Reading a post “The Past is always tense, the future perfect” Geoff from TanGental advises that we either “run shrieking with delight into the sea of possibilities or we can poke it suspiciously with a stick to see if a serpent lurks within.” That is we either take risks or we don’t. He suggests that as we get older the serpent often wins out by preventing us from taking new risks.
This has had me thinking all weekend and incited me to put some of my thoughts to paper.
When we are young most of us take risks by doing some foolhardy action simply because we think we are invincible. Those that take the greatest risks probably aren’t here to talk about it but most of us survive this time. There is a percentage of us though that probably have never taken a risk in their lives. My mother is one. Her life has always been ordered, planned and controlled. Probably, according to the article on how to live a long healthy life this is the reason she has lived to 86 despite her heart condition.
There is a huge difference between my mother and me. You can see it when we play cards. She will immediately put down her cards at the earliest possible moment for fear of being caught with them in her hand whereas I will hold the cards for the longest possible time in the effort to go down in entirety. Sometimes the risk pays off, occasionally I get caught but it doesn’t stop me wanting to take the same course the next time. I can see some very subtle differences as my Mum has become old. Her ability to take any risk is now zero. When we went to a trivia night we were given the option of choosing a category in which we would be given double points for each one we answered correctly. Mum says “I can’t choose until I know what the questions are going to be.” On another occasion when she had her heart turn the other day and the paramedic asked “on a scale of one to ten what was your pain level?” She replied ” I can’t tell you I’ve never had any pain to know where it fitted.” She simply cannot take the risk of being wrong.
My brother and I are both risk takers. My brother on a more physical level than myself. He will climb to the top of Mont Blanc for the first time at sixty years of age, ski down off- piste slopes that scare the living daylights out of me watching them on the video taken from his helmet camera. He’ll hang off cliffs and basically be up for any type of extreme sport and activity. I couldn’t do these things and luckily I don’t want to but I will take other kinds of risk.
There were probably many risks that I took as a kid. Stealing the beans from the green grocer was a risk and one that I wouldn’t try again and running away from home was another. The first real risk I took however was at the end of high school. My girlfriend and I were both going to train as nurses. She wanted to be a children’s nurse and really wanted me to go to the same hospital. The temptation was huge. We were inseparable at school and the idea of starting our working life together was very appealing. I took the risk and we did our training at different hospitals.
From there the risks came thick and fast. For ahwile, after reading the Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart I lived by the options obtained from the thrown di. Despite it all I survived. The biggest risk was giving up a career and moving to a remote island in Vanuatu (Tanna). Here the risks came daily and although it changed our lives forever it didn’t stop us from taking risks. We became farmers with no knowledge of farming, t general store keepers with no retail knowledge and restauranteurs. Deciding to retire after this experience we had to do something. We were both younger than retirement age so we decided to fill our time renovating, working as the builder’s labourers. Then, determining that we knew as much about building as we needed to know we decided to do away with the builder and build our own house.
Yet I ask are these things risks when you consider them adventures. Before Vanuatu we had looked at a tourist cruise ferry on Pittwater. We really wanted to do it. Cruising up and down on the water serving sandwiches to the tourists sounded like a career move we would enjoy. But we looked at it and couldn’t make the figures turn it into a viable venture. Luckily as it turned out as it sank with a boatload of American old age pensioners on board. So did we only take calculated risks?
It’s true that now I’m older I do take less risks but I don’t think that this is through choice but rather that I am no longer in a position to be actively seeking out adventure. I suppose doing my masters is a bit of a risk but a fairly safe risk – all that can happen is not succeeding but at least I’m trying. Writing is a bit of a risk in itself- particularly memoir as it opens you up to censure and exposes your vulnerabilities and failures and there is always the risk of destructive criticism (I love constuctive criticism as this is the only way that your writing moves forward).
My husband on the other hand takes more risks. Stupid risks like not doing up the ladder to prevent it from jack-knifing as he climbs. The risks he takes are due to impatience and possibly a little laziness but perhaps as the number of risky ventures presented to him become fewer perhaps he just has to make a few of his own.
I’d be interested on what you think about taking risks. Do you think you are born a risk taker? What do you think about taking risks as you get older?