Personal Risk Portfolio

How creatives take risks without going insane

Personal Risk Portfolio
Photo by Sean Pollock / Unsplash

In his book Originals, Adam Grant uses the idea of risk portfolios to debunk the myth that successful creatives have supernatural risk tolerance. Much like how financial planners balance risky investments with safer ones, originals balance out creative risks with stability elsewhere. Though they often look like bold daredevils in the part of their lives we know them for, 0riginals remain rather conventional in other areas to sustain this approach.

“No person could possibly be original in one area unless he were possessed of the emotional and social stability that comes from fixed attitudes in all areas other than the one in which he is being original.”

Edwin Land (Polaroid founder)


  • T.S. Elliot kept his London bank job three years after publishing his landmark poetic work, The Waste Land. Even after quitting the bank, he still spent the next forty years working at a publishing house. This day job provided him professional stability as he continued to write poetry on the side.
  • Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, stayed at her day job for two years while getting her footless pantyhose company up and running.
  • John Legend kept working as a management consultant while performing at night, for two years after releasing his first album.
  • Bill Gates stayed in school until a year after selling his software program.
  • eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, kept his day job until his income from eBay could replace his salary.
  • Steven King hopped between several "normal" jobs years after writing his first story. He only quit a year after Carrie, his first novel, was published.

To counterbalance the mental and emotional toll of taking creative risks, these change-makers maintained simple personal and professional lives. This way, they could allocate fortitude where it was most needed: their craft.

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."

Gustave Flaubert

Fortune favors the bold--we look up to those who take risks in business, art, and other creative domains. From a distance, it's easy to dismiss their ability to overcome doubt, endure criticism, and push past uncertainty as something they were born with. However, creative courage doesn't come from a fixed personality trait but instead an intentional, strategic allocation of risk.

No one can have it all, all it once. It's nearly impossible to take simultaneous risks in your creative, personal, and professional lives and thrive in any of them. Chase two rabbits; catch none. Once you treat risk tolerance as a finite resource, you can make better decisions about where to spend it.