You Risk It All By Not Taking Risks

Mayke Nagtegaal, COO, MessageBird

It’s 2019, and women are owning the moment—recognizing that we hold the power to write our own rules and pursue our wildest ambitions. Yet, when it comes to taking risks at work and leaps in our careers, the confidence gap still exists—with many women still second-guessing our qualifications and fearing backlash about promoting our hard-earned skills.

As a former semi-pro speed skater who had a stable career as a tax attorney before becoming the COO of cloud communications startup MessageBird, I’m living proof that your résumé doesn’t define your potential—and you don’t have to check off every box in a job description to apply for it.

It’s All Mental 

A study by Ernst & Young surveyed 821 high-level executives and found that 90 percent of the women polled played sports. Among the women who were in C-suite positions, that percentage rose to 96 percent. But you don’t have to be an athlete to appreciate risk and seek out new challenges at work—especially in high-stakes, high-pressure situations, like that of a rapidly growing startup. 

Instead, change your relationship with risk—embrace the idea that being “safe” or comfortable in your choices is often the riskiest move of all because personal growth often requires that we take some chances. I’ve applied this mindset on and off the ice, but especially now while maneuvering my career as a COO. Risk and reward are two sides of the same blade after all. 

Dream Crazier 

It’s been hard to miss Nike’s new “Dream Crazier” ad, featuring Serena Williams, that tackles the gender bias women face at work and in life. It’s not only eye-catching; it’s inspiring. The ad encourages women to take words that are meant as insults, flip them on their heads, and use them as fuel to get ahead. 

People might call you crazy for making major career moves. And, of course, playing it safe has a time and place – just not always when it comes to the trajectory of your career. It’s important to do your due diligence so you can make an informed, logical decision when making a career jump, without letting fear stand in the way. 

Even if it doesn’t turn out as planned, it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and think on your feet. When you’re a speed skater, you make moves that may send you falling, but then you start anticipating those falls – and then even better, you start getting good at picking yourself up.

Embrace your failure and realize that failures are opportunities for growth and can be steps towards continuous improvement. 

Go With Your Gut

I read somewhere that your “gut” reaction is actually derived from your brain – you just arrived at the conclusion so quickly that you’re inclined to question it. 

In the tech world, we run on data – but in your career, you often need to rely on your gut and what it’s telling you. When it comes to taking risks and pushing yourself to the next echelon at work, your “spidey” senses – your brain, your heart and your gut – will lead you to where you are supposed to be…even if there are some misturns along the way. 

No matter which decision you make, every opportunity, even one that doesn’t necessarily turn out as planned, is an opportunity to learn and grow, if you choose to make it that. 


You Risk It All By Not Taking RisksAbout the Author: Mayke Nagtegaal is the COO of MessageBird, an Amsterdam-based cloud communications platform company that, in 2017, raised the largest-ever investment by a European software company ($60m led by US-based, Accel and UK-based, Atomico). With a master’s degree in International Tax Law from the University of Amsterdam, Mayke was a Tax Advisor at PwC and employee #1 at international tax law firm HVK Stevens Belastingadvies before joining MessageBird as employee #26. A former speed skater, Mayke skated with the North Holland Region/Utrecht KNSB from 2005 to 2008.

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