Interrupt Your Linear Career Trajectory - Risk & Reward

Finding your “sweet spot” between getting stuck in comfort and continuously courting risk will secure career advancement.

The original Broadway production of “Annie” opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, setting a record for the Alving Theatre, spawning numerous productions around the world. 

One of the highlights, and most memorable moments of the production, was the song “Tomorrow” belted out by the indomitable eleven-year-old Little Orphan Annie. With lyrics such as “Just thinkin’ about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow, ’til there’s none” and “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you’re always a day away!”, the audience was swept up by her spirit and optimism.

Can you tap into some of Annie’s spirit and muster sufficient optimism and nerve to move out of your comfort zone to face uncertainty and more change?

Managing risk is something we do every day. Sometimes just climbing out of bed and into the shower feels risky, while on other days buying a new home, getting married, or accepting a promotion seem like a sure thing.

Overvaluing Your Comfort Zone

One of the unfortunate side effects from taking a risk, even a small one, is that it will disrupt your comfort zone - and who wants that? More than likely, you’ve worked very hard to develop your knowledge base, fine-tune your skills, and develop your alliances in order to support a level of ability and comfort that makes your work doable and effort maintainable. Taking risks can threaten the foundation of the world you’ve invested so hard to build.

I’m not implying that enjoying a level of comfort is a bad thing. In fact never achieving a level of comfort is a reflection of “ceaseless striving”, which if not managed, can lead to burnout.

Finding your “sweet spot” between getting stuck in comfort and continuously courting risk will secure career advancement. Taking risks, be they large or small, ensures that you challenge your practices and test your capabilities. Some risk is essential for growth.

Comparative Risk

When in doubt start small

There are all sorts of complex barriers to risk-taking. Everything from financial to behavioral barriers that drive loss and risk aversion. It essentially boils down to the fact that as human beings, we are wired to resist giving up the known for the unknown. I’ve never worked with a client who is 100% risk-averse. Even those who prefer to live cautiously have some tolerance for risk. If you have a habit of avoiding risk, start small.

A career conversation can provide you with a simple way to “test the waters”. Is your boss quick to book time with you? Are you provided with insights on your strengths, areas to improve on, suggestions for acquiring new skills, or leads to individuals who you can learn from? 

Booking time with your boss to discuss your career aspirations is a “low risk” action.

An example of taking a moderately risky action would be to apply for a role that you believe to be more challenging than the one you are in, but that still maintains many familiar aspects of the work that you are confident in doing. This new role would be one that would challenge your comfort by requiring you to be responsible for other’s performance & productivity, present in public or online, learn untested skills, or tackle change & innovation in ways not previously asked of you. 

Examples of potentially high risk career advancement are: deciding to go it on your own and start your own business, or return to school full-time to pursue a completely different occupation. 

This category of risk-taking will shake you out of your comfort zone as you face the unknown, but may turn out to be a transformational point in your career - a breakthrough moment.

Evaluating Risk

In and of itself, risk is not problematic. Calculated and educated risk-taking is what propels advances, be they personal or institutional. Preparing yourself to take a risk is best supported by having a clear understanding of potential repercussions (positive & negative) and an action plan to guide you forward.

Before taking action, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I trying to do or achieve? (Set a clear objective)
  • What might affect me or impact on my success? (List factors that propel/hinder you from getting what you want)
  • Which of these factors are most important? (How likely are they to happen and if they did what effect could that have, best-case/worst-case/most likely case, on your goals?)
  • What could I do to mitigate the negative or leverage the positive? (Design a response plan)
  • After successfully taking a risk, which parts of my plan worked/didn’t work? (Modify your plan, as needed)
Striving Forward

The Hard Part

Taking risks forces you to push past some of your fears and face some of your anxieties. Taking risks goes hand-in-hand with letting go of some control, or feelings of control. Taking risks means that you’ll fall down occasionally and have to pick yourself up.

Risk-taking will require you to face the unfamiliar and the unexpected, but, voluntarily picking the risks that you take is fundamentally empowering. Better that you choose which risks you are ready to handle than have others dictate your growth, your value, or your future.

The Best Part

Taking risks is about taking action to improve your life. Successful risk-taking builds confidence and resilience. Risk-taking inspires you to consider new ideas and live new experiences.

Having a well thought out plan and taking calculated risks can expand your world view and open up options for tomorrow, which brings us back to “Annie”. I can’t be sure, but my guess is that in addition to being an optimist, she’s also a risk-taker!

Do something that makes you uncomfortable once in a while, there’s a bigger and more rewarding life outside your comfort zone.

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