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How to Take Career Risks Without Losing It All

Say an opportunity arises in your career that piques your interest and passion? But what if this opportunity only has a 50 percent chance of success? Would you still take the risk?

If you wouldn’t take it, you would be like most of us. Many of us have responsibilities that keep us following the status quo and not taking risks with our careers in order to maintain what we’ve worked hard for, what has been entrusted to us.

But how can you make the differences you desire to make, without risking it all? Can you balance both thinking with an innovative, entrepreneurial mindset and successfully changing your career outlook, while simultaneously making sure you don’t throw everything away?

Calculating Risk

Most think that in order to be successful, you have to go all in and take the plunge. But it’s proven that living out the career you desire actually happens by playing it safe. The trick is knowing when and how to take calculated risks.

Dr. Jamie Ressler, associate dean of graduate business at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) points to Taylor Guitars, a local San Diego guitar manufacturer, where she has taken PLNU MBA students to visit. The company makes fretboards and bridges out of ebony, a wood used for most acoustic guitars in the industry.

In 2011, Taylor Guitars partnered with Madinter to purchase an ebony mill in Cameroon to ensure fair labor practices. Soon after, when CEO Bob Taylor visited Cameroon, he discovered loggers would cut down tree after tree with marbled black and tan heartwood, and abandon them because they were worthless to the guitar industry, which favored solid black ebony. “We’re talking about 300-year-old trees that are now rotting on the forest floor, because they have some variegations,” Ressler said. After cutting an average of 20 trees, loggers would bring only two back to their trucks.

This was a startling realization to Taylor, who decided on the spot to no longer only use solid black ebony for his guitars and let hundreds of other trees go to waste. He has met with other guitar manufacturers in person to advise them to do the same. “Though he doesn’t know if the investment of going against the grain will pay off ,” said Ressler, “Taylor believed it was the right thing to do.”

6 Steps To Take Now

You can take risks in your life now to start making a difference in your career, whether you want to be an entrepreneur or more successful in your current job position. No matter what career path you want to take, these tips will help you be calculated in your risk-taking, and allow you to begin living the life you’re called to live.

1. Broaden Your View.

Based on his observations, PLNU professor Dr. Bruce Schooling believes it’s important to be well-rounded when approaching any kind of business venture.

“It’s necessary to think, read, observe, and consider across a wide range of cultures and experiences,” he said. “The broader the background information you have to draw upon the more likely you will see the pitfalls and the changing environment.”

When this comprehensive evaluation or “due diligence” is combined with a vision for the future, (looking at what has happened, what is happening, and what may happen that might impact your venture), it creates a clear direction to take your idea or business.

2. Vet opportunities wisely.

In the Entrepreneur article “4 Steps to Taking Calculated Risks That Move Your Business Forward,” author Elise Mitchell wrote about the need to turn down good opportunities in order to pursue great ones. And this process can be difficult.

“A trusted consultant told me, ‘You have so many ideas, but you can’t realistically pursue them all. You have to learn to say no to most of them so you can say yes to the very best,’” she said. “Over time, I’ve seen that saying yes to everything would mean going wide but not deep. It’s better (and more profitable) to be an expert in a few areas than to offer shallow knowledge in everything.”

3. When presenting ideas, lead with weaknesses.

“At some point, we’ve all considered voicing a minority opinion, protesting a policy that doesn’t make sense, championing a novel way of doing things, or standing up for a disadvantaged group of people,” wrote Adam Grant in Originals.

The key to successfully going against the status quo is found in knowing how to speak up effectively without jeopardizing your career or relationships. When presenting ideas to people with more power than you, lead with weaknesses, in order to disarm your audience.

“Rampant confidence is a red flag — a signal that we need to defend ourselves against weapons of influence,” shared Grant. Being upfront about the downsides of your idea makes you trustworthy; presenting negatives can ironically make it more difficult for audiences to think of them. And make sure to repeat ideas. It’s proven that if an idea is familiar, people tend to like it more.

4. Test the water.

In the Inc. article “A Business Owner’s Guide to Taking Calculated Risks,” author Drew Hendricks suggests finding out how far is too far for your business and starting off by taking small risks.

“Determine what you can afford to lose,” he wrote. “Companies that know they can’t afford a large flop should start with baby steps. Take small risks to test the water and gain confidence. This should help you build a higher tolerance for risk, which means your business will trust itself enough to take larger risks in the future.”

5. Gain market feedback.

According to PLNU’s Dr. Randal Schober, when you move forward with a business or idea, constant communication with your market or customer to modify your strategy or product is essential.

“Customer and market feedback is the most critical variable that will determine the potential success of a business and correspondingly eliminate as much risk as possible,” he said. “The difference between a good idea and a good opportunity is market demand. The best way to know what the market wants is to ask them.”

6. Speak now to avoid regrets later.

Adam Grant reiterated the importance we all place on speaking up. He wrote, “… in the long run, research shows that the mistakes we regret are not errors of commission, but errors of omission. If we could do things over, most of us would censor ourselves less and express our ideas more.”

If you feel a call to change the status quo and make a difference through your business, you may want to consider earning your MBA. Many successful business professionals and entrepreneurs have pursued graduate business education to help them gain the skills necessary to take their original ideas to the next level. Learn more about how PLNU’s Online, Evening, and Daytime MBA programs can help you bring power to your purpose.

About the Author

PLNU offers master’s degrees designed for working adults who strive for purposeful work. With part-time and full-time programs based in San Diego, California, as well as hybrid and online options, you’ll be able to find an academic path to prepare you for the career you want or are pursuing. Our programs are built to provide challenging coursework, hands-on experience, and professional resources that will help you thrive in and out of the classroom.