Life, by its very nature, is made up of personal and professionals risks, and it is our aversion to risk that often holds us back from reaching our next great achievement. When was the last time you really stepped out on a limb and put something at risk? How badly did you fail? We can learn a lot from children, inventors and other risk takers.
Babies don't know about risk. If they did understand the potential dangers in the world, it is doubtful they would ever want to leave their cribs, and yet as toddlers, they do attempt to escape from their cribs. They try new things regularly—their first words, their first steps and exploring new nooks and crannies. Even teenagers take risks, perhaps rooted in the belief that they are immortal. So why is it that as adults we start listening to our fears and allow them to stop us from trying?
The fear of failure. The fear of failing is usually greater than the reality. Think about your worst personal or professional failure. How bad was it really? If you're reading this, it wasn't fatal. Then why do you hold yourself back? Where would we be today if Thomas Edison hadn't taken risks? How long would it have taken someone else to invent the light bulb and the phonograph? Not all of Edison's ideas were successful, in fact several "failed," but that didn't stop him from working on new ideas and inventions.
What is really holding you back? Maybe it isn't the fear of failure. Maybe you are uncertain about your ability to step into a leadership role or to leave a job you no longer enjoy. It is up to you to find the underlying reason why you aren't taking these risks. Being comfortable is a common excuse for not taking risk. But will you look back later and condemn yourself for staying in a dead-end job? Is it time to start living a life of "oh-wells" instead of a life of "what ifs?"
Take the first baby steps. Or as Nike says "Just Do It!" Stop playing those horrible scenarios in your head and take that risk. This could be asking your manager for a raise, confronting a bullying co-worker, following up after an interview, asking someone you don't know for a networking meeting or maybe just applying for a job that you think might be a stretch. Your fear is seldom as awful as the real outcome, but if you don't believe me, ask yourself, what is the worst thing that could happen as a result of your taking a risk?
Make it calculated and make it count. Not all risks are worth taking, for example, you wouldn't invest all your money in a new business nor would you risk your reputation supporting a cause you didn't fully believe in or support. Imagine the worst thing that could happen if you ask a stranger for a meeting? Rejection. However, if you could find someone to introduce you to that stranger and use his or her name when you ask for the meeting, would it be less risky? Asking your manager for a promotion without having the proof or justification for your request might not be the wisest risk; but with the justification and the right timing of your request, you may find yourself with more income. One final reminder: "No" doesn't mean forever, it just means not right now. Don't give up.
Try new things. Are you a creature of habit? Many of us are. We seek comfort in knowing what to expect and routines. Stepping outside of this comfort zone is good for your career health. Look for new projects and offer your help, embrace social media for your job search and learn about new technology plus trends in your industry or field of interest. Testing new ideas and learning new things may be the small steps that make bigger risks feel less intimidating.
Stop playing it safe. Margie Warrell, author of "Stop Playing Safe," recommends taking these five steps to immerse yourself professionally in areas outside your comfort zone:
- Speak candidly and openly, especially around sensitive topics.
- Challenge assumptions and relying on the old ways of doing things.
- Flout conformity by being unique and speaking out when necessary.
- Be decisive despite uncertainty—you may never have all the information you need.
- Toot your own horn or at least take credit where credit is due.
Risk is just part of life and maybe it is time to stop avoiding it and learn to live with it. You may just like what it does for your career and personal life.
Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.