Risk Taking

photo courtesy Colin Mathers

photo courtesy Colin Mathers

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?


About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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25 Responses to Risk Taking

  1. joannesisco says:

    Very interesting, Irene. I too have noticed that there are people who are risk adverse and their experiences – and therefore their lives – change very little from year to year. Others, like you and I, seem to thrive on it. I can’t say I actively go looking for adventure … I’d say it’s more of an attitude that leaves me open to recognizing one.
    I agree that risk taking comes in many different forms – like you and your brother. There is no one-size-fits-all.
    You’ve had a very adventurous life … and it sounds like you are continuing to embrace that philosophy.


  2. Charli Mills says:

    Great thoughts that emerged from Geoff’s post. If there was a scale of risk-taking behavior, your Mom would be one one end, your brother on the other. You’d be in that spot hollowed out by entrepreneurs who take calculated risks. There’s a purpose to the risk, whether adventure, business or expression. Also, it’s progressive, a risk here, a risk there is like stepping out to achieve a journey but with attention. Very thought-provoking post! And I agree with you on constructive criticism. I like focusing on the strengths of a writer or piece of writing and finding ways to make it even better.


  3. fictionfitz says:

    Hand in glove with risk taking is the fallout of failure. I ran into a period of time called retirement where I discovered the reward for risk taking is a smaller pension. Once I could get by it, bliss resumed. Now I have gone completely the opposite direction and have dreams of grandeur in which I believe retirement will produce my most profitable years. I herald naivety one again.


  4. fictionfitz says:

    Reblogged this on Writing Out Loud and commented:
    Great piece, answers requested.


  5. Sherri says:

    Your brother sounds just like mine Irene! Always going off-piste…and such! I used to think he was older than me when we were growing up because of the way he was always so daring. He became a fighter pilot later on so that figures! I might not be a fighter pilot but I am a risk-taker in many other areas of my life because I’ve come to realise that I thrive on it, I need some element of risk. I like a challenge, to shake things up a bit. Writing memoir is a huge risk I think. I’m terrified of failure and rejection so as with you, constructive criticism is so encouraging!! I find it fascinating the difference between your mum and you. Good job though you didn’t take that cruising job – those poor pensioners! But then you definitely took risks in other ways and look where you are today and what you have accomplished, and still doing so! There definitely is a difference between taking risks just for the sake of it and being foolhardy and taking calculated risks. Invincibility of youth doesn’t last for ever! Excellent, though-provoking piece my friend.


    • Thanks Sherri. This off-piste stuff is not my cup of tea at all. I have an aversion to the combination of speed, height, curves and sheer drops. I know where it comes from and I should do something about it as there are some things I’d love to do but start to feel sick at just the thought. Like you I take more emotional and life-affecting risks which can be just as treacherous as a down hill ski run. A fighter pilot would give you a few thrills I imagine.


      • Sherri says:

        Same…although I’ve never skied so I can only imagine. I meant to say, I love the photo of your brother! And yes, I totally agree, those emotional and life-affecting risks are every bit as treacherous… 😉


  6. Sherri says:

    Sorry…that’s supposed to read: ‘thought-provoking’… !


  7. TanGental says:

    If you look at a definition of risk, nearly all the alternates involved danger, harm etc yet one is ‘prospect’ which then links to chance, opportunity and promise. Therein lies the dilemma. For some it is the negative connotations that dominate, for others it is the upside that comes top. Like you and your mum and the card game (a perfect analogy). I take less physical risks than I once did but mostly because I take longer to recover and begrudge the lost time, but I now take more emotional risks, as you do, Irene, with your memoires. Such a great post and such interesting replies.


    • Thanks Geoff. Thinking more about it probably most people only take the risks that they are prepared for the possible losses. Those that do extreme activities are probably prepared for loss of life whereas those of us that aren’t prepared for that outcome do less extreme activities. Where I take emotional risks and life-changing risks I focus on the chances and experiences that will come rather than what I might potentially lose.


  8. Your brother and my son could be cut from the same cloth. Patrick is a risk taker or what I like to call an adrenalin junkie. Some people need the adrenalin high on a regular basis, sort of like a drug. I do think we tend to become a little more risk-averse as we age, but for a while my justification was “I’ve got kids, I need to make sure I’m here for them.” Now that the kids are grown, I can’t use that excuse. Aging does hamper the physical risk-taking, when you know you just can’t do it. But there are so many other forms of daring, and sometimes failure is just as good as success, because you know you tried.


  9. M-R says:

    Imnsho, taking risks is for Evel Knevel or whomever has assumed his mantle ! [grin]
    Nice post, Irene !!!


  10. mysafiri says:

    Interesting post! I believe taking risk and facing fears is essential at every stage of life. It keeps you on your toes and enjoying new adventures that add to who you are as an individual. I actually just published a piece discussing the necessity of facing fears. Feel free to check it out from a differing perspective 🙂


  11. Pingback: Chocolate Bacon Bomb Pie: 99 Word Flash Fiction | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist)

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