I hear it all too often, but you won’t hear me say it…”Be safe!” We hear parents tell their children before they head out for the day to “Be Safe”, we hear seniors remind Sailors before a long weekend to “Be Safe”, and when I lived in Pensacola many encouraged the masses to “Be safe” as the odds of a hurricane coming our way increased. So, what does it mean to “Be Safe”?  A quick Google search tells us it means “to be cautious; to be careful.” On the surface, this sounds like some pretty good advice. And don’t get me wrong, I see merit in being cautious and making safety a priority, but I don’t want to condition those in my life to make “Be(ing) Safe” their default reaction to a given situation.

If we think about the people we admire most in our life, it is not likely that they are individuals who confined themselves to the comfort that safety provides. My father, a retired Oakland Police Officer, made a career of safety his priority; only it was not his safety that concerned him. Steve Jobs made a dent in the universe his mandate. Bill Gates aspired to put a computer on every desk. And Kevin Plank went from making shirts in his grandmother’s basement to declaring war on cotton and creating Under Armour. Not one was interested in playing it safe, but each play(ed) extremely smart.

Safe is safe – Safe is comfortable – Safe is not always smart

Rather than encourage people to “Be Safe”, why not encourage them to “Be smart”?  Sometimes the safe choice is the smart choice; often times it is not. I have never told my son to “Be safe” and I will do my best not to utter those words. I want my son’s inner monologue to be one that is focused on how to “Be smart” as he critically analyzes the situation. I want to be on a team that plays it smart, not necessarily safe. I am not interested in learning from those who blindly choose safety in favor of accepting calculated risk. Leaders who are safe, rarely make meaningful contributions. People who are more interested in not breaking anything, are not likely to create anything. Students who are more interested in an “A” than they are in learning, critically thinking, or challenging the perspectives of their teacher, are letting themselves down.

Let’s not be safe, let’s be smart.  If it happens that a given situation makes the two one in the same, fine.  But when forced to choose, let’s choose to be smart!

  • Is your default to play it safe or smart?
  • Are you assuming a responsible level of risk as you live your life?
  • Are you influencing those in your sphere to be too comfortable in their safety zone?