There’s no doubt about it, we are living in turbulent times. Turn on your TV and you’ll be hit with at least a half dozen reasons why you should feel afraid, hunker down, play safe and hope for the best. Certainly in our increasingly fearful culture that breeds anxiety and urges caution, many are doing just that. Yet when fear runs most rampant, those people who can discern those fears that serve them from those that don’t, will handle their challenges better, adapt to change faster and seize opportunities that those with their head to the ground will fail to notice.
Caste your mind ahead ten years from now and try to imagine what your life will look like. Not easy to do, is it? What is certain is that ten years from now there will be people no more capable than you who’ve accomplished amazing things. While we can’t know who they’ll be, one thing is sure: they will be people who have refused to buy into the fears that have driven so many others to settle, play safe, make excuses and eternally procrastinate. They will be people who have consciously chosen to risk failure because they know something more important is at stake. Their life.
Advances in brain imaging technology have enabled neuro-scientists to prove that we are wired to over estimate the size of risks and under estimate our ability to handle them. Accordingly, our choices are often driven more by a fear of what we don’t want, than a commitment to what we do. But if we take the words of Albert Camus on face value – that “our life is the lump sum of all our choices” then we have to begin making more courageous choices – to take more risks and to step beyond the borders of our comfort zone more often. Below are the top four risks you need to take more often.
1. Risk awkward conversations: speak candidly
The quality of your relationships is determined by the quality of the conversations you have in them. Yet, as I wrote in my new book Stop Playing Safe (Wiley), “Too often we choose the path of safety and fail to speak up about the issues that are weighing us down.” The result: issues that aren’t talked out are acted out, exacting a steep price on your relationships, your ability to influence change, and produce the results you want – in your business, work and life. Being willing to step out from behind your computer screen and engage in a real face-to-face conversation (or at least to pick up the phone) whenever there are sensitive issues to be addressed will build trust and influence in ways that nothing else can.
2. Risk ignorance: challenge assumptions
We all have our own maps about how the world works and how to get from where we are now to where we want to go. But as the world is changing fast, the maps of yesterday are quickly becoming outdated. Be willing to throw them out and step into a place of ‘not knowing.’ Owning your ‘ignorance’ allows you to acquire new maps that will help you navigate forward smarter, and arrive at a place you truly want to go.
In 1946 Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox said, “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” It’s easy to laugh now, but consider what assumptions you’re living with right now that you may look back on in 20 years with equal mirth, if not regret. Don’t spend your life in a restricted circle of potential because you’ve been unwilling to give up your assumptions about how the world works, and what is possible for you within it. Ditching your maps and challenging your assumptions can open up entire new horizons of possibility.
3. Risk rejection: flout conformity
We all want to be liked and I’ve yet to meet anyone who enjoys being criticized, much less rejected. We’re just wired that way. Yet when all you do is conform, all you have to offer is conformity. When all you do is try to fit in, you negate the difference your difference makes. Be willing to own what makes you unique, to walk your own path, express your own opinion and do what’s true for you versus what others expect of you. It’s not easy, yet it’s crucial to your success. It’s what sets you apart from the crowd. After all, in order to enjoy outstanding success you must first be willing to stand out.
4. Risk imperfect decisions: be decisive despite uncertainty
Harvard researchers found that as high-achievers ascend in their career, they become more cautious and less willing to take risks. The same applies as we age. We start out willing to fail as we learn to walk and talk and swim and ride a bike, but somewhere along the line we come to think that we have to get it right first time, every time, before even starting out.
Making no decision and sticking with the status quo is a decision. The issues that cause us to be dissatisfied don’t generally go away with time, but worsen. As studies have found, in most cases taking action, even wrong action, is more fruitful than doing nothing.
Waiting until you have all the information you want before making a decision puts you at risk of waiting too long. Sure, do your homework, run the numbers and assess the pros and cons. But sometimes you have to put your spreadsheet aside, trust your instinct and take a leap of faith, despite the uncertainty. Might you get it wrong? Sure. But at least you’ve made a call and moved from the probability that nothing will improve to the possibility that it could. In a world where change is happening fast and the windows of opportunity are limited, indecision can be costly.
Too often we assume that we have to feel brave before making changes or taking chances on what inspires us (even if it scares us at the same time). Not true! Neuro-science has now proven that the more you act with courage, the more courageous you become. As you begin to step out your comfort zone, you not only build confidence to handle risks, but create opportunities you’re not able see from where you are now.