"Life begins...where your comfort zone ends."

I've always loved that quote. However, there are times, especially in business and career, when making a move isn't wise. Calculated risk is one thing. Ignoring the warning signs of a high chance of failure is another. Over the years, I've found the following seven signs help me determine if I should take the scary risk:

1. My mind's racing with potential paths to success. When I have a flood of ideas on how I can succeed, I know I'll be able to tap into them and keep going until I find a way to make it work. It's when I see only one path to success that I know the risk is too great at the moment. That's when I pass, but focus on how to get to the point where I could go for it.

2. It will take less than 90 days to know if success is even possible. I don't quit easily, but I do believe in failing fast and moving on. Time is precious. I don't want to waste it on something that I can't get traction on. I'm not looking for knock-it-out-of-the-park success fast, but I do need to see clear signs I'm on target to succeed.

3. I can rebound from the setback of failure in less than a year. If failing will create a setback, I need to know I can turn it around within a reasonable time period so I can get back to taking more calculated risk. I believe in the Experience=Learn=Grow model. Thus, I don't want any one failure holding me back too long from pushing forward with another new experience.

4. I can proactively take (multiple) steps to minimize the risk of failure. If I can identify and implement several strategies that can insulate me and offset the failure (e.g., offset money loss with another stream of income, etc.), then I have more confidence in my ability to take the chance. I try to create my own form of insurance policies against failure.

5. I'm sure failing won't have a major negative impact on people in my life. It's one thing if my failure hurts me, it's another if it hurts someone I care about. I have to make sure what I'm risking doesn't extend out to others (my kids, husband, co-workers, etc.), and if it does, I need to include them in the decision.

6. I can stay physically and mentally strong throughout. If I'm not going to be able to take care of myself so I can give it my all, then it doesn't make sense. Putting myself in a weakened state is not the right way to take risks (e.g., if it will compromise my ability to work out daily or get enough sleep, it's not a risk I'll take).

7. I can see how I'll grow if I fail. If I can't see what failing will do to make me better, then it doesn't make sense to risk it. As I mentioned above, I believe in the Experience=Learn=Grow model. If I can't see how I will move through all three phases, even if I fail, then it tells me I need to pass.

These signs have helped me make important decisions around my business and career on many occasions. While not fail-proof, they make me feel more in control of the risks I take. Ultimately, they allow me to feel the thrill of pushing past my comfort zone more frequently. It's my strategy for feeling alive, without feeling out-of-control.

I'd love to hear from other readers in the comments below. How do you determine if you should take a risk?

Published on: Jul 9, 2015