Thursday, March 07, 2013

Safety Net

Funny how things pop into one's head sometimes. While watching "American Idol" last week, an interesting problem had me waxing philosophical. My characters are always making choices that can change their lives, so this is pretty fascinating to me. I still haven't come up with a satisfying answer, so I'll turn it over to you.

Here's the setup. Ten women sing, five go home, and the outcome is decided during that show by the judges. (This is before the pubic voting started.) One of the contestants sang something very dear to her, but not, shall we say, in her wheelhouse. It was a risk. The song meant a lot to her personally, which meant she had passion and she did okay, but the judges couldn't envision her on a big venue stage someday with that kind of song.

Her response was something along the lines of (and I'm wildly paraphrasing here): "I took a chance; if I go home, I know I gave it my all." Okay, maybe that wasn't so wild. The judges are always saying things like, "step out of your comfort zone" and "that song was a safe choice but next week we'd like to see you do something different." Then they turn around and say, "dude, that wasn't the right song for you, dog." (I'm not quoting Keith Urban, in case you aren't sure.)

What if she'd said, "I took a chance; if I go home, I have a nice job waiting?" Doesn't that change how you feel about her song choice? Maybe how you feel about her entire performance?

Which got me thinking. Is it better in life to have a safety net, a Plan B?

Yes, says my conservative self.  Plan B lets you take risks with Plan A. For example, if a circus aerialist swings, somersaults, but then misses that next bar and falls, she will still land in the net. Otherwise she might not reach for that higher bar or do that extra somersault or take that risk. It's smart to be safe. It's smart to plan ahead. What idiot does an extra somersault in mid-air without a net?

No way do you want a Plan B, says my inner risk-taker. Having Plan B means you don't give it your all while attempting Plan A. You always wonder if you felt safe during A (complacent?) because having a Plan B means you can't fail either way. So you don't risk, don't sing the harder song on Idol, don't put your all into it because it's okay if you fail since you have Plan B. Your effort is divided. Or you do risk, but it's not as crucial to win. Your competitive edge is blunted.

See my problem? Let's say the show is called Sing For Your Supper and winning the judges' approval means that woman (now my heroine) could eat that night. And she's starving, having spent all her money getting to Vegas. She's been sleeping in her car for three weeks. Unable to afford dinner, she drank water and ate some fries off her friend's plate. Two days ago.

Wouldn't she be crazy not to sing the safe song and ensure her spot for one more week--and her dinner finally that night? Or should she give it her all, trying to stay in the competition (and eat) by outshining everyone with this song that means the world to her?

Please weigh in. Risk taker or safety net?


Megan Kelly