The Importance of Being Careful

I told my sister about how delightful I find my fellow volunteers at the therapeutic riding barn. Most of us are old horse girls, no longer riding, though we still love horses and know our way around a stable. We sometimes tell each other the same story more than once, and every few weeks one of us is off to have a knee replaced, to start physical therapy, or to consult with eye specialist.

I really enjoy these people, and when my sister heard that, she said, “Why don’t you plan something social? A brown bag picnic, a delivered pizza lunch. Doesn’t have to be off-site, but sounds like a fun group to spend time with.”

I was… well, not stunned, but taken by surprise. Sister Dear went straight to the logical next step in building friendships: We have a lot in common, we seem to be good company, let’s try expanding our footprint just a little. But those steps did not occur to me. Did not even wave from my peripheral awareness, and I’m supposed to have a good imagination.

Fast forward to the weekly raid on Petsmart, and two young women from my former barn flag me down. We caught up on all the news. Barn manager ridin’ buddy has just committed to getting her horse a custom-made jumping saddle. The investment will be pricey for somebody on a limited income, but it’s much cheaper (and safer!) than trying to train a horse with a sore back. Working Student ridin’ buddy is looking for a horse to lease, a move-up horse who can get her to the next level, but not hold her there when more levels exist to be conquered.

My impulse in both cases was, “I can help them with those goals…” Meaning I can write a check. When the community swimming pool sent out an email asking for volunteer board members, my thought was, “I can write pretty well, I understand contracts, I have a master’s in conflict. I could probably be useful to them…” On the one hand, my impulse to be helpful is genuine, and I do like to see organizations and friends (well, almost everybody) thriving.

On the other hand… I know squat about running a swimming pool, and nobody has asked me to sponsor their equestrian ambitions. At the same time, my sister’s suggestion–that I just hang out with potential friends–struck me as extraordinary.

It occurred to me that by being helpful, whether I”m offering financial support or contract drafting, I’m playing it safe. I use my checkbook or skills as a pretext to participate (albeit vicariously) in somebody else’s dream or challenge. My ego and my heart aren’t on the line, because I’m the donor, the cheerleader, the pro bono lawyer.

A Gentleman in Challenging Circumstances by Grace BurrowesI hope some of my magnanimous inclinations are motivated by genuine big-heartedness, but I have to admit that I’m also at a loss when it comes to those brown bag picnics and happy hour pizza parties. I am much less sure of myself in purely social situations, and I’m a warp nine introvert. What if I get it wrong? What if I can’t locate all the exits? What if I’m not near an exit when I need one?

Much easier to play it safe, keep it about skills and objectives, and nosh on the protein bars I always have in my purse. Easier and safer–or is it?

How do you play it safe?

PS: Lord Julian’s third mystery, A Gentleman in Challenging Circumstances, is now available in print. If you’d like an e-ARC instead, just email me at

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17 comments on “The Importance of Being Careful

  1. Grace, your reference to exits pinged a memory from long ago.
    I was backpacking my way across the Pacific to Australia, and attended a concert in Samoa one day. It was in a large space attached to a hotel, with a stage at the front. We were enjoying the local songs & dances when one of our group became agitated because he couldn’t see any exit signs in the room.
    “What if there were a fire, how would we get out?!” The rest of us were puzzled, and finally said, “uh, no exit signs needed…because no walls.” He was startled, then duh!
    If there’s a metaphor there, for me I guess it’s that sometimes I’ve felt a need to escape a thing, later realizing the only walls had been in my head.
    Anyhoo, I would, as always, love love love an ARC.

  2. Woot! I’m looking forward to reading A Gentleman in Challenging Circumstances. I adore Lord Julian!

    And yep, I’m socially awkward too, so I feel for you, Grace. It is hard for us introverts!!

  3. Pingback: Challenges, Pursuits, and Exit Strategies!!! | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  4. I feel exactly the same way. Social interactions such as parties simply do not occur to me. I guess my younger sisters (2 of the 3 have large gatherings all the time and have large families–might be connected) got those genes from my Mom. My 3rd sister and I prefer to keep to ourselves (even just each other can be too much “peopling.”
    So my charitable endeavors involve checks rather than volunteering.

  5. How to play it safe: Don’t plan events, then you can’t be disappointed if very few or NO ONE shows up. Don’t suggest a get-together with someone because then it won’t be awkward if they hem & haw because they don’t want to spend extra time with you. And yes, I am an introvert who tries to force herself to attend events other people have organized.

  6. My main methods of playing it safe are 1) stay in the company of dogs or 2) if I am in company with other people to be silent. I am not really clear on why I never feel like I fit in, but I have become tired of trying. The whole COVID thing really set the hermit thing into motion and some of my extended challenges have reinforced the feeling that it is easier to stay at home or just play with the dogs who seem to like me even with all my faults. This all sounds very depressing but while I do have some sadness, it is also a relief to just be.

  7. Your sister’s suggestion of a lunch or pizza party with your riding friends and fellow volunteers reminds me of how I “play it safe.” I’m not particularly comfortable in social situations, often tongue tied and unable to come up with any interesting conversation after “How are you? Nice to see you (again).” So my escape hatch is to feed people. We had a “make your own pizza party” for 18 of our friends from our fitness class. I laid out all kinds of toppings across our huge dining room table, made many recipes of pizza dough and rolled out 18 rectangular pizza crusts onto non-stick aluminum foil. I let my guests have at it, then baked them all at once (hence the rectangular shape to fit 3 on each shelf of my double convection ovens). I was so busy supervising the construction, baking and serving, that no one expected me to be a charming conversant! Works every time. Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  8. I had just finished reading your blog, Grace, and my husband and I were on a walk with our dogs. I was describing to him your level 9, where are the exits flight response. He looked at me and said, “Just like you.” This is an accurate description of my response to social situations. It also never occurs to me to DO something social with new acquaintances who could become friends. One of the reasons my husband and I started playing Pickleball was to put ourselves into a social activity. Now it remains to be seen if I can manage to suggest a get-together off the Pickleball courts with our new friends. I’m working toward it…I hope.

  9. The volunteer board member sounds like something you would be good at. You would have regular meetings with people who share a common goal.

    Your friends at the barn also share a common interest with you, and maybe just meeting at the barn is enough.

    I suspect a lot of people have these types of groups – not best friends who you share your whole life with, but people with whom you share a common interest.

    I enjoy chatting online daily with two reader groups on Goodreads – have done so for years. I don’t know a single person in the flesh who wants to talk books, or who are series addicts. I also keep up with various relatives on Facebook.

    I’m not sure what I will do with my free time after I retire next year, but I always thought I’d like to tutor kids in reading. Or read to children if they still have story hours. We’ll see. After working for 42+ years I truly hate being scheduled. It’s one reason I don’t attend church. I used to enjoy going out monthly with my fossil group but had to quit after I tore up one of my knees. 🙁

  10. About your horse barn group, surely you have conversations about topics other than horses. If not, maybe you could occasionally bring some treats for the people, and begin to try to get to know more about the people you already share a common interest with.

    I don’t know if treats for the horses would be allowed.

  11. I do like hanging out in person with friends, and even acquaintances who might become friends, and sometimes I am the one who initiates what I think might become a friendship. BUT I play it safe by asking a couple of questions beforehand that give me clues as to mostly by their political leanings, I confess, which I feel tell me a lot about their world view and attitude towards life in general. I can’t just write a check because I have no money, so I have to give my time and energy to causes instead. I choose those carefully too, for level of stress and usefulness of my time. I get weird in the head if I am alone too much, unlike my beloved warp nine introverts. I might be a warp 1 introvert (?)

  12. I feel for you, Grace — I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert, myself.

    If I can get involved with a group of similar-minded people, it isn’t as hard — but, oh those initial meet-and-greet meeting are times when I definitely have to know where the exits are!

    Good luck with some low-keyed activities with your barn group!

    And I would LOVE to get an e-ARC of A Gentleman in Challenging Circumstances!

    Thank you for all the wonderful books you write to keep us all entertained — we REALLY appreciate you!

  13. My daughter once told me that I’m an “introverted extrovert.” I wasn’t sure if I was pleased or alarmed, but finally decided that she was right. I’m not real happy about attending big social situations, prefer not to go, but once I get there, I can be cheerfully social and show every sign of enjoyment. When I get home, though, I’m exhausted. Being that extroverted is hard work.

    I would very much enjoy an e-ARC of “A Gentleman….” Thank you!

  14. I can relate. I want to save the world as I exit stage right. I’ve been known to commit myself and then panic. I give myself points for trying but I’m more careful with my commitments now.

  15. I sure hear you, Cherie. I can actually get sick with anticipation. My family likes to tell me it’s a learned response and to unlearn it. I think that perhaps rigid social codes and expectations kept some from resorting to a dark room with a megrim!

  16. I am right there with you Grace, it doesn’t occur to me to be a social catalyst, and frankly, even if someone else provides the invite, I have to do a lot of convincing to get myself to participate. For health and happines etc. I wish I were more outgoing but I don’t see that dramatically changing. I am thinking about trying a Silent Book Club, that seems like a reasonable goal.

    I am thinking of changing jobs and I feel like it is an opportunity to reach a little so I am consciously trying to step out of my safe bubble and see what happens.