Walt Kelly is generally credited with the saying We have met the enemy, and he is us. Have you ever felt that way? It’s usually a true assessment. One way this plays out is when we have an obsession with security. It stops us from succeeding in reaching our goals.
“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” – Tacitus, senator and historian in the Roman Empire
It’s possible to embrace this thinking intellectually, but at some deep emotional/psychological level, it’s akin to navigating through the Himalayas on foot.
If we hope to succeed in life, and achieve happiness on a deeper level, this is an obsession we need to confront. It comes at us from different angles, and it almost always keeps us from getting where we want to go. It’s a real form of self-sabotage.
Let’s take a close look at the obsession with security.
Fear of Fear Itself and How it Paralyzes Us
Fear itself is paralyzing. But there’s also fear of fear. As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Though it sounds like semantics, there’s powerful substance behind that observation.
Fear is an unpleasant emotion. We might go to great lengths just to avoid feeling it. The paralyzation comes from not wanting to act, out of the belief that action will lead us right into what it is we fear.
Some examples of how this plays out include:
- Not investing your money out of fear of losing it.
- Not applying for new jobs out of fear of not being hired.
- Failing to go for a promotion out of fear of being turned down.
- Not taking a promising new job out of the fear you might fail and lose it.
- Avoiding getting married, out of fear it will end in divorce.
- Not going on a diet out of fear it will disrupt your life.
In each case, a potentially productive venture is not undertaken out of fear that something bad will happen.
It’s hard to know the forces that create fear in us. Some of it has to do with personal experience. There’s also personal insecurity. And we can’t know how much our genetic programing contributes to fear.
One problem is that our culture specializes in fear. Look around, and you’ll notice how many TV programs, products, services and political campaigns are based on fear. It’s a powerful motivator.
Marketers and politicians are well aware of this. They sow seeds of fear as a way of drawing people to their political platforms, products or services. The message is always be afraid, be very afraid.
Some of that is obviously necessary for survival. But an excess of fear is completely counterproductive.
Pursuing Security is Like Condemning Yourself to Purgatory
This is a very real conundrum. If we pursue safety and security as a primary goal, we may avoid the pain of failure and uncertainty. But at the same time, we lose the highs that come with accomplishment, as well as the greater sense of self-esteem accomplishment produces.
As I’ve found in my own life, overcoming adversity is incredibly empowering. But you can’t know what that’s like until you put yourself at risk, overcome the obstacles, and find some level of success.
Simply minimizing risk throughout your life does little more than keep you exactly where you’re at now. Perhaps some people are okay with that arrangement, but I suspect most aren’t.
Motivational speaker Wayne Dyer once referred to risk avoidance as paying non-risk taking dividends, or something similar. The main pay off being that avoiding risk equals avoiding failure, and the pain that comes with it. Avoiding risk, he said, avoids the embarrassment and loss of esteem that often comes with failure.
At the same time, it leads to a muddling through lifestyle. It’s more about settling than pursuing something better.
It’s Not Just a Saying – There Truly is No Security!
What makes the pursuit of security so hopeless is that it’s actually an illusion. It really is true, there is no security. People don’t like to think about this, but each of our lives will end in death. The pursuit of security is at least partially an attempt to minimize the risk of death – which is healthy to a point. But it’s completely counterproductive when taken too far.
The reality is that you can’t prevent your own death, no matter how much security you try to build into your life. I suspect that many people with high security drives have this fantasy that they can cheat death by building some kind of moat around their lives. It won’t happen. But it’s something we all need to consider as a potential for what motivates us.
Ironically, a big part of living life to the fullest is letting go. It’s coming to a point where you begin to accept life as it really is. That means recognizing the reality that bad things will happen in spite of our best efforts. Our best response is to learn to live at peace with that idea, and find meaning and happiness in the midst of it.
Surrounding ourselves with security isn’t the way to do that. The pursuit of security itself has a way of becoming a prison.
Finding Happiness by Taking Chances
I only began to find happiness in my life and in myself when I started taking chances. As I’ve written on this site before, when my mortgage career crashed in 2008, I found myself with nowhere to go. I was in a doomed career, in a really bad economy, with no job waiting in the wings. The only alternative was to create a whole new way to make a living.
That’s the kind of thing you can only do when you’re either a) completely desperate, and/or b) ready to let go. I was both, and I think that’s a major reason why it all worked out for me.
Believe me, when your career comes crashing down around you, you begin to question everything you thought you knew. You begin to accept that there really are no rules. And if you’re lucky, you recognize and appreciate that you need to reinvent yourself.
It’s possible that you could die a slow occupational death in what appears to be a secure career. It’s equally possible that you can create the life of your dreams pursuing what it is you actually want to do. Most of us don’t give ourselves permission to do that. As well, the system – particularly education – teaches us from an early age to avoid risk by preparing for predictable careers.
That leaves us woefully unprepared when circumstances change for the worse. The lack of flexibility, as well as the inability to give ourselves permission to take chances, become obstacles to forward progress.
It’s the security illusion in motion. We think will be “safe” if only we play it close to the vest.
Time’s a Wastin’
When you come to appreciate that life truly is short, it changes your perspective. Security doesn’t matter as much, because you accept that it will all end the same way.
Psalm 90:12 tells us “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Wisdom? Absolutely. If we accept from the beginning that life is short, we’ll live differently. For starters, we’ll begin to appreciate the value of today, rather than agonizing over the past, or dreading/embellishing the future. It’ll bring us closer to God, since we’ll realize the reality of our own mortality. We’ll treat people better, as we accept the brevity of life and our shared mortality. And we’ll be more willing to take chances, recognizing that the pursuit of security is mostly an empty promise.
There’s also the inertia factor. If you seek security early in life, you may not appreciate it even when you reach your early goals. That’s because people who pursue security tend to do so throughout their lives. It’s not something that can be easily turned off when you reach Level X in your life. Trends and habits started early in life quickly turn into lifestyles.
Before you know it, you’re full-time resident of Purgatory.
Along the way, the days and years are passing. You may accumulate more material possessions, but in the process, you never really test yourself and find out who you really are, and what you’re really about.
Why is this important? Because in the final analysis, having a lot of stuff – including money – doesn’t necessarily make us feel better about ourselves.
Overcoming an Obsession with Security
If you’re already obsessed with security, either because of personal experience, early training by family and the education establishment, or factors you don’t quite understand, you can overcome it. And you owe it to yourself to try.
One of my favorite televangelists is Joyce Meyer. A friend gave me one of her books about 17 years ago. I read it, and then my wife and I began watching her sermons on TV, as well as buying several of her books. One of my favorite of her sermons is her Living Without Fear Sermon 2018 (it’s actually more of a podcast because there is no video).
Early in the sermon she repeats three times, Be bold, be bold, be bold! That’s a simple but powerful message. We sometimes misconstrue boldness as being confrontational. But in most cases, it’s a method of approaching life. Do we approach it with fear of the unknown, or with faith in ourselves and in our Creator?
We can all choose the latter.
It can be a tough transition to make, if that hasn’t been your style to this point. In my own life, I found there’s no downside to being bold – but plenty to gain. Sometimes all you have to do is ask, and you’ll get what you want. Many of us are afraid to ask for what we want, out of fear of being perceived as selfish. But there’s rational selfishness, and spoiled selfishness. There’s nothing wrong with rational selfishness, in fact, it’s the only way to move forward.
Transitioning from an Obsession with Security – to a Life of Letting Go
If you haven’t been that way so far, take it in small steps, and see what happens. I think you’ll be impressed at the results.
Try these steps:
- Make it a habit to try something new every week. The purpose is to experiment. Most of what you try, you might not want to do again. But you’ll pick up a few things you’ll find stimulating and want to continue. In this way, you’ll develop adaptability (security = rigid, letting go = flexibility).
- Dust off a career or business idea, and give yourself permission to pursue it, if only on a part-time basis.
- Dare to believe that God is real (seriously). Divine things begin to happen when you do.
- Pick a new skill and learn it.
- Be purposeful about meeting new people. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the interactions. It may even begin to change your perception of people in general.
- Try expressing your feelings to someone you never have before.
- Forgive yourself and others for past transgressions.
These are just some small steps you can take on an ongoing basis. More than anything else, it’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone. I’ve actually taken every one of these steps, and they’ve all brought me to a better place.
One negative: I find myself moving farther away from people with entrenched thinking.
Trust me, as you move closer toward letting go, entrenched thinking becomes increasingly weird.
Security Proper Use
Does all this mean that security has no purpose in our lives? This is where this gets a bit sticky.
Each of us needs to build some degree of certainty into our lives. I’m not talking about absolute certainty – that doesn’t exist, and it’s the kind not even worth pursuing.
For example, you may set as an overriding goal accumulating a $1 million investment portfolio for your retirement. If that’s easily doable in your life, go for it. But you don’t need that kind of money to be happy in life. And you always have to weigh the cost – in terms of time, effort and sacrifice – to reach that kind of goal.
But what I’m really talking about is relative certainty. That’s mostly about giving yourself enough breathing room to live comfortably and maneuver with relative ease. Always keep in mind that while $100,000 might make you feel relatively secure, having $1 million won’t make you feel 10 times more secure.
Creating Your Own Safety Net
Everyone needs a parachute or two. Here are some examples:
- Have enough money saved to cover 3-6 month’s living expenses. That will cover you for any short-term income disruptions, as well as help you to sleep better at night (very important!)
- Make a concentrated effort to clear away any debt that’s troubling you. Debt can be paralyzing, and while it isn’t always possible to get rid of it entirely, you can usually drop it down to a more workable level.
- Develop a “fall-back skill”. That’s something that’ll enable you to at least make a living, even if it isn’t your dream career.
- Embrace being able to live on what you earn, even at a low level. This is a life skill everyone needs to learn.
- Reduce or eliminate anything or any expense(s) that’s hobbling your life.
- Create and actively maintain a network of family, friends, coworkers and business contacts you can turn to for help along the path of life.
These may seem like small accomplishments, especially when taken individually. But it’s worth noting that many – maybe most – people never get that far.
The ultimate purpose of the Safety Net isn’t to create a place to park your life – that’s part and parcel of the obsession with security.
Some people are in high income/low cost lifestyles that enable them to achieve financial independence and even early retirement. But most people don’t fall into that category. The Safety Net concept is for that majority who don’t.
With Your Safety Net in Place Be Ready to Take Off
Once you have your Safety Net in place, what matters most is where you go from there. The real purpose of the Safety Net is to give yourself a spring board to launch toward bigger and better things. We all need a limited amount of security, but it should never be a controlling goal. That’s exactly what keeps people from moving forward.
Once you have your Safety Net ducks in a row, you should begin purposefully pursuing your bigger goals in life. Here are some examples:
- You’ve thought about losing weight, getting in shape, then writing a book or getting into the fitness business – now go for it!
- You have a business idea you’ve been sitting on for years – now go for it!
- Deep inside, you’re dying to make a career change – now go for it!
- You have a creative skill you’ve been wanting to try – stand-up comedy, gourmet cooking, photography, creating videos – now go for it!
With your Safety Net firmly in place, you should begin actively pursuing your goals and dreams. But this is where most people drop the ball! Don’t let an obsession with security keep you from moving forward.
Once you have the basics covered, you can begin pursuing your goals and dreams with reckless abandon. After all, since there is no security, there’s nothing to lose by pursuing your passions. You can start doing that a little bit at a time, and you’ll begin building confidence and momentum. Trust me, once you get rolling all the resources you’ll need will be there when needed.
At that point you’ll come to realize that the only security is forward motion, and you’ll already be on your way.
Have you ever felt that an obsession with security might be holding you back in life?