sail boat under the storm, detail on the winchOur culture loves superheroes – the ones who fight fierce demons, go where no one has gone, and help save the planet.

Superheroes are willing to take on big risks for big causes.

If you ask a super hero to choose between going off to high seas or staying in safe harbors, you could imagine her answer. Because no one got to be an action hero, by staying near the shore!

But wait – don’t superheroes ever take naps or just chill out for a while?

After all, didn’t Superman spend much of his time as mild mannered Clark Kent?

Safety is much underrated.

Three years ago I was craving the high seas. I turned 60, dove into improv theatre, and even started clowning (a CRASH course in the art of being vulnerable in public.)

I was having a ball jumping into new challenges.

Last month, I surprised myself when a good friend suggested a new clowning class. I heard myself grilling her about the instructor,  “Is he supportive? Encouraging? Positive? Kind?”

I was steering the boat towards a safe harbor.

With all the excitement and work that’s come with re-launching my business over the past couple of years (Webpage! Social media! New worlds!), not to mention a couple of health-related episodes with my husband, I don’t need thrills and spills.

My riding instructor has even lowered my jumps.

I treasure the quiet times when I can sit, alone in my cabin, with a cup of green tea, and just write.

Even though choosing safety doesn’t sound sexy.

I crave the adventure of the high seas AND the safety of the harbors. They’re a polarity – representing the tension between risk and safety we carry within us all the time.

The Castle versus the Battlefield

My friend, the great organizational consultant Roger Harrison, (who, sadly, recently passed away ) used the metaphor of the “battlefield and the castle” when talking about organizational change.

When you’re on the battlefield, personally or organizationally – you’re breaking ground, upsetting the status quo, provoking dissension and asking people to change.

In the safe castle, behind the moat, you stabilize the system, breathe out, find harmony, consolidate and acknowledge your gains, and restore your balance.

Trouble is, some organizations (and people!), never have much time for life in the castle. High stakes projects follow high stakes projects – and relentless change becomes the new normal.

There’s no time to breathe out.

The BOHICA organization

Years ago, when coaching a group of health care managers about change leadership, I felt a giant smirk fill the air. “What are you laughing at,” I asked.

“Oh you’re talking about BOHICA!”

They translated: “Bend Over Here It Comes Again”.

Constant change had left them jaded.

When we want more risk

But risk has its place. If our lives or organizations become too calm, complacent or easy, we can stagnate.

I once asked the mother of Todd Trewin, the Olympic equestrian, how Todd found the courage to start jumping the challenging and often unforgiving advanced cross country jumps. (I can’t imagine ever taking a horse over them.) She told me, “The other jumps got to be too easy for him.”

Maybe that’s how you know when it’s time to go back to sea.

Fear is not our friend

Too much stress or too much fear takes its toll. We stop thinking clearly and become dull. When my horse is scared, she stops learning. She remembers her primal script: “Get me out of here”.

Humans are more nuanced, trying to hide their fears or channel them (aghh) into trying to control others.

Our nervous systems need an occasional break. It’s OK to feel safe. There’s good stuff to do in the harbor: hang out at the dock, grab a drink, read a book, or go exploring!

 

Will I take the clowning course? I’ll let you know.