Is there a risk factor I’m not aware of? Am I being too careful? What factors can or can’t I control? Being afraid isn’t always a bad thing.
The story of Security vs. Risk probably began in childhood, but for these purposes, it began in Tucson, Arizona with a list: Michelle’s 6-point Life Improvement Plan. On the list: “improve sense of personal safety.” Implementing the Plan was the first time I’d stated my intention to make a change, discover what needed to happen, and explore why it was on the list in the first place.
When I made the list, I was thinking about physical safety. The advice I found about personal safety in the outdoors fell into a few buckets: preparedness (can do), self-defense (can do), and psyching oneself up to feel more secure (could not do). The “just feel safe” advice simply didn’t work, because it was too one-sided; it didn’t take into account real life and actual risk, the same way “just be happy” advice minimizes truly sad things. Being sad about sad things is normal!
While I struggled with the “feelings” part of it, I decided to take a “counter-intuitive” tack (as the “just feel safe” people would say) and got better at preparedness and self-defense. My outlook radically improved, and I felt much more confident. But I knew I had more work to do.
Being afraid of scary things is normal, too. Was I being too afraid? I needed better advice. Finally I found Michael Bane’s book Trail Safe, a groundbreaking book about realistically evaluating, managing and preparing for risk in the outdoors. Guess what? Feeling apprehensive or afraid is normal and functional (up to a point). I try to approach life from love, not fear, but fear isn’t always a totally bad thing. Sometimes it’s a gift.
Trail Safe, and Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, as well as Cody Lundin’s When All Hell Breaks Loose, enabled me to start teasing apart the unreasonable fears from the reasonable ones, so I could better identify when fears stopped being functional. I’ve gotten better at evaluating what percentage of uncertainty comes from me, and how much comes from my environment. I’m reminded that my intuition—which is very strong—is a powerful force that has my best interests at heart, and I was better equipped than I thought.
I learned that I need to see that a solution truly acknowledges the problem before I can have confidence in it. Do I still pay attention when I’m walking to my car in the parking lot? Yes. The universe is basically a benevolent place, but the risk isn’t zero.
Since then, after exploring what personal safety meant to me, I started thinking about the other ways I felt secure or insecure: emotionally, financially, and so on. Improving my financial security and resolving uncertainty in my living arrangements, on the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, helped me “level up” and feel more secure overall.
I still spend a lot of time working to become less risk-averse, more resilient and more risk-tolerant. I’ve come to trust my own feelings, judgement, intuition, and experience more. Whether it’s due to personal growth or maturity, I now know I am not adrift; I have a paddle. Like the seagull, I may lose my balance, or make an awkward landing, but I still have wings, and they work! So I should stretch them more often.