To Have A Great Career, Be A Risk Taker

risk taker

At every crossroad in life there is risk of one kind or another. If you choose one road, there is the risk associated with the road not taken. It’s hard not to wonder “what if?” But the women I know who have high-responsibility leadership positions are all risk-takers. They would tell you that taking calculated chances helped them stand out and branded them as forward thinking and visionary.

Some truths about risk-taking


Here’s a close-up on risk based on my experiences in the marketplace:


Being risk-averse carries, well, risk. Risk-averse people often see themselves as deliberate, cautious, responsible, and thoughtful. Yet, others may see them as being reserved, lacking courage and belief in themselves, and less than inspirational—the very traits that can poison your ability to achieve more powerful roles in your career.


Risk-taking can be practiced. The more you practice taking risks, the more comfortable you will become with the emotional discomfort that can accompany it. I have a friend who, for years, has made a practice of doing something every day that takes her out of her comfort zone. These activities range from cold-calling a prospective client with a daring new proposal to skydiving!


Risk-taking can be vetted. When you take a risk, you are giving up some comfort in the short term for a potential long-term gain. It helps to make a list of the pros and cons on a piece of paper. Put the pros in one column and the cons in the other. Typically, one list will jump out as the right course of action.


Risk-taking: What to expect


In my own career, as well as among the women leaders I interviewed or researched for my latest book, there were predominantly two reactions to risk-taking:


  1. For some, risk-taking results in an immediate discomfort (I call it “risk-taking dissonance”) after pushing the button on the risk. You may even experience the flight part of a fight or flight reflex. When that happens, the remedy is to take deep breaths while counting to ten. The panic will pass.


  1. For others, especially those who studied the risk intently before acting on it, they were at peace with the risk-taking decision and, in some cases, even had a sense of excitement about what this decision could lead to.


Bottom line: Thinking about your style toward risk-taking can lead to better self-understanding. Plan ahead, and know how you’d handle what could be a risky situation before you’re in it.

Undecided? Ask searching questions like these:


Where can this road lead? Look down that road as far as you can. Where could I be when I get to the end?


What do I know about the destination? How will I feel about my destination once I arrive? Will I feel grateful for taking the risk, even if it doesn’t work out as well as I might expect? If it’s a total disaster, what’s the worst that could happen?


Will it help inspire others to step up and step out?



Be bold, but be okay with doing risk-taking in increments. Taking small risks can help you get comfortable with larger risks.

Manage your post-risk dissonance: Pay close attention to how you feel and then manage those emotions with self-care.

A pro and con chart is a great way to lay out the specifics of the risk and get comfortable with your choice.