziest) ways.
I consider that decision to be my biggest “risk” because it was such a leap of faith. I ultimately moved with only $800 in my bank account. I trusted that it was the right move for my career, even if it meant leaving behind the things that felt really comfortable to me — including my home, my relationship and a better-paying (but ultimately boring) job.
When I’m faced with big decisions today, I think back on 23-year-old Sarah and ask myself what decision she would make. I try to channel the girl who put fear aside and stepped into the unknown. Who invited failure and sat with discomfort. Without a doubt, moving my entire life, alone, to a new state is the biggest risk I’ve taken. Honestly, I didn’t even have a plan b. I put all my eggs in one basket and leapt, and I’m convinced it never would have worked out if I’d done it any other way. Though my decisions these days may be slightly more strategic, I hope I always channel that part of me who just goes for it. It’s been worth it so far.