When the kids were young, we would send them out into the back yard to play with the caution, “Be careful,” almost as if we were cheerfully calling out, “Have fun.” It was an automatic response without thought as to what we were actually communicating. Being careful is a reasonable way to approach life until we realize that “Careful” actually means “Care full.” Full of care. And that’s often how we walk through life, with constant angst just beneath the surface.
Being careful becomes a way of life.
Our culture reflects this with insurance designed to eliminate all threats. Risk management departments design systems to keep all peril at bay. We will go to almost any length to avoid the possibility of the unexpected. We have plans and contingency plans and contingencies to the contingencies. All for naught. Right when we think we are prepared for every conceivable likelihood, something we didn’t anticipate happens, thus compelling us to be even more careful the next time. We are caught in a never-ending spiral of anxiety and fear.
What if we took a different tact?
What if we began to embrace uncertainty and enjoy the unexpected? Planning and prudence are valuable as long as we are not lulled into a false sense of security. In this life, there is no such thing as fail-safe security. Even if there were, such a life would be boring. Katharine Hathaway said, “If you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”Interestingly, she lived a full life in spite of significant disabilities that could have easily warranted being extra careful.
My daughter Perrin was the epitome of one who lived boldly. After being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and after beginning grueling chemotherapy, when caution cried out to stay at home where it was safe, she returned to college to get her degree. She married in the midst of her battle even though she had no guarantees or assurances. We traveled with her and her husband to Ireland creating forever memories, though we were not sure if she was physically able to handle the rigor. She lived extraordinary years in the midst of cancer by balancing prudence with possibility. She taught me so much!
Don’t be careful!
Ironically, the older we get, the more inclined we are to be care-ful. Much of that is understandable, but much of that is regrettable. As I enter into my sixties, I hope to become more carefree, not more careful.
I imagine that if we could step back and look at ourselves objectively, we would realize that much of our carefulness is unnecessary disguised anxiety. This cautiousness chokes the joy out of life. Life is not meant to be lived defensively.
I want to encourage you to step back and look at your choices in life. Are they rooted in fear or rooted in the belief of possibility? If you find, as I often do, that I have fallen into patterns of unwarranted carefulness, then resist that tendency. Build a new habit of adventure! Step into the unknown a little. Small steps make a difference. Go to a new restaurant. Travel to a different place. Volunteer for a new need. These may seem small and insignificant, but those small steps tell our subconscious that we are not afraid. Soon, our subconscious will begin to obey our actions as we learn that life is to be relished, not feared.