David and I never discussed the topic of risk before we got married. I never even thought to ask David about his risk tolerance because I never thought that it would play such an important role in our lives. But nearly nine years after our first date, I can attest to the fact that how each of us handles risk has become a constantly recurring theme – and debate – in our marriage.
David tends to act impulsively. Taking risks doesn’t phase him. He’s constantly dreaming up new ideas, willing to try anything, ready to move forward even if he doesn’t know where forward will take him. Because he embraces risk, he left his apartment, his belongings and his family in Paris in 2001 and followed me to California. He was ready to risk everything for me even though, at that point, we had only been dating for two months.
I, on the other hand, tend to be more cautious. I’ll take risks, but only when I’ve deemed the risk worthy of taking. I need time to calculate it, analyze it and get used to it before I’m ready to take a leap of faith. Because I’m wary of uncalculated risk, I was scared when David arrived to California for a visit and informed me that he didn’t intend on going back, that he wanted to stay. The thought of taking our relationship to such a high level of commitment gripped me with fear. But the fear only lasted for an evening. After processing the information, I was ready to move forward. Consequently, life moved forward as well. Less than two days later, we found David a job at a super nice French restaurant in Newport Beach, and, two years later, we were saying our vows in front of 70 people in my grandmother’s backyard overlooking Big Bear Lake.
Separately, we lived our lives as we knew how, as we felt comfortable. Together, we’ve had to learn each other’s ways, respect each other’s needs, and figure out how to mesh the two without making David feel like he is being held back or making me feel like we are being too reckless or moving too fast.
We’ve done well for the most part. Once we understood our different approaches to risk, we started incorporating it in to our action plans so that we could move forward together. In 2005, when we decided to leave the West Coast for the East Coast, David went first to see if he could find a job as a private chef. We were lucky enough to have an amazing friend who let David crash on her couch while he interviewed for jobs. And even though David had never been to New York City, he tackled the challenge, learned his way around the city and landed a job as Revlon’s corporate chef less than two months after arriving. Because of David’s ability to face risk head-on, we were able to experience living in New York City. The three years we spent there enriched my life, but I don’t know if I would have had the guts to pull it off had I been on my own.
When David wanted to explore the possibility of opening a business in Spain in 2006, he went to Europe and I stayed behind. He didn’t find what he hoped to and returned after five months. Because of my tendency to be a bit more cautious, I had kept my job in the States and we were able to carry on with our lives in the US without too much difficulty.
And when David started talking about opening a tapas restaurant in New York, I talked him out of it. The thought of covering our living expenses as well as the expenses of a business while we got it going was too overwhelming for me. It was a risk that I just couldn’t take.
For eight years, it was a tug of war as David tried to get more slack and I tried to reign him in. It was also a give and take as David learned to act a little less hastily and I learned to throw caution to the wind a bit more. And I suppose that it all was an exercise to prepare us for the situation that we encountered last March when we both got laid off from our jobs and were forced to face an entirely new situation, a situation where risk lurked around every corner. Even staying in New York City was risky. Without an income, how would we be able to pay $1700/month for our 2 bedroom East Harlem apartment?
More importantly, my whole definition of security was instantly redefined as the full-time job that had been my security blanket for so long unraveled before my very eyes. And I finally started to understand David’s desire to start something for us, to work for us – in a business that was ours. Even though I had spent the previous six years talking to and writing about entrepreneurs, I never had had courage to live my life as they did – until that day that my world tipped upside down and everything that had been my reality shifted with the turbulence and I really had no choice but to throw caution to the wind and see where life took me.
Our move to Spain might have been a big move, but, in reality, it wasn’t a bigger risk than anything else. At that moment, the future was unpredictable no matter what decision we took, no matter where we went. And then we heard about David’s dad starting a restaurant in Torrevieja, Spain, going to help with the business was a risk that we just had to take. There was no reason not to. Actually, it seemed like the perfect solution. It would enable David to be part of a business venture, yet would provide the structure that I needed to still feel secure. But when the partnership didn’t work out and we were on our own in Spain, suddenly, the degree of risk altered. We were in a new country (new to both of us since David hadn’t lived in Spain since he was 12), looking for a business in a country where one could innocently mistake a prostitution house for a rundown home in the countryside, and I felt very vulnerable indeed.
And I could feel myself backing away. But just as my natural instinct to run for cover started kicking in, we went to Paris to meet our new niece, and, Chou Chou, my creperie friend, told me clearly and directly to stop holding David back. Chou Chou had talked to me about this before, but the difference was that, now, I was ready to listen.
Risk is a funny thing. It can freeze you in one spot or it can enable you to move on to bigger and better things – depending on how you react to it. Between the double layoffs and Chou Chou reiterating his message to trust David, we’ve arrived at a very significant point in our lives and our marriage. It’s a point that I can safely and confidently say that I never would have arrived at on my own.
We’re at the edge of a cliff, and what lies before us has the element of risk that David has been seeking. At the same time, we’ve been standing on the brink for a while now, and I’ve had the time to study the situation and determine how high off the ground we actually are. I’ve calculated the time to the bottom, the possible snags along the way, and what will happen if the parachute doesn’t open.
What awaits, I can’t be sure. All I know is that it’s time to jump.