Our lives are full of things that have the potential to cause disruption to our routines and to inflict disorder on life as we know it. If you can be prepared for the worst by considering circumstances that may happen, evaluating how big the risk is and, where appropriate having a contingency plan for when bad things happen, it is more likely that you will be at ease and you will be able to manage the disruption more effectively should it occur.
I would define risk as an uncertain event which, if it occurs, will have an effect on the achievement of one or more of your aspirations. An important consideration here is that the concept of risk is often seen as negative, but this should not necessarily be the case. The key component of risk is that it is uncertain; if you are able to take advantage of the situation, then the outcome of this risk can be positive.
The way in which I look at risk is, I think, surprisingly simple, and can be applied in both your personal and professional life.
The first step is to identify and carefully define your aspirations. What do you enjoy doing? What would you like to do more of? What would you like to stop doing? How do you see yourself in 1,2,5, 10 years? What are your values? This is not a quick or easy thing to do, so make sure you dedicate time and energy to this. Write these down.
The next step is to identify risks, including threats (negative events) and opportunities (positive events), that may be connected to these aspirations. Write these down. A simple example: You want to change your job. The risks here may include, “I might not like my new job”, “I may not fit in at the new organisation”, “I’m not sure I’m capable of doing this new job”, etc. These are all risks as they are uncertain events. However, the way that you plan for these risks, understand their potential impact and how your behaviour can adapt to these uncertainties may ultimately lead to positive outcomes, such as “I love my new job”, “I’m able to do things in my new job that I couldn’t previously”, and so on.
After you have identified the various risks, you should dedicate some time to assessing these various uncertain events; estimating both the impact and probability of each risk you have considered. This will help you to prioritise them so that you are able to plan what (if any) actions you can take. A basic ranking scheme of high, medium, low can be used here, assisting you in identifying the worst threats and the best opportunities. Write these down.
Once you have prioritised the risk to your aspirations, you should put some thought into how you might respond should they arise. The key here is to find appropriate and effective activities in order to minimise the negative events and to maximise the opportunities from positive events . These might be relatively straightforward; speaking to colleagues about potential internal job opportunities or researching possible learning and development interventions, whilst others may necessitate increased effort, investment and reflection; seeking out coaching to explore your aspirations or participate in a local forum to develop your networking ability, for example. Write these down.
Finally, if the risk manifests, then you need to implement the response that you have spent so much time reflecting on. You should monitor the effectiveness of the response to ensure that you are still progressing towards your aspiration. If required, you should develop new responses and be mindful of new risks that may arise. You should also periodically check back to update and respond to new threats and opportunities.
Life can be unexpected and whilst I would not advocate spending all your time concerned about the negative things could happen to you, it would be prudent to at least be aware.