THE BLOG
12/18/2014 12:47 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2015

How to Welcome Opportunities: Why You Should Learn to Take Risks Instead of Avoiding Them

I've always thought of myself as someone who avoids risk. I'm the customer who habitually orders the same dish at a restaurant from fear of what new menu items taste like. I'm the online spectator who watches in awe as friends skydive, bungee jump and ski. I'm intrigued by the fascinating nature of reptiles, yet incapable of taking a picture with a one-month old, tied-mouth crocodile. However, for the past few years of my life, stepping into the unknown has become the inevitable next step, and my post-graduation life is certainly not the exception.

In May 2013, I graduated from Smith College with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and said goodbye to my alma mater, with the conviction that I was ready to change the world. As it turns out, changing the world requires more than the will to do so and a skillset ready to be utilized. Changing the world often demands that we first change ourselves. It means making difficult choices, persevering through unanticipated roadblocks and most importantly, staying open to new possibilities. We often learn how to play it safe while in school. Well, the so-called "real world" demands quite the opposite.

Last summer, I moved from Massachusetts to back home in Miami to begin applying for jobs. My eagerness to enter the workforce was quickly encountered by unsuccessful job interviews and even worse, a lack of job openings. After four months of heavy searching, I decided to explore opportunities in other cities. While hesitant, I made myself available for interviews that spanned from New York to Arkansas. Surprisingly, soon after expanding my search criteria, I was made aware of an offer for a part time paid-internship in Washington DC.

Tip One: Expand your horizons. Take the risk!

While I welcomed the offer with open arms and a massive amount of curiosity, I soon realized I would be leaving home again. Even without a place to live and only a few acquaintances in DC, I decided to take the risk of making the best of a new opportunity. In the first few weeks of beginning my internship at the American Red Cross, my risk was rewarded. I met extraordinary human beings and created meaningful relationships with the best humanitarian professionals I could have hoped for, all while struggling with a longer than usual winter, overcrowded housing accommodations and challenges of a small budget.

Tip Two: Learn something new wherever you go.

Still, I remained optimistic about my future and treated the internship as my dream job. My dedication afforded me a bundle of opportunities, including attending conferences and spearheading a multidisciplinary conference on Human Trafficking and Armed Conflict. As time passed, the internship became a full-time offer and slowly, but surely, I broke out of my habits of choosing the same way to work, eating at the same restaurants, and speaking to the same people. I stopped getting lost on the metro, signed up for a gym membership, and embraced the fear of taking risks in my everyday endeavors.

Tip Three: Give it time. Just because it's a risk, doesn't mean it's instant gratification. Even risks take time to pay off.

As I write this piece, I celebrate my ninth month of living in Washington DC. I now have a full-time position with Nathan Associates Inc., and I'm thrilled about the possibilities ahead. But, it's not only my professional life that has changed; my personal life has too. I'm embracing my Washington DC experience by welcoming new habits like reading the Washington Express every morning on my way to work, going to Zumba classes with my friends, and becoming a fan of Trader Joe's. These new routines keep me refreshed, motivated and curious -- that's the mindset that I need to embark on future endeavors.

Tip Four: Create a new routine for new opportunities.

As I think about this post graduation year, it is clear that I have been constantly stepping outside of my comfort zone, time after time, yet I never thought all of those transitions embodied what risk taking is all about. In my mind, I was just doing what needed to be done to get where I wanted to be. It was that simple. So, if you are a bit like me and think of yourself as risk-averse, try to look at risks in a different light. As one of my closest friends would say: you are making opportunities for yourself, and in the end, remember you will need those opportunities if you really want to succeed.