Millions of years of evolution have hardwired our brains to avoid risk. This is a great survival strategy for cave dwelling, but not so good for the modern workplace. If you want your career to take off , you need to embrace risk.
"Remember the root of the word 'risk,'" writes Chris Farrell, the economics editor of Marketplace Money. "It comes from the Italian word risicare, which some translate as 'nothing ventured, nothing gained.' Risk isn't something to take lightly, but you shouldn't let fear inhibit your dreams."
Here are three big career risks that can really pay off.
1. Going back to school. Going back to school is a big investment of both time and money. But having a purposeful (and well-researched) plan can reduce the risk.
"You need to know your end goal and what you are trying to achieve by going back to school, such as a raise or changing career paths," suggests career coach Hallie Crawford. "Next, determine if going back to school helps you achieve this goal by talking to your boss and mentors. In some fields an advanced degree matters; in others, it really doesn't."
The pay off: Education is an investment in your future that can literally pay off— having a bachelor's degree is worth almost $1 million more in lifetime earnings. What's more, many top-level jobs are practically unreachable without higher levels of training. If that's the case in your industry, education is the only way to take your career to the next stage.
2. Breaking into a completely new field. Drastically changing your career field—from say, teaching to advertising—can be a precarious route. You've got no direct experience, no obviously related skills, and no network connections. However, the work experience you already possess can make the jump less chancy.
"It is challenging, for sure," writes Ruth Harper of the Brazen Network. "But it is possible." Her suggestion is to focus on transferable skills that you can apply to the job, even if it's in a new field. "Even if you can't bring subject matter expertise to the position, potential employers will love that you have useful skills combined with a unique outsiders perspective."
The pay off: The obvious benefit of taking a career jump is that you get to be in a new field—one that can bring your less stress, higher pay, or more satisfaction. And that's a pretty good trade off.
3. Leaving a high-paying job for a lower-paying opportunity. Saying goodbye to a job with a big paycheck might seem like an insane risk to some people. But sometimes the benefits of a career change are measured in more than cash.
"We are almost hardwired to pursue ever increasing pay levels," writes financial blogger Jennifer Derrick."But is a pay cut always a bad thing? Not necessarily. Pay cuts can turn into blessings." Depending on your values, more money won't necessarily equate to a better situation.
The pay off: Lower-paying jobs can come with a whole range of non-monetary benefits. You might gain soft assets—like knowledge, connections, and experiences—or benefits—like a better work-life balance. Or, in the case of joining a start-up or launching your own company, lower initial salary can mean a big payout later.
Are you thinking about taking a career risk? Share in the comments.
Annie Favreau is the managing editor for Inside Jobs—a site that helps career changers and choosers discover strong career options + find the right education to make it happen. Follow her on Twitter @InsideJobs.