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Why You Should Take Career Risks (When You’re Scared)

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that[s] changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Recently, I was on a coaching strategy call with a young professional woman looking to advance in her career. She enthusiastically described her ultimate goal of becoming a Senior Vice President of a large corporation. I could feel her excitement and energy through the phone.

In our conversation, she mentioned an interview she was preparing for and boasted, “I’ve gotten every job I’ve ever interviewed for.”

With eyebrows raised, I said, “Wow, congratulations. I don’t know anyone who can say that.” After 20 minutes we ended our conversation and I wished her the best of luck on her interview.

Taking Risks in Your Job Search.

Later that night, I thought about her statement. My mind flashed back to interviews of countless corporate CEOs, vice presidents, entrepreneurs and other leaders. None of them could ever say what this young professional had said. Yet, they live abundant lives and have seen tremendous success in their careers. I thought of a few questions she might have asked herself and ones you may ask yourself as well.

  • Was she playing it safe?
  • Was she only going after jobs she knew she could get?
  • Was she only applying to jobs she felt she’d be comfortable in?

I hope not! In your career, you will always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so take a risk and apply for those jobs you like, even if you aren’t a perfect match.

What’s the worst that can happen?

When I went from being an entry-level engineer to mid-level manager, I took a series of risks. One of them was leaving the comfort of Boeing, a company I “grew up in.” I left my hometown in Missouri and moved to the desert in California to work for Northrop Grumman. I didn’t know how it would turn out but I gave it a shot.

I took an objective view of my situation and thought:

What’s the worse that could happen?

  1. The job could be a bad fit.
  2. The group/boss/culture could be a bad fit.
  3. No one knows me and I might not make any powerful connections.
  4. I could get homesick and want to leave.

If any of the above happened, what would I do?

  1. I could tap into my network back at Boeing.
  2. Take a break from work and go back to school.
  3. Take a break from work and head back home while I searched for a new job.
  4. Look for other opportunities inside of Northrop Grumman.
  5. Stick it out for a while, save up a lot of money so I can do #3.

Good things happen when you take risks.

After leaving my career in Missouri, I attained a 37+% salary increase and tremendous career growth in 18 months instead of 5-10+ years like most of my peers. For my current job, I used the strong network I built in less than a year to get to this point. In hindsight, this was a career risk worth taking.

Today while listening to The Happy Black Woman Podcast, it emphasized the need to take risks in your career no matter if you’re an engineer, aspiring executive or entrepreneur. Greatness does not come from comfort zones. If there’s something you’ve been dreaming about, take a chance and just do it.

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