In a World That’s Changing, So Must You

It’s a risk not to take a risk.

When I heard that, I stopped eating and looked up. My dinner guest was Vagelyn Tumbaga Federico, director of HR, Dusit Thani hotels,  and one of the bright minds in the HR space in the GCC region.

She said that was her favorite quote and my response was, “Now it is mine also”

I discovered later that the quote originated with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder:

The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s  changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.

Afraid to take a risk

My thought has always been that people not satisfied in their careers are afraid of taking the step outside the boundaries of their comfort zone. The ones that do move into the unknown will realize later they made the right decision. Even if failure seemed imminent, in the end it was the best move forward.

They were not afraid to move into the abyss surrounded by darkness with not a shred of light coming through. There are a tremendous number of professionals who operate from the tunnel of light. They must see their way forward to proceed. If they cannot count all the steps, they park it in neutral and sit, wait and dream for the opportune time.

I will be happy when…

When I coach clients, I go through a questioning process where I ask them what is stopping them from taking that step. What basically comes out is a mishmash of reasons: “When my kids get older”; “When I buy the house first”; “When my personal situation gets better, I will be happy then.” I have often thought of compiling these into a leaflet titled, “What is stopping me from achieving my dream.” It’s a sarcastic point of view.

I had one HR professional who had been querying me about how to get an opportunity as an expat. Finally, he got a call from some firm in Malaysia. As he told me the story I could not detect the joy or happiness that should have been present since, after all, this was what he had been talking about over the past year.

His reasoning, “Well my daughter has been sick lately and it gave me pause.” My response was but your daughter is married with her own kids. Was it serious illness? “No, she just had the flu but she is OK now. So, did you reconsider? No not really, I was just concerned about being that far away from home. That ended my line of questions as none of this made sense if you were looking for an international opportunity. Last time I checked you can fly home to USA almost hourly from most parts of the world.

Career flashback

That quote also brought back to me a career altering decision from many years ago. I had the dream job until the culture took a dramatic shift. After thinking it over I decided I would resign rather than going to work every day and hating it. So, I walked away with no job in sight. It was a huge risk, but I decided that with a good severance, I could figure it out.

I now look back at that “risk” and realized it was a game changer. It happened because once I came to terms with the unknown and walking into the darkness, that decision gave me a glimmer of light. My mindset now became, Yes, I can do this and these are the steps that I will take. Those steps were constantly shifting, but in the end it played out masterfully.

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Moving to the next level

Moving to the next level can be like a tunnel filled with darkness. Don’t let that deter you in your pursuit of whatever you think the next level should be. If you seek that new job or career move, the only one that can drive it is you. At a certain point, if you really want it you must be prepared to make a decision. No more procrastination, because if you really want it as badly as you think you have to move forward. Or you can remain miserable and keep making excuses.

I will end this with my mother’s favorite quote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”

Pursue the darkness with passion and the light will present itself at the appropriate time.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.