Most people like to live in a safe space of their own design. They don’t want to do anything that will test their abilities, confront ideologies that challenge their worldview, nor will they do anything that others might see as odd or socially unacceptable.
I’m not talking about streaking at a sporting event either.
What I am talking about is quitting your job to pursue a new business venture or expressing an opinion that is not widely held.
These are both very minor things.
They are remarkably unremarkable when you consider that we are all imprisoned on a dying rock that is hurtling through space around a massive nuclear reactor towards a certain fiery explosion.
With that in mind, does the opinion of one person, out of the 7 billion plus people who live on the planet at present, matter?
There really is nothing that you can do in your life that will matter ultimately, for better or worse.
I mean that in the most liberating way possible. Think about it.
There is virtually nothing that you can do that will be remembered 1,000 years from now, no matter how noble or controversial. No one will remember your name – you are brilliantly anonymous and insignificant.
Even things that we consider to be catastrophic don’t really matter in the long run – even less so in the modern world.
Think about the medieval times, where if you failed to repay a debt, the debtor would abduct your firstborn son, or demand your daughter as a wife.
These days, if you don’t repay a debt, you just get a bad credit score.
Even if you really screw up and find yourself behind bars, there is no forced labour in Western prisons anymore – you just get hot meals, a warm bed and a TV. No one expects you to do anything aside from attend a few rehabilitation courses to talk about your feelings, and serve your time. But I will leave a lengthy analysis of liberal prison systems for another post.
Whatever your view on the legal system, this is life on easy mode, where the consequences of a miscalculated decision don’t really matter that much in most situations.
So take that newfound existential nihilism into your decision making.
The truth is that conventionally “safe” living, like having a steady job and pursuing that all-important security, is not safe.
Living in a prison of your own design and refusing to push those limits in favour of your nice cushiony walls and cozy hug-me jacket, while your dreams slowly rot into what could have been, is about the most self-violent, insane decision that you could make.
Of course, always make sure that you are doing things for the right reasons and not hurting anyone. I’m not advocating for anarchy or illegal activity, but allow yourself the breathing space to take a risk on that new career, or to begin that business even though you don’t know if you will succeed.
Your life won’t end if your business fails or your career move turns sour, although it is always a good idea to assess the risk and decide if you can live with the worst case scenario.
Remember to also consider what your life might be like if you don’t take that risk. Will you regret it? Can you live with that worst case scenario as well?
As with most things in life, the best approach is somewhere in the middle.
Think of yourself as a marshmallow.
If you hold a marshmallow too close to the fire, it will crackle, catch fire and taste charred and nasty. If you don’t hold it close enough, it will never have the opportunity to reach its full delicious potential as part of a smore.
It is the same for your own development, and the fire represents the things that you would rather not do, like start that business, or join that gym, or quit your job.
If you go all-in with everything at once, and don’t have at least some contingencies and moderation in your life, you won’t reach your full potential. And what do people say who have been going way too hard for far too long?
They are “burnt out”.
That delicious, sugary coating has been spoiled by the flames of challenge, and the marshmallow is no longer on track to reach its full potential.
In the same way, someone who never takes on anything that is remotely challenging is living life in a packet with all of the other marshmallows who were too timid to face the fire.
They’ll never be a smore.
You need to get proverbially skewered and held up to a fire in order to grow.
I wrote an article recently about how everything appeared to be turning to lemon custard (last dessert reference, I promise). My partner and I were essentially forced to move house on short notice, and a lot of things went wrong along the way. But like being held up to a fire, we would never have made the move to our amazing new house if it wasn’t for that challenge, that flame.
So go out boldly and challenge the world. Just remember to do one thing at a time and give yourself opportunities to cool off, lest you go the way of the charred marshmallow.
To gooey centres.