Be brave enough to take that big [small] audacious risk

9 Mar 2018 8:06 PM | Tom McLaren

Tom McLaren

Career development and ambitions are often based, prompted, or fed on stories of audacious risk taking; living on the edge, being ruthless and shrewd in the pursuit of success. Whether it be Richard Branson making business decisions early in his career without the backing of his partners or access to the necessary finances, to someone like Henry Ford making a product that customers would seek, rather than making what they would request - "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". The same goes for Steve Jobs - who seriously wanted or could see the need for a product that equated to a cross between an insanely small laptop, and a large cumbersome mobile phone. I was absolutely not sold, and resisted for years...but like a proper sucker, I've been converted, and an iPad is exactly what this post was written on.

Redefining risk

While we look on in awe, replicating the Branson-esque kind of 'putting it all on the line' mentality can be hard to practically apply in our own lives. Having always struggled with this transfer, I read, with comfort, a text book a few years ago that contextualized risk and risk taking. The premise of its argument was that audacious risk means something different to all of us, especially introverts. If your idea of the perfect Sunday afternoon is with a book and a glass of wine, more than likely on your own (ahh, heaven), then your audacious risk may be as simple as going to that (highly social) networking event and playing the role of an extrovert, or being daring enough to introduce yourself to your CEO in the lunch line. Maybe your risk is actually saying hello and entering into a brief conversation with the people in your office that you have simply smiled at and mouthed 'hello' to for the last three months every morning as you've walked in. Yep, this is my life; living on the edge of being social. It feels like I am somewhat forcing myself to 'adult' at times - scary stuff. The take home message is…be brave enough to take that big [small] audacious risk!

Redefining challenge

A common definition of career development is "...the lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure, and transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving preferred future". A simple sentence, which is horribly vast, and scarily rigid. 'Managing learning, work, leisure, and transitions' equates to living; balancing needs and wants, and handling the emotional and physical roller coaster that is life - that is not a simple nor static task. An oxymoron then exists with the wording 'personally determined' and 'evolving preferred future'. Focusing on a predetermined image of the future can blind us to opportunity. We change, we grow, and with this in mind, we should continually question and assess what value we are bringing to our work, and what satisfaction our work is bringing to us. If our current work situation does not provide a challenge, then monotony is not far away - excitement cannot be drawn from the mundane.

Redefining you

You define big, and you define audacious. No one size fits all. Contextualize risk, and have the courage to be vulnerable, to potentially be embarrassed. Daniel Kahneman teaches that 'rational or not, risk provokes fear, and fear can be debilitating'. He also professes that we overthink risk and apply uneven biases in preparation and review - "Losses are weighted about twice as much as gain in several contexts". Career development is often viewed in isolation, and success determined using an increasing 'position status and reward' scale. However, career development is simply an outcome of self-belief, confidence, happenstance, satisfaction, and maturity.

William Shedd famously stated "A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for". Don't let anyone else define risk for you; and don't be afraid to set sail for an unknown destination, one small risk at a time.


From a Year 4 school report that included the statement - "Thomas doesn't see the need to spell", to winning a national writing award in Scotland, and an invitation into an international honor society for scholastic excellence at university, my journey from rugby player and sometimes reader, to avid reader and writer has been a meandering and interesting path.   Further colorful feedback from a Year 8 school report - "Tom has verbal diarrhea", led to putting pen to paper and has provided a creative release.   With a career ranging from sportsperson, to designer, to manager, matched with a keen interest in cognitive psychology, social psychology, and behavioral economics, my non-standard and sometimes anti 'management rhetoric' posts may provide interest to some.  


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