Faced with career twists and turns, these alumnae learned to take smart, calculated risks that set them apart from their peers.
- January 10, 2016
- Booth Women
“I would tell other professionals that if they have the opportunity to grow significantly early in their careers, they should take it.”
McLaughlin: At Booth, I attended a lecture taught by [clinical professor of entrepreneurship] Craig Wortmann and he had a really good piece of advice: keep a diary of “win moments”—when you get congratulations from someone else or you close something important. It brings you back to your strengths, and you can revisit those times when you have moments of apprehension.
Pei: Another good frame that I sometimes use is to say, “Why wouldn’t you?” or “Would you regret it if you didn’t?” One of the plusses and minuses of consulting is that it’s never the same day twice in a row. In many ways, you have to own a level of comfort with ambiguity. It’s tremendously helpful to be willing to say, “I don’t know exactly how this is going to turn out, but I’m still going to go forward.”
McLaughlin: That’s a good point. Even if you’re not a risk taker by nature, that doesn’t mean that you can’t develop the skill set. For example, I have a lot of friends who get very nervous networking. So it could be setting yourself a goal to speak to three new people at a networking event. Once you get comfortable with that process, you realize the worst thing that can happen usually is not that bad.
“Another good frame that I sometimes use is to say, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ or ‘Would you regret it if you didn’t?”
Pei: I agree. I think learning to take risks is a muscle that can be exercised. It’s a progression to expand your comfort zone: from speaking up more in group settings, to wanting to be the one to drive a conversation, to standing up in front of an audience. Feeling like you are supported and recognized is obviously a key part to continuing on the journey. Once in a while, things don’t work out, but most of the time it’s worth it. Even as I go about how I do my work today, it’s part of how I think about what I can be doing better.
McLaughlin: Having taken a lot of career risks myself, and having started from scratch in a lot of countries, I would agree with you. I would tell other professionals that if they have the opportunity to grow significantly early in their careers, they should take it. It serves two purposes: First, it puts you in a position to take on more responsibility and open more doors later on. Second, it gives you an opportunity to learn what you really love to do. If you don’t push your limits when you’re young, you could get into your mid-30s without knowing what type of work you really love and are therefore good at.
Pei: I think that’s very true. There’s nothing quite as demotivating as encountering folks who are doing what they’re doing not because they love it but because it’s what they know how to do. If you really want to excel and engage fully in what you do, you have to actually enjoy it.
McLaughlin: And we do spend the majority of our waking hours in the workplace.
Pei: That is definitely true. If you have an opportunity to take on something that will allow you to grow faster but also differentiate yourself, that’s extremely powerful early in your career. It allows you to be known for more than the typical progression, and gives a bit of distinction to who you are and the stories you can tell.
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