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Someone asked me the other day what it feels like to be a risk-taker. I answered, “It feels like failing more times and in more ways than anyone else has even tried.” The old adage “no risk, no reward” is only slightly true. There is also the downside of risk – the failure. Everyone only talks about the successful risk takers, the winners, the ones who found a way to make their risk pay off. Entrepreneurship is not as sexy as it looks in business school case studies. It’s not as sexy as the unicorn companies make it seem. It is, in fact, an emotional and physical rollercoaster of constant decision making, uncertainty, and risk.

Tax accountants in general do not take risks, or at least not unmitigated risks. We generally have the creativity knocked out of us in the beginning of our careers because creative tax accountants take risks, and risks are dangerous when it comes to taxes. But there are plenty of ways to use creativity in risky ways that do not threaten your license or land you in tax court defending uncertain tax positions. Think back to when you started – did you have any big ideas that were shut down? Did you identify anything inefficient that you thought should be fixed? Were you told “you have to pay your dues” and internally shutter at it (and then later repeat it)? Our industry is geared towards taking the risk out of people, not encouraging responsible risk. We end up with the majority of the profession sitting in the fear mindset afraid to try their big idea, afraid to fail.

How can we work through the fear of risk and innovate as a tax professional when we have all been trained not to do that? The first step is being conscious of it. The second step is facing that fear. The third step is pulling the trigger. The fourth step is embracing failure.

Understand your fear of risk.

You have an idea. You have a big idea. You have a tiny idea. But an idea you have none-the-less. Take that idea, breathe it in. Imagine every positive outcome that could happen from your idea. Write it down. Now, imagine every negative outcome that could come from your idea. Write it down.

Yes, I just told you to do a pros and cons list, no this is not groundbreaking in any way, shape or form. However, it is a great tool for processing externally how you view things internally. I will venture a bet – your cons list is way longer than your pros list. Why? Because you are a tax accountant and you have been trained in fear-based decision making patterns since the day you started your career. A pros and cons list is only as good as the weight of the pros and the cons.

Take it one step further – weigh the pros by the time savings, or another quantitative item. Now rate the cons list. Is it starting to look a bit more positive? Take another shot at adding pros. Really imagine the best possible results and write them down. Quantify them.

Face your fears.

Take your list and think through the worst con. Think through what might happen. Is it really that bad? Is it something that outweighs the risks of even trying? Is it something that justifies languishing in the loop that many tax firms get into of a lack of innovative behavior and stagnation?

Ask yourself: Do you want to be better? Do you want your firm to be better?

Pull the trigger.

Just freaking do it. You will learn something big or small with any incremental change you make. Do something. Take the first step – you will feel wildly out of your comfort zone and it will open the door to doing more. Have you ever started exercising after a long time without? It’s terrifying. You don’t know how to use all the new machines at the gym. What do you even do with free weights?! How are you supposed to lift more than five pounds when you’ve been sitting at a desk preparing tax returns for the last 10 years and not going to the gym? It’s uncomfortable. But, it gets easier. You start getting muscle memory back. You start pushing yourself again. You start to know your place, and get into your groove. You might even start to enjoy it again.

Your brain is the same. Every time you take a risk and push yourself through the fear mindset – you are expanding your comfort zone. You are finding the things and places and ways that you can improve. Pull the damn trigger.

Embrace failure.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I have failed a lot, and I meant it. I have implemented technology that was so bad for my team they revolted, and we lost a few clients. I have tried different billing practices that left my firm struggling to make payroll. I have used terrible tax technology and had to force my team to push through an entire busy season of manually entering literally everything. I once implemented a process so bad for collecting client information that we missed a bunch of information and had to amend multiple tax returns. I’ve failed. Over and over and over again. And because of that failure, I do not fear it. I embrace it. That failure taught me what not to do. It taught me a ton about the resiliency of myself, my team, my client relationships, and my fundamental human nature. My positive list now always outweighs the negative. My tolerance for risk has changed because I retrained myself to be innovative. I retrained the risk aversion that was beaten into me as a child tax accountant and focused it on how I can make my practice better. How can I make my team better? How can we service our clients better? How can I make myself better?

You are not going to succeed at everything you do. Understand it, accept it, and embrace your failures as the steppingstones of innovation.

So, you want to learn about yourself and incrementally increase your risk tolerance? DO THAT 👆.

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Liz Mason is a serial entrepreneur, a giant nerd, and an involved accounting vanguard. She is the Founder of High Rock Accounting, Rebel Rock Accounting, TheDepartment.Tax, and a few other related brands. Liz speaks on a national stage, guests stars on podcasts, and writes frequently. To further her passion for the advancement of the accounting profession, Liz currently serves as a Xero National Ambassador and as the Content Strategist for Tax Practice News. Liz started her career in tax at Grant Thornton (at 20) and automated a portion of her job landing her in the national tax practice. She spent a decade in large public accounting firms working on highly technical tax consulting before branching off on her own. Liz utilizes her creativity and passion at her company to uproot traditional practices and replace them with innovative concepts. She finds joy in efficient technology and her core belief is that everyone and everything can continuously improve (she says "be better" too often). When Liz isn't planning world domination in accounting, she is a die-hard skier, down for any adventure, plays the ukulele, reads everything, and has a good sense of humor. If you're looking for her, you can find her traveling the world and enjoying new food and cultures with her young son. Follow Liz and High Rock Accounting on Twitter at @LizzyNorMa and @HighRockCPAs.