Should you move to a new location and start a new job from the ground up?
Should you quit your job and start that business you've always dreamt about?
Should you take that intimidating promotion and see if you're really capable of doing the job well?
Throughout your career, you'll face dozens, if not hundreds of potential risks like this. Not all of them will be so life-changing or high-profile. Some will manifest as daily decisions, like whether to fire a problematic client or even whether to ask for a bonus.
Overall, your decisions in these situations should vary depending on your personality and your current situation. The better off you are, the more risks you can afford to take, and if you're a naturally risk-seeking person, you may feel more comfortable in high-risk, high-reward situations.
But what most people neglect is the importance of taking risks, like these, early on in your career--regardless of your current circumstances and personal aversion to risk.
Big Picture: Risks Can Be Good
Risks are a good thing, provided they're taken intelligently. When you take a risk and succeed, you often end up with a much higher reward than you would have gotten with a more conservative play. When you take a risk and fail, you learn something valuable about your decision and circumstances, and become more confident (since you understand that failure isn't the end of the line).
It's no surprise that so many entrepreneurs encourage people to take risks. Traversing the conventional, predictable path might be safe, but it prevents you from achieving greatness and significantly limits your options. Accordingly, more professionals should take more calculated risks. But it's even more important for young people to do so.
Less to Lose
For starters, when you're young, you'll have less to lose. Let's say you're fresh out of college. You're making an entry-level salary in a company you've spent less than a year with. You aren't married, you don't have children, and you don't have any other significant responsibilities. Taking a risk and failing here doesn't put anyone else in jeopardy, won't cause you to lose much time (since you've invested less than a year in this position), and can't possibly set you further back in terms of salary.
Compare that to a position you may find yourself in 30 years later. You might be married with 3 kids, with 25 years sunk into a specific company role in a specific career line, and a substantial salary you're depending on. You're also trying to finish saving for retirement. If you take a risk and fail here, you could put your family in a bad position, compromise your retirement, or even throw away the career you spent your life building.
More Time to Make Up for Mistakes
Young people are often encouraged to take risks when investing because they'll have plenty of time to make up for any mistakes they make. If they take a big risk and lose their entire principal, it's no big deal; they'll have 30 or 40 years to shift their focus and regenerate those savings. The same logic can apply to your career. If you crash and burn after taking a big risk and tarnish your reputation, you'll have 30 or 40 years to rebuild that reputation from the ground up. You'll also have far more opportunities to anticipate. The younger you are, the more new career and job options you'll have before it's time to think about retirement.
Compounding Returns of Experience
It's also important to take risks while you're young because every risk you take comes with more experience. Not only will the risk present you with new career opportunities and new perspectives, a failure will teach you an important lesson, and a success will open the door to new possibilities.
Taking risks at a young age means you'll have more time to take those lessons, cultivate them, and apply them to other areas of your career. And if you keep taking risks and learning, those lessons will compound in their influence over your career. Even the less risky, more conservative decisions you make will be grounded with a more enlightened perspective and more confidence in your own abilities.
If you're under the age of 30, take this as open encouragement to take more risks in your career. Don't take risks absentmindedly--you'll still need to calculate your odds of success and understand the worst-case scenarios--but don't let risk aversion dictate the moves you make as a young professional. As you get older, you can use your newfound experience and knowledge to gradually taper off or change the types of risks you take, eventually growing more conservative and deliberate in your career-based decisions.