Gutsy or Wimpy? Your Choice | Purposeful Risk-taking

 “What am I made of?” Ever asked yourself that question? The answer is often elusive. 

We face career tests all the time. Our bosses may assign us to: 

  • Moderate a contentious meeting
  • Host an important customer from out of town
  • Analyze mounds of disjointed data
  • Hire, train, and supervise a group of interns 

When these challenges are outside our jobs, we may need to stretch, navigate uncharted waters, and overcome self-doubt.

 Our results can either help or hurt our prospects for career growth. 

Careers are a crap shoot. 

That means that there are times when you have to roll the dice. If you don’t take chances, you won’t progress. 

Career risk-taking tests our: 

  • Self-confidence
  • Skills and knowledge
  • Relationship with coworkers
  • Decision-making and judgment
  • Tolerance for stress 

When our boss pushes us out of our comfort zone, we want to believe that s/he: 

  • Wouldn’t ask us to do something we couldn’t do
  • Will have our backs
  • Thinks this is the right time for us 

So you’re ready to go, right? 

Truth is: plenty of people wimp out. They make excuses or explain: 

  • why they aren’t ready
  • why no one will accept them in that role
  • how the risks are too high 

Here come our fear of failure, lack of confidence, and nagging insecurities to block us again. Even coworkers with what look like strong egos and plenty of swagger feel their blood run cold when faced with a high-risk career assignment. 

It’s about the stakes.   

There’s no risk if nothing’s on the line. When we know we’re wagering our career future on a big assignment, we pause. Instead of believing that we’ll win, we worry that we’ll lose. 

This is when you must ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if I flub this?” (The real answer is never as dire as the one in your head.) Then ask, “Why do I think I would?” (Get ready to stand there thinking for a while.) 

I was promoted to director of customer service at a time of significant upheaval in the department. I was also a fish out of water, knowing precious little about our customer call center, collections, and dispatching. The company was carrying over $64 million in overdue accounts and facing testy questions from regulators. 

I was in the job for eight weeks when my boss (the senior VP) told me I needed to make a board of director’s presentation on these issues. I was panic-stricken. 

I knew the bare minimum about how the corporate financials were being impacted. Board appearance protocol was completely foreign to me, and the internal political pressure was daunting. I could have begged off but decided to gut it out. 

I was more than weak-kneed as I waited “on-call.” My prepared information was solid. (The executives made sure of that!) It was the Q & A period that worried me. 

I made my best effort, but more than once, corporate execs leaped to my aid without making me look bad. They often anticipated that I would not know the context for board questions and headed off awkward moments. 

I survived this ordeal and so did my career. It wasn’t my best performance, but it was good enough. 

The upside for me was the respect I got from employees and colleagues for having the guts to stand up and be accountable for the business functions on my watch. 

Showing courage carries weight no matter what the outcome.

 Go for it. 

It’s not easy to stick your neck out, but it’s necessary. I’ve lost count of all the stomachaches I’ve had because I was unsure of myself. I still get them, though not as often. 

You just can’t let your doubts stymie you, unless you want to stay where you are forever. 

You get real points for trying. So here are 100 from me to start you off. The rest are up to you!

Photo from debaird at Flickr

4 thoughts on “Gutsy or Wimpy? Your Choice | Purposeful Risk-taking

  1. Hi Dawn,

    I really like your post. I’m a senior marketing student and not in a career yet, but I have everything you described about doubts. Technically, I should have graduated 2 years ago, but I’ve had a lot of trouble with my living situation and money to properly focus on my studies, which have hurt my grades. I’ve lost my self esteem and don’t know what to do. Things are getting a little better as I’m looking for a new place, but I have huge doubts in my head that I’m not good enough, or I should have graduated already, or my grades have ruined all my chances of getting the job I want when I graduate.
    Can you offer any advice? I cant seem to get rid of the extreme doubting of myself and feeling like a failure. How can I explain my not so good grades to an employer, and would they understand?


    • Thanks, Rachel. I’m delighted the post resonated with you. I sent you a private e-mail response with a bit of advice that I hope will be useful. I look forward to hearing from you again! ~Dawn

    • Cathy, I am touched my your generous comment. Thanks so much for taking the time. I visited your website and salute the work you are doing to promote purposeful risk-taking. If there’s anything that continues to disappointment me is the lack of courage in the workplace at all levels, especially when it comes to doing the right thing. So kudos to you for your important work. Thanks again, Dawn

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