About Playing It Safe

In my second PCT post, About the Why and Why Now, I wrote about things like daring greatly and pursuing dreams and going for it . . . whatever “it” is for each of us. All of it was very sincere, honest, and a part of my experience and how I seek to pursue life. But today I also want to tell you about how I played it safe. Some of this feels similar to what I wrote about daring greatly, however, maybe it’s a bit of a different angle that will connect with someone in a way the second post didn’t.

As I write this post it is exactly 11 months since I left for the PCT. As I was preparing to go last year, I would say there was 91.2% pure excitement surrounding what was about to happen. Then there were the days or random moments where I wondered, “Can I do this?” “Am I crazy?” “Am I being irresponsible to quit my job?” “What if I get out there and hate it, don’t want to keep going, or want to quit?” “What if I can’t finish?”

So I played it safe. I let myself want it . . . but not TOO much. I would get excited and dream about the finish . . . but always with the reminder that I might not get there. I told myself to hold it loosely and be okay with not finishing.

Conversations with people before I left generally went something like this:

Person: Wow, you’re doing PCT! The whole thing?”
Me: “Well, that’s the goal but it’s a really long trail and I’ve never done anything like this so we’ll see what happens.”

I’m sure some of you heard this safe response from me.

Part of this is the reality of the trail. There are things that can happen, elements are out of our control, people get hurt and sick. I knew there was a possibility that I could be one of those people–something might happen to me that ended the journey. I wasn’t confident in my body’s ability to handle it.

However, part of this was that I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to say I was going to do something and then not have it come together. I didn’t want to get out there, hate it, and then come off the trail having not done it. If I really believed I would finish, it would hurt worse when it didn’t happen. I protected my heart, and my reputation of being someone who does what she says, told myself that it might not work out, and put some back-up plans in place–safety nets for the just in case.

Some of this self-protection comes from past experiences, times when things didn’t work out even when I really wanted them to or believed they would. This self-protection skewed my anticipation for the PCT. I anticipated the hard things that could happen instead of focusing on the potentially incredible opportunities that were also sure to be part of the journey.

Also, this “playing it safe” comes from my own understanding of how my personality works. There are these things called “high expectations” and I like to reach them all . . . even the expectations that are unrealistic. Over time, the striving can be exhausting. My expectations for myself on the PCT were extremely high and I was trying to rein them in a bit. In this sense, taking a cautious approach wasn’t necessarily a bad thing–after all, having realistic goals is important. But in some ways it was self-protection and not living wholeheartedly wearing the disguise of “realistic goals.”

I remember the moment when I realized I could and would finish the trail. I was entering the Northern California section, hiking by myself that day, and broke into a big smile. My body and mind were strong. I was in my element, feeling like I was created to be hiking the PCT at that moment. I was exceeding my expectations. I knew without a doubt that I was going to thru-hike the PCT. There were two things at that point that might stop me: injury and if I didn’t stay strong mentally. I felt confident about staying in it mentally. With my track record of being clumsy and tripping, injury was definitely a possibility (my friend Rachel can fill you in on some good stories)! I chose to not think about that!

This moment on the trail felt like a big transition for me. I hiked differently after that. I wasn’t playing it safe anymore. I chose to believe it was going to happen, that I would reach the end of the trail, and I allowed myself to get excited about it.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. About how the way I live when I play it safe is drastically different than the way I live when it’s with my whole heart. About how it affects my relationships, job performance, lifestyle, decisions, and how I love and care for people. I hold back when I play it safe. I might not hurt as much if I don’t get too excited about the possibilities. When I’m in 100% I find more joy, more freedom, more drive, more confidence, and more hope.

I thought about this on the trail, too. One particular day on the last section of trail in Yosemite National Park I had a realization. Every time I came around a bend in the trail on the PCT, I anticipated and believed that what was coming was the best view, more beauty, and another great moment. Even if the trail was difficult or I was tired I still anticipated good things up ahead. As I reflected on my life “trail” I realized so often I’m anticipating that what is coming is going to be hard, another challenge, something that isn’t going to work out the way I hoped.


Anticipating good things up ahead.

I recognize that there are terrible experiences that happen to people. There are reasons we play it safe, self-protect, anticipate hard things, and hold back about getting too excited about what we really want. It’s hard to be excited about what’s around the bend when we’ve learned that sometimes what’s ahead is difficult. I know this and feel the pull to play life in defense mode sometimes, too.

But then I have these moments of life and get glimpses of what it can be to live and love wholeheartedly, to anticipate goodness and beauty around the corner, to acknowledge the failure, hurt, and fear but not let it have power over how I live . . . I know this is how I want to operate. Can I posture myself in this way?

It can be a risky and sometimes scary way to live, which runs counter to many pieces of my personality.  Is it worth it, though? I believe it is. When I have made the choice to live this way, it certainly has felt like it’s worth the risk. Maybe I won’t be able to do it all the time, but I’m going to continue trying.

How have you played it safe lately? How do you anticipate what’s coming around the bend? What holds you back from pursuing experiences and dreams with your whole heart? What differences do you notice when you jump into things fully and when you play it safe? As you continue on your journey, may you find the courage to be hopeful about what’s coming your way down the trail.



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