This is an idea that seems intuitive yet few people often think about: having a safe base is crucial. If we dig deeper into ourselves, we all yearn to have at least something stable and controllable in this eventful world. Only after having safe base that we can talk about the need for novelty and diversity of experience. This idea is beautifully demonstrated since early childhood. Do you think a baby will dare to explore the surrounding without knowing that his caretaker is around and if he falls, he will be taken care of? He doesn’t.
Of course the worry is always that we will get too comfortable with our safe base and will never venture out of the comfort zone. Think about how many people, including myself, tend to see that buzzword “stepping out of comfort zone”, feel inspired and then do nothing. Falling back to our default option, the safer and more comfortable way is just so easy. But why is overcoming such inertia so hard, and how can I go about it?
Interesting enough, I think I found the answer to this question from trying to understand my own safe base. I asked myself: what is my safe base? In one sense, the most stable base is myself. I know my temperament or tendencies to deal with different situations will remain fairly consistent. With 20 years of reinforcement on top of the fundamental base – my genetics, personality is hard to change.
What is the worst thing that can happen? Let’s say I somehow accidentally commit a crime and get in jail for 10 years. Scholarship, reputation (if I have any) will be gone. I will of course feel terrible at first, but judging from my self-knowledge I will probably get so bored with feeling bad & doing nothing in the jail that I will do something. Who knows, I may even emerge as a better man after those years in jail. It’s quite a far fetched imagination, but it is not impossible.
If I totally screw up by most conventional standards like that, where can I fall back to? Who can back me up? At least I have a house to go back in Hanoi. I also believe my family would still accept me. It feels exciting to be an independent adult, but that excitement is only possible by knowing that a family is always behind me.
If your answer is somewhat positive like mine, then it’s worth a moment pausing to feel thankful for the safe base that we are given. Many of us had this experience before: after going out in the snow, rain or cold wind for a long day, we are able to go back to a room with heater on and take a warm shower. It felt so good! That discomfort may seem nothing in comparison to the greater adversities many others have faced in their lives, but it is relevant enough to remind myself of how important and lucky I am to have somewhere to fall back on.
This exercise is useful because we don’t usually think about the worst case. It’s always good to prepare ourselves mentally, not only because it makes us ready when the ordeal actually comes but also because it makes the inherent uncertainty in future a lot more tolerable. My most screwed up scenario isn’t too bad after all. (As you can easily sense I’m naturally pretty optimistic; that’s why I often try to be pessimistic to balance out and become more realistic).
Another lesson I learnt is that gratitude and hope go together. We only feel grateful if we can evaluate how our current situation is better than another one, and if we can think that way, we can also realize that we can do better. It is very relevant to me, because I have spent too much time thinking about the best thing I can do. Having ambitions is good, but I have to be careful not to let it reign over so much that I forget my safe base. This skill to manage oneself is difficult, and I need more practice.
The last thing is that I have convinced myself even more that the safe base is indeed crucial. So if I want to best help others (yeah, I use the word “best” again – such obsession with optimization), I should focus on helping them develop stronger bases. Or even start with making more people realize the importance of having a safe base.
I’m so going to set myself a reminder to read this post again when I feel screwed up 😀
p/s: I’m experimenting with writing shorter post. I think I will improve my writing more by engaging with readers more frequently instead of spending more time on a huge article. Plus, one of my biggest mistakes has been the failure to take my own motivation into account. I simply get bored, distracted or demotivated to continue writing, especially as the post often gets longer and more disorganized. Writing blog suits me better because I know some of my friends will read it. You are my safe base.