Risk-Taking 101

There are a million and one reasons not to take a risk in life. You could lose money. You could prove your parents right. You could look dumb on Instagram! Maybe what you’ve got going on right now is all there is. Maybe that’s life.

Beyond everyday fears, risk-taking is even more complicated for women. You’re trying to build a fulfilling career while also figuring out a) if you want to make a baby and b) if so, how the heck do you do that and c) when should you do that? Then throw in casual sexist comments about your age, your partner, your body and suddenly all you want to do is watch the Single Ladies with Cats genre on Netflix with a frozen pizza in your lap.

I’ve been there. It’s easy to get stuck justifying why you can’t possibly do anything other than what you’re doing right now. There are some valid-ass reasons for that. But when you listen to yourself, you realize that you really do want to do something else. Otherwise, why can’t you stop talking about it?

The good news is, I truly believe women are especially poised to take risks, in spite of the challenges we face. We get sick of the status quo faster because it just doesn’t serve us. In desperation, we scheme. We plot. We create a whole new path for ourselves. And that’s a beautiful thing once you embrace it. If you’re thinking about taking a risk yourself, here are some pointers for making it happen.

  • Figure Out What You Really Want to Do

This sounds easy, but it’s not. Some career paths didn’t exist even one year ago, while others have dramatically changed in the last decade. Or you may have just realized you’re an awesome cook, photographer, voiceover actor, whatever.

Once you figure out which talent or passion you want to build your life around, you have to make some serious “choose your own adventure” plot twists in your life. Maybe you quit your job and go back to school. Maybe you move to a different city. Start actually envisioning these scenarios, even if they seem absolutely insane and expensive right now.

  • Seek Out People Who Believe in You

Find the friend who once said, “You have a great eye for photography” or “You should try standup comedy” and pick their brain. Why do they think you’d be good at that? Do they have ideas for how you should take a leap? Even a 2-minute pep talk can be enough to make a crazy idea seem like a viable path forward. This goes without saying, but hopefully, your romantic partner is your number one champion. If they’re not, you may want to discuss the importance of their support to you. If they are, let them know how hard this process is for you, and how they can be there for you.

  • Make an Inspiration Board of Risk-Takers

Pay attention to others who have taken a similar risk to the one you want to take, and study them. Do they seem less self-conscious than most people? More willing to put themselves out there? Do they make their own story larger than life? What details about their presence inspires you? Is there a way you can emulate them more? Make a collage of their pictures, and remember that you have to be willing to be louder, braver and possibly weirder than you’ve ever given yourself permission to be. Have fun with it. They do! And if you know these people, tell them how inspiring they are to you. Chances are they have no idea they are amazing. They might even give you some pointers or pep talks.

  • Mirror How Confident People Talk, Even if It Makes You Cringe

This one is a big one. Pay attention to how you talk about yourself. Do you say things like, “I’m totally disorganized, but, I have this idea … It might be dumb, but I don’t care,” when introducing something you’ve worked hard on? Do you hedge your sentences with “sort ofs” and “ums,” insult your own work or protect yourself from criticism by insulting yourself first? Once you’ve acknowledged habits like these, start listening to how successful people sell their ideas. Do they insist their idea is worthwhile even after people ignore it for the first time? Do they deliver an idea with three reasons why it’s the right solution? Do they sound cocky to you, but get the best assignments at work? Get out of your comfort zone when presenting your ideas, even if you’re cringing inside the whole time. Soon it will become second-nature to talk up your work, and that’s FINE. More women need to do this.

  • Make a Plan, and Build a Safety Net

Hopefully, by now, the risk you want to take has gone from a pie-in-the-sky idea to something that you are taking small steps towards. Moving or quitting your job? Trying your hand at comedy? Build a 5-step plan and then act on it. If your risk involves potentially living with less income for a while, build up a safety net. Try to save at least 2 months worth of paychecks, if not more. That will help you pay yourself should you find yourself waiting for new sources of income at first. Consider what you’re willing to live without for awhile. Remind yourself why it’s worth it.

  • Open the Door

To do this, start to relabel yourself. Are you becoming a freelance illustrator now? Call yourself that confidently. Once you become synonymous with that term in people’s mind, they’ll start calling you when opportunities arise. You might feel like you’re faking it at first, but remind yourself that everyone is. Soon there will be a magical day when you realize you’ve truly become a [whatever it is you set out to be]. On that day, have a glass of champagne. You’ve earned it.

Image from A Thousand Words Tumblr


Becky Lang is a writer, creative director and occasional podcaster living in Minneapolis.

She also likes to draw dogs and female protagonists.