Why Taking Risks Leads to Success

Almost everyone I know has had second thoughts about an opportunity for a new job, project, role, assignment, etc. It is only natural to have second thoughts about taking a risk and trying something new. One of the differences between very successful people and less successful people is the amount of risk one is willing to take. People typically don’t take risks because they are afraid of the unknown, of leaving their comfort zone, or of losing what they currently have. By understanding how to evaluate risks, you increase your ability to make decisions that can move your career or personal goals forward.

At one point in my career, I was given the responsibility of managing space in our department. We had grown too large, had many more consultants than before, but we were not given any new space. So I was asked to design a way to fit everyone into our existing space. It was to be a thankless job, as historically, managers in this department “owned” their offices and cubes which meant if one of their employee’s left, they would be able to keep the space until the job had been filled. The first phase of this task would be to use every available space, regardless of which group it belonged to and I knew some managers were not going to be happy. These were going to be some tough decisions and I knew that more than once I would have to face an angry manager who just lost a little real estate to another group. So I had 2 choices; (1) I could take on this project, do something I had never done before which would give me broader experience, learn as I go, and deal with the potentially angry managers or (2) I could let someone else take this project. I chose to take on the project because I realized that the good far outweighed the bad or risky. I was able to complete the project, the managers eventually settled down, and I now had facilities planning experience. This experience helped lead me to my next job which was even greater responsibility. The risk paid off!

Why Are People Afraid of Taking a Risk?
Most people are “risk averse,” as avoiding tough situations is a natural instinct. People will do anything to avoid a difficult situation. Sometimes though, that avoidance can be limiting because with just a little effort, patience, and diligence, working through the difficult piece will leave them stronger and smarter on the other end. This applies to both personal and professional lives.

All Choices Involve Some Form of Risk
Whenever you make a choice, there is always some risk. There is always the chance that you may wish you made the other choice. For example, dating is a risk. You risk being rejected. You risk being disliked. What if everyone that avoided risk never dated? Where would we be then? Clearly, people do take some risks.

Evaluating Risks
Whenever someone presents you with a choice, you are going to weigh the potential positive and negative consequences of each option before making a decision. Sometimes, the choice is so easy you don’t even think about weighing the consequences, you do that subconsciously. But when a choice has greater consequences/rewards you will need to think about it more.

When I was younger, we were taught that whenever you have a decision to make, draw a line down a paper. On one side, write the pros. On the other side, write the cons. This is a great exercise, but let’s take it one step further:

  1. On the left side of the page, think of and write down all the good things that can happen if you chose to go forward (the pros). How will those good things impact your life? Will they be temporary or long-lasting? Are there any side benefits? Are there any long-term benefits?
  2. On the right side of the page, think of and write down all the bad things that could happen (the cons). Again, how will those bad things impact your life? Will they be temporary or long-lasting? Are there any side issues that may arise? Are there any long-term issues you would have to deal with?
  3. Who else would be impacted by your choice? How would they be impacted? Would they be supportive?

Once you have finished writing all of this down (and writing it down is important in this task so you remember everything), walk away from it for a little while (I like to give it at least an hour). After some time has gone by, read it again. You should now have a clearer understanding of the risk and if you want to move ahead. There is one more thing you need to do before making the decision: scenario building.

Scenario Building for Risk Mitigation
When you are reviewing a choice and you have listed the potential risks you want to start scenario building. This means, for each risk, think of the possible negative outcomes. Then for each, think of the different ways this may happen and how you will address each. Planning may help to lessen the negative impact of any potential choice. Once you have done this, you are now ready to start thinking about your decision.

One Last Note
You make choices everyday throughout the day. You are probably already using many of the techniques I described. The difference here is to use them intentionally.


(Photo Credits: Pixabay / Geralt)

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