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3 ways to embrace risk (and move ahead)

professional young female stepping over the rope line

People always give advice about taking risks. We hear it from graduation commencement speakers and keynote speakers who share their personal life journeys. The advice is always the same: Take risks to move forward or be successful.

The word "risk” feels scary, a daunting commitment or decision. I never understood how to activate the advice to "take risks,” until I looked back at my career and realized I did take risks.

Taking risks — big and small — takes you out of your comfort zone, allowing you to learn, grow and be challenged. But the most important thing about taking risks is this: risks eventually pay off. The risk is a step to enable you to get closer to your ultimate career or other goal — and you will not get closer, faster without taking that leap.

Here are three considerations when taking a career risk:

1. Forget the linear line to the top. A lateral move can sometimes be better. Building skills using lateral roles is a way to get exposure to other leaders. If you are in an operating role, take a corporate strategy role to strengthen other skills. I am an excellent brand marketer, that’s my background, but my goal is to run a business someday. I once chose an operations/manufacturing assignment to help a company roll out demand and operations planning. It was a lateral move, but I improved my influence and leadership skills, while learning about a function that was unfamiliar to me.

2. Take a job that differentiates you from others. I’ve always thought it’s best to follow the career path of others. If it was successful for them, it should be successful for me. But that is not always true; there are so many factors involved in everyone’s unique situation and success. Although I am a marketer, my first promotion to vice president in a consumer products company was vice president of sales. Looking back, it was the pivotal role in my career and set me up to be a successful CEO. That position taught me how to motivate and inspire team members in a different functional department, while learning a new functional expertise. Everything was new and the job pushed me to learn and grow. The role also differentiated me from other women and men in the marketplace who wanted a general manager or CEO job.

3. Timing is everything. Make a major move because the time is right. Opportunities present themselves. When the timing feels about right, grab one. Don’t worry about whether you are completely ready — no one is ever completely ready. You are better than you think. I was ready to do something different after 17 years at a major consumer goods company. I wanted to run a business that had high growth potential and offered products that were on trend. I wanted to run it independently without the corporate infrastructure. I knew what I wanted and did not worry about if I could do it all or not. I was patient and when the opportunity presented itself, I became the CEO of Yes To Inc., a once-struggling company that now offers natural skincare products in nearly 25,000 stores globally.

There are no guarantees. However, if you don’t make bold moves, career advances will not happen quickly for you. Take the offensive. Take a risk when it will move you closer to your ultimate career goal.

Joy Chen is the chairman and CEO of H2O+ Beauty. She previously served as CEO of Yes To Inc. and spent 17 years at The Clorox Company.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.