It just occurred to me. I’ve never been punched in the face. Not once. Not even close. In fact, the only physical fight I ever got into was in 5th grade. It was an awkward slap-a-thon with another kid over some missing scratch-n-sniff stickers. Not one of my prouder moments.

Now, you would think that roaming the planet for 41 years without getting punched in the face would be a pretty decent accomplishment. Maybe not worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize or anything like that. But at the very least a high-five or something. Especially considering that I grew up with glasses, braces, buck teeth and a trombone.

But it’s not.

It’s not because the reason that I have never been punched in the face is because I have never pushed someone or something far enough beyond the breaking point that’s worthy of a punch in the face. I’ve stepped up to the line. Maybe even danced around it a bit. But I’ve always been painfully aware of that line and kept a pretty safe distance.

I suppose I could romanticize it to make myself feel better. Maybe label myself a lover and not a fighter. Or perhaps find a different cliché out there that would make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But the truth is that I have never been punched in the face because I play it safe. And I have the lack of scars to prove it. Inside and out.

What’s the Problem With Being Safe?

Don’t get me wrong. Safe isn’t always bad. There is a benefit to playing it safe. You don’t get hurt as often. And when you do get hurt, it just kind of stings. It’s not that “knock you on your ass for a few days” kind of hurt that you might get otherwise. And while we’re at it, playing it safe allows you the benefit of being able to sleep at night too. That’s always nice.

But there is also price to be paid for playing it safe.

Sometimes that price is as simple as wondering what it feels like to get punched in the face because it’s something you’ve never experienced before. And other times the price is the pit in your stomach that comes with backing down from an altercation for fear of getting punched in the face because it’s something you’ve never experienced before.

There’s a big difference.

What Does Being Safe Cost You?

I’d like to pretend that not getting punched in the face has not cost me. After all, it looks like it hurts! And I’m sure that if I were to ask someone who’s been punched in the face what it feels like, my guess is that nine times out of ten the answer would be an enthusiastic “it sucked!”

But I would imagine that having that experience would also make you stronger. Knowing what it feels like to get punched in the face has to make you less afraid of getting punched in the face. You know what it feels like. There is no more mystery. And when you are less afraid of it, you are more likely to risk it the next time an opportunity comes up.

It’s not that you are now more comfortable with stepping over the line. It’s that you’ve actually moved the line.

Let’s look at this a different way for all of my fellow peace makers out there. How many times have you heard that “rags to riches” story about someone who came from nothing and became an overwhelming success? We all assume that they risked it all because in reality they had nothing to risk. But I don’t agree. I believe they were able to risk it all because they already knew what it felt like to have nothing. And having nothing is not as scary the second time around. In other words, they aren’t afraid of getting punched in the face because they already know what it feels like. And when you already know what it feels like, it takes some of the mystery out of it. And with the mystery goes a lot of the risk.

But for those who have never really experienced having nothing, the thought of it seems to be too risky. You are afraid of what that first punch in the face might feel like. So you build it up and make it scarier than it really is. Assume the worst case scenario.

And so you play it safe.

But Isn’t Playing it Safe Risky?

Not only is playing it safe a risk, but it is even more of a risk than not when you take a step back and look at the entire timeline that is your life. When you consider the whole playing field, that punch in the face is merely just a blip on the screen.

Barely visible.

But not the repercussions that come with spending your life avoiding that punch in the face. The time spent wondering what your life could have been like. And all of the resentment that comes with that.

Keith Cunningham once said something that has haunted me every day since the first time heard him say it. “Hell on earth would be meeting the person you could have been.”

Hell on earth would be meeting the person you could have been.Click To Tweet

It haunts me because when I look at all that I have accomplished in my life, if I had to be brutally honest with myself, I’ve been playing it safe. At least by my standards anyway. Sure, a bunch of times I have danced pretty close to the line. Maybe even stepped over it once or twice when no one was looking. But when it came to getting punched in the face, I have allowed my inner wussy to control my decisions. I’ve been ruled by the two most dangerous words in the English language:

What if.

  • What if I had started blogging sooner?
  • What if I finished writing that book?
  • What if I went to that seminar at 18 instead of waiting until 30?

What if.

Risk Is Just a Part of the Game

There is no way to win without risking something. You can’t get to second base without taking your foot off of first. And staying on first base for the entire game guarantees you are going to lose. So, it’s not a matter of whether you should risk it or not. It’s a matter of what you are willing to risk.

Because not risking anything is actually risking it all.

So, as we near the end of another year, I have decided that it is time. Time to risk it all. Time to remove the words “what if” from my vocabulary.

It is time for me to get punched in the face. And I am currently taking applications in the comments below.

Who’s with me?

  • Tom Martin

    Thanks, Marc! Your message comes at just the right time, especially as we head into a new year. The questions you raise are not pleasant to think about. In fact they’re a little like … you know…

    • Marc Ensign

      Yup…I know.

  • Richard

    Marc, live out side the box for a bit, not safe, not boring, Starting this little adventure was not only a face slap, but also a gut punch to my reality! Come join us in what men’s journal called the most unique b&b in America and thanks for your post. Richard

    • Marc Ensign

      Way to risk it and throw a plug in there 😉

  • Sarah Penner

    Marc, I have been thinking about this a lot this year. A lot of my friends are storm chasers. To me, that is a huge risk. I was terrified of storms for 25 years and have just recently beaten those fears. I’ve always been the safe one. The one who doesn’t step past the safe line unless I am shoved out. This year I’ve been stepping out more often. Sometimes the best thing is just to take the step and hope for the best. Next summer I hope to get out storm chasing. It may seem like a small risk to most people, but to me it’s a big step. This year has been full of little steps for me and, you know what, I’ve seen myself grow and I love it. Take it from one who knows, a punch in the face does suck but you’re right it’s a blip. A distant memory that won’t keep me from stepping across the safe line on occasion.

    • Marc Ensign

      That’s awesome Sarah! I never saw you as a storm chaser…maybe that’s why you need to do it!!!! I’m going to hold you to this. I want pictures or video or something!

      • Sarah Penner


  • Alexandra Petean-Nicola

    Risk and fears are part of it all. We need to acknowledge them, feel them in their fullest and choose to keep on going. Not to play it safe, but to risk in case something better might happen.

    • Marc Ensign

      Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • Rosemary ONeill

    Favorite post of the week, for me. Thanks Marc! What’s your first transgressive behavior going to be?

    • Marc Ensign

      Thank you Rosemary!!! That means a lot! As for what’s my next transgressive behavior? That’s easy! I’m going to look up the word transgressive and figure out what it means!

  • Gilbert C. Delgado

    I was just having a similar discussion about choices and how not making a choice is still a choice and sometimes the repercussions of the choices not made go wider and deeper than those we did make. Great post! A lot to think about. Thank you.

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Gilbert! Would love to have been a fly on the wall of that conversation! Not in a creepy way, I swear!

  • Tom Martin

    Excellent blog post. I agree with you. There are no winners in “playing it safe!” (P.S. Don’t tell my kids I said that…)

    • Marc Ensign

      I won’t tell yours if you don’t tell mine!

  • Jodi Dichter Kaplan

    “Because not risking anything is actually risking it all.” This is really the most profound part of this blog. The balance we all seek, the ying yang theory, exemplifies this statement. So if you don’t risk you don’t get the reward and even if you did, chances are you would not appreciate it for what it is without experiencing its polar opposite. I don’t think you have to be punched in the face to succeed at a project, but you have to fail at one to recognize and appreciate the successes. So must we get punched in the face in order to succeed at a particular level? I really enjoyed this and I believe there are actuarial classes you can take to assess risk so that you can achieve greater without the “pinch to the face”.

    • Marc Ensign

      Thank you Jodi! I really appreciate it! I think some people just need to be punched in the face…unfortunately I’m one of them. Being pinched in the face is just not going to be enough for me!

  • Les Dossey


    First things first – Brilliant post in true Ensign fashion. I might start referring to your posts as “Ensignisms” : )

    I’ve been punched in the face more times than I can count. The literal punch ain’t nothing. Heck the adrenaline rush alone makes the punch worth experiencing. But then it’s been years since I’ve experienced a literal punch – so I might change my tune if someone hit me now that I’m in my fifties.

    You know what they say about your greatest strength also being your greatest weakness if not balanced with a healthy dose of wisdom? I had a serious deficit of wisdom in this department during my earlier years and would take risk just because it was there. Ah … the naivety of youth! No regrets though … Every risk I took and every punch dealt was like a chisel that carved away a little more of what didn’t belong so that the true me could emerge.

    The punches that really hurt are the ones that life served up. The ones you didn’t ask for but that TKO’D you. Death, loss, etc. but even they serve a purpose if you let them.

    This post was timed perfectly as I put the wraps on my business and life plans for 2014. I’m stepping into what I perceive to be the heavy weight ring with great expectations of getting my bell rung a few times. But I’d rather get my bell rung than wonder what it would have been like.

    It’s the punches in the face that remind me to live.

    I’m sending you a private invitation. It just might be the punch in the face you’re looking for.

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Les! Ensignisms has a strangely alluring ring to it!!! I got your e-mail and I’m responding tonight. I gladly accept the punch in the face! Thank you for thinking of me!

  • Irma Hankins

    Awesome read. Really enjoyed it.

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Irma!!!!

  • Phil Blackwell

    Great post Marc. First time visiting your blog; will be coming back.

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Phil and welcome!!! Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you. This is a cool place to hang out. Good to have you here!

  • Karen Rowe, author

    Yes, Mark. What “IF” you finished writing that book?? Hmmmm…..

    I’m looking to 2014 to be one big long punch in the face. Personally and professionally.

    I’m with you.

    • Marc Ensign

      Damn! You found me! As for 2014, I’m happy to hold you accountable!

    • Marc Ensign

      Oh, and spell my damn name right already, will ya?

      • Karen Rowe, author

        Yeesh. High standards. Not like I’m a writer or anything. Or used to be an English teacher….pssht.

  • mickhaensler

    Once again, spot on Marc. Because of you and other influencers in my life, I have stepped out more this year than any I can remember. We’ve tried a lot of things that didn’t work but not one of those things was a waist of time or resources as we learned from each one. We cast our net far and wide only to discover that close and narrow is the way to go for us. Thank you for your inspiration. Now go write that damn book!! I wanna see Gary V reviewing YOUR book next year!!!

    • Marc Ensign

      Wow! Thanks Mick! One of my favorite comments from one of my favorite commenters! I really appreciate you and how you always make an effort to make your presence known whether it is here, on Twitter or on Facebook. It’s what community is all about! Thank you!!!

  • deanshaw

    Marc – great post. I was thinking recently that I have never punched someone in the face so I think we could be a good fit. I’ll meet you in the playground behind the school at 4:30 and we can get this over with 😉

    But seriously, I think you’ve expressed the inner thoughts of many. We do play it safe – we are almost conditioned to do it. Go to school so you can get a good job. Find a nice secure company with health benefits and and a 401k plan. Get married, have 2.5 kids and a house with a white picket fence. This is the ‘American Dream’ and frankly there’s nothing wrong with that. But unless you step outside outside that paradigm that’s all you’ll have, nothing more, nothing less.

    For me its more about taking subtle, pragmatic risks. I don’t have the stomach to leave a decent secure job to pursue my dream job – that’s “macro-risk” taking. I can however pursue other “micro-risks” like learning guitar, running a triathlon, and going on stage. What I have found is that these “micro-risks” give me the confidence to take incrementally bigger risks without going all-in all at once.

    So, I’ll be more than happy to punch you in the face if you can just give me a little shove in return 😉

    • Marc Ensign

      I love that! Micro-risks. Damn you for thinking of that first Dean! It’s a great point. Unfortunately, I learn a lot better when I am picking a 2 by 4 out of my teeth, but for others this is a great approach!!!

  • lisa demmi

    I too am a “play it safe-r.”

    Hello. My name is Lisa and I have been playing it safe for 40 years. Hello Lisa!

    That being said, every day in business I’m confronted with my own line and I think I get punched in the face at least once a week. Something you said resonated with me and that’s the part about moving the line. I think we all step over the line but do we step back again. Your example of moving the line is what’s really cool and seriously painful and challenging all at the same time.

    For me “moving the line” is often the punch in the face I get because I’m not good with change or pushing the envelope. That’s where the growth is for me.

    Thanks Marc and here’s to more punches in 2014!

    • Marc Ensign

      Welcome to the club! I’d be happy to punch you in the face any time you need it, just say the word. Out of context that sounds really bad…

      • lisa demmi

        Thanks, I think?

  • Teresa Capaldo

    Yes, I’m in…but I think Deanshaw makes excellent points! For each of us, that punch in the face will be and look different, for different reasons.

    Going all-in may not be right, if others stand to be affected by our actions and we get punched so hard we lose consciousness, for example. Who pays the price for the risks we take? It’s all relative to the individual, life circumstances and intentions.

    I like Dean’s idea of micro-risks. (Thanks, Dean!)
    GREAT post, Marc! I laughed all the way. Looking forward to seeing you get punched in the face next year…hope to have a front row seat with popcorn. :]

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Teresa! I agree! Dean has a great point. I think the size of the punch really depends on the individual. You may need a little slap while I really need to be knocked into next week! Whatever it takes, right?!?!

      I’ll make sure to save you a seat up front…as long as I get a front seat for your show as well. I keep hearing about all of the good stuff to come from you….

      • Teresa Capaldo

        Sign of a good person and writer is reflected in the company they keep. I noticed your readers are pretty awesome!
        Must feel great! :]

  • Jeni Larson

    I’m noting the date because Marc Ensign has just written the best blog post I have ever read….and of course I’ve read a lot!

    As you know, years ago I quit my corporate job, quit my boyfriend, found new homes for every possession I had and moved to Mexico where I eventually started on the path to becoming one of the most successful bloggers in the world. I can’t tell you how many people come to me and say, “Omg I could never give away everything I own and move to another country by myself!” In fact, my friends at the time thought I was going through an “early 30’s crisis” and expected me to come crawling back to the office soon after. To them, I was taking a HUGE risk.

    I saw the risk differently – I felt the risk of continuing in a life where I was unhappy. I felt the risk of waking up in 20 years and still working 70 hours a week for a bitter micro-managing boss with only 2 weeks vacation every year, limited income potential and the constant threat of lay-offs. Even worse…. I felt the risk of waking up in 20 years and NOT having the life I REALLY wanted. Talk about leverage.

    To me, true risk is in not taking risks.

    Design your own life and move in that direction. It won’t always be smooth sailing but that’s the beauty in it- that’s where the lessons come from that allow things to be event better.

    Great post Marc- what an amazing message to share with the world!

    ps. lol @ inner wussy

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Jeni! I kept reading this comment waiting for the punchline or the grand finale where you give me the ole “just kidding!” This means a lot. It reminds me I’m on the right path!

  • nathashaalvarez

    I’ve been punched many times. I agree. After awhile, I’ve built a tolerance for it. Sometimes I take risks that I know will cause that punch but I do it anyway because I literally can’t sleep with a “what if” if it is in areas that ignite much passion in me. If I don’t take risks, I might as well roll over and die. What’s the point of waking up?

    • Marc Ensign

      Audacious! 😉

  • Merry

    Another inspiring post! Thanks, Marc. Great points made by your readers here, too. (Wish I thought of the many “Ensignisms” first, myself!) ..What Ifs have ruled my life (sad to say) but I have taken risks and received massive punches along the way! Sometimes, you get winded, and end up playing it safe…At least for a while/til you catch your breath. But sometimes, you learn to pick your battles and “play it safe”.

    No matter what- I agree that we all need whatever versions of a “punch in the face” it would take to get us to step up, and/or shake of the dust and get up again.

    Thanks, Marc!


  • Stacey Shipman

    I was punched in the face by a neighborhood kid when I was 8 or 9.
    Probably a part of why I played a good part of my life safe and quiet. Within the last few years, I stepped out, took risks, spoke up. I like an
    adrenaline rush that’s what it feels like. I actually thought to myself recently, “Love dealing with the haters. What a rush!” I know, weird. But it means I’m
    doing something, probably positive, probably in a way they aren’t ready
    for yet. Maybe that means I’m throwing punches now.

  • Alexander Meneikis

    Very true. I have once lost all my Money. Second time around, that is much less scary.