Being cautious is a good thing, right? I mean, being cautious is prudent, or so I’ve been led to believe. But is it possible to be too cautious? The older I get, the more I think the answer to that is “yes.”
I’ve been doing some research on the diference between being careful versus being cautious, which sound like they’re the same thing. If you look at the dictionary definitions, that’s the impression you get. But there’s a difference…
Let’s take a ride on your favorite Interstate highway for a minute. You find yourself behind a truck that’s doing 40 miles per hour (for you metric fans, that’s 64 km/hr) and the speed limit is 55 miles an hour (88 km/hr). A cautious driver will stay behind the truck until it leaves the highway; a careful one will wait until the traffic in the lane to their left has passed, turn on their turn signal, move over to the left and speed up to 55, and pass the truck, then move back into the lane they were in (or stay where they are).
So, why did the cautious driver stay where they were? It’s possible that they were close to where they needed to get off the Interstate, so they decided to stick it out, or they might be so concerned that they’ll get in an accident that they decide to stay where they are to avoid anything bad happening (e.g. getting in an accident or having a guy in a BMW blast them with his horn and give them the finger because he was slaloming his way through traffic at 70 mph (112 km/hr) and they got in his way). The cautious driver, on the other hand, trusts their instincts and driving ability enough to make the move safely, avoiding accidents and not being intimidated by Billy Beemer and his middle finger. (“Hey, buddy, I got one too, see?”)
Now, there are a lot of situations where caution is required, such as handling potassium cyanide tablets or dealing with an 880-volt electrical panel. Things like that can hurt you badly, no matter how careful you are.
But say you have the ability to do something, but you work for a control freak who will pitch a fit if you do it without clearing it with them first, so you avoid doing it even though you know what to do just to avoid incurring their wrath (and haven’t we all?). In that case, being careful to ensure your resume is up to date, go ahead and do it, and screw ’em if they can’t take a joke.