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Why it’s okay to break the rules at work

June 23, 2015, 2:15 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important for women to take risks in business? is written by Susan Coelius Keplinger, entrepreneur.

Risk is scary, and implies grand expectations. However, it’s also an accelerator it helps you move faster, climb higher, and achieve more in business and life. But taking big risks can also lead to mighty crashes, huge falls, and devastating failures. So how do we get the good stuff from risk, while avoiding the bad? Think of risk as a skill, one that you’ve been practicing your entire life.

Remember as a child when you took your first step, and realized walking was more fun and efficient then crawling? Even though you fell over and over again (sometimes hurting yourself) you kept getting up. Children are naturals at taking the small incremental risks that lead to success — in this case, walking. As adults, we can blame the development of our pre-frontal cortex for blinding us to this incremental approach to risk, and too often avoiding it entirely. As an entrepreneur and athlete, I have a few simple tips that make risk-taking easier, while mitigating failures:

Take on a new risk every day
Risk is a skill. Skills are incremental, improved only through repetition and practice. By taking a new risk every day, however small, you’ll slowly increase your risk appetite. Practice your new project proposal in front of your cat, then with a friend or colleague. You’ll be amazed by the confidence you have when it comes time to present in front of your boss.

Plan ahead and stay focused
I’ll give you an example. If you become distracted during big mountain skiing — perhaps focusing on a tree in your path — you’re likely going to ski smack into the tree. Instead, look where you want to go, and trust your skills and momentum to help you get there. If you’re clear on your vision, you can control for speed and more effectively manage risk.

Susan Coelius Keplinger, entrepreneur mountain biking in British Columbia.Courtesy of Susan Coelius Keplinger

Acknowledge and take pride in the risks you’ve taken
Every time I ride over a particularly harrowing section of rocks on my mountain bike, I pat myself on the back and say, “Good Job Susan! Way to pull that off!” Nobody needs to know that I considered that a particularly risky section, but by acknowledging my risk and my success I’ve made myself comfortable and ready to take on something even bigger next time.

Your risk appetite is unique to you. And as you become more comfortable with taking risks, you will start to take on opportunities you never thought were possible. Remember: none of us knew how to walk at birth. You can do it!

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What are three things you look for in a resume?

Why recent graduates shouldn’t plan their careers by Teresa Briggs, vice chair and west region managing partner at Deloitte.

Is gender bias a reason to quit your job? by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

The one way to guarantee failure at work by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

Why starting my own business at 25 was a huge mistake by Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Market Mentor.

Build-A-Bear CEO: Why women need to take risks in business by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.