When to Make the Right Choice Instead of the Safe Choice

July 6th, 2016 by Nick Notas 8 Comments

We are constantly faced with challenging decisions in life.

Frequently, we choose the safe path because it’s the easiest path. It’s the one that offers the most protection. It’s the choice that doesn’t push us to experience discomfort or embrace our fears.

But that may not always be the right choice.

Because the right choice is often much harder. It may throw us into the unknown, force us to confront ourselves or others, and endure much greater hardships.

It makes perfect sense to take the safe choice and I understand why so many people follow that route. But I’m here to tell you that the decisions you make can either hinder your development or propel your individual growth.

Decisions such as…

  • Telling a friend a harsh truth. The safe choice may be to avoid straining your friendship and just let them keep making mistakes. The right choice may be to try and help them even if it means upsetting your friend.
  • Stopping someone from getting harassed. The safe choice may be to keep walking by and not getting into a confrontation. The right choice may be to speak up and tell the perpetrator to back off even though it will draw their attention to you.
  • Breaking up with someone you know isn’t for you. The safe choice may be to keep your partner and not have to be lonely or put yourself out there again. The right choice may be to let your partner find someone who does want to be with them and find someone you do want to be with, too.

I remember a major decision that changed me to this day. Let’s just say I didn’t play it safe…

For years, I’d worked at a company where the leadership had become more and more toxic. I’m talking manipulation, sabotage, and complete disregard for company morale.

And I wasn’t just some disgruntled employee that hadn’t gotten his raise.

Management threatened our jobs when we refused to adhere to unethical practices. They enacted a slow, calculated removal of all benefits. They disregarded any employee input even when it was supported by reason and data.

I can’t tell you how many times I saw people crying in the bathroom. People were miserable and the turnover rate was out of control. Because of all this, the company was going through its worst financial years in its history.

I tried time and time again to address these issues to supervisors and was always laughed at or ignored. I provided solutions and reports that showed where we could improve. Management insisted they were perfect and everyone else was the problem.

I’d had enough of it. People were being blatantly mistreated and it made me sick to my stomach. I had to get out of there.

I was advised to just put in my two weeks notice, say thank you for the opportunities, and pretend like everything was fine. That would’ve been the safe, smart thing to do – especially if I wanted referrals from any of my bosses.

That WOULD have been the safe thing to do. But it didn’t feel RIGHT.

I’d seen so many people I cared about being abused. And I knew that they were going to continue enduring that pain. I understood that they could theoretically leave at any time but in reality, not everyone had the same freedom as me to leave a demeaning job.

So I sat at my desk and drafted my resignation email. In it, I expressed a full willingness to help with the transition, train anyone necessary, and make the process as smooth as possible.

I then followed it up with my reasons for leaving, my concerns about the leadership skills, and where I thought the company was headed. I made sure I didn’t attack anyone personally, but instead just shared my observations and opinions. I knew it was unlikely, but I wanted them to listen logically and not just get emotionally defensive.

I described in detail the abuse I witnessed, the general feelings I heard from employees, why people were leaving, the toxic relationships, the management missteps due to feeling superior to everyone else, and how it all impacted the company’s success.

It was the scariest email I had ever written. After looking over it, I considered deleting it all and taking the “safe route”. But in my heart, I knew it was the right thing to do – so I clicked send before I could second guess myself again.

My stomach churned as I sat there waiting. Writing the email had been scary enough…until I realized I was about to sit in a room face-to-face with these people.

“What the fuck did I just do?”

Almost immediately, I heard a door open and one of the managers came running over. “Nick, could you come to [boss’s] office for a moment?”

It took all my courage to hold eye contact and say, “Sure.”

Now I had three members of management staring me down. I sat as comfortably as I could and did my best to remain respectful. I didn’t want to get on the offensive and instead just wanted my carefully crafted words to speak for themselves.

“We just read through your email. I can’t believe what you wrote after all we’ve done for you.” They tried guilt-tripping me. I simply said, “Well, that’s just the way I see things.”

They tried deflecting blame off of themselves onto the employees. “We try our best and people don’t listen and don’t do the work.” I replied, “I don’t agree and that’s not the way I’ve witnessed it.”

They were getting frustrated. I could tell they expected me to buckle so they could feel better about themselves. When I wouldn’t budge, they realized they had no more control over the situation and surrendered. “So you really feel that way? You meant everything you said?”

“I stand by everything I wrote in that email.”

“Okay then, get your stuff packed up by the end of day.”

I walked out of that room shaking with pent-up adrenaline but also feeling an immense sense of fulfillment.

Was I naïve enough to believe they’d suddenly change their ways after my email? No.

These people were well aware of what they’d been doing for a long time. They weren’t going to change until they were willing to admit their faults and shortcomings. And I didn’t know if that was ever going to happen.

Did I care about “getting back at them” or giving one last fuck you? Not really. In a week my resignation would be old news and I’m sure they wouldn’t lose sleep over it.

So then, what was the point?

This is where a lot of people would say, “There was no point. You should have just kept quiet and taken the recommendation. You could’ve used them to get an even better job.”

But that’s where they’re missing the bigger picture. There was something that mattered more than a recommendation, a triumphant victory, or making assholes feel bad about themselves.

I wanted to be true to myself. To my moral compass. To what I stood for. To what I knew aligned with my deeper thoughts and emotions.

I didn’t care if they changed or if anyone thought I was some sort of hero. I wanted to be congruent to myself, for myself.

I believe I’m a better man because of these type of choices. They have taught me more about who I am, showed me I can express my real self, and proved that I can endure any outcome. The right choice reinforces that who I am is worth being, even if it treads in unsafe territory.

So the next time you’re faced with a tough decision, ask yourself:

“What’s the ethical thing to do here regardless of my immediate gain?”

“What do I really stand for?”

“What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

“What choice do I think I’ll regret more when I look back at myself?”

Make the right choice, not just the safe one. Deep down, you’ll know what that is.

  1. Chris on July 6, 2016

    You’ve got some serious balls Nick. I could feel my hands sweating just reading this. Can’t imagine what it was like to be in that situation.

    • Nick Notas on July 6, 2016

      Haha, thanks. It definitely triggered a fight or flight response. I almost wanted to run out of the building after I sent the e-mail.

  2. Mike on July 6, 2016

    Way to go, man! That’s great you stood up for your principles. When I read this I wondered about a third option that seems both right and safe. Couldn’t you have put in your two weeks and typed and printed an anonymous letter to leave in management to leave at their mailboxes? I agree that I couldn’t leave that place without telling it like it is, but I’d be wary about having my name attached to it! Would that not have felt as satisfying or true to yourself?

    • Nick Notas on July 6, 2016

      Thanks man and I appreciate the insightful comment. Honestly, I hadn’t thought of that option before. Thinking through it, my thoughts are:

      It was a small company. The management knew my writing style and also my views. Even if I submitted it anonymously, I’m sure they would have known it was me.

      So at that point, it would have just looked like I was too much of a coward to face them directly. And maybe it would’ve been easier to dismiss my views and hinder any chances of changing (if there were any).

      Also, by then I didn’t want their recommendation because it would have felt inauthentic.

      If for some reason they didn’t know it was me, would they speculate about someone else? Would they then hold a grudge on that employee and secretly take it out on them? I wouldn’t want that risk on my hands.

      • Mike on July 6, 2016

        Thanks, Nick. All great points. Huge fan of your writing and advice!

  3. Jim on July 6, 2016

    You truly inspire me!

  4. Michael on July 7, 2016

    Standards and principles, morals and ethics are the cornerstone of a high value man.

    Nice work on standing up for what you believe in and displaying all the qualities of a high value man.

    Another polished article…look forward to the next one.

    Thanks for sharing.