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.