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The Risk of Taking the Safe Route

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe safest route in life is to have low expectations for yourself and others, to set only achievable goals (or maybe no goals at all), and to take the proven path. The safe route assures that you are, well, safe, but almost never brings you (0r anyone following you) to a place that’s meaningful or makes a true difference.

Yet as leaders, should this type of safety (ours and others) be our over arching goal?  Is it possible to lead, to make a real difference in the world and in the lives of others,  and, at the same time, take the safe path?  The answer is a resounding no.  Leaders, by definition, take action to change and improve today for a better tomorrow, all the while inspiring others to do the same.  To this end, leaders are willing to carry the pain, do the hard work and, ultimately, risk complete and utter failure to see a better future become a reality.

Reaching higher is always a risky proposition,  but with risk comes great returns.  Safety instead of risk means a life with no lasting rewards, only temporary comfort.  Our son Mitch, a student at the United States Naval Academy, was, as a Plebe, required to memorize the following quote from Teddy Roosevelt –

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

And there’s a reason all Midshipmen are required to memorize this statement.  To attend the USNA, to dare to put one’s self in an incredibly competitive and pressure filled environment, to be subject to discipline, hardship, and a career requiring one to take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States with one’s life, is a huge risk.  But the potential reward is incredible, for themselves and, more importantly, for others and for the world.

So here’s the bottom line – we’re given only one life on this earth to live,  one life to eternally impact others,  one life to explore this planet, and one life at changing the world. We can choose to avoid the potential risks of reaching higher but we can never live free of all risks.  Because when we take the safe route we take the significantly bigger risk of living in that gray twilight where there is no loss nor any lasting reward.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Very timely Michael…I needed this today. Leaders need to ‘find’ the courage to go where they know they need to go.

    February 24, 2016
    • Hi Dave, glad it was timely. I wrote it because it was timely reminder for myself as well.

      February 25, 2016
  2. Matt #

    Right on Mike! Finishing up “A Failure of Nerve” by Friedman, and he speaks much about how our society has been transformed because of leaders’ willingness to head into uncertainty and challenge. He also speaks clearly about what happens when leaders don’t.

    February 25, 2016
    • Thanks Matt for the book recommendation. I’ll have to read the Failure of Nerve. Sounds like a great book.

      February 25, 2016
  3. Michael Smith #

    One of my favorite posts from you lately Michael. So much so that I had to tell you even while we are on a ship in the middle of the ocean… 🙂

    Michael R. Smith Founder and CEO, Designvox

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    February 25, 2016
    • Mike, you’ve been a big part of this story and why I felt I needed to write this. We’re on a great adventure together.

      February 25, 2016
  4. Linda Fletke #

    Hello Michael,
    Thank you for these words of encouragement. I needed them today as I am heading to China to recruit exchange students to come to East Kentwood! I heard that you and Denise were back in town – Owen and I would love to see you!
    Take care,
    Linda

    February 26, 2016
    • Hi Linda, Denise and I would love to see you and Owen, let’s plan on that when you’re back from China. Have a successful trip, glad this post encouraged you.

      February 26, 2016

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