09/06/2012 11:32 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

The High Cost of Playing It Safe

Summer is over, and with a change of season comes a return to work. Some are excited about the prospect of new projects, while others feel grateful even to have a job in this economy. However, there is also a third category: those who have given up their passions for a steady paycheck and a false sense of security.

For these workers, there is a high cost to playing it safe. They sacrifice the bold visions of their earlier years for an unsatisfying nine-to-five existence. In order to cope with a less-than-stimulating environments, many of them turn to food, alcohol, or material possessions to fill the void, compromising their health and even their financial security.

The cost of this self-deception is too great. Those who don't take risks to explore their dreams lose a little bit of their excitement for life every day, and making changes only becomes more daunting. Eventually, the memory of how to get back on track begins to fade. They grow increasingly confused about how to make a colorless life more colorful.

If you relate even the slightest bit to what I have described, know that the future does not have to be so bleak. There is good news as well: You don't have to stay stuck. You can get out of the quicksand -- you just have to be willing to face what keeps you living small. It is fear, isn't it? Fear of losing something you already have (the illusion of security), or of not getting something you really want (your dreams). Explore the yearning deep inside of you -- the part of you that wants to be more, do more, and have more.

Now is the time to step out of the box. But don't expect doing so to feel comfortable. Taking risks -- even calculated ones -- requires a leap of faith. You'd be crazy to jump into a pool where there is no water, and I am not advising you to do that. But when your heart says yes, and you rationally know that your risk is not arbitrary, it's time to make a change.

How do you know if a risk is worth taking? Follow this three-step method (you may have done a version of this before):

  • Write down the pluses and the minuses of going for a risky goal. Which column has more notations?
  • Examine where you stand on your personal and professional lifelines (just starting out, career veteran, etc.). How does this affect your situation?
  • Plot this goal against the other things you value. If you were to achieve it, would you compromise anything else?

If these questions give you the signal, go for it. Taking such a risk is what I call a Best Bet. After all, what have you got to lose? Even if things don't work out as planned, you'll learn a valuable lesson for next time. If, on the other hand, the timing is less than ideal, don't throw out the option entirely. These risks are "Not Now"s, but they may be perfect later down the road.

Here's to thinking bigger and dreaming bigger -- to living more boldly and fully! I'd love to hear what risks you've taken, how they worked out, and what methods have worked for you.