The Greatest Risk I’ve Ever Taken: Katy Koyich-Pourrat
Editor’s Note: I will always remember this quote by Albert Camus: “There always comes a time when one must choose between contemplation and action. This is called becoming a man.” Those who have taken risks, know that the act of doing is more empowering and enriching than the act of pondering. Don’t be your worse enemy and stand in the way of finding your true self.
When Wy-Lene asked me to write an article centred around risk, I said yes without even thinking—something I have a tendency to do in life! It was only after I committed to the piece and started to make some notes that I realised the topic goes far deeper than sharing risks I have taken as an entrepreneur or human being. It’s about the perception of risk in this world, and the power that it has to help us realise our dreams and take us to places we would never have imagined possible.
So what is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken? Finding an answer to this question has been quite a ride—forcing me to look at life from a new perspective, reflect on the decisions I’ve made and ask myself: Are they real risks or perceived risks? And where have these risks taken me?
When I look back at the decisions I’ve made, friends and family have frequently used the word “brave” in response to my choices, which perhaps implies that in their eyes, I have opted for a riskier route at some time or another.
Risk can be such a loaded word, filled with negative connotations implying danger, difficulties and discomfort—like you are putting something on the line or sacrificing one thing for another. However, I wouldn’t consciously describe any of my choices in that manner, because the choices I’ve made and the path I’ve taken have been about following my heart and finding my true north.
Here is my story.
When I was 18, I left home and went to university in London to study Chinese. By 19, I was living in China for my year abroad, and had completely fallen in love with the country—so much so that one year just wasn’t enough for me. My best friend and I decided to defer a year of university, find jobs and stay there for an extended period. I was barely out of my teens, and since I wasn’t studying, I didn’t get any support from my parents to foot my expenses. Some would call delaying my education to take a “gap” year a risk, but I only saw it as an opportunity and an adventure.
I quickly landed a job in PR and events and had some of the best times of my life. Not only did my Chinese improve tremendously, but I gained valuable business experience, made amazing new friends and met the love of my life.
Almost two years later, with my China experience under my belt and renewed focus, I returned to London to finish my degree and get going with my career. I was dead set on building a high profile career and climbing the proverbial ladder. Marriage, babies and starting a family were not my goals. Instead, success, money, and power were my motivating forces. Falling in love was definitely not part of the plan, but suddenly, I had a man whom I loved thousands of miles away and found myself in a long distance relationship.
As distance grew, so did the intensity of our love. We soon got engaged, and a year later, I was married at 23. Everyone around me thought: “God, you’re young… jeeez, that’s risky.” Once again, I didn’t see it as a risk—only a world of possibilities and an adventure of a lifetime with my soulmate.
The first couple of years of marriage were tough. Besides being naïve about what it took to make a marriage work, I was still figuring life out. Hell-bent on keeping my independence, I was also selfish and focused on what I wanted—which I now know is a recipe for disaster if you’re married. Through the many storms that we had to weather together, I gradually learnt more about myself, and what a true partnership really entailed, eventually making both me and our bond stronger.
While all of that was happening, I still pinned my self-worth on achieving success. Although I had fulfilled my goal of being a luxury brand manager at the age of 25, I still wasn’t satisfied; something inside had shifted. Trying to rationalise my malaise, I convinced myself that it was either my current job, or that I missed being in Asia. Either way, I knew something had to change.
After many lengthy discussions about our future, my husband and I realised that 4 years in Europe was enough and the time had come to head back to Asia. We were open to living pretty much anywhere, so whoever got a job first, we would move to that city. When Max found a position running a start-up in Singapore, we packed our bags and cashed in our pensions. We hedged all of our bets on this new opportunity and ventured into the unknown. Somehow, we didn’t think twice about our decision, and had we, it might be a different tale.
The move came at a very transitional period of my life, manifesting in more ways than one. Having to quit my job, I was uncertain about my next step. Should I continue in luxury? Or do something on my own? I had a few business ideas and a good friend to partner with, yet, I was filled with trepidation and doubt. My years of being carefree were replaced with the expectation and determination to be independent. Going down the entrepreneurial route would have given me professional independence, but also make me dependent on my husband for financial help—something I couldn’t get my head around.
6 weeks after we moved to Singapore, I lost my beautiful mum to Leukemia. As the only child raised by a single mum, it was earth shattering. Suddenly my world was thrown upside down. My entire reality shifted. The deluge of emotions surrounding my dissatisfaction towards my current path only multiplied, forcing me to come to the realisation that life is too short to be unhappy and to not do what you love. It also dawned on me that I was pursuing a career because it was what I thought I should do, not because I wanted to.
So I made the decision to move on from my “dream career”, and learned to accept and be grateful for my husband’s support. With my newfound acceptance, I took the plunge and launched my own business. On paper, it is the biggest personal and professional risk I have taken given that 95% of start-ups fail.
But did you know that the synonym for risk is possibility? Why do we instinctively focus on the risk when you can focus on the possibilities? Like everything in life, if we focus on the negative it leaves no room for the positive. Had I not taken those risks, I would not be where I am now, both professionally and personally because any kind of risk leads to growth, wisdom and discovery—a new world and a bolder me.