For me, one of the saddest things about the economic downturn we’re currently experiencing is that it’s made us afraid to take risks. When jobs are scarce, we buckle down and accept less than we deserve – all because we’re afraid of losing what little we do have in the pursuit of something better.
Now, I don’t say this to diminish the struggle that some people are going through. Certainly, it’s reasonable to expect mindsets and mentalities to be shaped by massive unemployment, expiring jobless benefits and the increased expectations heaped upon workers who do remain employed. My heart goes out to all the people that have been negatively affected by these circumstances, and I continue to hope for a recovery that helps people to return to the workforce as quickly as possible.
But that said, I’m afraid of the impact that this economic uncertainty has had on today’s workforce. Because we know that employment is tenuous at best, we’re willing to compromise the “sure” thing of an existing job for the benefits we’d gain by taking more risks in our career decisions.
Taking risks sounds scary, but the thing is that it’s incredibly difficult to advance our personal and professional objectives without them. It’s through taking risks that we achieve more than standard levels of incremental career growth, and it’s through risk-taking behaviors that we form the necessary skills and contacts that lead to further success down the road.
To see the difference, imagine a worker who stays in a single corporate job for the duration of his working life – simply because of the stable benefits and steady pay it provides. Now, compare that with a worker who jumps between companies to take advantage of exciting opportunities – improving both his skill set, job satisfaction and compensation levels at the same time.
Sure, there’s something to be said for having a job that pays the bills. And I’m definitely not suggesting that you take risks just to take risks. Ideally, any risky moves you make in your personal and professional life should be carefully calculated to ensure the highest possible chances of success. However, adopting a mindset that prioritizes security over satisfaction isn’t a great choice for your career advancement – or for overall happiness in general.
Now, if you’ve been reticent to take risks in the past, don’t worry. Although many people think of “riskiness” as an inborn trait, I believe it’s a valuable skill that can be learned in the same manner as riding a bicycle or learning to drive. Here’s how to do it:
Step #1 – Start small
If you’re a naturally risk-averse person, you don’t need to start off with some grand gesture, like quitting your job, moving to a new country or marrying the girlfriend you’ve only been dating for a few weeks.
Instead, start small. Step outside your comfort zone by trying a new restaurant for lunch or by taking a weekend trip on your own to a new destination. Try talking to a stranger while waiting in line for something or trying a menu item you don’t usually indulge in.
Again, your gestures don’t have to be large. The idea is to get comfortable with the sensation of risk-taking so that, over time, you feel better about jumping into larger – and more beneficial – risks.
Step #2 – Envision worst case scenarios
As the risks you take become larger, the stakes that are pinned on your success grow higher as well. If you want to achieve something big, you usually need to take a proportionately large risk – but because you’ve got more on the line, this can be scary enough to prevent you from jumping at all.
To get over the potential loss these risks involve, make it a habit to fully explore the worst case scenario you’re envisioning in your head.
Say, for example, you’re thinking about quitting your job to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. It’s a scary proposition, as leaving a steady paycheck can conjure up fears of imminent homelessness and poverty. But instead of indulging in this self-sustaining fear, explore the limits of your worst case scenario.
In this example, the worst thing that could happen is that your entrepreneurial venture fails, you’re no longer able to afford food, rent or utilities and you’re kicked out onto the street. The cardboard box you’re living in gets peed on by a stray dog, causing it to lose structural integrity and fall apart in the middle of a storm – leaving you hungry, wet and homeless on the street. Eventually, you succumb to a case of storm-triggered pneumonia, which could have been easily treated with the benefits you would have had if you hadn’t left your steady job.
Step #3 – Weigh the good against the bad
Once you’ve reached the end of this vision, give yourself a reality check. Even if your entrepreneurial venture failed, do you have family or friends who would help you get back on your feet? Could you go back and get another job at a similar pay rate as before? Or, even if neither of these situations apply to you, are there social services in your area that would provide a safety net to people in the exact situation you’re so worried about?
In nearly all cases, the scenarios we’re envisioning are those that are so remotely unlikely that we risk trading potential future fulfillment and happiness for something that will almost assuredly never come to pass. And if you ask me, that’s a pretty bad tradeoff to make!
To help balance your visions of imminent disaster and ruin, envision how different your life could be if you take a risk and wind up succeeding. Suppose, instead, that your entrepreneurial venture is a success. Not only will this be personally and professionally fulfilling, the financial rewards could be significant – finally giving you the life of comfort and class you’ve always dreamed of having.
Now, weigh these two possible outcomes against one another. Sure, the odds that you’ll be 100% successful in every risk you take are slim, but so are the chances that your worst case scenario will come to pass. You’ll likely wind up somewhere in the middle, but by taking a risk and giving yourself the chance to succeed, your eventual outcome is much more likely to lean towards the good than the bad.
So stop convincing yourself that you’ll fail before you even give yourself a chance to succeed. Taking risks is a skill that can be learned, and it’s one that will serve you well throughout your life. You never know how much you have to gain until you try!