You’ve probably taken a “risk tolerance” assessment in some context- likely financial- to determine how comfortable you are with unpredictability and uncertainty. What were your results? Are you a risk-taker or is safety your thing? We all have varying levels of willingness to roll the dice in the casino, in our careers, or in our lives, but deep down, we know that sometimes, the risk pays off. Of course, most of the time truly risky decisions, even if they pay off eventually, are fraught with unintended consequences, loss, even if temporary, and some level of stress. These are all things most folks would prefer to minimize in their lives or in the culture of their companies, but without being willing to go out on a limb once in a while, innumerable opportunities are missed. Consider this example:
Gabbi had been working comfortably for years as a talented and successful English language (ESL) teacher and interpreter in her native Germany when she began to dream of something more. Secure in her job and apartment, Gabbi increasingly pondered making transformational changes in her personal life and career to satisfy the need for change and growth she’d been ignoring for years. She had developed a close group of friends and colleagues, and found herself frequently serving as a confidant and cheerleader as they struggled with problems, personal and professional, and considered critical decisions about relationships, their families, their companies, and their careers.
Her pay was often a lovely lunch or dinner or a shared bottle of wine as whomever she’d been talking to executed a plan to make positive changes and felt the success they craved begin to emerge. These experiences were immensely satisfying, and Gabbi imagined starting a business as a personal coach and organizational consultant. The thought of this excited her, but fear and doubt colored her ability to act.
Gabbi struggled with the deep-seated knowledge that she wanted a change of scene as well as a change in her career, yet she was afraid of the risk of failure, unexpected outcomes, and the loss of her personal and professional network. To leave her secure yet now less satisfying job and the country and culture she knew so well seemed to be unfathomably risky.
Days of thinking about the opportunities and their inherent uncertainty turned into weeks, then months, then a full year. When her supervisor gave her only a modest raise after her many years of service to the school where she worked, Gabbi turned the corner. The next day she began to update her resume, draft a series of cover letters that she would later tailor to specific job opportunities, and give serious thought to what it would take for her to move to Canada.
Within the month, she had applied for and been interviewed for 4 positions in Canada as an ESL teacher and had contacted a friend from college in Quebec City with whom she would live as she looked for her own place. A year later, Gabbi was in a downtown flat, successful in her ESL job, taking industrial and organizational psychology courses at a local University, and working on a certification as a professional coach. It took a negative event to light the fire under Gabbi’s vision for her own future and give her the push she needed to execute and take the risks she had previously avoided.
Her execution of the changes she sought, however, was not haphazard but very systematic; some careful thought and planning revealed that she could cross the bridge without drowning in the dark water below, and she leveraged her own relationships and previous experience to bolster her ability to succeed. Gabbi turned her coaching skills inward to not avoid the risks and allay her fears, but to mitigate them. Two years later Gabbi received her MA in I/O Psychology and launched a successful business in Canada as a strategy and change consultant for small companies seeking growth and organizational change.
Okay- this paints a rosy picture of the process of making major changes in life and career, but it is not so far-fetched. In the example above, Gabbi overcame her worries and fear by assessing the tools she already had that would allow her to make the changes she sought in her living situation and career.
Although still risky, the steps she took provided an immediate support system as she made some very major changes in her life, established an income stream that leveraged her past experiences, and allowed her to execute the steps of a personal strategic plan for the transformation she sought. The ability to overcome fear and worry about the unknown by examining current and needed resources and support, identifying opportunities that help to bridge the old and the new and taking active steps to progress to make incremental changes that are ultimately transformative, is critical and powerful.
Gabbi used her own skills which she learned about through her support of friends and colleagues to support changes in her own life is unique; many of us, even though we may be able to help others, it is much harder to hold ourselves accountable for the same process and support for themselves. Developing both self-awareness and the ability to self-monitor sufficiently to make such large, somewhat scary, change is an unusual skillset. Embracing risks with big payoffs is often something that many of us do better with external support. Don’t forget how important it can be to ask for help- especially when life and/or career transformation is your goal.