Why Opting For Safety Can Be The Riskiest Strategy Of All


The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Many years ago, when I was around ten, we had an art class where we were introduced to Japanese painting.

We used a brush to make swift, sure strokes with dark, black ink on delicate, gossamer-thin rice paper.

Well – that was the idea, anyway.

My clumsy attempts to draw bamboo stalks would have won few prizes back then judging from my performance today in the picture above but it still serves to illustrate a point.

Would you rather have one leaf or many if you were a plant?

Do you ever wonder sometimes how you ended up where you are?

What choices led you to the precise place you now find yourself?

Perhaps you’re fortunate – you have all the things that society prizes.

Or perhaps you’re trapped, with all you want and nothing you need.

We often make decisions not to make the most of opportunities but to avoid risk.

And that makes sense because we’re hard-wired to dislike losing more than we like winning.

I remember reading somewhere that there’s no right way to look at this.

For example, the quote from Taleb derides an addiction to a monthly income.

That’s a bad thing – clearly.

Then again, recently I heard a wife talk about how her husband brought home a wage for forty years – and the stability and life that gave them.

You have stability – and the uncertainty that comes with it.

If you lose the one wage you lose a lot.

If you have lots of little streams of income coming in then you’re less reliant on any given one and if it stops flowing you still carry on.

The flip side to this is that if you don’t have enough then you’re always uncertain about where the next penny is going to come from.

It’s only an issue when you’re comparing bamboo, I suppose.

After all, there are things like cacti that seem to do very well with one very large equivalent of a leaf.

Is there a point to all this?

I suppose what it comes down to is that whether you have one leaf or several it’s nice to be in a position to make a choice about which one works for you.

And that choice is easier if you don’t depend on the leaves in the first place.

So, for example, if you have 12 months of living expenses stashed away you have more freedom than someone who needs next month’s pay packet to pay the bills.

Maybe it’s less to do with choosing safety or risk but being in a position where neither has an impact you can’t come back from.

Which I suppose starts with answering the question “What’s the worst that could happen?”


Karthik Suresh

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