Professional Development

How to get better at taking risks

Written by Kate Lopaze

Risk is scary. Everything in human history has evolved to make us scared of risk. After all, time has taught us that risks can get you eaten by animals in the wild, or have you holding your head in despair while the stock market (with your bold investment in ostrich futures) tanks.

But risk can also be rewarding when it comes to your career. If you feel like you could use a little more bravery, there are ways to rewire your thinking to make yourself more open to risk. Nothing too bold or daredevil-y (for now), though—we’ll leave that to Richard Branson.

Set your goals.

The most effective risk-taking is tied to specific goals. You’re not doing something just for the sake of doing it, but rather to learn something, or overcome a particular issue, or advance to a milestone. If you want to start embracing more risks in order to improve your job status or your pay grade, it starts with clearly defining your career goals. If it means starting your own business, or going freelance after being a full-time corporate worker, it’s important to keep in mind that your ultimate goal is independence. As long as you have that goal in your head as the end result, it can make big jumps (like quitting your day job) easier to do.

Do your research.

Data makes you feel better. If you’re thinking about switching jobs or changing careers altogether, the best thing you can do to validate the risk is gather as much information as you can. If you’re thinking about making a significant investment and going back to school, what are the job stats for new graduates in your field? If you’re thinking about asking for a raise, what are people at your level in your field making? It can also help you make an informed decision to walk away from the risk, too—it’s not just about talking yourself into doing something, but about understanding what you’re about to do.

Start small.

Even with your big goals in mind, set smaller milestones (and therefore smaller risks) to check off along the way. That way, you’re not going all-in on something that feels big and scary because you’ve already made progress and smaller commitments toward that goal. For example, if you’re thinking of starting your own business, begin by opening a business bank account or getting the paperwork started for an LLC. Those are significant steps, but not so frightening in and of themselves.

Don’t worry about being perfect.

If you’re taking a risk, you might think everything has to align perfectly for it to be successful. Not so! Taking action is the truly important part. Hesitation over results can stop recovering perfectionists and overachievers in their steps. In the worst case scenario, you’ll fail—but at least you’ll have tried and learned valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t.

Risks don’t have to be grand gestures that change everything forever. A risk can be something as simple as doing something out of your comfort zone. As long as you have a purpose and a plan behind you, you’ll find that taking risks isn’t so scary after all—and realize it’s something we can all learn to do smarter.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.