I am a person who plays it safe. Even as a little girl I was the responsible one, the one who took care of others. I was the eight year old, pushing thirty-five, who made sure her Mum took her medication on time and who always, always wanted to do things properly.
If anyone asked me how I was, I would always say “I’m fine” with a big smile on my face – and most of the time I was. Confidence was what all the teachers said I needed; confidence in myself. Imagine a big syringe injecting you with confidence one said. They were trying to help I’m sure, but I never did like needles.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun. I laughed till I couldn’t breathe most days, I danced on the stage and I cartwheeled till the sky was a turquoise blur. These things though were all within my safety zone, they took place at home, with family or with a small group of friends.
Stepping out into the world of university was a huge deal for me. It was like the ground had dropped away from beneath me and I couldn’t eat for three days, a totally alien concept to a girl who can number chocolate as among her first words. However, I settled in, I got my degree, my first job, a relationship, a life.
It was a very safe life though. The same job for 16 years, I rarely travelled, I never dyed my hair, I never did anything unexpected and I stayed in my zone. I felt like if I just behaved, if I played by the rules, if I did my best then surely things would go ok for me. They had to, right?
Then I lost my Mum and six months later my Dad. I didn’t have any children, I didn’t enjoy corporate life. I knew I wanted something else. I knew I wanted to write and teach others and break free from the constraints of sitting in endless meetings at work and constantly feeling less than. Less than everyone else, that’s what I always felt.
So slowly, and safely, I started to build a business on the side. I learned the skills I needed to create websites, to market, to write successfully. I felt alive doing these things and the funny thing is that all the traits in myself which I had always looked down on, reliability, patience, empathy, they actually became strengths in this new career of mine.
I could have gone on like that for a long time, corporate life all day, working all night on my business – and in fact I did. Nearly three years – and then came that final push that I mentioned in the title. Now if you are expecting something dramatic, you are going to be sorely disappointed, this is me we are talking about here.
I was sitting at my desk at work one day, really not wanting to be there. The same daily thoughts of discontent were running through my head, when I suddenly thought about time. Time ticking away that can never be brought back. Our lives are so precious to us and yet we waste them sometimes in the most mundane of ways. As I thought about those seconds, minutes, hours and days spent sitting somewhere I really didn’t want to be, I knew I couldn’t waste any more time.
My business might not work out, I may not succeed. But what was the alternative? Sitting at that desk for another 10 or 20 years? Reaching retirement age and never having taken another single step towards what I really wanted? I typed up my resignation letter, I handed it in and I took the step.
It was the best thing I ever could have done. I felt free, and I felt confident.
Now the cautious me, needs to tell you that you don’t need to do the same. You might not want to leave your job and you might have an entirely different purpose for your life. Even if that is what you want to do, I had at least a year’s savings to get me through those first few months and you should take every precaution to ensure that you will be ok.
What I will say though, is that if there is something that you have always wanted to do, whether it’s a new career, setting up a business, asking someone out, travelling, painting – then try it. Take the step. Cautiously at first, maybe running your business alongside a job, or traveling to the nearest big city before you plan your trek around the world, but take it nonetheless.
If you are like me you might even find that some of the things you don’t like about yourself are in fact strengths, they just needed to be utilised in the right way. Since that time well over two years ago I have grown in ways I could never have imagined. It’s been very tough sometimes, but I’ve never heard the clock ticking, because I’ve always been focused on a purpose and something that I love.
I’ve also realised that being a person who plays it safe is actually ok. “It takes all kinds of people to make a world” as my Nan used to say. Embrace the person you are and allow others to be who they are.
However, this year I am going to put some delicate streaks of pink into my hair, at the age of forty-five it actually feels ok to experiment a little too.