CAREER DEVELOPMENT / SEP. 19, 2014
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How Taking Risks Benefits Your Career

Think about the people you know that love thrill-seeking activities. Those that love to go on any roller coaster, bungee jump, or skydive. These activities not only involve risk-taking behaviours, but a risk-taking personality.

Although we associate risk-taking with ’crazy’ activities, it also includes less extreme behaviours and acts. These include gambling, unprotected sex, and the use of drugs. Now focus on your career. Have you made an risks to get to where you are now? Are you stuck in a job that you do not enjoy, but are too afraid to put yourself out there? How does risk-taking relate to your career?

 

Why Do We Take Risks?

There are a number of reasons why we take risks. Some are innate, due to evolution, while others are for pure satisfaction. In terms of the human brain, we now know more than ever. Research has uncovered the importance of dopamine in risk-taking behaviour.

Dopamine is our ’feel good’ neurotransmitter. Basically, neurotransmitters are chemicals that communicate throughout the brain. Those who have low levels of dopamine, tend to be less motivated than others. When dopamine levels are high, you tend to see more risk-taking behaviours.

When you’re about to take a risk – start a new company for instance, you are being driven by motivation. Motivation is dictated by the dopamine system. This is what pushes you to move forward. When we succeed, we feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. The riskier the act, the larger the dopamine release.

A study was conducted at Vanderbilt University, which scanned participants regarding the portion of the brain that’s responsible for addiction, movement, and reward. They focused on autoreceptors, which are located on the body of nerve cells and at the end of a nerve cell axon. Basically, they shut off neurotransmitter flow.

Those that had fewer autoreceptors, had a more free flow of dopamine. These individuals were more likely to take part in novelty-seeking behaviour. These people were open to new experiences, such as exploration.

When it comes to thrill-seeking activities, that is more closely related to adrenaline. Adrenaline is another neurotransmitter, which is responsible for our response to ’fight-or-flight.’ When we feel threatened, there is a release of adrenaline. This allows your muscles and organs to be stimulated, getting us ready to escape or fight danger.

This risky behaviour and ’adrenaline rush,’ can become a reward seeking behaviour. Meaning, it can lead to a release of dopamine. Adrenaline junkies can be become somewhat addicted to risk-taking behaviours; always looking for a bigger risk, to obtain the same rush.

Although adrenaline is linked to risk-taking, it is not related to motivation. Dopamine is the core influence regarding long-term acts and goals, as our motivation levels play a large role.

Risk-Taking and Our Personality

Some individuals avoid risk at all cost, while others actively seek it out. This relates to our tolerance of uncertainty. Understanding your personality, can help you understand your preference for risk-taking. Once you understand this, you can make better decisions. Taking too many risks has its disadvantages, while taking too few risks can lead to lost opportunities.

Those that take the most risks are said to be fickle, exploratory, extravagant, hot-tempered, and excitable. Those who avoid risk, tend to be frugal, even-tempered, loyal, thoughtful, and detached. It is also believed that there’s a high correlation between risk-taking behaviours and neuroticism. Surprisingly, those that experience anxiety and a depressed mood, are more likely to take risks. This is still being actively researched.

Benefits of Risk-Taking and Your Career

We all know the saying, ’no risk, no reward.’ Risk-taking can result in extremely positive outcomes. If you are someone that never takes risks, perhaps you can incorporate some of these ideas into your life. If you’re someone that takes too many risks, you can focus on the areas that will bring the highest benefits.

You Can Gain Opportunity

When we think of risk-taking, there’s generally a negative view attached. Risks are sometimes viewed as dangerous, or even unwise. It’s important to remember that some risks pay off – big time. If you start looking at risks as an opportunity, you’ll be less prone to think of it as a failure.

If you’re looking to change careers for instance, it may seem like a risk you’re not willing to take. However, weigh out your options. The career you desire may require all of your strongest traits and skills, you also have a passion for it. If you do succeed, think about how satisfied you will feel. The most successful people are not afraid to take a risk, especially when there’s a good chance that it will pay off.

You Stand Out

Those that take risks are leaders. They do not blend in with the crowd, as they are looking to move forward. This can help you present yourself as a strong and confident person. As long as you’re confident in your abilities and ideas, there’s no reason why risks should hold you back. If you’re knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter, risk-taking can pay off.

It’s a Learning Opportunity

When we take risks, we learn from our experience. If you succeed, you learn; if you fail, you may learn even more. If you do not succeed, you will know that path doesn’t work. If you did not take the risk, you wouldn’t have known.

You can either tweak your original idea to make it work, or go back to the drawing board. This helps you grow not only professionally, but personally as well. Life is one big lesson. Risk-taking will allow you to learn from both your successes and failures.

Forces You to Pursue Your Dreams

Your dream career is not going to come knocking on your door. You need to put the work in, pursuing it through self-motivation and determination. In order to break through, risks need to be taken. These risks can be a necessary step regarding your success.

With any career, you have no idea where you will end up. It’s a journey that you begin, hoping that positive experiences and opportunities come your way. You may need to experiment before you find your true calling. Just make sure you’re confident in your decisions and abilities. As long as you work hard and stay focused, many risks will pay off. Until you put yourself out there, you’ll never know your true potential.

The next time you second guess yourself, think about the possible rewards. If you do not succeed, that’s okay. Take what you learnt and come back even stronger.

Photo credit: Mix Interest

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