Many children are shy, which can make them more dependent on their parents. If a shy child wants something, chances are good that the child will ask a parent to get it … even if the item is easily accessible and in plain sight.

Since most parents understand the importance of encouraging independence, a frequently-heard response to such a request is, “Go and get it.” In reaction we’ve all seen a worried-looking child’s face shifting into a furrowed frown, flushed red with anxiety and near tears at the thought of possibly confronting a stranger or a situation that seems daunting.

The challenge of instilling independence isn’t limited to people. Some parent birds teach independence by gradually making their nests less comfortable, eventually beginning to take them apart to encourage their fledglings to literally try their wings.

While most people succeed in overcoming much of their shyness, a reluctance to look foolish in front of others may arise instead. Too much concern about what others think can reduce risk-taking, such as by trying fewer new things.

Dining preferences are a good example. While everyone else at a dining table may be enjoying some gourmet delight that requires wielding unusual utensils, the person who doesn’t want to look foolish will order something much less desirable just because it is easy to eat with either a conventional fork or a spoon.

Such cautious choices often have few, if any, important effects on a person’s life. Does it really matter whether you savor digging snails out of their buttery, garlicky shells?

When it comes to careers, however, risk-aversion can sometimes be a problem. While choosing not to be a lion tamer might turn out to be a perfectly good decision, many of the careers that someone never checked out might have proven more rewarding than what someone is doing.

If the purpose of avoiding risks is to enjoy life more, wouldn’t it be better to seek out work that provides more excitement, joy, and fulfillment? Almost anyone would treasure the benefits of such a shift.

In thinking about such alternatives, some people may be concerned about how to make such a shift without incurring regrettable consequences. I have a suggestion for them: Try a lot of things on a part-time basis, even if that means volunteering to gain experience.

If you had asked me while I was a youngster what profession I was least likely to engage in, I might have answered being a professor. The thought of doing lots of research, being under continual pressure to write and publish, and trying to stimulate bored students would have seemed most unattractive.

Yet, here I am, greatly enjoying work as a part-time professor. What happened?

Well, I was drafted: The school reached out and got me. The university’s founder admired my writing and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer to his offer. I reluctantly agreed to give it a try by grading a few papers and commenting on them over the next two or three months.

While I entered the experiment very reluctantly, I was soon enthusiastic about the experience. The students were very intelligent, not so young, and eager to make good use of anything I communicated to them. Consequently, they were soon pushing the boundaries of my own work, showing me possibilities I hadn’t fully considered. It was exhilarating!

I couldn’t help but feel that I was probably learning more than the students. Since I love to learn, this unexpected benefit encouraged me to keep on teaching.

After thinking about how many good opportunities I have probably missed to do work I would love, I wondered what advice I should share. While considering my own experiences, I was reminded of my faculty colleague at Rushmore University, Professor Laurence Leigh, and how well he has sought and engaged in wonderful opportunities, simply because he has always been quick to “go and get it.” Let me explain how he developed that helpful habit and what the lessons are.

His original interest in business came naturally. As the son of an independent sales representative in the textile industry, he often went along on with his dad on client meetings during school vacations. From these experiences Laurence became familiar with business thinking at a young age.

Entering college, he was attracted to studying economics and statistics. Although he found these subjects to be interesting, he felt that wealth creation through being a businessman would be more satisfying. That decision led him to go and get an MBA degree at the London Business School.

That decision, in turn, led Professor Leigh to enjoy many years of satisfying work in various businesses and consulting for other ones. Then, another influence became important: He fell in love and got married.

At the time, his wife was already studying for a Ph.D. in the United States. She persuaded Laurence to join her in graduate school so that they could pursue teaching careers in the U.S. The result was Laurence earning a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This academic success led him to teach at several business schools in Europe and the United States. He also provided executive training for organizations such as the International Labor Organization, the Italian government’s Institute for Foreign Trade, and the Fiat Group. While teaching, he published articles in prestigious journals such as the Journal of Marketing Research, The Transportation Journal, and Marketing Management.

From these experiences, Professor Leigh developed into a masterful teacher who has been much appreciated by his students. You might think that such an accomplishment would be the end of his story. Actually, his fruitful habit of going and getting it added new chapters to his career.

While their daughter was quite young, Laurence’s wife became seriously ill. He decided to work from home. He inquired about online teaching opportunities, a step that led him to our university. During the same time, he also taught at another online school that featured a highly structured teaching method in a “virtual classroom” rather than individual online tutorials.

Having been educated as an undergraduate at Cambridge, he well knew the superior benefits for students of being tutored. It was refreshing to have an opportunity to play the tutor role after having been on the receiving end of such helpful instruction. He also appreciated how much more helpful it was for students to gain added individual attention from their professors.

Another new chapter opened when Professor Leigh next took a position at the School of Business in the American University of Beirut (AUB), adding a fresh dash of culture and opportunity to his life. One of his newest activities there is establishing a research and development partnership between some of AUB’s School of Engineering and a high-tech start-up in the United States in which he is an investor. Laurence has always felt that business schools have not done enough to bridge the gap between academic research and commercial opportunities. Working with other faculties at AUB, and other projects of the same sort, will give him a chance to show that this can be done. His dream is for AUB to have a business incubator that will be a source of much-needed economic development in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Looking back, this career all makes great sense to him now. As he observed recently to me:

"While I enjoy teaching, I have always wanted to keep in touch with the world of practical business and entrepreneurship. This has often made it difficult to follow a conventional academic career, which overwhelmingly emphasizes scholarly writing and research. While l have done some of this, including writing a joint paper with one of my students, it is not where my heart is!"

Are you ready to go and get it to develop your career? Here are a few questions to help you assess how well you are doing:

1. How often do you “try out” alternative careers on a part-time basis?

2. Are you aware of the types of careers that others find more stimulating and enjoyable than the one you are in now?

3. Does your current work provide the best ways to deal with any special circumstances in your life?

4. What career alternatives have you never considered?

5. When do you next plan to go out and get a better career?

What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

Donald W. Mitchell is a professor at Rushmore University who often teaches people who want to improve their business effectiveness in order to accomplish career breakthroughs through earning advanced degrees. For more information about ways to engage in fruitful lifelong learning at Rushmore University to increase your effectiveness, I invite you to visit