Safe will never get you to awesome
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them – Henry David Thoreau
You don’t have to look too far these days to find someone with a dream left un-pursued or a passion ignored. Life tends to get in the way. They get a safe job at a big company, start a family and before they know it, they are retiring and too tired to pursue any of the crazy adventures they dreamt up while they were a whippersnapper.
Sounds familiar right?
The safe path can be alluring and it’s kind of what you are expected to do. Career counselors guide you towards tried and tested professions. Similarly, most parents dream you will grow up to be a doctor, lawyer or consultant. All perfectly safe choices.
The thing is, the safe path is not really all that safe anymore. Gone are the days when a job was for life. Anyone who worked at Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Enron and a host of other huge and seemingly ‘safe’ companies will tell you that, as will the many millions who were laid off in the recent global financial crisis. To give you some perspective on what’s happened since the financial crisis, a recent study showed that 1 in 7 employees were made redundant in the UK since 2008, and the US economy supposedly lost 8 million jobs over the same period.
Safe is safe… until it isn’t.
And when the economy isn’t kicking you in the butt, there are a couple of billion Indians and Chinese eager to take your job, and probably for less money than you are currently making. Welcome to the global economy.
A perfect example of my issue with the ‘safe’ path is the example of the thanksgiving turkey. From birth until the last day of its life, the turkey has a very predictable, safe routine. Wake up, get fed, gobble around, get fed again, do some more gobbling, get fed one last time and then go back to the coop for some shuteye. Only, today is different. Today, the turkey loses its neck.
OK, at this point I have to stress that choosing between the path of safe and awesome is a first world problem. Over 1 billion people earn less than $1.25 per day, and roughly 4 billion earn less than $6 per day. If you are reading this you can count your lucky sperm you are where you are. In my humble opinion, given that you have the world at your feet, you should attempt to live a life of awesome, and it’s a total waste not to at least attempt it.
The really crazy thing is that the difference between safe and awesome can be amazingly small, and it’s not determined by money or talent – you can have a serious lack of both and still dominate the path of awesome. The key thing you absolutely need is persistence and focus. An extra hour or two here and there planning the stuff you really care about when your friends are out having a good time. Enough resilience to handle the rejections you get along the way so that each ‘no’ simply gets you closer to ‘yes’.
The difficult thing about the path to awesome is that it isn’t a straight line from start to finish, and its not always clear how you get to where you want to be – as is shown really well by the graphic below.
To be clear, being on the path to awesome really has nothing to do with money. Even though the graphic above focuses on those who have climbed to the top of their game and are most likely fabulously wealthy. Most didn’t start wealthy. Some, like JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame, were in a pretty desperate situation before they made it big.
Being on the path to awesome can mean a lot of things. It could be owning a extreme sports bikini label in the Dominican Republic, a bed and breakfast in Thailand, making a living selling your own paintings or writing, or something entirely wacky, wild or hands-down crazy. It’s just whatever you do to follow your dreams and passion. Whatever gets you up on Mondays excited about the week, whatever erases the distinction between work and fun, whatever fills your life with purpose.
But wait. You see that the path of awesome has the potential to be awesome, but you aren’t sure the risk is worth the reward??
I understand your concern. It is hard to be focused and persistent for long periods of time. The graph below illustrates how much focus and persistence you might need to get to where you want to be.
The path to awesome is definitely not a cake walk. It can be kind of hard, particularly at the beginning. Malcolm Ryen can tell you all about how hard it can be given the six years it took him to set up Fanjove private island in Tanzania. Now that Fanjove is up and running, things are great. But it took a huge amount of persistence to get there.
So, let’s put all the cards on the table. What should you expect in pursuing the path of awesome?
So not everything will be peaches, and there will be times when you absolutely want to give up. In those dark times when you doubt yourself and question why you aren’t pursuing the safe path and the white picket fence (like all your friends), remind yourself that your dreams are worth it, that you only get one life, one chance, and that if you don’t pursue your dreams, no one is going to do it for you.
And as a little extra shove for those that are wavering… when others openly doubt you, when they belittle your attempts to pursue the path of awesome, when they try to pigeon hole you, or tell you it’s not possible; think of these two truly awesome quotes:
There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing – Aristotle
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat – Theodore Roosevelt
To those that are on the safe path, and want to get off it – what stops you from making the jump to awesome? To those on the path of awesome, I’d like to hear your stories of sacrifices, and what made it all worthwhile in the end.