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Your fear of risk is jeopardizing your career

July 24, 2015, 6:30 PM UTC
United Nations 2014 Women's Entrepreneurship Day
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 19: President of PwC Shannon Schuyler speaks on stage during the United Nations 2014 Women's Entrepreneurship Day at United Nations on November 19, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
Photograph by Noam Galai — WireImage/Getty Images

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 Shannon Schuyler, leader of corporate responsibility at PwC.

Risk is in the eye of the beholder. For example, I personally think surfing is “risky”as I’m terrified of sharks, but to someone else this may not seem risky at all. On the other hand, I truly enjoy public speaking, something that many people fear. My point is life is full of risks, but without taking them we would not experience many of life’s greatest rewards.

End results matter, but they’re not the only important thing about risk-taking. Our confidence grows when we challenge ourselves with complex problems, surprise ourselves with boldness, and feel the emotional thrill of being on the edge. Taking a risk is often exciting, and that excitement can inspire us to be more creative and innovative. Whether we win slowly or fail fast, we become better for the experience.

Even though taking a risk can be scary, it can get us more engaged. Being risk adverse keeps us stagnant and prohibits us from embracing new opportunities. Above all, it’s important to remember that risk comes with as many possibilities to succeed as it does to fail. Why would anyone take a risk otherwise? Risk-taking can clearly pay off.

One of the most exciting and satisfying parts of my job at PwC is public speaking. I have had the opportunity to talk with everyone from second graders in the Bronx, to global business leaders in Mumbai, and have loved every minute of it. Yet, there was a time in my life when I could not have imagined speaking in front of hundreds of people. When I was a college student in Michigan, I decided to run for student government. And the process included giving a speech. I was terrified. I froze in front of my audience, and forget every word I’d written. I had failed, but taking that risk helped me overcome my fear and find my voice. A voice I could embrace, trust and count on.

Many of us have heard that women are more risk averse than men. Yet a study released in 2009 from Simmons College School of Business demonstrates that women are as willing to take risks as men, in particular when it comes to specific types of endeavors, such as projects that involve “learning-by-doing” or where the likelihood of success is hard to predict. In fact, 55% percent of women surveyed reported that they have pursued major business development opportunities that seemed risky. The researchers concluded that a narrow and limited definition of risk has supported the notion that women are risk-averse.

There are no guarantees — that’s the nature of risk. It’s a calculated challenge and always a gamble. But diving in and diving deep demonstrates your engagement and often shows you hold more of the cards than you think. Taking a calculated risk shows you know how to assess the options, conquer your fears, and understand that “putting yourself out there” demonstrates leadership capabilities and potential. Leaders — men and women — don’t play it safe. They challenge themselves. They’re willing to risk failure to reap rewards that can outweigh and overcome momentary fears, becoming stronger — and braver — in the process.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Why is it important for women to take risks in business?

The main reason you shouldn’t leave your job — yet by Kim Getty, president of Deutsch LA.

Here’s why this CEO doesn’t fear failure by Robin Koval, CEO and president of Legacy

How to be a fearless risk-taker at work by Donna Wiederkehr, CMO of Dentsu Aegis Network.

What the financial crisis taught this Bank of America executive about risk by Meredith Verdone, global wealth & investment management marketing executive at Bank of America.

How this woman became the first female dean of a top b-school by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

What I think about when I think about failing by Colleen Smith, vice president of SaaS and Cloud at Progress.

Here’s how bragging can boost your career by Beth Monaghan, principal and co-founder of InkHouse.

This CEO cashed in her IRA to start her own company by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

An unlikely degree choice got me my dream job by Lori Bailey, global head of special lines at Zurich Insurance.

Why getting too comfy at work is the ultimate career killer by Krista Bourne, president of Houston Gulf Coast Region at Verizon Wireless.

Would you risk your job to move abroad? by Mary Beth Laughton, senior vice president of e-commerce and digital marketing at Sephora.

Why it’s okay to break the rules at work by Susan Coelius Keplinger, entrepreneur.

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 mistakeby 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.