You’ve heard it said, “you can’t be too careful” but I just don’t think that’s true. In fact, I’m starting to see how living life too carefully is the fastest way to get a life that is boring and empty of the things I care the most about.
I’ve lived most of my life really carefully.
I was careful about money and careful about friends (I didn’t want to get mixed up with the “wrong crowd”) and careful about each decision I made. I obsessed over where to go to college, and what jobs to take or not take, and always wanted to make sure everything was logical and in-a-row.
I don’t know where this inclination came from in me. It doesn’t even match my personality (I’m more creative and absentminded) but maybe that’s why I decided it was so important to be careful.
I was convinced that, if I was careful, everything would fall into place.
So I went to college and got good grades, and then went to graduate school just for good measure. I got a job with great benefits and a good retirement package and kept a big buffer in my savings account. I was meticulous about charting my spending. I never bought anything that wasn’t on sale.
Because, well, you can never be too careful.
I kept huge margins in my schedule and made sure I went to bed at 9pm every night. I worked out everyday, without fail, and only ate certain foods, both for health reasons, and for vanity reasons (I didn’t want to gain weight). I wouldn’t go on trips, or to other people’s houses, because you never know what kind of food they might serve there.
I was single, and wanted to be married, but rarely went on group outings, or talked to people I didn’t already know, or accepted dates.
Stranger danger, you know. Safety first.
You can never be too careful, I told myself.
The problem is, after years and years of being so careful, I got to a place in my life where I realized that, although I had this perceived control over my environment, I didn’t really like any of it. I wasn’t getting what I wanted. My life felt pretty meaningless and white-washed. The things I cared about most seemed out of my reach.
So I decided to do something completely un-careful. In fact, it was the most careless thing I have ever done. I decided to quit my job, move out of my apartment, sell everything I owned and spent the next year of my life traveling across the country so I could write a book about it.
It was literally the least careful thing I had ever done, but it was also the most rewarding and wonderful and fulfilling.
And, if I had approached the trip carefully, I wouldn’t have gone.
In fact, weeks before the trip happened I nearly backed out in the name of being careful. I was planning to travel with a friend, so I invited her to coffee and told her I had thought a lot about it, and I didn’t want to go. I had my list of reasons. We could run out of money, I told her. Our car could break down. Or (my personal favorite excuse): If I left home now, I would never find a husband.
I’m not sure where I got the idea that I couldn’t get married if I was busy living my life, but that was my strange and unhelpful conclusion.
That was my way of being careful.
And yet, what is most shocking to me about this realization is that most of what I love about my life now, I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for that trip: My job (writing). My home (Nashville). My husband (we met because of an article I wrote about the trip online). I think there’s something powerful about taking our focus off of what we don’t want, and putting it on what we do want.
What if we lived our lives like that—not being careful to avoid anything but being intentional to point ourselves toward what really matters?
I have a friend named Daniel who talks about being mindful—
And, for me, that’s a much better word than careful. When I’m living my life careful to avoid the things I don’t want to happen, strangely, I end up getting them anyway. Have you ever noticed this? When I’m scared of regretting a decision, I’m much more likely to end up regretting it. When I’m scared of saying something stupid, I’m much more likely to put my foot in my mouth.
And yet, when I live my life mindful of what I care about, where I’m headed, what I really want, I have this strange and totally awesome tendency to move toward it.
These days, I try not to be too careful. If I find myself talking or thinking about being “careful” to avoid something bad, I remind myself to reframe that. I ask myself what I really want out of my life.
I fix my mind on that thing and work to move toward it.