The Importance of Taking Risks in Life

By Patrick Tam, CMA®, CPA, Member of IMA® Young Professionals Advisory Committee, Manager, Financial Planning and Analysis in the property casualty insurance industry, Creator of TheConstantAnalyst blog

Before I begin, check out this video of ski BASE jumpers performing in Utah. While the parallel between the finance profession and ski BASE jumping may not be obvious, I find the video to be an excellent visual representation of how risk taking can feel an awful lot like jumping off a cliff.

As part of the work I do with the IMA Young Professionals Advisory Committee, I mentor new professionals who are looking for career advice. One of the people I mentor had been looking for a finance job for some time and recently called me after being turned down for a credit analyst position at a bank. My mentee was wondering how the bank’s hiring manager arrived at the decision, as he felt he was a strong candidate and received promising indications throughout the interview process.

I told my mentee to call the hiring manager and ask him out to lunch. Tell him you’re looking to learn from the experience and any feedback he could give would be helpful. I also advised that he ask the hiring manager what three things he could do to better prepare himself for a career in the banking industry. He called once, emailed, called again, and finally, after three times, got a hold of the hiring manager who agreed to go out to lunch.

What a (perceived) risk. An entry-level interviewee, who just faced rejection, asking the hiring manager to lunch time after time? Turns out, taking the risk not only led to good advice, but the hiring manager sent my mentee’s resume to a contact at another bank, which resulted in a job offer for a better position than the one for which he originally interviewed. If my mentee didn’t step out to ask for what he wanted and stayed persistent, he would likely still be looking for a job. Taking a risk paid off.

As humans, we commonly try to avoid difficult moments that take us out of our comfort zone. We may not flat out deny these opportunities, but we delay and let them pass. Here are some things to remember when it comes to taking risks.

Risk implies the chance that things might not work out the way we expect. The unknown is scary. We think to ourselves “what if the worst happens to me?” This kind of thinking is easy, but it gives too much weight to the probability of something very bad happening to us. It is human nature to focus on catastrophe and disassociate it from actual probability. Think about the people who worry about crashing in a plane or dying in a terrorist attack. Odds are they have nothing to worry about.

Risk makes us feel alive. Life without risk is life stuck in a rut. If you feel like your job or life is getting boring and monotonous, then you’re not taking enough risk. The fact is we’re built to take risk. We need change and growth in our lives. If you’re not growing, then you’re dying. Realize that nothing in this world truly stays the same.

What is the worst that could happen? When we take a risk, we often blow the undesirable outcome and its potential impact out of proportion. Consider my mentee. Sure, the manager could have responded with a loud, explicit rejection, making the experience memorable for negative reasons, but even if that did happen, so what? Who cares if you get cussed out on the phone – would it really have a long-lasting impact? Ultimately, when I gave my mentee advice, he initially considered only the possible negatives and downsides. In the end, not only did the upside outweigh the downside, but in reality the downside was almost non-existent.

Risk stretches us and helps us grow. Risk gets us out of our comfort zone to do something different. We learn by experience. Risk teaches us more about ourselves and helps us improve. How much more do we learn through the experiences of trying something big and failing? How much do you learn from taking risk and seeing the outcome? These are things you don’t pay tuition for, but only learn by doing.

Don’t let your fear of failure stop you. Fear of failure is often the single biggest obstacle that prevents us from reaching our full potential. We worry about what will happen if/when we fail. Realize that failure is relative. While you may interpret something as a failure, someone else may see it as a valuable learning experience. Often, failure is only failure to the extent you see it that way. What if true failure meant wasting your talent? What if failure was delaying action and missing opportunities because you didn’t take that risk?

Find your true calling. You feel most alive when you’re doing what you were meant to do. We’re not supposed to stay the same, but are charged with growing and developing. Everyone has greatness in them if they challenge themselves enough. Don’t let your perception of risk stop you. Think about the people in the video from earlier. Some may remark how ridiculously dangerous ski BASE jumping off a cliff is. They risk their lives for this. However, I’m sure the jumpers would argue that taking the risk, for them, is actually what keeps them alive. They are doing what they were meant to do, and in turn, we should be inspired to follow their lead and find what we were meant to do.


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The IMA Young Accounting Pros Blog features the insights of IMA's Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.

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