The Cost of Comfortable Inaction

Monster image

“There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction”

-- John F. Kennedy, May 12, 19611

We all want answers to life’s big questions…

Is she the right one? What do I invest in? What should I do with my life? Am I in the right job? Did I just mess up my kid?

We want to know we made the right or best choice.

And it’s tough, right?

Because most of us wandering about on this planet… have no idea what the hell we’re doing most of the time!

We make the best decision we can, based on the information we have and go with it.

This worked for the most part for the last few thousand years.

We got just enough information, accepted that we were often walking into uncertain risk, but went for it anyway.

But now, today…

In this day and age of Google as our Lord and Savior of Answers…

More often than not, we dig into research mode… and drown in information.

Everything is at our fingertips. Every piece of scientific research, expert study and longitudinal survey.

The problem is…

We now end up with too many answers.

We get the pros and cons of every single theory ever proposed or tested in the history of mankind.

Everything sounds good, but we don’t know which one to try.

The indecision monster rises from the depths of our stomach and we’re immobilized.

Analysis paralysis.

And what’s been bothering me recently is… well, actually, this is a two- or threefold issue

It’s this:

Are answers actually good for you?

And I’m starting to think they’re not.

Answers Can Be Traps

I mean, how many times have you gotten “the truth”… but then you promptly went on to ignore it, or not apply it?

I think we’ve been spoiled.

Before we could just “Google it”… there was a visceral, physical journey to get answers.

You had to go to the library, or seek out a mentor, or go through a lot of trial and error… some of which killed the unlucky ones.

Once you got “the answer”…

You appreciated it, you valued it, you held on to it like it was precious diamond… and by Jove, you damn well used it.

But these days, it becomes a sedative.

That’s really it.

Getting the answer itself is so easy, such a quick hit, it gives us this false sense of relief.

And the problem with that is… we sooth the uncertainty boiling in our veins too fast.

There’s no build up anymore.

So it doesn’t trigger any actions.

We get the hit, we get the high, and we’re done. We celebrate.

I have all the answers to the universe now! And I’ll get around to implementing it… tomorrow. Maybe. Or next week. Yeah, next week’s better.

The worst is when our bodies acclimate to the drug.

We hear the same answer for the tenth or eleventh time…

And instead of telling ourselves… Yes, I’m going to do it now.

The body’s new normal is: Yeah, yeah, yeah… I’ve heard it all already!

There must be something else to it though… What else you got?

And that

That’s probably the worst “answer trap” of all time.

This absurd addiction to some new shiny object.

This attitude of:

I’ve heard it all before… I never tried any of it consistently long-term because I don’t have any discipline… but I’m dead positive there’s something else out there (that I probably won’t do).

And we go on the hunt. We go down a rabbit hole. We collect and read and analyze.

Or, we stop searching altogether. We stop being curious.

After all, we know all the “right answers”. We’re the experts on the subject matter now. So what else is there to learn?

Either way…

We fall into the trap of comfortable inaction

And we end up losing years, even decades, shopping for the “right answer”…

We tell ourselves we’re learning. We’re preparing. We’re not ready yet.

We even romanticize the whole process as a journey in search of meaning.

It’s cute.

But it doesn’t get you anywhere closer to where you want to be.

I mean, that’s the comfort I think JFK is talking about there.

Because you never took the first step forward and risked failure… you get to keep your goal an idealized fantasy…

It’s an unalloyed dream. It’s a heaven we’ll reach… one day. It’s perfect and untouchable.

And that yearning for it… there’s a comfort there. A comfortable trap.

So here’s what I’d like to throw at you this week.

Think back to a time when you did something amazing.

Something that took a lot of effort, energy and multiple steps to reach your goal.

What it was like when you took the first step on that journey…

Did you have all the answers?

No, you probably didn’t.

You had just enough… or you had a guide…

But at the end of the day, you took a risk, and you walked into uncertainty.

Now, take a look at some of the biggest challenges and goals you have in your life right now.

Ask yourself this…

Are you waiting for the “right answer” before you do anything?

Have you planned, organized and read up on so much of it… that you’ve trapped yourself in a vast web of rules?

I’d challenge you to forget everything you think you know… throw away all your knowledge of it… and just do something instead.

Take that first step into uncertainty.

  1. Speech delivered at Americans for Democratic Action convention, Washington, DC, 12 May 1961, quoted in “Times Call for Liberal Actions, Says Kennedy,” Lodi (CA) News-Sentinel, 13 May 1961. ↩︎

Get our free newsletter featuring essays on creativity, spirituality, and the craft of living: