The Safe Option
I recently visited with family in a country far, far away. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to see where my dad grew up, but this time the impact of the visit was, as a life coach, profound.
I’m going to tell you a story about safe options and not so safe options. Of daring to imagine a better future and of not allowing yourself to have such dreams. A story of a man who lived with fear daily, but who trusted his gut and who did not allow fear to drive his decisions. A story about a lady who did not trust, and who took the safe option. In this case it is the same story, and we have a rare glimpse of “what could have been” from both sides.
How many times have you chosen the “safe” option? The option which somehow seemed more “responsible?” The option which addressed your fears but not your aspirations? How many of you no longer have such aspirations because you are afraid of disappointment?
How many of you dare not to even imagine a life which uses your gifts (passions) because you are afraid of the feeling you’d have if you failed? Or of what others would think if you failed?
How many of you dare not to enter into a world which is interesting and energizing, one that nurtures your soul, because you think it would be a selfish choice?
How many times have you said “no” to an opportunity, not because it didn’t seem incredibly interesting and exciting, but because you couldn’t imagine how it would play out. And because you were scared?
In 1956 my grandfather had reached the end of his rope. After the war ended in 1945, his country had been taken over by the Soviet Union and life in the village had changed dramatically. What was once a peaceful village where families had established their specific roles over many generations turned to hardship and fear under communist rule. People were hungry, and life in general was much, much harder.
My grandfather, who built a successful pub and an inn, was forced to find work elsewhere when the communists decided to take over operations of his business. He rode his heavy bicycle into a town which was 15 km away in all weather conditions, to work in a bakery for a meager living. He was even told how many animals he was allowed to have in his barn, and sometimes even those would be “re-appropriated” as the government saw fit.
His family kept packed suitcases under their beds, just in case they would get a knock at the door in the middle of the night and taken to a labor camp. You’d have 30 minutes to pack up what was dear to you, and then have to leave—many never seeing their homes again. I imagine that my grandparents lived with fear daily.
Voluntarily leaving was not an option. You were simply not allowed to. Even traveling into the neighboring village required permission.
That’s why in 1956, when the Hungarians rose up against the Soviet occupation, my then middle-aged grandfather was ready to take the most unsafe option he had ever taken in his life. With a suitcase each, the family of 4 walked 25 km across the border to freedom in Austria and began life with nothing except the dream that a better life existed.
Stop for a moment and think of all you own. How bad would it need to be for you to walk away from all of it? What role would you allow fear to play in your decision?
The outcome was happy for my family. My grandfather’s vision was life changing for all of them. There was still hard work and even some hard times. But the life which they came to, ripe with opportunity, and ironically—more safety—was arrived at by making some seriously unsafe choices. I have often wondered what it would have been like for them had they just stuck with the safe option.
I found my answer this past week during our travels back to their village.
You see, despite what would seem obvious to us today, not everyone in the village was willing to walk away from the safe choice. In fact, most did not.
Those who remained seemed content. I guess I’ll never know about the inner life that they lead, but what I do know for sure is that they suffer from lack of opportunity. They look older than they are, have treatable health conditions which have not been treated and have been allowed to progress, and their tomorrow looks the same as their today, with little hope for a life not consumed with hourly wages and time for little else. They dare not hope. They accept their safe world, where at least they have a house and they are not hungry.
We visited with our cousin Maria, age 80, who had the opportunity to escape with her aunt and uncle (my grandmother and grandfather) in 1956. When she saw my father for the first time in 60 years, she exclaimed “November the 4th!” That was the day our family fled from their home, and it was also the day she took the “safe” option to stay behind. Staying behind was a sure thing—a “known.” She was familiar and comfortable with her current circumstance. She reasoned that the situation would eventually change and that things would go back to the way they were and they could get on with their lives and forget about this whole thing.
Except nothing changed for that village. Nothing.
They continued on in hardship for decades until their very souls were destroyed in the process. They were safe. They ate, they had children, the kids went to school and had kids. They had jobs which allowed them to buy food and a car. They traveled once in awhile to a nearby country. And life was predictable and “safe”.
As I sat across from Maria, I imagined her knowing how to speak English, and not being blind, and having teeth. I imagined her in a little town in the USA where she had grandchildren who were discovering their talents and who were planning big things for their own lives. I imagined her being at our family gatherings and laughing. And seeing. I imagined what life would have been for her and for her children and grandchildren had she walked away from “safe”.
You see, fear based choices will eventually suck the very life out of you. They rob you of your destiny—the destiny you are meant to have based on your talents and gifts. They destroy the soul which can propel you higher. They resign you to a life of unfulfilled promise and dampened joy. The safe choice may keep you alive, but it will eventually prevent you from truly living. Making choices based on safety alone is called settling.
For every single one of us, the future is uncertain. We may trick ourselves into thinking that we have some kind of control over it, but the truth is, none of us do. We can save money, make responsible choices, be ethical, and respect the law, but tomorrow is promised to no one. And even if tomorrow comes, it could be very different than the tomorrow you imagine as you read this text.
Furthermore, fear never disappears. It is part of the human condition. If you’re waiting for fear to disappear before you make that brave choice, you’ll be waiting forever. But when we allow fear to lead us, safe choices turn into regrets. When fear is an active participant in our decision making process we are unable to even visualize what could be. Fear stamps on dreams and makes us forget what brings us joy. Fear holds us prisoner and snuffs out our creativity. Allowing fear to lead will eventually destroy our soul.
Rarely do “safe” and “life expanding” come wrapped in the same package. Growth is scary, unpredictable, emotional, and sometimes fraught with failure. But safe choices, ironically, do not guarantee safety or a life without fear.
As we said our goodbyes, Maria said to her cousins, “If you would have stayed, everything would have turned out fine.”
Dear readers, in ten or twenty or sixty years, make choices now on which you can look back and say “I created this life.” Not, “I settled.”