Recently, a friend of mine shocked all of his closest acquaintances by announcing he was taking a voluntary layoff from work. During normal times, his decision would be earth-shattering, but in these unusual and uncertain circumstances during a pandemic, the announcement seemed particularly stunning.
Considering everything, I had to wonder, “Who does that?”
Surely, going for a huge risk is odd, but in taking a closer look, it may also be the best thing my friend will do. The same could be true for you.
Giant risks come with big payoffs, because they push your thinking, rock your world, and force you to consider new perspectives. For my friend, the risk is especially big because he’s a middle-aged, single parent in a stagnating field. It is very plausible that he may not find his way back to the career in which he had grown so comfortable. And this may be okay.
When Alexander the Great landed on the shores of Persia in 334 BC, he found he and his army of men greatly outnumbered. In order to ensure his men didn’t try to flee, Alexander destroyed all their ships. He was utterly eliminating the notion of retreat. Victory was the only option.
In this sense, my friend’s plan is similar. He is giving himself no other option than to force himself into new opportunities.
This is not to say risk-taking requires no forethought. Intelligent risk-taking combines fearlessness and smarts. It requires certain considerations, with attention to finances chief among them. In particular, assessment of your budget (including healthcare costs), your choices (what you can potentially cut back), and implications for your future financial well-being are important.
The opportunity to take time away from your career can allow rare breathing space. You may want to use the time to learn a language or get a fitness certification. Maybe you want to try something out of your comfort zone when we can venture outdoors, such as skydiving or running a marathon, or perhaps you want to reconnect with family.
Moreover, it is fine to simply take time to reflect on and renew areas of your life.
In ordinary times, the lapse in employment can be a detriment on a résumé, but this unusual pandemic period supplies an excuse to develop a better version of yourself. The hiatus can motivate you to think differently about your contribution to the world. Ask yourself, what are you the best at? How might you contribute skills that previously were untapped? How can you create new opportunities for yourself to come out on top when the economic downturn hits?
Your opportunities to shake things up, challenge your current thinking, and create a new reality are everywhere right now. Here are some of the key traits you will need to take that significant risk.
By definition, risks are uncertain and ambiguous. Confidence means you will take action and go all-in. You need confidence in yourself and your capability to figure things out in an unknown future situation. After all, those who believe they can are usually right; confidence goes a long way toward this success mindset.
In the army, recruits are taught that some action is better than nothing. A poor decision can be corrected, but being paralyzed by fear can be deadly. Even if your risks aren’t life and death, the stakes can still be high—whether you’re taking a new job, stretching for a promotion, or standing up to a boss and expressing an unpopular opinion. Confidence allows you to drive forward, trusting in your own talents.
Trying something new and unexpected may be fun and easy at first but will quickly turn into work that requires persistence and perseverance—other known as grit. Whether it’s the discomfort of trying something new or the sheer exertion required to take on new tasks, being able to keep yourself motivated and work hard will be important.
Networking and relationship-building skills
Whether you’re learning new mindfulness techniques or building the marketing plan for your new business, you’ll need to call on experts and tap into a broad network of people. Skills in connecting, relating to, and persuading others to be part of your new path will be key.
By definition, when you take a risk, you don’t know everything you need to know to be successful. You need the ability to identify the new knowledge you’ll need, learn quickly, and apply your new skills. It is unlikely you can learn everything you need to know today, but you’ll need the skill of learning itself to pick up quickly on what you’ll need to know as you go forward.
Optimism and foresight
Your vision of the future will need to inspire you and keep you going. Be sure you’re not just running away from something, but running toward something that gets you excited. You may not need to have specifics down to the minutia, but the more complete your vision, the more likely you are to achieve it. A positive view of what’s to come and a commitment to a bright tomorrow will get you through.
Forcing a shift can go a long way toward generating a new outlook. And beforehand, make sure to plan and consider your obligations carefully.
Stay confident and focused on what’s to come, embrace your network, and persevere to make the most of what is surely a giant opportunity brought on by the challenge of COVID-19.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.