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"Wall Street Sign" by Vlad Lazarenko via Wikimedia Commons, Copyright CC BY-SA 3.0

Take risks, and a break

When you make a living anticipating and mitigating adversity for others you have to learn to take risks yourself. I have been thinking about this lately because I recently took up a new professional challenge that is now taking me and my wife back to New York, again (this time with kids). I now work at the bond trading desk of an investment bank, focusing on the debt of emerging countries. A trading desk is an intense place full of raw energy where people buy and sell financial instruments, can smell doubt and fear in others, and where (it turns out) traders want insight into power and politics too.

Change is not without risk. It is a new industry (a third sector for me) and I left a position where I was recognized as being really good at what I did, and where people appreciated my work. And of course there’s a learning curve on Wall Street as well. All of it exciting stuff if you are comfortable with change and risk taking.

The thing about becoming good at imagining adverse scenarios (what I like to call negative imagination) is that you can end up being too risk averse. But you need to take risks and embrace change to grow. Thinking about this I came across a great piece in the Harvard Business Review about how to gauge if that new professional challenge or project is the right one for you. And one of the factors is “it scares you just a little.” Another important element is trusting what you know about yourself, based on a sound understanding of your abilities. So taking risks not only involves courage to take the plunge, but a certain degree of maturity too.

The other thing I am taking is a break from writing the blog (you may have already noticed that). This professional change also means a bit of a logistical nightmare for me: moving from Colombia to DC and now to NY. Changing homes twice, finding schools for kids twice, among tons of other moving parts, all while adapting to a new job. So in order to keep my sanity amid this frenetic lifestyle, I am taking a bit of a hiatus from my blog posts this summer (and a bit into the fall) while my life gets back to normal and I cultivate new ideas. Wish me luck.

What I am watching

I thought I would introduce this section since I have sometimes come across watchable material I would like to recommend. I have been watching the Netflix show “How to become a Tyrant”, a six episode series that explores the lives and strategies of history’s most ruthless dictators, and which derives lessons from how they wield power.

The series delves into the lives of Adolf Hitler, Muammar Gaddafi, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and the dynasty of the Kim family in North Korea. In many ways it is the video equivalent of the book “The Dictator’s Handbook”, by political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, which I have recommended as an absolute must read for anybody interested in power, and frankly life.

Mesquita makes an appearance in the series too and delivers a brilliant yet devastating line: “What kind of person can be a tyrant?,” he asks. “I will give a very depressing answer: anybody can be a tyrant.” What strikes me most about this documentary and the books I often recommend about power is that few people believe or like to believe that power can be wielded effectively for evil for long. People like to think that dictatorships like these are historical anomalies, and that well run, rich societies are the norm and can only get better.

We can only hope. I guess this pervasive disbelief is why those of us who study and understand power will always have jobs.