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“Safe” Is a Four-Letter Word

I’ve been encountering a super bad four-letter word lately, spoken by both my clients and myself. The word ain’t s*** or f*** or even crap-tastic. No. The word is safe. And it’s as bad as any of the words I just listed.

Now, when I think of safe, I think of sleepiness, hugs, hot cocoa, being with those I love, not being hurt, being invulnerable, fuzzy teddy bears, and big down comforters. If I look at it as one cold winter day, a smile comes to my face. But if I look at it as a state of being, I see it as scary. Yes, scary. And boring. And stagnant. And ungrowthful (yes, I made that word up).

Safe should be a fear, not a goal. Secure, yes. But not safe. Never safe. It seems that almost every creative client I’ve worked with, at some point or another, had dreams and goals and aspirations that weren’t safe. And when my clients talk safe, they’re talking about money. Nobody ever speaks of safe in regards to emotion (even though they say they want to feel safe)—but they should. Staying at your desk job isn’t safe because you might end up punching your bullying boss in the face and going to jail.

No, all desk jobs are safe because they provide a steady income. A guaranteed paycheck. A roof above your head and food on the table. Yes, life is safe if someone else is cutting the check.

Until it’s not.

I have a friend who got laid off from his job a few months ago. At thirty-three years old, he’s had the same job for over ten years—ever since he graduated from college. He was in sales, his numbers were good, he good consistently above average reports, his company is extremely well-established—but it wasn’t enough to save him.

Was he safe?

You can make things less, well, safe while still reaching for security. I promise. Here are some ways to start:

Make a list of all the things that are scaring you, but you know are holding you back.

Now let yourself daydream (or journal or paint or write a song) about what it would be like to audition for that band, or leave that job, or work with that dream company. What would be the possible rewards for that risk, and what would be the possible downfalls?

Would the possible reward be worth more than the possible fall? And even if you fell, what would you have accomplished? Pick the least scary thing from that list and commit to doing it. Remember, your legs are there to pick yourself back up.

Spend some time researching a class to take on something new that’s struck your interest. How fun would it be to learn how to play the ukulele, or belly dance, or learn FinalCutPro? If you’re having trouble figuring out what it is you want to do, then think about the types of books and articles you read, or what you watch on TV. Someone obsessed with the DIY Network might want to look in to a woodworking class, while someone who is trying to live a green lifestyle can take a weekend class on, uh, living a green lifestyle.

Brainstorm ways to achieve your dream while making it as scary-less as possible. For me, coaching was super scary because there’s not a stable income. So, instead of not pursuing coaching, I found a day job I could tolerate that could pay my bills while I got certified and started working with clients. Now, when I decide to leave my day job, I know I will have a money cushion in the bank, an already-strong clientele, and the tools (like a new website!) that’ll set me up to hit the ground running.

How would you face your fear and achieve your dream in a perfect world? If you weren’t scared, or didn’t need to worry about money, how would you do it? And don’t let yourself stop at, “I’d open a theater and cast myself as the lead in everything. Duh, Michelle.” Think of the steps you’d need to take to open the theater, and why that would be the answer in the first place, and what you’d get out of that experience. See the big picture and then focus on the details. Who knows what can be translated to The Real World?

I know, I know. It’s easier said than done. I, for one, am not a risk taker. I went to Atlantic City for three days and spent $5 on quarter slots on the way out because I realized I didn’t gamble the entire time. But the safe I’m talking about getting out of is that lazy, comfortable, possibly numbing cocoon that lasts for more than a week’s vacation. While I love wearing my PJs all day for one day, I would hate to wear them all day for the rest of my days.

Are you ready to get out of your PJs?