Three ways to risk-proof your career

Should you change roles? Should you change companies? Should you change your career? Each of these questions we ask ourselves at some point in our career. The answers involve decision making and risk management. This week’s podcast is with Michael Ungar, an international expert in resilience and risk, the author of Too Safe for Their Own Good and Professor at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Risk is very much a part of our lives. From geo-political changes to the recent rise in the Canadian dollar, we are in a world with an increasing amount of turbulence and uncertainty. Organizations and individuals have never had such opportunity and as much vulnerability. Michael commented, "It is in learning how to manage risk in a smart way that we end up being more open to change and the changes that are to come." Understanding how to manage risk in your career has never been more important.

The media is also a major influence in our view of risk both for the positive and negative. This past weekend my family and I went to see the new Jerry Seinfeld movie, Bee Movie. The real premise of the movie was should Barrie B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) take the job for life in the hive and follow his parent’s career of "Honey Stirrer" or should he try to join the "Pollen Jockeys." These are the cool bees that get to wear leather jackets, have new adventures every day and get all the glory. However, as best friend and Honex company man, Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) said, "If you go outside the hive you my not return." Should Barrie choose the safe or the adventurous path? Well, you will have to see the movie to know the final outcome. From our peers, family and the world around us, we are constantly influenced about what will offer us job security.

What Michael has observed in his years of researching risk in cultures around the world, is the more we try to protect ourselves from risk the worse we deal with risk and the less resilient we are. His research has shown time and time again that when we learn at a young age to take on challenges that stretch us, we inevitably end up the better for it. Michael travels to places such as Palestine and South Africa observing how people develop. He has noticed a disturbing trend with other cultures allowing children to have lots of adventure and responsibility in their lives. “While coming back to Canada and the US, our research shows we are infantizing our children and not letting them grow up – we are coddling them." All of us are looking for security in our careers and in our personal lives. It is one of our core human needs. The tensions with our career are balancing the right mix of risk with our need for security. For each of us, the mix looks different depending on our skill set, the market and where we are at in our personal lives. Fundamentally, the rules have changed in our workforce, yet as Michael said, "We live in a risk adverse society with a love for golden handcuffs. We need career resilience to be able to bounce back from adversity". Michael and his team from The Resilience Research Centre bring together leaders in the field of resilience research from different disciplines and cultural backgrounds. Our partners from more than a dozen countries employ methodologically diverse approaches to the study of how children, youth and families cope with many different kinds of adversity. They have identified 3 keys to managing risk that are universal no matter what language you speak, what country you live in and what career you choose. These are applicable whether you are a 13-year-old learning to scuba dive or a 42-year-old dealing with a lay-off situation.

Three keys for managing risk are:

Flexibility – This is your ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Sometimes you can anticipate this, while other times you may have to react quickly to new information. The key is to be adaptable while maintaining your core values and not change just for the sake of changing.

Optimism – What is your sense of the past and the future? Do you have the tendency to expect a favorable outcome? I may suggest being a pragmatic optimist! Pay attention to the reality of a situation while looking for the opportunity that always arises. There is a saying in tennis, "In every shot there is a winner."

Magical thinking – This is your ability to think up creative solutions to new challenges within your career. I heard recently a story of a researcher who ended up in the wrong meeting with a totally different area in the university; however, she ended up getting a piece of information that was critical to her 10 years of research on a particular problem. Her decision to stay was "magical.”

Like Michael says, "Our kids are not going to graduate and follow the safe path. Our role is to help them provide the right amount of risk and responsibility. All that stuff adds up and we will help to shape them into adults that will do much better in their lives." The best way to secure your future is to have courage to make the best use of these three principles. Most often it ends up like Barrie B. Bensen’s experience, "I can’t believe I’m out, I’m free. This is the scariest and happiest moment of my life." Unlike Barrie who had only one chance at deciding what he wanted to do when he graduated from Bee Academy, we have a lifetime of choices ahead. Get started now and book a coaching session. It is never too early or too late to get on the right path.

Along the road with you!

Alan Kearns

This week’s 10 Minute WORKout


How well do you manage risk in your career? Are you flexible and optimistic?