Icarus and the Dangers of Playing It Safe

You’ve heard the Greek myth of Icarus. But there’s an essential lesson you’ve likely missed.  

Icarus’ father fashioned wings made of wax and feathers and told him not to fly too close to the sun. But he ignored that warning. The heat from the sun melted the wax, the wings fell apart, and Icarus plunged to his doom. We’ve retold this myth, and many others like it, for generations. 

All these stories have the same lesson: Play it safe. Obey your parents. Listen to the experts. Don’t fly too high.  

But there’s another part of the myth that gets glossed over. Icarus was also warned by his father not to fly too low. If he did, the ocean water would ruin the lift in his wings.  

That second lesson gets skipped but it’s even more relevant than the first. Flying too low is actually more dangerous than flying too high. Flying low feels safe. Deceptively safe. 

We hear the story of a reckless entrepreneur who flew close to the sun, plunging his company into the ground. Those who flew too high become easy targets. It’s fun to call them out. But we don’t hear about the thousands of people who flew too low. Those who played it safe. Those who never swung for the fences. Those stories happen every day but rarely get told. 

Yes, there’s danger in flying too high. But there’s more danger in flying too low. 

Don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t play it safe.

Fly high.

The Calming Power of Three Deep Breaths

When was the last time you tossed aside your phone, closed your laptop, and just breathed? To be candid, breathing is something I’ve given little thought to for most of my life. It’s a natural, involuntary process, so how important can it be? That view has shifted over the last year.

I’ve long sought to master my emotions. Sometimes they get the best of me. There are times when I feel confident, intelligent, and at peace. I feel like I’m my best self. I feel like I can overcome whatever obstacles come my way. I call this expansion.

Other times I feel small. I feel anxious. I feel a lack of control. In these moments the obstacles in front of me look daunting. I’m overwhelmed. I call this contraction.

Physical exercise has been a powerful tool to help me move from contraction to expansion.  Intense bike rides, hard runs, and even long, slow walks have helped shift my energy. But I don’t always have 30-60 minutes to spare. I needed something faster. 

When I got serious about coaching, I hired my own coach. He introduced a simple exercise of taking three deep, intentional breaths. I start by sitting in silence with my eyes closed, then breathe in for five seconds, hold, then breathe out for five seconds. 

Deep breathing has a calming effect. It helps us relax our fight or flight response. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. And it’s an exercise that can take as little as 60 seconds. 

Shortly after learning the power of breathing, I introduced the exercise in my coaching practice. Every session now begins with three deep breaths, a practice my clients and I do together. We’re typically coming from other meetings and have a million things on our minds. Pausing for three deep breaths helps us get centered and present. On several occasions, I’ve been given feedback that the deep breathing exercise was the most impactful part of a coaching session.

Mastering our emotions and staying calm amidst the chaos can be the difference between success and failure. Spending more time in expansion helps us see new possibilities. It gives us the energy to sustain strong performance. There are many approaches that can shift us to a state of expansion. Taking three deep breaths is my new favorite and gives me the best bang for my buck.