4 Career Risks Worth Taking

Lin Manuel-Miranda’s hip-hop opera about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton has had countless effects on culture. Not only did it redeem the genre (MTV’s ‘Carmen’ is just a distant memory), but also redeemed the long-neglected Hamilton, whose biggest claim to fame for a while was a punchline in an early 2000s milk commercial. Among Hamilton’s qualities was that he was never afraid of taking a risk, including with his career. 

Hamilton started life in the Caribbean. His father abandoned the family, his mother died, the cousin in whose care he was placed committed suicide. Eventually he made his way to New York, where the Revolution gave him the opportunity to serve as one of Washington’s assistants. He then went on to serve in the cabinet for America’s first president, helped transition between presidents, created the Coast Guard and authored the majority of the Federalist Papers. He accomplished all of this by taking advantage of every risk that came his way. After all, the difference between a risk and an opportunity is just perception, right?

Here are 4 modernized career risks we can learn from one of America’s daring founding fathers: 

1.    Follow a good-to-great boss on to a new career opportunity
After war, Washington became president and invited Hamilton to join his cabinet.  Hamilton was married with a child or two and a growing career in law. His devotion to Washington influenced his decision to join the cabinet and gave him bigger opportunities with the support of the President. Following a boss into a more powerful position is a career risk worth taking because they will not only look out for you, but also knows your strengths and abilities. They want you to succeed.

2.    Start a business with one solid client
When it came to the (then) new US Constitution, it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Hamilton, alongside James Madison and John Jay, defended the Constitution with a series of essays. Known as the Federalist Papers, they became the single most important source for interpreting and understanding the original intent of the US Constitution. The Federalist Papers helped stake Hamilton’s reputation in more ways than just as a creative writer. In modern ways, becoming a consultant or going freelance with a single client sounds risky--and it is--but doing a great job with them will set an example, paving the way for more work.

3.    Leave a “secure” job for a start-up
It’s incredible, bordering on unimaginable, the greatness of the American Revolution. The ideas proposed by revolutionaries, founded in demolishing the established order of things, were in no way guaranteed to work. It took incredible bravery and smarts for the colonists to leave the relative security of the British Empire to start their own nation. Leaving an established company today for a start-up endeavor is a similarly risky. If it fails, you’ll go back to corporate...but if it succeeds? The benefits far outweigh the potential downsides.

4.    Step out of your comfort zone to gain new experience and skills
Hamilton, impoverished and left to his own devices started clerking for an import-export firm. He learned about and formed opinions on varied topics like finance, trade and slavery in a world without much mercy. Eventually, Hamilton took the leap and left the Caribbean for New York and the colonies, armed with limited funding and connections. The leap of faith literally jump-started his life and future. When you step out of your comfort zone, you apply skills and knowledge in new ways while meshing them with old ones. It’s a win-win.

Taking risks is all about making the most of the opportunities that come your way. As in the example of Alexander Hamilton, realizing when you need to make your own opportunities can lead to a life full of joy and success.