Safety is an Illusion

High angle POV of man's bare feet standing at edge of wooden dock sprinkled with fine white sand above aqua green sea water in natural morning light

Are you safer in the water or on the ledge?

After a recent speaking engagement, I struck up a conversation with a guy in the audience who was thinking about becoming a public speaker too.

In only a few minutes of chatting with him, I could instantly tell that he would be a fabulous speaker if he decided to go for it. He was charismatic, extremely likable, and most importantly, he had a meaningful message to share with the world.

So, of course I asked him what was holding him back. Unfortunately, he gave me an answer that I’ve heard hundreds of times, in different varieties, over the past few years:

“It is so much safer sitting in the audience than it is to be on stage.”

As a guy who has spent plenty of time both on stage and sitting in the audience, I feel qualified to let you in on a little secret. I also shared this secret with that young man after my speech:

It’s not safer in the audience. 

It’s Safer on Stage

Safety is such an appealing concept. In fact, there was a time when I craved safety like I craved my next breath. Thankfully, I know better now.

When I asked the young man why he believed that it was safer to sit in the audience than to be on stage, he replied as if I just asked him if water was wet:

Him: “Are you kidding??? I could put my ideas out there and look like a complete idiot in front of everyone.”

Me: “Okay, so let’s say that you gave a speech and for some reason, the audience hated your ideas and you looked like ‘a complete idiot in front of everyone.’ What would that mean for you?”

Him: “I’d feel like a failure and I would beat myself up for it for weeks. It’s safer not to deal with that, and just sit in the audience.”

Me: “Fair enough. But what if you unnecessarily spent years and years allowing your fears to stop you from sharing your amazing message with the world? Wouldn’t that also make you feel like a failure and wouldn’t you beat yourself up for that too?”

Him (looking down at the ground):“Damn. Good point…”

Here’s the thing that I wanted him (and you) to know: sitting on the sidelines of life will not make you safer. Whether we choose to jump in the game or watch from the audience, we will never be completely safe from risk, fear and pain.

Is it possible that I could experience embarrassment and shame every time I step on stage, publish a blog post, or a share a new idea? Of course.

Here’s the difference (and it’s a big one)–the embarrassment and/or shame that I might experience if I screw up while going after my dreams, is temporary. The shame that I would feel by allowing fears to keep me from sharing my dreams, ideas, and my message is permanent.

That’s why it’s safer to be on the stage.

There is No Safety

This is much deeper than public speaking or being on stage. Maybe you don’t have a desire to do either of those things, which is cool with me.

But, be honest–you probably have some area of your life where you’re playing it safer than you need to be.

  • Is it really safer to do nothing while your boss/significant other/family member treats you as if you’re sub-human on a daily basis?
  • Is it really safer to keep your writing, songs, art, poetry or ideas in your desk drawer instead of sharing them with people who could benefit from them?
  • Is it really safer to sit in the audience when you are capable of being on stage right now?

The quality of our lives will always be determined by the choices that we make.

If we consistently choose to cling to the illusion of safety, all of the feelings that we’re hoping to protect ourselves from (e.g., shame, embarrassment, regret, letting yourself down again, etc.), will still be ours in the end by not choosing to fully go after our dreams.

Safety is an illusion.

Instead of clinging to an illusion, why not choose what’s real instead?

No, we don’t need to be safe from the inevitability of risk, fear and pain.

We just need to believe in ourselves enough to know that we can handle those things when they happen.

It’s safe for me to say that I believe that we can.

Your Turn

Is there an area of your life where you’re playing it safe? Do you normally avoid risk, or are you willing to ensure risk in order to live your best life? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

Latest posts by Shola (see all)


  1. Boom!

    Shola, you are just on it! Safety is an illusion. It is about staying where we are comfortable. But nothing really great comes from that space.

    Thank you for the reminder! As someone who loves change, I rarely hang out in that safe spot. But for so many, this is the message that needs to be shouted!!! I will gladly share this to make sure all of my friends and family hear it, too!

    Happy Monday and Happy February. Let’s all get out there and get brave!!!!!! 🙂

    • Thanks Kathy! You are so right, nothing meaningful comes from staying safe (unfortunately, that’s a lesson that I had to learn the hard way.) Happy February to you too, my friend–it’s time to get brave!

  2. True:)) Infact staying in that “in between” period of “should I or shouldn’t I” is more stressful.
    Trusting ourselves and performing is way better than fearing the result…!
    Nobody is perfect and it is perfectly okay if something goes wrong the end it is always for the good !

    • You are so right, Nandini. Just like you, I’ve found that weird place of deciding “should I or shouldn’t I?” to be WAY more unsettling than just taking the leap. As you said perfectly, the key is to trust ourselves–either trust that we have the ability to make our goals happen, or trust that we can bounce back quickly from any setback that we will face along the way. Either option is far better than running for safety.

  3. Very good message! I have come to realize that it would be better to put my art out there than leave it for my children to have to dispose of when I’m gone. So what if no one likes it…that’s not my problem. My job is to produce it.

    • That’s right, Beth! Creators create–that’s what we do. Sure, I’d love it if people loved every blog post that I write or every speech that I’ve given, but that’s not the point of creation. It’s about finding the courage to fully express a part of ourselves and share it with the world. Maybe the world will get it, maybe they won’t–either way, it doesn’t really matter. Most importantly, we showed up and overcame our fears and self-doubt to create it. That’s what really matters.

  4. PS Fan Girl says:

    SO GOOD! Jump and the net will appear!! 🙂

  5. Happy Feb 1 Shola! Wow, another year flying by; no time to waste =-). I had to learn the hard way, the haters will heckle, obstruct & criticize whether you are on the the sidelines or in the game. There is no hiding from them. So get in the game, be doing something you really care about, then “the peanut gallery” is just so much background noise. Thank you for this encouragement and reminder.

    • That’s real talk, Donna. The peanut gallery isn’t going anywhere–everyone from Jesus to Martin Luther King, Jr. to Oprah had/has haters, so of course we’ll have them too if we choose to put ourselves out there. And if we choose to hide on the sidelines, then we’ll be ravaged by the shame, regret, and disappointment that are guaranteed to come our way when we are too scared to try. It’s always safer to fully live our lives and believe that we will have what it takes to deal with the haters in the peanut gallery when the time comes. Either way, I know that my time on this earth is limited, so I’m going to be in the game while I’m alive and breathing!

  6. Thank You Shola! So true, so real… When people say “its not safe for you”, this really mean ” if you do this we can not hide from scaring view of our wasted parts of lives”. I have such “safe ones” in my family and this is really hard… to believe that they just lie to me:( But this post is so powerful) And I’ll try again)

    • Keep trying, Olenka! Life is really too short to let fears (especially, other people’s fears) to stop us from living our best lives. There’s nothing safe about living a smaller life than the one that we are meant to live.

  7. I just wanted to say that I am deeply moved by the writer’s insight. It makes me wonder if you were born with the inner wisdom or did life teach you all that? Wonderful posts with a rare wisdom. I am grateful to find you.

  8. I was scared to post my first blog entry because of how open, honest, and vulnerable I was but I did it anyway. I’ve never been a person to let fear control my life in any way.

  9. This probably couldn’t have come at a better time. There’s a BUNCH I’m conservative about, and maybe that’s why I often times feel… empty about things.

    I promote living life to the fullest, but it just dawned on me that me trying to live it ‘perfectly’ is preventing me from living it at all.

    Sincerely I thank you. Live to live and live out loud.

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