The Importance of Taking Risk


You might not actually be jumping off a cliff, but sometimes the important things we’re called to do can feel the same way.

Someone I mentor called me the other day to get some career advice. He’s been looking for a Finance job for a while. He interviewed at a bank for a credit analyst position and called me the day he was turned down. He was wondering how they came up with this decision as he felt he was a very strong candidate and received promising indications from them throughout the interview process. I told him he should call the hiring manager and ask him out to lunch. Tell him that you’re just hungry to learn from your experiences and anything feedback he could give you would be helpful. Ask him what top three things you could do to better prepare yourself for that line of work. He called once, emailed, then called twice, and after three times he got a hold of the guy and they went out to lunch.

What a (perceived) risk. An entry-level interviewee who just faced rejection asking the hiring manager to lunch time after time? Turns out, taking that risk not only led to some good advice, but the hiring manager sent his resume to a contact at another bank and resulted in him getting hired in a better position than the one he interviewed for. If he had never stepped out there, asked for what he wanted, and been persistent, he would likely still be looking for a job. Taking a risk paid off.

So many times we avoid those difficult moments that put us out of our comfort zone. We might not flat out deny these opportunities, but we delay and let them pass. Here are some things to remember when it comes to taking risks.

Risk implies the chance that things might not work out the way we expect. The unknown is scary. We think to ourselves “what if the worst happens to me?” This kind of thinking is easy, but it over-weights the probability of very bad things happening to us. It is human nature to focus on catastrophe and disassociate it from actual probability. Just think about anyone who thinks about crashing in a plane, or dying in a terrorist attack. Odds are they have nothing to worry about.

Risk makes us feel alive. Life without risk is life stuck in a rut. If you feel like your job or your life is getting boring and monotonous, then you’re not taking enough risk. The fact is we’re built to take risk. We need change and growth in our lives. If you are not growing, then you are dying. Realize that nothing in this world truly stays the same.

What is the worst that could happen? When we take risk we also neglect to think through the proper undesirable outcome and what the actual impact is that it might have on us. Think about my mentee. I’m sure it could have been a very bad experience for this young person to ask this manager out to lunch. Perhaps he could have received a very loud, explicit rejection. That would not be pleasant. OK, so what? Who cares if you get cussed out on the phone, wouldn’t that have been worth trying? Ultimately, when I gave him that advice, he initially perceived only the downside to taking that risk. In the end, not only did the upside outweigh the downside, but in reality the downside was almost non-existent.

Risk stretches us and helps us grow. It is getting out of our comfort zone and doing something different. We learn by experience. Risk teaches us more about ourselves and helps us improve. How much better are the experiences we gain through failing when trying something big? How much do you learn from taking risk and seeing the outcome? These are things you don’t pay tuition for, you learn by doing.

Don’t let your fear of failure stop you. This is many times the single biggest obstacle that prevents us from reaching our full potential. We worry about what will happen if/when we fail. Realize that failure is relative. What you may interpret as a failure, someone else might see as a valuable learning experience. Often failure is only failure to the extent you see it that way.

What if true failure meant wasting your talent? What if failure was delaying action and missing opportunities because you didn’t take that risk?

You feel most alive when you’re doing what you were made to do. We’re all meant to grow not stay the same. Everyone has greatness in them if they challenge themselves enough. Don’t your perception of risk stop you. Think about the people in the video. Some may remark how ridiculously dangerous ski BASE-jumping off a cliff is. They risk their lives for this. I’m sure they would argue that taking that risk, for them, is actually what keeps them alive. They are doing what they were meant to do, and in turn inspiring others to do the same.