- contents - obstacles
We all yearn for
safety and security to some extent or another. We want the security
of a regular paycheck that will meet our financial needs; we want the
safety of a nice home that will keep us warm in the winter and safe from
the elements and the bad people of the world. We want our children
to be safe and sound, and we want to protect them from anything that may
harm them. There's nothing wrong with safety per se: it's a
typical human trait to want it, and when we are safe, we're free to focus
our energies on other aspects of our lives. We're able to give more
to our jobs and more time to activities that we enjoy. So how can
something as basic as safety turn into an obstacle to living a full life?
That's easy and
obvious--when safety develops into complacency and creates in us a sense
of boredom, that's when we're facing a struggle with the very facet of our
lives that we've strived so hard to achieve.
experiences living in Europe and the United States, I've noticed time and
again that in the United States we take far more risks and we face far
more obstacles than do our neighbors to the east, especially in the
western European countries. But we also offer far more opportunities
for risk-taking, for putting aside our personal safety and comfort in
order to strike out and try something new and different, whereas the
European countries have such strong social programs that few people ever
reach a point at which they have to strike out and try something
That's the basic reason why in Germany, you'll hear mostly
American and British music on the charts, why in Switzerland and Spain
you'll see so many McDonald's and Burger Kings, why in France and Sweden
you'll see so many American films in the theaters. For better or
worse, here in America we offer the opportunity to succeed to the
risk-takers, and it pays off in a culture that continues to be dynamic and
How many times
have you read the story of the man or woman who had worked in the same
place for twenty years, only to be laid off when the company is sold out
or goes under? For many of these people, this is the best thing that
ever happened to them: their new-found lack of security stimulated
them to create their own jobs or companies, or to find higher-paying jobs
in related fields with much higher job satisfaction. While they were
safely entrenched in their old jobs, they had no motivation at all to
stretch their limits or further their boundaries, but once they were on
their own, they found that their creativity and resourcefulness were put
to the test, and came through.
For others, such
a change is a disaster, which is a shame, but hardly justifiable in the
world of today. We can't sit around and mope about what has been; we
need to forge our tomorrows out of the raw materials of today.
I've taught at
many different colleges, and one of them stands out in my mind as
epitomizing the problem with safety. It's a wonderful school
academically--consistently ranked very highly in national and regional
rankings--but there's very little life there. While they bring in
many outside artists to perform there, there's very little creativity on
the campus among the students. Art and dance and music and other
creative outlets are there, but they're hardly encouraged, except by those
few faculty members who are involved in them. When I talked to my
students, they complained about the lack of life on campus, and most of
them ended up going home on weekends, for there was nothing to do at
school. I heard several references to the campus as a "giant
womb," a place where parents could send their kids and know that they
were safe and weren't going to be subverted.
colleges, though, I haven't seen that degree of safety, and I've seen a
great deal more creativity and fire and will to succeed in the
students. They have to work towards safety, and their work shows an
inspiration that I rarely saw at the other school. They knew that
opportunities were out there, but they knew they'd have to work to reach
them. At the other school, the parents were paying a hefty tuition
to guarantee their kids success and a degree from a highly regarded
school, but the kids were getting nothing more than a safety guaranteed by
a checkbook. They were learning no survival skills, and they were
pushed to no limits other than turning in papers on time and getting their
reading done and performing well on tests.
I know that the
times in my life when I've struggled have been the most creative and the
most beneficial. I wrote more poetry when I was living on $200 a
month in Spain than I ever have when I've been earning a decent paycheck
and living in a nice home. I've been harmed when I've taken
risks--of course. But in that harm has been a wonderful lesson or
two each time, and I learned a little bit more about life and success and
being happy by taking a risk and failing than I ever would have by
continuing with the status quo.
inherently wrong with safety, and it's a wonderful goal for most of us,
but we shouldn't let safety turn us into complacent beings, bored people
who think we have to find excitement in things like drugs or alcohol or
partners other than their spouses. You can keep your life dynamic if
you search out risks worth taking, changes worth making, new challenges
for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.
play for safety. It's the most dangerous thing in the world.
lest we let our hopes soar, only later to see some dashed;
bruised because we have been hurt; and realistic because of past
setbacks, we quite naturally may be guarded in our emotions.
Then a voice from within us may say, "Be careful about being
exuberant, about laughing. If you dance, shuffle; don't leap.
you make music, be muted. Be careful about your pace; you
might stumble. Keep your fingers crossed. Being joyful is
Then a voice from without us will say, "Let go. Let your spirit
released. Sing confidently. Grow flowers and smell and pick
give some. Spin the wheel blithely as your shape a vase.
delicate traceries and be joyful, joyful."
Not only do we cheat ourselves and those around us if we are only
glum or always wary when it comes time to respond to divine stirrings.
No, we are the also being simply unfaithful to the surrounding reality.
The one who purges gloom has given occasions and reasons,
in the midst of life's sadness, to be joyful.
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mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature,
nor do the
children of people as a whole experience it. . . .
Avoiding danger is no
safer in the long run than outright
exposure. . . .
Life is either a
daring adventure or nothing.
Monotony is the awful reward of the
to be safe is never to be secure.
ship in harbor is safe,
but that is not what ships are built for.
do not make skillful sailors.
is certainly only worthwhile as it represents struggle for
worthy causes. There is no struggle in perfect security.
quite certain that the human being
could not continue
to exist if he or she had perfect security.
|Prudence keeps life safe, but does not often make
in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough,
is true security to be found.
only one form of security we can attain during our
lives. It's inner security--the kind that comes from courage,
experience, and the ability and the willingness to learn,
to grow, to attempt the unknown. Security isn't what the
wise person looks for; it's opportunity. And once
we begin looking for that, we find it on every side.
You can measure opportunity with the same yardstick that
measures the risk involved. They go together.
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can be transformed like the butterfly's. Most of us live
cocoon of safety, called our comfort zone, to protect
the elements. We are accustomed to the
routine of our lives. We know
what to expect each day as
we crawl out from under our warm covers.
comfort zone keeps us safe. But our comfort zone limits
us, just as
the caterpillar is limited when compared to the
butterfly. To the
caterpillar, life is fine. There
are branches to climb. There are leaves
to eat. It
can even use the leaves to hide from the birds of prey.
the observer who can see the whole picture, the reality of the
caterpillar's life is very limited. That observer can see
of transformation that lie ahead for the
caterpillar. That observer can
also see the possibilities
of transformation that can lie ahead for you.
comfort zone limits us in the same way the caterpillar is
The vision of the caterpillar is limited to a few
feet around it. It cannot
even imagine a life beyond its
vision. But the caterpillar is lucky. Nature
provided a path that will transform it into a butterfly with a
expanded vision. It doesn't have a choice.
All of us have "comfort zones," the areas in which
we are comfortable.
These comfort zones apply to the way
we dress, the emotions we can
comfortably express, the things
which we will try, the depths to which
we reveal ourselves, our
openness to change, and so forth.
As long as we stay within these comfort zones, we just keep
what we have always done. We don't change.
We don't grow. Every day
is pretty much like the day
before, and every tomorrow is pretty much
like today. Our
days are all "carbon copies" of one another.
We like our comfort zones, even though they definitely shrink
in which we live. We know our way around inside
our comfort zones. We
know how to cope with the things we
encounter in our familiar
comfort zones. We feel
If you promise me that you are going to stay within your
I will be able to tell you what you will be like
at the end of your life.
You'll be just what you are now,
only more so.
If you promise me that you are going to stretch, to step
comfort zone, I cannot predict your future.
The sky is the limit.
people have exchanged some part of their
chances of happiness
for a measure of security.
|The only real security
that a person can have in this world is
a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.