Career decisions are difficult. Here’s why it is so hard to turn down the safe option and do the risky thing you really want to do…
Career decisions are so often a choice between two good options. After all, almost nobody struggles with a career decision that puts a good option against a bad one. Instead, having two good options is a challenging decision that we turn over and over in our minds.
Often this career type of career decision comes down to the safe bet that will likely work out just fine, and the risky bet that you are really excited about… but might not work out.
In these circumstances most people tend to choose the safe bet. I think this is for a variety of reasons:
- We have obligations and need to guarantee a certain level of income
- We are scared of losing status and social standing if things don’t work out
- We want to feel safe
- Our friends, family and society at large has expectations (“You graduated from there and now you’re doing what!?”)
- The pain of loss hurts
These are the reasons we all feel. However, the concept is also illustrated by Prospect Theory, which can be explained with a question:
Would you rather have a $100 OR flip a coin for a chance at $200 or nothing?
Think about it…
Now consider this question:
Would you rather have to give me $100 OR flip a coin for a chance at giving me $200 or nothing?
Got an answer…?
Most people when asked this question would rather have $100 than flip a coin for a chance at $200, and they would rather flip a coin for a chance to avoid paying $100.
The theory goes that for an equivalent objective outcome (e.g. gain $100 or lose $100), the emotional pain of a loss is greater than the emotional lift from a gain.
In other words, we prefer to take the sure thing rather than take a chance on something better… and we will take a chance on avoiding pain rather than knowingly walk into it.
Now the problem with this is by following our instincts we are setting ourselves up for a lifetime of regret. Just check out this video asking people in New York what their biggest regret is:
The bottom line is that we are scared to take risks because our brains are wired to help us insure against the downside. It certainly makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but the world has changed and a career decision isn’t likely to be fatal.
This video says, “Do the things we will regret not doing.” The challenge is that if you do go for it and fail, the thing you may regret not doing is take the safe bet.
But in truth there are certain things you will want to do in your life that you know you don’t want to look back on not having tried. Even if you try and things don’t work out and you miss the opportunity the opportunity of a lifetime as a result, at least you can say, “damn it, I trusted myself and tried.”
-And that is something very few people can say.
If you’re having trouble analyzing two (or more) opportunities, see my article How to evaluate a job offer for an objective way to rank two options.