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By Richard Tyson

The early months of a new year often find us considering opportunities for improvement, innovation and growth. It is a time when we are motivated to reset, recharge and/or recommit. We are faced with decisions of choosing how we will allocate our time, talents and resources.

The key word here is “choose.” We choose the opportunities that appeal to us. This is fundamental to a free society; we get to decide what we will do, and how we will spend or invest our time, efforts and money.

This gift of choice is both a blessing and a burden. Among all humankind, Americans are endowed with the “inalienable rights” of a free people, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. We should be ever grateful for this legacy won through the sacrifices of our forefathers, and we should each feel an obligation to build on that legacy.

That obligation presents a burden for many when deciding on what opportunities to pursue. Inherent in that decision is what I call “opportunity risk.” Its symptoms are a sense that we could do so much more, whether in the context of our current endeavors or some entirely new pursuit. This sense is often offset by a fear of changing directions, of doing something aggressive or disruptive to the status quo. While in one moment we are inspired to chase our dreams, in the next we may question our ability or competence to do so. Too often we opt out, rationalizing that the timing is not right, that we’ll do it someday when the situation is more ideal. Sadly, that day often never comes.

There is good news, however. If you are still breathing, the chance to venture forth and take an opportunity risk or two still exists. Here are six tips for making the decision to take that chance:

1. Get in tune with who you are — and what you love to do. Are you doing it? This doesn’t mean that you should immediately quit your day job, but it should provide the seeds of a personalized dream. Ask yourself, “What if I did …?”

The goal here is to begin to define your passion — that pursuit that will fulfill your life and give you great joy. Author Simon Sinek counsels businesses to start with “why” in defining their corporate vision and purpose. This is good advice for each of us on a personal level as well. What is your “why”?

2. Confront your doubts. As your “why” emerges, all of the reasons that you can’t — or won’t be able to — achieve that purpose will likely threaten to wash away your dream. When that happens, contrast your doubts with the positive outcomes that will come with achieving your goals.

3. Silence the naysayers. While your friends and associates may offer some good advice, many will feel compelled to caution that you should stay within your current boundaries. When such skepticism rears its head, you need to recognize that many (if not most) breakthrough ideas, innovations, and inventions faced naysayers. In that regard, such opposition may well be a sign that you are pursuing the right path.

4. Assess your “hazard risks,” but don’t obsess over them. Fear paralyzes. Recognize what you need to know, and what you need to do to eliminate, mitigate or transfer real hazards. And then get moving. Don’t let worries hold you back. Instead, focus on what you need to do right now.

5. Start where you are. You may be discouraged as you consider the resources you don’t have. Too many dreams are not pursued by those who say “if only I had …. ” These words put up emotional barriers to moving forward. Rather than focus on what you lack, focus on what you have — and what you can do right now.

6. Plan, then plunge. Use the first five tips I’ve mentioned as the foundation for an action plan. Once you’ve developed it, get busy. Don’t stress too much over getting results right away; rather focus your attention on doing things the right way to achieve your goals. Steady progress is almost always better than sprinting to exhaustion.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that often the risks we don’t take are the ones we will most regret. The keys to great achievement are to find courage to take a risk, to do what you love, and commit to the pursuit of your passion. 

Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.