Risk and Reward: How Risk Aversion is Sabotaging Your Career
Fortune favors the bold, or so they say.
Sometimes, to get ahead, we have to put ourselves on the line. We have to take a chance on applying to that dream job—even if we’re afraid of rejection. We have to speak up during the meeting—even when we’re afraid of going against the grain. We have to make a career change—even if we’re afraid of giving up what we have.
In all these cases, it’s a balancing act of risk and reward. What do we stand to gain vs. what do we have to lose?
The problem, however, is that more and more people seem unable to distinguish between relatively small and large risks. They’re afraid of gambling away what they have, even if the potential reward is much, much more valuable. To some, no possible reward is worth the risk of losing what they have.
However, this way of thinking keeps people stagnant. They end up turning down or sabotaging opportunities that bring more responsibility or challenges, opting instead to stay safely within their comfort zone.
That comfort zone is a career killer.
A Risk Averse Generation
Generally, when people think of their younger days, they usually remember what it was like to feel invincible. It felt like the world was a playground of new possibilities.
However, that feeling seems to be disappearing more and more rapidly for young workers.
When it comes to the younger generations, namely Millennials and Gen Z, everyone seems to have a theory that explains why they are so dissatisfied with work. Millennials are lazy, spoiled, disloyal, and disengaged—or so they say.
But is there something deeper going on here?
It’s certainly true that the Millennial generation is seriously stressed out, and it could be what’s hurting their career performance.
A report published by Forbes argues that two major sources of stress are the difficult job market and career ambition. 86% of Millennials have experienced a “quarter-life crisis” and worry that they aren’t where they should be in life.
We can trace part of that dissatisfaction to social media and the need for validation, but it leads to another problem that we rarely discuss: fear of doing the “wrong thing.”
As a result, younger workers tend to be much more hesitant and pragmatic in their actions, which, while it has its benefits, can make for timidity and dependency in the workplace. And those traits don’t exactly lead to rapid career advancement.
So, with the rising anxiety and fear of doing the wrong thing, Millennials seem unwilling to take the risks that lead to greater payoffs, and that can be a serious detriment to advancing their careers.
Balancing Risk and Reward
Honestly, who can blame the younger generations for being unwilling to take risks? Growing up in the middle of the Great Recession and saddled with massive student loan debt, Millennials fear what could happen if a risk doesn’t pay off.
But the problem is that chronic risk aversion is a massive barrier to success and happiness.
Sure, sticking to the stable job, the tried and true methods, or the safe bet all sound good in theory, but sometimes the so-called “safe” choice is not the best one.
In the workplace, people tend to confuse “safe” with “traditional:” “This works, so why change it?”
Well, because things change.
Take, for example, an office worker balancing two career options: stay at the company that, while providing a solid income and benefits, does not seem to value her work or hop to a promising role at a smaller company that, while not able to match her current salary, offers a huge opportunity for growth. Which should she take?
Staying at her current company sure sounds like the safer route. It promises a steady income, and, while not ideal, at least it feels secure.
The problem is that you never know, with absolute certainty, what will happen in the future. For example, the worker could choose to stay with her company and end up having her position downsized due to new automation technology.
Now, obviously, that’s an extreme scenario, and I wouldn’t say that the woman necessarily made the wrong choice to stay put. The point is that you should never assume that the status quo=stability because circumstances change all the time. Balance your options wisely, and don’t be afraid of change.
Remember, risk is not a bad thing! Heck, some of my best career moves came from taking a risk and betting on myself—my abilities and my strengths—to come out on top. Taking risks is how you find out what works for you and where your passions lie.
So, don’t be afraid to try things! Take online courses to learn a new skill, propose an innovative idea to your boss or colleagues, send your resume to that company that you think will reject you.
You never know the outcome until you try, and you could be surprised by the results.