By Randi J. Brosterman
Safety rules–driving safely, behaving safely, and exercising appropriate caution are all necessary for our survival. So here’s the question: Can risk taking be a good thing? Certainly, thoughtfulness and preparedness are needed, and a willingness to seize the moment when opportunity comes knocking.
In my first job out of college, I was miserable. Working until 11 p.m. daily, the window of time between my work clothes and my pajamas got smaller and smaller, until there was no time for my blue jeans in between. I quit my job without another job in hand, thinking that at age 24, I needed to have enough guts to go find another job on my own. I was gainfully and happily employed within three months.
Later, in the spring of 1987, I interviewed for a summer job between my two years of MBA education. Although I was well qualified, the interviewer told me she had no positions available. I said, “Well, you have my resume, I have your card…if you sell a big project this summer, call me.” As I was walking out of her office, I turned to her and said, “The risk you run in not hiring me is your competition will.” I’m not sure where I got the chutzpah at age 26 to say something so brash, but she called me back the next day; she had created a summer position for me.
At about the same time in my life, on the personal front, I learned to scuba dive, traveled alone to Southeast Asia and entered into long-term relationship. Each of these choices felt risky and scary, but pushing through my fear enabled me to establish some of the most satisfying aspects of my life.
Nine years later, I was presented with the opportunity to move to a start-up, mid-market business within my firm. I had only one requirement, which I was not shy about voicing. I wanted to know if I would have an opportunity to become a partner. It was the best career move I ever made
Leadership experts I’ve long admired often liken risk-taking to a trapeze act –you don’t have an act unless you are willing to let go of the bar! Over time, I’ve learned to live by these words.
We live in a town where safety is our overriding concern. As the 2014 HGHS class Salutatorian shared at this year’s commencement, “We are among the most privileged people on the planet…we live in a bubble.”
So how do we begin to think about moving out of our comfort zone, when safety is our overriding concern? What are healthy risks, that don’t compromise our safety, yet help to move us forward to new places?
As I learned from my statistics professor in college, there is a clear difference between a risk and a gamble. A risk is something you can assess, assign probabilities to outcomes, and calculate an expected result. A gamble has none of these attributes.
Taking risks can involve travelling to new places, changing professions, or walking away from an unhealthy relationship. Taking risks involves self-empowerment to try something new, to speak out, rather than be silent, to choose constructive action, instead of settling for passivity.
Self-empowerment to pursue one’s passion has the potential to result in true happiness. Optimism and constructive risk taking can be healthy and fun. So here are a few guiding principles that have worked for me and might resonate with you:
- Desired outcome. Envision what you would like the outcome to be.
- Preparation. Do your homework, come to situations prepared.
- Stretch zone. Be willing to move out of your comfort zone.
- Self-empowerment. Move past the fear: be brave.
- Letting go. Be willing to let go of the bar.
I recently decided to retire from the firm where I was a partner for 15 of 26 years. At 55 years old, I have once again decided to let go of the bar. Risk taking at this time of life has a whole new resonance for me. There is still plenty of fear mixed with a world of excitement. While I’ve had a great career to date, I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
My experience taking risks in life and in the business world has consistently led to new and interesting opportunities. Looking back, I take great pride in these moments, which ultimately led to greater happiness for me, personally and professionally.
Randi Brosterman is a local resident who seeks to inspire leadership in women through self-empowerment.