How likely is it that I will survive this? Will I get injured? Stuck? Will I fall? Get caught in a flash flood? Get hypothermia? Is this worth the risk?
As someone who works in the wilderness and spends a huge portion of my time engaging in outdoor activities, I am constantly calculating risks, weighing them against the rewards of an activity. It is the nature of being an outdoorsman. The wilderness is a domain outside of our control. What might be a pleasant stroll one day could be a life-threatening experience the next.
The fact that the wilderness is outside our control is exactly why it is so alluring.
I recently found myself in a wilderness situation where I nearly died (See Surviving Behunin). The weather turned for the worse while four of us were in a slot canyon, and before we knew it a flash flood was barreling down on top of us. On all but a few days out of the year, that particular slot canyon is a tranquil, peaceful place of incredible beauty. By entering the canyon that day, I knew I was taking a risk (as I do any day I enter a slot canyon, regardless of weather). This day the risks were higher as the weather report called for a chance of rain. I decided (foolishly) to proceed. I weighed out the risks and believed that the four of us, as experienced outdoorsmen, could breeze through easily before any weather would put us in danger. It turned out to be a nearly-fatal miscalculation on my part.
I have thought about that experience every day since it happened. I have had many vivid flashbacks of being pinned under that waterfall, praying for my life. I’ve replayed everything we did wrong, looking back on every decision that we made, rethinking everything we could have done differently.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the risks I take. And this leads me to think beyond the risks I take in the wilderness, but also the risks I take in life itself. There are risks in everything we do, relationships, career choices, driving a car, etc. We are always calculating the risks of every decision we make, big or small. Sometimes those calculations are a lot more noticeable (should I jump out of this airplane?), but often our calculations are in our subconscious (what will this bowl of ice cream cost me and how much will I enjoy it?).
As someone pursuing life in the arts through photography and writing, there are risks. Maybe I won’t be noticed. Maybe no one will care. Maybe I won’t be able to make a living. Maybe, I won’t create anything that’s any good.
And maybe those fears will keep me from ever trying.
You can’t eliminate risk from life (it would be silly to try). I think it is important to embrace the inherent risks of life. In many ways, the reward is in the risk. I am not advocating for stupidity here. I am not saying to screw the risks, go do everything dangerous. What I am saying is that if there is no chance of failure in any given thing, then it probably isn’t worth much.
Even if you’re not going skydiving, are you willing to embrace the risks of pursuing the life you want?
As the wise Bilbo Baggins once said “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”