Let’s Play a Word Game: I Say “Safe,” You Say…

To keep oneself safe does not mean to bury oneself.” – Lucius Anneaus Seneca

“It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.” – Dag Hammarskjold

safetyThe word “safe” has some really great connotations – cozy, protected, out of danger. What’s not to love?

I’ll tell you what’s not to love.

Making safety one of your top priorities means you gravitate toward the status quo. You avoid change of any sort simply because it’s different, and who knows if that new reality will be “safe”? Which means you also avoid growth. After all, everything is changing all the time. The universe expands a little every day by its very nature. If you’re trying to hold yourself in the same spot while everything around you slowly evolves, it’s going to become quite painful to try and stay where you are. 

Here’s where the real problem starts: When downright bad or merely less-than-good starts to feel normal. You get comfortable there. So comfortable, that to change from bad to better feels unsafe.

Let me give you an example. When I was growing up, each of my divorced parents made enough to get by…and that’s about it. I remember eating popcorn for dinner several nights a week, camping for father-daughter vacations, and buying clothes at Wal-Mart. Our financial picture certainly could have been a lot worse, but it could have been so much better. My grandparents were proof of that – they were firmly in the upper middle class, and contributed to our financial wellbeing while also subtly communicating that since they had been able to become rich, we should be able to figure it out too.

Long story short – my idea of normalcy when it came to money was being this close to financial comfort. It showed up in my life with a pattern of taking jobs for little money, working my way up, and when I had finally gotten enough raises to be earning a sweet living, I’d quit and start over somewhere else.

For all but one of the 8 years I spent as a journalist, I was one check away from not being able to pay my bills. As un-cozy as this way of life may sound, to my subconscious mind, it seemed the only way to stay safe – after all, being almost financially secure was all it had ever really known.

I feel a little funny sharing this newsletter with you, because I haven’t broken through that self-imposed financial barrier yet. I’m still not-quite-comfortable. And let me tell you, I am sick of adding up my receivables in my head several times a day, wondering if they’ll all come in before the mortgage is due. I’m tired of waiting for some unexpected windfall or family member to come along and ‘save’ me. I’m done expecting not-so-great results.

What’s different now is I get how I’ve been keeping myself in this spot, how I’ve been taking myself out of the running in ways literal and metaphorical when I was on the verge of earning six figures. And now that I know this, I can choose something different. I can choose to keep showing up, creating new opportunities for myself to earn money that equals the value I provide by sharing my innate and unique talents. I’m doing it all through a process of noticing when my old thought patterns start trying to dictate the actions I take, and by choosing to do something that takes me out of the “safe” zone.

For example, I signed up to work with a personal trainer who’s all about old school, functional movements. We’re talking squats, barbells, pull-ups. I’ve done my fair share of weight machines in various gyms, but have never done anything resembling pumping iron. Part of me is quaking in my spandex, but the bigger, wiser part knows that if I’m going to create a new reality for myself, I’ve got to do things differently. After all, I’m going to need to be strong and resilient to enjoy all that my impending new financial reality is going to make possible.

Where are you trying to play it safe? If you let that go, what would be possible for you?

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Play a Word Game: I Say “Safe,” You Say…

  1. Love this! I feel I am the poster-child for this post – to create a new reality for myself, I needed to something different. Now, I need to keep on keeping on doing things differently. Thanks, Kate, for the reminder, the encouragement and for sharing your story.

  2. Alba! Hi. Yes, it’s all about continuing to take action and make decisions. That in and of itself can feel unsafe! Which is a really great indicator that it’s exactly the thing to do. Thanks for reading and for sharing. Keep in touch.

  3. Love this post, Kate and couldn’t agree more. The quest for “safety” really highlights our (American, western, human?) relationship with fear. It is fear (or safety, both words seem interchangeable) that drives many of our life’s decisions, often for the worst.
    While I understand that as social creatures, status quo is comfortable and familiar and warm, but there is always a way to live a fuller and deeper life without being a social outcast.
    Finding this place is a challenge but the reward is always worth it.

    1. Leo, you are the man. (Folks, Leo’s the most excellent trainer I just signed up with. This post is so meta.) Your talking about being a social outcast makes me want to say — when you make decisions based on love (as opposed to fear), you make it possible for the people around you to do it too. Maybe not immediately, but you get them thinking.

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