Be Smart When Taking Risks

We all know that taking risks – the kind that will pull you into the C-suite or grow your business or simply change your outlook on risk-taking as a woman – is a defining characteristic for those who are successful.  When deciding whether this risk or that risk is the right thing to do, you should be aware of some basic concepts to help you examine your options and ask yourself the most important question, “Is this a Smart Risk?”

The risk can potentially be the kind that will give you the courage to jump to new levels, to go beyond what you thought was possible.  Many women tend to be cautious by taking baby steps, yet jumping levels is exciting.  Picture grasping the brass ring, the position you’ve always dreamed of having.  At this stage, ask yourself:

  1. “Do I have the skill set behind me to do the job?”
  2. “Can I gain the skills to do the job?”

If either answer is yes, it’s time to take the big step.

Men have no trouble thinking and believing that they are qualified for the next level.  In fact, a man will often believe he’s competent enough to advance having acquired one or some of the skills necessary for the next level.  While a woman will believe she’s qualified or ready to advance, if she has mastered ALL the skills in the job description.

For example, a woman often needs to be invited, and sometimes more than once, to take on a new and unfamiliar role, whether it’s being committee chair, advancing to the chief level at work or running for public office.  Have you ever heard a man say, “Oh, I couldn’t do that?”  Well, women, you shouldn’t either!

As a woman, whatever risk you’re considering will likely be a challenge to the way things have always been done.  Women have had to buck history for centuries, so don’t let the way things have been done in the past be your albatross for taking a risk.  Women also suffer from wanting to be liked, so please put that need on a shelf and look at your situation with new perspective.  When you do, you’ll realize you’re probably ready to take the risk.

Unfortunately, risk-taking has been suppressed in women since they were girls.  Think about it this way.  Parents, family members and school teachers more commonly discourage girls from taking risks, both academic and physical.

Personally, I was an only child and my parents were terrified something bad would happen to me.  My mom was always telling me to “be careful, be careful!”  Thus, I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 12 years old, taught by my best friend in secret.  This issue requires consideration from two angles, how it affects our own decision-making and risk-taking as an adult professional, as well as how we may be doing our own daughters a disservice if we’re telling them to be careful all the time.

You will take smart risks when you have made sure your self-esteem is not wanting.  If you believe you’re struggling with low self-esteem, I have a must-read for you: Women and Self-Esteem: Understanding and Improving the Way We Think and Feel About Ourselves, by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan.  Many women worry that they don’t deserve success; harbor fears that they are not bright enough, not talented enough, just not good enough.  This book examines how women’s harmful attitudes about themselves are shaped and offers concrete help to help build higher self-esteem.

When deciding whether to take a risk, assess the reality of the situation.  Remember, there continues to be a double standard for men and women in the workplace.  Failure is perceived differently for a man vs. a woman.  When a man fails, the failure is viewed as something that will be fixed and he is given another chance.  Unfortunately, when a woman fails, that failure hangs with her and she might be judged by it for much longer.  Like so many things, failure is viewed through a different lens for a man, than it is for a woman.

Risk-taking doesn’t always have to be in the workplace to empower you.  It’s possible to take a risk that helps you overcome a fear in your personal life.  With a lifelong fear of swimming, snorkeling in Jamaica made me feel incredibly empowered to take risks to advance my business.  Every time I look at the t-shirt, “I snorkeled the Cali wreck,” it empowers me to take additional risks!  Taking a step forward in terms of risk doesn’t always mean a workplace risk.  Anything that helps you flex your muscles will move you in the right risk-taking direction.


Read Kay’s Corner to find practical tips for SMART risk-taking.

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