8 things to do before taking a major career risk

By Stacy Warden on April 9, 2015
Whether you're transitioning to a new organization, taking on a bigger role at your current one or starting from scratch with little more than a dream and a plan, there are some things you should consider before diving in. To get some perspective, we spoke with someone who knows all about career risks. As CEO and Creative Director of digital agency brightly, Larry Faragalli gave up a steady paycheck with a Midwest software consultancy to pursue his passion. Here are eight tips taken from our conversation.

1. Figure out what you want

Whether you're considering moving onto a new company or you're eager to start your own business, you need to pinpoint exactly what it is you want. Having a clear picture of the path you need to take will help you set real, achievable goals. As Larry said, “I think everyone has an ideal in their mind of the type of company they want to work for and the things they want to achieve.” Take that idea and turn it into something concrete by figuring out exactly what it is.

2. Don't burn bridges

Even if your current employer is one of the motivating factors behind your decision to move on, keep it to yourself. Consider your overall experience in that particular role and take away any positives that you can. When Larry realized that it made more sense for him to partner with the types of organizations he was working for, he realized it was time for a change. “My moving on wasn't a commentary on my previous employer, we just had different paths. Being so focused on research driven design, user experience, and testing, I was having a difficult time growing that practice inside an engineering focused company. It occurred to me that I'd be better off partnering with those types of organizations than being embedded within,” he said.

3. Measure the weight of the risk

If you have a family, you've probably already taken this one into account. However, it can be easy to overlook when you think you've got it all figured out. Before you take a major career risk, make sure that it isn't a potentially harmful one. If you have others to support, this may just be a matter of building up an even bigger emergency fund before moving forward. “I think it comes down to common sense, endangering your family financially to pursue a dream on a whim is an irresponsible risk to take,” Larry noted. “In my case, we were a double income no kids household and even if I totally failed I could have still gotten a job.”

4. List your goals

It's good to have a plan; you won't get very far without one. But big, looming ideas can have a similar effect to none at all. Before you risk a burnout trying to reach one lofty goal, carve out the steps you need to take, and put them in order. Before starting brightly, Larry knew that there were certain things he needed to put in place. “I'd love to say I had a big elaborate plan, but the reality is, I set a small list of goals I needed to hit financially and personally within the first year and then treated my exit as a return to going freelance. I did it without investors or credit and ran as lean as I possibly could for as long as I could.”

5. Question your motives

OK, so you probably wouldn't be considering a major career risk if you weren't at least somewhat serious about it. But before you get started, you need to question your own motives. Are you doing this because it's something you truly want? Having passion for the change you're about to make will help you reach your goals. On the other hand, taking a giant leap without that desire could very well backfire. Above all, make sure you understand why you want this. “For me, it was something I always wanted, but wasn't sure if I'd ever do. I think I realized early on in my career that the only real way I'd have the space and freedom to create my vision was on my own,” Larry said.

6. Practice patience

It's tempting to think about going all in right away, but too many changes too quickly can have you in over your head before you've barely started. Instead of gunning it for the finish line, take a deep breath and focus on one thing at a time. This is especially true when you're starting your own business. “When brightly first started it was just two of us. Me and my co-founder Marion. We were working from our respective homes and each other's kitchen tables through some relatively big projects we inherited from our former lives,” Larry said. “We told ourselves we hoped to have our own office in 6 months. We ended up needing one in 2 or 3. Currently, 3 and a half years later we're a thriving team of 19 and still hiring. We've moved to a much larger space that we're already starting to outgrow … we've been able to service many incredible companies around the country and world in such a short period of time.”

7. Embrace fear

Career risks are scary. If they weren't, they'd be called something delightful like “career dance parties.” The thing to remember is that it's OK to be nervous. As Larry mentioned, “…it's always some combination of terrifying and exciting. When I started, that ratio skewed far more towards terrifying. Nowadays it's a lot more excitement. The terrifying never really goes away though.” It may never go away entirely, but that doesn't mean you have to listen to it. “I think at some point you just have to resolve yourself to doing it regardless of any fear. It's highly likely you're going to fail at something or overall. Accepting that and continuing to plow forward is all you can do.”

8. Give yourself a break

Whether you're about to accept a major promotion or take a pay cut to do something you truly love, you need to give yourself a break. “Make room to sleep and take vacations even when you feel like you need to work more,” Larry advised. And for those getting ready to start their own business, he offered this: “Find the best people you can and pay them what they're worth. Stay hungry, even if you start achieving rapid success, the bottom can drop out at any moment.”

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Stacy Warden

Stacy Warden is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.