A Risky Proposition:
How to Take Smart Risks to Find Success
By Guerline Jasmin
Most people dream of living a more successful life: They want a
better job, a salary increase, more responsibility at work, and the
respect of their peers. Unfortunately, few people are willing to
take the needed risks to make their dreams a reality. Instead, they
sit back and watch a select few climb the corporate ladder, while
they wallow in self-pity and wonder why good things never happen to
The fact is that good things don’t just happen to anyone.
Good things happen to those who take risks, thus making their
positive outcomes possible. For example, consider sports athletes.
The truly great superstars of their game take risks every day. They
risk injury during a game with daring plays. They risk getting
yelled at by their coach when they make a split-second game
decision. They risk complete failure and letting down their entire
team when they follow their gut instinct and alter the play
mid-game. Sometimes their risks pan out, and sometimes they don’t.
However, those who do take risks are the athletes who are household
The same is true in business. Every company has a handful of
superstars or top achievers who rise among the ranks. And what
usually separates these superstars from the masses of employees is
the individual’s ability to take a risk. Granted, risk taking isn’t
always easy, but it is doable if you follow some solid guidelines.
Use the following risk-taking process to enable you to take smart
risks and further your professional life.
Know what you want to achieve: Before you take any kind of risk,
you first have to know your ultimate goal. Do you want to be the
company president within five years? Do you want a thirty percent
salary increase at your next review? Do you want to be promoted to
management and get the corner office? Whatever your big dream is,
state it clearly. Depending on your answer, you can work backwards
to map out the steps you would need to take to get there. For
example, maybe to get a promotion or a salary increase you need to
take a risk by volunteering for new projects. List out all the steps
and risks you can think of. Now you have a starting point of how you
need to proceed to achieve the goal you’ve outlined.
aware of the different kinds of risks: As you’re likely aware,
there are smart risks, and then there are stupid risks. A smart risk
is calmly and professionally confronting your boss about an
injustice that has transpired in the department. A stupid risk is
vandalizing his car to make your point. To be successful, you have
to take smart risks. That means that before you take the risk you
have to do your research. You have to find out what that risk
entails so you can make an intelligent decision of whether it’s a
good risk or a bad risk. A good risk has a high probability of
success. If the odds are stacked against you, you probably won’t
succeed. Therefore, you have to make sure you have the facts. For
example, if you’re investing money you have to check out the
investment: What’s the success rate? What’s the return potential?
What’s the timeline for the return? Once you know the facts you can
make an informed decision. The key is to be prepared before you take
a risk to make sure it’s something worthwhile and not something
that’s going to set you back.
Don’t let external conditions distract you: Often, people let
external conditions intimidate them and force them to back away from
a risk. For example, perhaps you want to apply for a promotion at
work. You mention something to a co-worker about your decision and
learn that you’ll have a lot of qualified competition for the job.
You do a little checking around and find out that these
more-qualified people are indeed applying for the same promotion as
you. Because of this information, you decide not to take the risk
and not to go for the promotion. You let the competition intimidate
you. While knowing what external conditions you’re facing is
important, you can’t let this information be your sole decision
criterion for whether or not to take the risk. Instead, analyze the
external conditions and figure out what makes you different or more
likely to succeed. Focus on those positive qualities you bring to
the table. Chances are your unique positive attributes will make all
Stop being a spectator: Getting ahead in business is not a
spectator sport. So just because you know what risks you need to
take doesn’t mean you’ll achieve success. You now have to get
involved and get your hands dirty so you can get where you want to
go. Talk to your boss about that raise you want. Ask for more
responsibility on the job. Take a prospective mentor out to lunch.
As you move forward, be prepared for rejection. Whenever you ask for
something, there are only two answers: yes or no. Just because
someone says “no” to you doesn’t mean you’re not worthy or that
you’re not going to get where you want to go. That’s just part of
taking that risk. So take action and do whatever is necessary to
make your goals a reality. Remember that a risk without action is
merely a dream. Have the courage to take meaningful action steps
A Smart Four-Letter Word: Sometimes, despite our best efforts,
our risks don’t pan out. Realize that failure is part of the
risk-taking process. The key is to dissect your results so you can
see what happened, learn from your mistakes, and then move on. When
you move forward with knowledge, your next risk will usually turn
matter what you want in your professional life, you’ll likely need
to take a risk or two to get there. And while the thought of taking
risks can be scary, remember that the results are what will set you
apart from the crowd. So start planning your next risk right away.
The more smart risks you take in your life today, the more positive
results you’ll achieve in your future.
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