When it comes to big, life-changing risks, I’m happy to take the plunge. Moving countries? Check. Switching careers at 30? Check. Those are the sorts of risks I see as adventures. I’m happy to slap my backpack on and navigate an unknown path to an undiscovered peak.
But when it comes to risks at the office, it’s another story. I was working at a company some years ago and felt “lucky” to have the job. So, when someone suggested I take on an extra project, I demurred. In my head I reasoned, “Why rock the boat? You might mess it up. Things are fine as they are.”
It didn’t occur to me that by taking on that project and making it my own, I might actually help my career, help people see me in a different light and provide my own springboard to an expanded role (all of which happened to a colleague who was wiser than I was).
Some of the same fears apply when it comes to negotiating for more money. Many women won’t do it, or back down during negotiations, because they feel like they’re endangering their relationship with their boss simply by having the conversation. Yet it’s only by taking such risks that you have a chance of making a leap forward at work.
Joanna Barsh worked for many years as a consultant at McKinsey & Company.“I turned down opportunities I thought were a stretch because I was scared,” she says. “Someone would say, ‘Would you like to go and open an office in such-and-such a place?’ Without even thinking, I would say no. ‘Would you like to join such-and-such a committee?’ I said no.” She gorged on thoughts of what could go wrong. But as in many workplaces, “first you say yes, then you figure it out.” She eventually did exactly that, retiring recently as a partner at the firm.
Take the leap
• Don’t let “no” be your immediate answer if presented with an opportunity that scares you. Take some time to think about it.
• Look at taking a leap into the unknown as a career move — sure, it might not work out, but you won’t achieve anything significant without taking a risk or two.
• Silence the voice in your head that’s trying to undermine you. You can do it.
—Ashley Milne-Tyte is a radio producer and reporter based in New York City. She hosts a bi-monthly podcast called “The Broad Experience” about women in the workplace. Hear more from Joanna Barsh in an early episode of “The Broad Experience” below, and don’t forget to click around and check out her latest shows.