Choosing Between Safe and Great

I work in a factory. I could easily put in another fifteen years until retirement. Along the way, my family would be provided for, and I could enjoy my 3-4 weeks a year of vacation. It is not a bad life and only costs me forty hours a week (not including lunch breaks and commute times). They don’t hand out gold watches or pensions anymore, but I should have enough to live on in the last ten years or so of my life (if I am lucky enough to make it that long). I would be known as an honest, hard-working man that put food on the table and clothes on our backs. That would be my legacy.

Many have chosen this way life. It is not a bad way. If anything, it is a safe way. But if last year taught me anything, the safe way is not always as reliable as it is made out to be. Last year, the factory shut down for about six weeks. This was a better situation than many whose jobs went away completely. If my factory would have went down for a longer period or shut its doors forever, what would I have done? What if, like what we have seen over the last few weeks of weather in the United States, we had unforeseen natural disasters that we could not recover from? The safe way would be gone.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about Einstein. Was Einstein playing it safe by working in a patent office? If he went back to the family business, something that his family wanted him to do, would that have been playing it safe? Imagine if he stayed safe and never gave humanity the gift of his mind. As Harry Gray once said, “No one ever achieved greatness by playing it safe.”

My family, with good reason, wants me to play it safe. This is understandable. I am their security, their shelter, and their sustenance. If I leave the confines of safety, I put their welfare in jeopardy. The cautious person would state that it is too great a risk to venture into the unknown. But the unknown is my moon. How can I get to the moon if I am afraid to leave the earth? How can I find my New World if I live on a flat earth afraid to leave the Old?

A friend that I work with told me about a meme floating around. It said, “The hardest part of making $700k a year is leaving your $70k a year job.” There is a lot of truth in this. The unknown holds both success and failure. The known is only more of the same with maybe a 2-3% raise a year.

Thinking about money, wouldn’t more of it be nice? The company I work for makes a tremendous amount of money. They pay me so that they can make more. Will the world be a better place because of this work I do? I don’t think so. But the things I am working on, the things I want to do, could make the world a better place. Even if I made less money, making the world a better place would be worth it. So, the money as nice as making more of it would be, is not nearly as important as doing something that adds value to the lives of others. That is a legacy far beyond my own current sphere of influence.

What would I tell my son? Take the safe way and live an ordinary life free of risk? That is not what we usually tell our children. Instead, we tell them they can be anything they want to be. They can do anything they set their minds on. Is this only a fantasy we tell our children? Do we grow up and grow out of this belief that the sky is the limit? I hope not.

Feature photo by Anaya Katlego on Unsplash. What an awesome message in this photo: If not now when, if not you who.

Pay Up

I am a flawed individual. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get it right. In all areas of my life, I have come up short.

That sounds super depressing…

But it is not.

In all areas, there is an opportunity for growth. To be flawed is to be human.

I am human.

“Mistakes [and failures],” Sophia Loren said, “are the dues one pays for a full life.”

Let us daily pay our subscription fees for this life we live.


Feature photo by Varvara Grabova on Unsplash

Our Path to Walk

Our path consists of choices. We choose the way we think is best and hope it works out in our favor. Sometimes our choices are bad. They may have seemed good at the time, but ultimately, they take us down a route we never intended. When our choices demand payment, we are faced with a dilemma. How do we survive? How do we navigate the current road so that we may continue to our destination?

There are times the universe gives us a nudge, often not gently. It tells us that we are not doing what we were designed to do. It tells us to stop playing it safe and go do what we were meant to do. To ignore this calling is to play a dangerous game with forces more powerful than us.

I have mentioned the prophet Jonah before. God told him to go one way; he went the other. Jonah chose not to listen to his calling. Thinking he could get away with it, he boarded a ship and fled town. God sent a storm. Not worried, Jonah decided to take a nap. But the storm was a bad one and the sailors panicked. They drew lots to find out who was to blame. Of course, it was Jonah. He was the reason for the storm. Next thing you know, Jonah was taking a salt bath. And if things couldn’t get any worse, a really big fish swallowed him up.

Have you ever found yourself in the belly of a whale? We all go through it on our hero’s journey. Our choices lead us down a path that turns to brambles and thorns. The sun goes behind the trees, and the goblins of our imagination come out to haunt us. This is the belly of Jonah’s whale. Imagine being in there. It is dark. It stinks. If you are prone to motion sickness, this is not the place for you. All you can do there is sit. Sit and wait. There is no one to talk to, so you are left alone to your thoughts. You reflect on the past and how you got there. You imagine the things you will do if you ever get out. But the past and the future are no help to you now. So, you sit. And wait. You still your mind in the present because that is all you have.

Jonah got out of the whale. He went to do the things he was supposed to do. Likewise, the sun will rise again on the morrow, and we will find our own way back onto the path.

God could have sent another to take Jonah’s place, but it was Jonah that He wanted. Nobody else could have walked his path. Only Jonah. In the same way, nobody can walk our paths. It is our journey.

In an east meets west post, consider these words:

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

Buddha

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Walls and Windmills

Even in the best of times, there is still uncertainty. The things we take for granted go away. The health we once enjoyed could take a turn for the worse. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was once a wealthy merchant until one day all that wealth was lost at sea. He was ruined financially. How many people would be able to recover from such a catastrophe? How many have jumped out of a skyscraper window or taken their lives because they lost it all? What did Zeno do? He went on to build one of the most influential philosophies the world has ever known.

The world goes through cycles. We, with the attitudes of gods, think we can stop it. Really? We cannot even stop our fellow humans from setting events into motion whose waves sweep across generations and through the centuries. Good or bad, the bad being the ones we remember the most, these changes illicit a response from us. How do you respond when the winds of change begin to blow?

When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build windmills.

Chinese Proverb

The Walls. Some will hunker down. They will put up the shutters and try their best to ride out the storm. They will prep for the doom to come going into their fallout shelters with their stockpiles of food. These are the ones that will isolate themselves from the rest of the world. The walls keep them protected on the inside but blinds them to what is on the outside.

The Windmills. By building a windmill, you look at the opportunities that the change brings. Humans are resilient. They can adapt. They can learn to operate within the parameters. Whether the change comes from a broken government or an angry Mother called Nature, they bravely face the obstacles ahead. There may no longer be any rainbows and sunshine in their near future, but they will keep forging ahead with the hope of a better tomorrow for them and the ones to come after them.

Everything involves a choice. Zeno could have said that life no longer held any meaning. He could have built a wall separating himself from the rest of humanity. But he chose something else. He chose to rebuild his life and along the way created a legacy spanning across the millennia. And like him, we choose whether to adapt to the changes before us or to isolate behind the walls. One results in a future for the generations to come. And the other, well, it just ends.


Feature photo by Hendrik Kuterman on Unsplash

Prophets Today

What I learned about the prophets from reading the Old Testament:

  • They usually only came around when bad things were being done by the people.
  • They were not always well-received by the bad people.
  • The people in the land were generally wicked. The bad people far-outweighed the good and were in positions of leadership.
  • They had a message telling the people to change their ways.
  • What they said was highly offensive (to the bad people) and the backlash often ended in their execution.

Those times may have been a couple of thousand years behind us, but is the world we live in really that different? There is a controlling force that wants us to live in a certain way. It wants us to have freedom of speech only if it is in line with their views. We are safe only if we stay in the herd, abide by the rules of the shepherds, and don’t make too much noise.

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.

Aristotle

Imagine trying to live your life free of criticism. You are safe if you don’t step out of the boundaries. But as soon as you do, as soon as you break free from the herd, you run the risk of criticism. How much courage does it take to go out on your own, to say and do and be what you believe in your heart to be right? Without such bravery by others, we would still be living on a flat earth.

There are dangers in being an outlier. You could get canceled and de-platformed for having a voice that is different. Go far enough, you could be arrested, tortured, and even quietly removed from existence. It sounds extreme, but there are nations that have zero tolerance for those that do not quietly acquiesce to their rule. Don’t believe me? Go ask a Cambodian immigrant that fled their homeland in the 1960’s about the Khmer Rouge or a former Soviet escaping to America during the Cold War. It is not easy being different in a world that does not tolerate it. But as hard as it is…

The world still needs its prophets. Okay, maybe not prophets. That takes a calling destined only for a few. But there needs to be people willing to step up and cry foul when the world, or at least their part of the world, begins to stray. Without them, who knows, we may still believe the universe revolves around the earth.

Do, say, believe. You might get criticized. You might find that you were wrong and grow from the experience. You might create change, or you might be ostracized. Nelson Mandela said, “Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?” He knew what it was to be an outlier and take a stand. We can learn from people like him and strive to make the world a little better for the next generation


Feature painting: Jonah by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel. Jonah wasn’t exactly excited about being a prophet. After a little prompting from God and a large fish, Jonah eventually followed his calling.

Regretting Things Undone

In The Biggest Bluff, Maria Konnikova wrote one short paragraph that shook me to the core. She mentions a poker player named “X” and says this about him:

That was the only time I ever saw him. The chaos of life is greater than the chaos of games. And now X is dead, and all his future books remain unwritten.

When it comes to books that is my biggest fear. Will I get this stuff out of my head before I die?  I want quality and an enduring legacy to leave behind for my family, but none of that is possible if I don’t get the words written down.

What is it in your life that you need to get done? What is it that you would regret if like “X” you died before finishing? It reminds me Paulo Coelho’s words from The Alchemist, “There was nothing holding him back but himself.” Don’t let it happen to you.

The Road to Valor

valor: great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle

I loved listening to the classic hero stories growing up, such as the little guy David, who despite his age and stature, took down the giant Goliath. And then there were the stories about Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Beowulf, and even Luke Skywalker. They were people that overcame the odds, stepped up when needed, and did it with class and honor. As I got older, I continued to read the stories of brave samurais, honorable knights, and the valorous modern-day warfighters.

This world we live in is a dangerous place. There are those who would harm others without any provocation. They would do it simply because they felt like it. There are the unexpected accidents and a Mother Nature who is indifferent to our comfort and safety. The world still needs its brave heroes. It needs its people of valor and honor.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the hero that saved the day, the one who put his life on the line for another. But how can someone like me, a common, everyday guy, become a hero? I can start by looking at history. I can read and listen to the stories of ordinary men and women who rose in the times of need to do the extraordinary. I can study their lives and model my life after them. I can practice the little things to test my mettle slowly working my way up. Step by step, I can move to more difficult challenges and go places where few would dare.

This is something we could all do. We can prepare for a time when the world, or the community, or just one other person might need us. We can resolve now how we would answer that calling. We could be the heroes so desperately needed.

Commit to study acts of bravery and valor; emulate them. Do not cast away your life as a coward. One way or another death will come. Resolve now how you will face it. -Daidōji Yūzan

The Phoenix

The sun rises and a new day begins. With it comes new hopes and new dreams. The dawning of the sun brings a rebirth. It brings life. As the evening comes, the hopes of the day cease. This close signifies death, a conclusion to the life that was.

We see this cycle repeated over and over. Days, seasons, eras. Life followed by death, which in turn is followed by new life, a new hope from a new generation in the cycle.

The long nights and the long winters are filled with despair. Without hope, life ceases. There have been times when the sun seemed to refuse to rise. There have been times when the Spring was long overdue in its return. It was in those times that it was toughest to keep the faith.

When we come to the end of an age, we are faced with a choice. We can choose to stay where we are, or we can move forward. You must be brave to move forward into the unknown, beyond the confines of comfort. You must be even braver to leave the dead behind and forge ahead into a new life. It takes courage to decide to be the phoenix and rise up from the ashes.

Only you can make this decision, no one else can do it for you. It may sound scary, but there is still hope. Alone you choose whether to be reborn. But once you make the choice, you are no longer alone. Others are there to help you grow in this new season of your life.

Harnessing Good Fortune

Buy a lottery ticket, and you might have a chance to win. Granted, your chances might be one in several hundred million, but it is still a chance. If you don’t buy the ticket, your chances go all the way down to zero. Is it worth the dare, or the money?

Instead of spending the money playing a game where the odds are not in your favor, you could invest in your own development. Your chances of success dramatically improve. And if you come into a big payday, you might even find that you are better prepared to handle it. It is a chance, but at least you have some control in the outcome. Is investing in yourself worth the dare, or the money? I would hope your answer is yes.

We are far more capable than we think are. We can be our own winning lottery tickets in this life if we are willing to dare. We are not guaranteed good fortune, but as Virgil says it sides with the one who dares. Take the dare on yourself and maybe along the way you can harness some good fortune. It might be the best investment you will ever make.

Walking Alone

The wildebeest in the middle of the pack has no ability to affect the herd. It is safe as long as it keeps running. Well, as long as it is not one of the thousands that get trampled along the way.

When you run with the mob, you run a risk. Your intentions might be good and noble. But if the frenzy leads it down the wrong path, you might find yourself in a dangerous situation.

To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger. –Seneca, Letter 7: On Crowds

Remember as kids we were asked if we would jump off a cliff if our friend jumped off a cliff. If the herd goes off the cliff, the wildebeest in the middle will run off of it, whether they want to or not. The herd with good intentions to migrate to better grazing has gone astray.

It is better to walk alone, than with a crowd going in the wrong direction. –Herman Siu

To walk alone takes courage. You have ask the questions, do the research, and then come to the best conclusions. It doesn’t mean you will always be right, but at least you did the work. And if it means failure, that is okay. Keep failing until you get it right.

The great innovators of the past chose their own paths. Change came in walking alone, rather than going with the flow