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Is Fear Inhibiting Your Professional Development?

Categories: Professional Development

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” ~~ T. S. Eliot

We all know people who are risk takers ... they take large leaps in a single bound, fearlessly bounding up corporate ladders, while we watch from the safety of our comfort zones. And when it comes to our own careers ... well, it’s a recession so now just isn’t the right time to take risks.

Or is it?

Avoiding risk is no guarantee of career-related safety. And although it sounds counterintuitive, I believe that not taking any risks is as risky as taking them.

Professional development consists of many different factors, and one of them is likely to be taking risks. The larger the risk, the larger the professional growth -- or personal growth, too, for that matter.

Risk-taking is a mindset; an attitude that might well be the thing that saves your job or propels your career forward in ways you never imagined.

Of course, there’s a big difference between taking carefully calculated, strategic risks moving you in the direction you want to go, and merely being foolhardy.

Examples of strategic risks might include:

  • Volunteering for a job or committee well beyond your job description or experience
  • Putting yourself up for a promotion although you have never had that position before
  • Leaving a lower position in an established company with great benefits for a higher position in a start-up—with almost no benefits
  • Leaving a "cushy" job to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur (which I did, by the way, founding BRODY Professional Development 30 years ago!)

So, how can you tell if the reward is worth the risk? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?

When I decided to leave my tenured position as a college professor (after 22 years), my (now) husband asked me two important, risk-evaluating questions:

  1. What’s the worst that can happen? Spend some time considering worst case scenarios. They frequently boil down to failure. Watch out for dramatic thinking, like, “I might never get another job and my family will starve." What are the chances, really, that you would NEVER get another job? However, pragmatically consider your financial situation and family responsibilities when considering this first question.
  2. And then what? Meaning, if the worst does happen, what is your fall-back, your plan B, your safety net? Coming up with various other plans will put the risk into perspective and give you more confidence.

When you take a closer look, you might discover that your initial fears are unwarranted, and the risk is really not that great. If, after careful consideration, you decide that the reward is worth the risk, then what are you really saying about yourself if you don’t take that risk?

In that case, not taking the risk could be more damaging to your self-esteem, self-confidence and career satisfaction, than taking the risk and perhaps failing.

Be prepared for the discouragement of others, especially from previous generations who were raised not to "rock the boat,” and not to "take any chances.” There will also be those who deeply regret the risks they never took, but can’t face that reality within themselves, so they try to discourage you from doing what they couldn’t.

Have courage! If you need help weighing a particular risk, or charting a riskier but more rewarding course through your industry to your dream job, consider finding a mentor. Perhaps this can be one of those people who leap those tall buildings in a single bound.

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