Playing It Safe

“See a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck!”

For years I’ve been collecting pennies, taking them to the bank and getting rewarded for the discipline of stooping over. Maybe it earns me a night out on the town. A new pair of jeans. Or the chance to dump them all onto the floor simply to stack them in neat stacks of ten, count and discover how much I’ve saved.

If you were to ask me about playing the lottery or gambling, I’d say it’s a waste of money. But then came the chance to visit Vegas and play the penny slots. Again, I pondered letting money just slip through my hands. For what did I know about gambling?

I am not a card counter, nor do I really understand how to strategize about winning. But with the slot machine, there couldn’t be strategy, right? It’s just about luck. And hearing the whir of the spins. Watching the lights flash while in play. Hoping to land that moment when bells ring and coins pile onto the floor.

Yep, I decided to take the chance to play the slots. The step I was willing to take is saying YES to the 1 cent machines. But first I separated the coins in our jars and baskets into penny and silver piles. I counted them, bagged them into a freezer-sized ziplock and stuck it into our carry-on so they never left my sight.

My partner Kim told me perhaps it would be easier to manage if we took them to the bank, changed the coins into bills and stuck them into our wallets.

“But then we’d just have to change them back when playing the slot machines.”

I couldn’t wait to feed them one cent at a time into the machines, pull down the lever and spin the fruit. I didn’t want to waste our time having a cashier convert them for us.


Slot machines aren’t quite made that way any more. They accept singles, fives, tens and twenties. No pennies. And now that I’ve learned how to place bets on them, per spin and lines of play, I see why. A spin isn’t really worth just a penny. Not unless you’re playing to waste your money. To make it worth your while, I learned, you must play several lines of fruit at a time, and bet at least a penny (usually more) per line. But it took me quite awhile to risk spending my money that way before learning how to play.

Playing it safe, whether with slot machines, business, relationships or life, just leaves me wanting more. Sometimes playing it safe is avoiding setting limits. Just letting life come at us and deciding then and there what to do. The irony is that is the most risky way to approach life – without thinking things through. Without creating a strategy. Without taking it seriously.

Just as slot machines have evolved to let people take risks after having determined their own limits, we as humans have evolved to handle more than we usually allow ourselves. We too often avoid the challenge we’re so equipped to handle – conversations, stellar performances, physical or mental endurance – because we choose to Play It Safe.

What would other people say if they knew we took such a risk?

Life brings us opportunities every day. Just like with pennies, if we ignore picking up the opportunity, then we are sending signals to the universe that we are unaccepting of gifts being brought our way. When we say NO to things that are manageable, we eventually feel the need to say YES to things that aren’t.

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On November 25th, 2009, posted in: Uncategorized by