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Risky Business
By Sue Augustine


Taking risks is both frightening and invigorating. If you always opt for the safe route, you're missing out on your full potential.

Risk means something different to everyone. For some, it's daring to do what is uncomfortable. For others, it's the uncertainty of taking a chance or venturing from security into the unknown. As an office professional, what is it for you? The risk of accepting a challenge or new opportunity, speaking in public or speaking your mind, making a tough decision, asserting yourself, applying for a higher level position, attending a national conference alone, joining a networking organization, volunteering your services, taking a course, or changing jobs?

Perhaps it's all of these things or something else. In any case, you're not alone. Risks come in many shapes and sizes and everyone must face them at one time or another. They are physical, financial, mental, emotional, and social. If you choose not to take risks, you go through life feeling stuck. If you do take them, you face the possibility of loss, failure, mistakes, or embarrassment. What does it take to get unstuck and forge ahead in spite of the exposure to danger?

Why is it that some people face life's challenges head on with confidence while others merely observe in quiet desperation as life passes them by? Successful, effective, and productive people possess certain commonalties. They tend to do particular things consistently. They have found that success is never an accident. And most of all, they are the risk takers, trailblazers, visionaries, and pioneers. No matter what degree of insecurity they feel, they don't let anxiety, apprehension, or worry get the best of them. High achievers use these three steps to conquer the barriers to risk taking.

Imagine you've been presented with an opportunity to transfer to another department. It means taking on an entirely new set of responsibilities and working with different people. The move could lead to future career advancement, increased job security, and a raise in salary. But it also means leaving old friends behind, learning new skills, and stepping out of your comfort zone. What could you do ahead of time to prepare yourself to accept opportunities when they are presented to you? Focus more on the potential gain than what you're leaving behind. It seems natural to concentrate on the possible losses, so make a conscious effort to switch your focal point.

Also, try to get accustomed to change on a regular basis by doing things differently. Break with the familiar in some small way each day. For example, alter your morning routine, drive a different route to work, or even take the train, bus, or subway if those aren't your usual methods.

When it comes to your taste in music or reading, don't get stuck in a rut. Read a good novel if you normally choose business-related material. Listen to country or classical music if you've always enjoyed jazz. If you've never thought you'd enjoy the ballet or live theater, you may be pleasantly surprised. Start a hobby, sign up for a night course, attend a lecture, learn to play the guitar, or take tennis lessons. Consciously choosing change and new beginnings puts you back in control again.

Accompanying every new beginning is an end, and most people aren't good at endings. They want their lives to improve, yet stay the same. They hang on to the familiar and resist letting go of what is comfortable and controllable, choosing the path of least resistance and opting for supposed security over adventure. They really are battling barriers of deeply embedded habit patterns. Try leaving old ideas and viewpoints behind for awhile and you'll soon find you're more flexible when new opportunities present themselves.

Fear can paralyse you and keep you from moving forward. Suppose you've been asked to make a stand-up presentation at the next staff meeting. You've never done it before, nor has it ever been on your list of exciting things that you hope to try. Actually, the No. 1 fear among business people is the fear of public speaking, (it beats out snakes and death, as a matter of fact) so you wouldn't be alone if you were tempted to say "no." But you know intuitively this is your chance to contribute to your organization in a way that will make you more visible and advance your career. How do you conquer the apprehension, uneasiness, and cold feet? Ralph Waldo Emerson said to "do the thing you fear the most and the death of fear is certain." Understand that true success doesn't happen in the absence of fear but in spite of it. It's been said that champions and cowards experience the same fear; champions just respond differently.

Winners are the ones who do the things losers are uncomfortable doing. Whenever you choose to enter unfamiliar territory, it's normal to have some fear. So fear is not really the problem. In fact, stress experts say that nearly 90 percent of the fear individuals experience does not come from the event itself but from perception of the event. Start to view even setbacks as learning experiences. Every time you make a mistake or have an embarrassing moment, ask yourself two questions: "What did I learn" and "What will I do differently next time?"

To conquer fear barriers, develop a willingness to be vulnerable and to risk failure. Look for the lesson in everything that happens along the way.

You may be contemplating attending a national conference alone for the first time. On the one hand, you find the thought of it thrilling, stimulating, and invigorating. But at the same time, you are scared silly. You see yourself being anxious and intimidated, but don't want to miss out on the excitement.

To conquer the worry, fear, and doubt, envision yourself having a terrific time at the conference. Focus your thoughts on the positive aspects of attending. This is called mental rehearsal or the "mental movie" method of becoming a positive risk taker. See yourself in your mind's eye exuding a sense of inner power and self-confidence. What would you be doing if you had no fear? How would you be acting? See the people around you. Notice how you are relating to them with self-assurance. How are they relating to you? In your visualization, walk through as much of the conference as you can and enjoy your sense of self-reliance, appreciating your new faith and belief in yourself. Act as though it were impossible to fail. Be convinced you'll succeed. Practice the habit of confident expectation, since life has a strange way of giving you what you expect.

Remember that every situation provides opportunities to experience life in a new way, to learn, develop, grow, and expand. Every decision, regardless of the outcome, provides you with the chance to find out who you are and where you want to go next. Sometimes, you may feel that you stand at a no-win crossroads in your life. If you risk and take the new position, you may not have what it takes to handle the responsibilities. But if you choose the safe route and stay where you are, you may be missing the opportunity of a lifetime to move ahead. Fearing one wrong decision could ruin your whole life causes you to freeze.

Instead, see that no matter which route you choose, there will be new opportunities to explore. Life is an adventure to be pursued regardless of which way you turn. Get used to fear. It's not going away, but you can move forward in spite of it. Remind yourself that true risk can be both frightening and invigorating. Commit to yourself to becoming all you were created to be. Quit stalling and just do it.



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