There are many ways of taking a career risk besides making over-the-top bets for a financial business or starting a company.
Risk may be easier to spot these days, because decisions are no longer personal; more often they are crowdsourced, whether that means your spouse, close friends or 500 LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook connections.
While spotting risk may be easier, evaluating that risk is much harder, because determining whether a risk is worth taking can’t be crowdsourced.
The best way to decide whether to take a risk or not is through worst case analysis, i.e., think about the absolute worst thing that could happen if you do it. Then think through whether and how you would deal with that result. If you can handle the worst result you go forward; if it’s too much you go back to the planning board.
It used to work every time, but these days fewer and fewer people are willing to think independently, so the input you get is unconsciously based on whether that person could handle the worst case result.
But they aren’t you.
Consider Beth Comstock, currently senior vice president and chief marketing officer at General Electric, who took a major risk that put her on the path to where she is today.
“I was at CBS, and it was rocking,” she said. Then she got a call from NBC, her former boss, offering her a position that involved being responsible for media relations and marketing in the news division. “I think the job had been available for a year. News was not doing well anywhere…. People were saying, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It seemed like career suicide.”
The ability to perform worst case analysis clearly, sans rationalizations, means you need to take time to accurately know yourself—not just the self you project to others.
Only you live inside your head and only you knows what really goes on there.
Flickr image credit: Michael Coghlan