Beware of Life
From January to September 2009, 21,833 people died in my home state of Oregon. Just like that, each one of them left the world—here one day and gone the next.
Several weeks ago, three hikers also died on our nearby Mount Hood in a tragic accident.
After their deaths, there was the usual pontification about what they could have done differently. Despite the fact that they were all experienced climbers, and despite leaving for the hike when weather conditions were good, some people blamed their “risky behavior” and suggested various reforms that wouldn’t have made any difference in their case.
While I was away for my end-of-year vacation, I scanned through the comments on our newspaper’s website. “I don’t want to say they deserved to die,” one person said, before going on to explain why they deserved to die for pursuing their passion.
Fatal accidents are sad. I wish they wouldn’t happen, and I wish we could bring back the lost hikers. But I also don’t think they should have stayed home, and I don’t think they are that different from the 21,833 others who died earlier this year.
I propose that the greater risk is to play it safe all the time. Properly experienced, life is a very risky behavior.
I recently read Christopher Reeve’s autobiography, Still Me. He wrote about how during his years playing Superman, he worried about dying in a “dumb” accident. Superman Hit By Bus, he imagined the headline. Later, he fell off a horse and was paralyzed for the rest of his life.
The book is a fascinating account of his first two years adjusting to a very different (and extremely limited) way of living. He was angry, bitter, and at times wished he had died in the accident. But he didn’t regret riding the horse that day his life changed forever. As he put it, if he knew when he got on the horse that he would be thrown, he would have slept in that morning. But there’s no way to know something like that in advance; you just have to live your life, risk and all.
From time to time people send me stories like the Mount Hood climbers, or something bad that happened to another traveler somewhere. I don’t have a death wish with anything I do, and I don’t think that world travel is particularly unsafe. Like Superman, I could get hit by a bus right down the street from my home.
But if something ever does happen to me, all of you can tell the real story to anyone who asks: Chris didn’t want to take any risks on missing out. That’s why he climbed the mountain.
Instead of trying to live a risk-free existence, let me tell you a few things that are truly worth worrying about:
The road not taken.
The destination not explored.
The adventure not pursued.
The life unlived.
If we’re going to lose sleep over something, it seems to me that those are the things that should keep us awake.
Life is dangerous. It’s risky. It’s worth it.
Considering that the leading cause of death in the US is heart disease, the bigger risk in life is what is on your plate, not in what country you plan to eat it. People don’t look at that way, though. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Great post Chris… your best in a long time.
More like this please.
I read Chris Reeves book as well. My mother had a very similar accident. She worked for Pan Am and flew all over the world. LOVED IT. Would not change a thing. Then she was standing by a hill in a campground, fainted, rolled down a hill and became a Quadriplegic. Life just happens while we are busy making plans. When asked, my mother will tell you that she is grateful for having traveled and seen the world. It’s what keeps her vibrant in that wheelchair. She has her memories and her physical condition does NOT identify her. Her experiences DO.
Well said Chris. I wonder what the world would look like if more people lived their lives embracing risk and following their passions? Utopia or Disaster? Interesting thought…..
Chris – GREAT post, hits me in the heart. Thought you would like to know you are a big inspiration to us in embarking on an adventure of our our own this year involving travel. When we get discouraged preparing for this, we remember you and posts like this.
Safe and adventurous travels to you, and keep it up!
Just have one thing to say, Chris. This is so inspiring!
Outstanding article. I’m glad to be reminded that I’ve been staying too safe.
Thanks, Chris. Couldn’t agree more
Chris, thanks for this very timely (for me) post. I plan to have this be my last year as an employee, and am going to start actively building a solopreneurial business in support of that. But I’m coming up against huge fears and having to face them head-on. Nothing special about that–I know it’s something that practically every entrepreneur or business owner goes through. But it’s the first time **I** will be going through it. So, ouch! Hard hard hard!
The more I can keep reminding myself of the things you say are *truly* worth worrying about, the easier it will all be, I think (hope).
A friend said something a while back that stuck with me. “If dealing with your worst case scenario is doable, why not take the risk?” Because “the worst” is very unlikely to be what actually happens.
Thanks, Chris, for being willing to climb mountains and then write about it. 🙂
Loved this article! Stepping into the 3rd 3rd of my own life, I see that my zest for life is not lost, just thought through a bit more (but not too much!). Thanks for the reminder to get out and ENJOY life!
Great reminder! My word for 2010 is “heart,” and I think this is exactly what I needed to read today.
Just beautiful. And the perfect bit of inspiration to kick start the year.
Awesome essay, Chris. Risk is something to consider in certain activities (Russian Roulette comes to mind), but otherwise it shouldn’t keep you from experiencing all that life has to offer. People love to create all kinds of reasons and back-stories for events that were nothing more than random. It’s a limiting aspect of the human psyche.
Hey Chris, great post. I remember reading when I was a teenager about a survey given to people in their 70s asking them about their greatest regrets up to that point in life. The number one answer was being regretful for playing it too safe, not taking enough risks. I really appreciated that perspective from those who have been around the block a few times.
Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb. – Winston Churchill
This kinda sums it up for me. Great article. All life is a risk we must be willing to take. If not, what’s the point of living? “Risk” can be seen in many ways though. It’s not just being adventurous.
“Living is hazardous to your health.”
Anything worth doing has some risk involved.
However, the “being risky” part can be elaborated further. That is, take CALCULATED risks.
Just as renown entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t go out on a limb and risk it all, instead focusing on calculated risks to higher guarantee the big wins, we too shouldn’t just dive out into any experience unknown.
We push our comfort and adventure zone, but if we’re savvy about pursuing new pastures, we can minimize the potential negatives (including death).
Anyway, great article Chris. Just wanted to elaborate a bit more on the risk aspect.
Thanks, Chris, it’s refreshing to hear this. It’s something I struggle with, but at least I *am* struggling. I wonder if you’ve read any EM Forster? A lot of his work concerns this theme. Usually characters do manage to take the road untaken (have you noticed how much more this happens in fiction, and how much more people accept it there?) but his most heartbreaking story is The Longest Journey, because it’s about a character who wants to live the life unlived and never manages it.
Thanks for the reminder, Chris. What an inspiring post. What people forget is that we are all dying. It’s part of life to die. So do we sit in a chair and wait for ourselves to rot away? Or, do we make the most of the time God has given us? I prefer the later!
Chris, I always appreciate your posts, but this one couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I’m struggling with whether or not/when to quit my current desk job (great pay, benefits, yet incredibly draining and limiting for me) to return to my dream of living abroad and pursuing other passions. I need reminders like this to help me remember what I truly value, rather than just holding onto what feels safe. Keep ’em coming!
Great post because it hits at the scarcity vs. abundance mindset that you’ve written about before Chris, I’ve been reading a lot on prosperity consciousness and having a “victim” mentality. I think of Bear Grylls and the late Steve Irwin and those two individuals absolutely love their work so much that they were willing risk of death to pursue passions.
I liken the effect to driving too slow on the road where in an act of safety you can actually put yourself (and other drivers) at more risk. When you act overly cautiously, you don’t get the potential pitfalls but you also don’t receive any of the benefits, so why is it even worth doing in the first place? Life shouldn’t be spent going through the motions, time is too valuable.
Too many of us spend a lot of time dying (or being fearful of it) and not enough time living. It’s important to be preventive, but I think it’s even more important to be proactive in doing what makes you happy and that comes with risk but a lot more benefits!
In the US around 115 die in car accidents everyday, but you don’t hear people saying people should stop driving cars. I wonder if those same people write about car accident victims the same way?
Hi Chris – As I read this post, I heard again my father’s words, delivered with intensity as he held my hand and locked eyes with me from his hospital bed, two days before he died: “Never say ‘if only. . .’ ” As in, “if only I had done this, or not done that.”
Your post reminds us that at the end of the day we will regret the things we did not do far more than the things we did. My dad’s voice has rung in my ears for 27 years now. His advice has given me the ability to soar, exactly as he intended. Thanks, Dad. And thanks, Chris.
REALLY what I needed to read! Thanks for the great article. Life is too short to always play it safe. The times I feel most alive are the moments when I’m closest to death. Thanks again!
As Gibby Haynes once said in 1987 , “It’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t.”
“Properly experienced, life is a very risky behavior. ”
Going forward, is there any specific type of attribution you would like attached to this quote? Since I plan to use it as often as I can – especially with my children, I want to make sure you’re satisfied with how it’s referenced. 🙂
My uncle always said: I will travel when I retire. I will go hiking when I retire. I will plant roses when I retire. So he worked stupid long hours. Retired (from his own business) when he was 60 (in March), booked the cruise (for May) and died before he could go (in April).
I rest my case.
Excellent post, Chris. I was recently reflecting on all the crazy things I’ve done in my life, and how glad I am that I did them. The times I trusted my instincts and the universe, I won big. The times when I stayed hiding behind my fears (for the things I was hiding behind weren’t real limitations, they were the projections of my fear) I lost valuable time.
I am 35 now, and am happy overall with my life, but am definitely not planning to waste any more time!
You’re the best… keep up the good work!
Hi Chris..thanks for the great post today. When people think of risk, typically, they think of physical risk. All true here. I think today’s notes can also be applied to mental, emotional and intellectual risks: Sharing ideas without stressing over what others will think; moving into subject areas or work assignments that haven’t been tackled before; starting a new business; allowing junior employees the opportunity to fail for the learning experience. We have opportunities daily to work with risk and grow from it.
Thanks Chris. And can I add that for those of us in our fabulous fifties and sexy sixties it’s never too late to live the life you want to.
As always, your writing is so inspiring. And magically, seems to be just the right message at the right time.
As a woman who has travels solo around this wonderful world, one of the most common comments I get is how “dangerous” it is. I’m living in Mexico now…and the “dangerous” comments are even more rampant. What about malaria, the swine flu and the narcos? Just to name a few.
My response: I grew up in Chicago. There a lots of gangs, drugs and even freak weather deaths, but no one ever told me how “dangerous” it was to live in Chicago. And I was even the victim of a crime there more than once.
Yes, there are potential dangers in pursuing our passions, but also in just living life. I think that compared to the fears in our own minds, the world is a pretty safe place! 🙂
Great stuff to think about…
Great words. We don’t even know why we’re here. Why would we play it safe? Safe for what? 80 years of being terrified to do anything?
Life is an adventure, the greatest one you can ever embark on. You can be frightened the entire time or you can enjoy the ride.
Ironically, the third leading cause of death in the US are doctors. Probably safer to climb Mt. Hood.
I have lived life to its fullest thus far, and continue to “squeeze the flask of life to the dregs”. Replace fear with faith!
Twenty-two years ago, my husband of 11 years was killed in a freak tractor-roll-over in our front yard. For some time after, I lived in fear of the “other shoe dropping.” What tragedy was waiting in the wings for myself and my children? How could I keep them and myself safe? After finding myself using “No” as my default answer to everything, I realized that my husband was killed less than 20 yards from our front door. There are no safety guarantees in life. You are right – it is dangerous, it is risky, it is so worth it. We don’t need to beware of life – we need to beware of not living it.
Of course they don’t deserve to die; but it saddens me when I suspect that someone died in a situation in which they did not fully understand the magnitude of the risk that they were subjecting themselves to – from a statistical standpoint, that is.
Far better to die doing something that others consider “risky” (that you want to be doing) than to die sitting in front of your tv doing nothing! We all go sooner or later – we may or may not have any say in when – but let’s not waste the time we have here “being careful” to preserve a so-so life! One reason I love your website, Chris, is that you’re not waiting around to do what you want to do. You’re doing it NOW. and that is what’s so inspiring about you!
When your number’s up, it’s up. Run away, stay inside, go hiking, eat healthy, smoke like a chimney. We all die and there’s nothing you can do, nowhere you can go, to stop it from happening. Remember this, too, everything happens for a reason, right or wrong, good or bad, understood or not.
I love that you didn’t limit this post to travel, because it applies in so many other ways. In this go-go world we live in, saying “I want some downtime” can feel risky. You can be judged for that, or for any number of other things you may choose to do.
You and your commenters have me thinking, perhaps one of the riskiest things we do is worry about others’ perceptions of us. Because then we aren’t making our own decisions, we aren’t living our own life.
Amen and Amen, Chris! Life is for living. We can attach any concepts, rules, philosophies, religious dogma, etc. to it – but the only reality is “being.” Only we can make ourselves free and only we can create a state of mind of happiness. Getting up each morning and facing the new day is fraught with all the inherent risks everyone has mentioned so far. Thanks for this post – once again, you’ve inspired this guy in the 3rd half of his life – and my quest to live and work free – my life, my terms, my right.
Keep up the great work.
thanks for the reminder to get out of my head (and home office), and not let fear hold me back. as a therapist i can assure you that the majority of people i see have internalized the core belief that “the world is an inherently unsafe place.” this faulty logic leads to the “domino” effect producing many other unhealthy and pervasive negative thoughts. before you know it, you have an anxiety disorder (well, not you (!)).
we should all practice more “intrepidness.”
enjoy your journey!
Hallelujah Chris! Life is gift to be lived to the fullest. I agree that a greater risk lies in not living it. I try every day to remember how I felt 3 years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Life gets really clear when you face the reality that none of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. I’ll climb my 2nd mountain this year and if I fall off a cliff doing it then I’ll be glad a mountain took me and not cancer.
Thanks Chris. The best, most successful, most alive moments of my life have always come from taking a risk.
If they didn’t require risks, then everyone would be doing it.
Yep. Just look at one of the front-page stories in today’s NYTimes. One girl pursued her intellectual passions and it tells you exactly where it led her. It’s a fascinating and disturbing prospect. But perhaps “excitement” (or passion, following one’s authenticity) is just what life is – true growth. Without it, we decay a little bit each day we go without it.
Is it wrong that I got chills reading this?! To say it’s a motivator and inspiring is an understatement.
I keep a (ever-expanding) bucket list of things that I want to do in this lifetime. Some of them are small, like learning how to play guitar, while others are inherently more daring and — one might say — dangerous, such as going heli-skiing.
But, I’ve come to find that I feel more alive during those more extreme activities and come away with memories and feelings of triumphant that rival any other positive experience that I’ve had in this short lifetime.
“The great tragedy of life is not death itself, but rather what dies within us while we live.”
Kudos, Chris. I try to live a new life experience every single chance that I get for the very reasons stated above. Some are small. Some are dangerous. All of them define who I am today and how I will be remembered on the day that “…I deserved to die.”
Thanks for my new favorite quote “Properly experienced, life is a very risky behavior.” 🙂
Coincidentally, Monday I posted an outtake from some video work I did with Christopher Reeve a number of years ago. It’s on our blog at midlandvideo.com We were at his house just a few months after his accident for the taping. He, and his wife Dana, were coping with all of the changes in their lives but couldn’t have been more welcoming. And Mr. Reeve insisted on doing take after take, even though each one was exhausting for him. We’ll always remember both of them fondly and when we think of Christopher Reeve we’ll always know he lived his life to the fullest – both before and after his accident.
My sentiments exactly, chris! if i cling to any fear, it’s the fear of living the expected, the adequate, the *proper* life. mediocrity scares me. that’s exactly why you, and i, and other like-minded folks march forward with eyes wide open toward the joys and risks that abound in our world.
and if you do get hit by a bus, chris, yes, most likely it will be in your neighborhood [stats show this to be true]. so, live fully, open-heartedly, and watch your back for the tri-met!
We were just thinking about this concept the other day. Many people look at our journey as something risky, but what motivates us is that we are curious. For several years, my job required theoretical knowledge of countries; now I want to learn through experiencing first-hand. And this goes beyond travel.
Thanks for an incredibly motivating article! Just the motivation I needed today.
Thanks for the reminder! Whenever someone starts saying “they shouldn’t have taken my advice”, “they should have taken my advice”, “they shouldn’t have taken the risk” etc. I often remind them (and me) that there’s no guarantee that the road not taken will be better. The road not taken could lead you to get hit by a bus, so you might as well take the chance on the things you really want to do.
Killer post. As an addendum:
The only way to be 100% sure you’re not going to die doing anything is to already be dead.
No one gets out of here alive. Live it up while you can.
Chris this is just such a wonderful post.
It is so hard sometimes to explain to people why I love travel so much(or for that matter wanting to do things that are not the norm). In return you often get this blank stare or a shrug of the shoulders.
I am definitely like you, I don’t want my tombstone to read “died not having experienced life to the fullest.”
Outstanding post Chris. The fact that you are taking risks to live the life you want (and sharing it so publicly) inspires us all. If we don’t take risks, we cannot experience success but instead plod through life on autopilot. Taking risks brings us closer to the divine. The person who doesn’t take risks is like the servant in the New Testament parable who buried his talents in the ground – and was surprised when his master was angry with him for not investing it and building on it. When you let fear govern your life, you’re not living, you’re hiding, and you waste your potential.
I cannot agree more! People always thinks my trips abroad are risky but I believe staying home is risky. For me not seeing the world is the biggest risk of all. We are all going to die one day, we can die anywhere, anytime and well I dont want to die, I would rather die having train tripped through the Ukraine or danced the night away in Japan than have sat at home wondering, “what if.”
Thank you Chris! What an inspiring and amazing reminder to live full out. I am 60 yrs old and am happy to report it has been a wild ride so far because I always pushed through my fears, took risks, and made choices that make me feel engaged and alive.
My favorite quote: “…and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin
This post came at perfect timing Chris, thanks! I just wrote my first blog post of my new adventure in 2010 that will hopefully be taking all of the right risks. I can’t risk wasting my life away behind a desk anymore. Keep up the good work, I will meet you out there in the world somewhere.
This is a lovely post and perfectly encapsulates something I think about and find myself trying to explain to people often. It is probably statistically more dangerous to walk out your front door and cross the street than to go hiking (if you know what you’re doing and where you’re going) or even sky-diving or base-jumping, again assuming proper precautions. Still, accidents will happen.
20 years ago I spent some time in India. Basically, if you go to India and eat anything outside of high-end western hotels, you’ll get sick. I didn’t have any interest in going to India and staying or eating in high-end western hotels, so I decided I would go wherever and eat whatever I wanted. I got sick. Very sick in fact, with bacterial dysentery. I lost 60 pounds (!), nearly died, and ended up in hospital on basically every antibiotic they had. It took years for my digestive tract to fully recover. Did I wish I hadn’t that particular Thali? Of course. Do I wish I’d stayed in the hotel? No way.
I can definetely say this last 3 months have been eyes opening for me in many ways and I have been losing not hours but night of sleep!
Great post, Chris. But most of all… amazing way of closing it! Thank you for your last words and thank you for sharing your thoughts!
It worths it!
Life is danger is true because I can die any moment even I could be hit by the car wile at home and it could kill me.
Great post Chris. As Honest Abe once said:
“And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln
At the moment, I am choking back tears because the sentiments you’ve written about here hit very close to home for me.
I had a short stint as a hardcore rock climber 3 years ago until a car wreck caused a significant amount of damage to the discs in my neck, which called for neck surgery to repair. After losing the ability to do something that I loved so much, a hole managed to find its way into my heart. A BIG one. I struggled constantly when trying to make sense of why such a thing happened to me.
It’s been a long time since I got back on the rock, and it will probably be even longer before I have the nerve to go back since I am physically weak now, but one thing that can NEVER be taken away from me is the sense of courage I gained from doing that which scared the daylights out of me at times. I pushed myself to do things that I never imagined I would be capable of mentally & physically, but when I was finally able to achieve my goals those accomplishments influenced my daily life,
I’ve been thinking about this so much lately. I’m so tired of the sideways looks I get for even mildly off center or adventurous decisions I make- things like pursuing Cross Fit, being an entrepreneur, and having an only slighly un-nuclear family (I’m a single mom and my son spends loads of time with his grandparents instead of the usual once a year visit).
To me the number of living dead that I see wandering around is what really terrifies me. It seems contemporary culture has become all about consuming or creating fear 24/7. Sad stuff considering how much wasted potential that adds up to.
Chris, well said. There is only one way to live life to the fullest and that is in the NOW. Those climbers were living their lives to the fullest. It is sad what happened, but as you say, you could cross the street in your home town and get hit by a bus. Living in fear is no way to live at all. It is instead a slow and painful way to die. Unfortunately, in seems in the US right now, all we hear about and read about is fear. What we need is a movement that pushes us out of this crazy fear-based media frenzy of the 21st century and into something more positive and fulfilling. Reading your blog helps me to stay positive and focus on the strength I need to live my life day to day.
Well done, safe travels.
The way I see it, life doesn’t have to be properly experienced to be risky. You could be sitting in your living room watching TV, when an SUV careens out of control in front of your house and bursts through your front wall. You could catch some sort of disease or infection, even if you try to live as antiseptically as possible. As someone mentioned above, car crashes kill people every day. So do car-hits-pedestrian accidents. Risk is everywhere, well-lived life or no. So, why *not* live well?
As the old adage says, “Living is a dangerous proposition — nobody gets out of it alive.”
When my brother bought himself a motorbike, my mother worried constantly that he would have an accident. And he did. He skidding in the snow and went over the handlebars and fractured his skull – on a push bike. If he’d been on the motorbike, he’d have been wearing a hard hat, and it wouldn’t have been nearly so serious. He made a full recovery, but he was off work for a year.
Of course it makes sense to weigh risks and minimize them whenever practical, but you can’t completely avoid risk and it’s unhealthy to try. For example, it makes sense to wash your hands frequently and get a flu jab, but it doesn’t make sense to become a recluse for fear of the flu.
Incidentally, five years ago I went flying over the handlebars of a push bike too. I broke my shoulder, but my skull was just fine – I was wearing a cycle helmet.
excellent article, chris
armchair analysts and bored mothers would have us put a chain link fence around the ocean in the name of “safety”
a friend of mine died the other day sitting at his computer in his home office — yet he lived a full life travelling and photographing the world
there is no need to fear death — we planned our exit strategy before coming here, so just have fun and enjoy life, risks and all!
Wonderful saying, can’t remember where I heard it: “Life’s dangerous; nobody’s survived it yet.” Agree wholeheartedly, you should look both ways before crossing the road, but then go cross it anyway.
There’s a song called “Jean the Birdman” (by David Sylvian and Robert Fripp, in case you wondered) that has one line in it that I put in my pocket and use as a motto:
“Who needs a safety net, the world is open wide
Just look out for the card sharks and the danger signs”
Which I take as meaning as long as you keep your eyes open and don’t let people take advantage of you (the card sharks) or ignore your intuition that something is wrong (the danger signs) then you don’t need to wrap yourself in cloud cotton to take on the world.
This is a very important post and is especially relevant for people traveling. Some people won’t travel because of their fears of terrorism. Those people won’t experience this great world. Thanks for your post.
I’m thinking, though, that risk taking does not supersede prudence nor does prudence inhibit following one’s dream.
Nice, Chris. Your four lines at the end summed it up well – my personal favorite is the part about adventure. When thinking about the various chapter of the life adventure, I also try and see challenging episodes as “experiments” rather than hardships (but admittedly, easier said than done). The language we use to define the moments in our lives – and way we live it – can make a difference between the positive and negative outlooks and approaches we have.
One of the most memorable nights of my life was Christmas Eve 1988, when I and some friends decided we’d go to Bethlehem to listen to the Christmas Carols.
Only one glitch, the first intifada was in full swing and Bethlehem was a risky place. Still, we made it past windows with kids hanging out hefting rocks the were considering throwing, though military checkpoints, soaking wet (it was also very, very cold and we were in desert gear).
After an amazing evening there we went to the hostel and found there was (you guessed it) no room at the inn…
Memorable night, full of the enthusiasm of youth…. risky ? I guess.. but that is one road I am SO glad I did not leave untravelled.
Shawshank Redemption : “get busy living, or get busy dying”
Great post Chris. I don’t think the hikers took risk as they were professional. It is just part of life. Often time I have taken the road when the weather was good and suddenly it drastically changed. Personnally I do like to live my life fully. Most of the time I will try and erase the risk to make me feel better and then realizing it is impossible. You get very nervous when trying to eliminate all risks in your life and by doing so we can’t enjoy life. I have learned to be rational about making decision and then go forward, enjoy the adventure and deal with the unexpected as it comes.
It reminds me of the life that Steve Irwin (crocodile hunter) lived before he suddenly died a few years ago, to its fullest doing what he was passionate about. I was sad for his death as he was young and had a small family but at the same time I knew he has lived every minute to the fullest.
another great post as usual! love your quote on life being risky behavior – so true!and so many insightful comments…
reminds me of a company retreat i had to attend that included lots of risky things like walking across a ‘log’ or jumping from a pole, both at the height of over 40′.
of course, everyone was strapped/cabled within an inch of their lives to avoid any injuries, but it was SO AMAZING to me how many people could not get into their skulls that they were being taken care of by a team of professionals who do this for a living and they would NOT GET HURT, but they just couldn’t jump off the pole or walk the log!!! i did many of the exercises, some more than once that day, but the take-away i got was this: it’s harder to ignore the messages of ‘danger’ going on in your head, than to just take the leap and follow your passion; after all, you don’t need someone to catch you if you’re pursuing art or writing…but folks sure do ‘think’ it’s ‘risky behavior’ 😉
We just came back from a trip to Mexico and while there, my brother-in-law talked our 6-yr-old son into going para-sailing with him and my husband. I would never have suggested that myself. I’m so glad he did because my son was sooooo excited. Now he has an amazing memory and a story to tell.
I could not agree more. After all, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” right? My husband and I are considered especially adventurous by most who know us or read about our travels, but we just consider ourselves curious. Yes, we could have died a thousand times over while traveling in places like Africa and the Middle East (right after the Iraq war started), but we could just as easily have died crossing the street or slipping in our shower. There are no guarantees in life and it is what you make it. I say, go forth and see it, experience it, enjoy it…it could all end right now!
I’ve been reading this blog nearly from the beginning and this is your best piece of writing yet.
I rarely comment, but wanted to quote part of your article for emphasis; “Properly experienced, life is a very risky behavior.”
I needed this! Thanks so much Chris. Just goes to show you that there are so many different ways to look at or ‘respond’ to certain situations.
I read Still Me years ago and it is an amazing book. I think of Christopher Reeve now and then. He was one of my favorites and he was such an inspiration – even more so after his accident.
Something came to me recently- kind of one of those Aha moments -that I want to live more of a high quality, vibrant life every moment. We’re all going to die one day, be it a month, a year, 5 years or 10 years, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is how I live when I’m here, every minute! Thanks. 🙂
OK…I totally love this! In part, because at the very moment it arrived in my inbox, I was hitting “publish” on a new post that was speaking the same language! It’s daunting to risk, to give up the illusion of safety, to tell the truth AND it’s so, so worth it. Thanks, Chris!! We’re trackin’!
Thank you Chris, this reminds me of Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ – by facing up to the fact we will all die somehow, surely this just liberates us to wring the ‘juice’ out of each and every moment?
And hearing how Christopher Reeves would worry about a dumb’ accident and then tragically fall prey to one…this shows how poignant and powerful focusing on what we don’t want can become. And yet, what a gift he left behind for us though his ordeal…
Don’t wait for permission, or for the right conditions, or the safety net to appear…just jump!
Excellent post. If it’s my time to go before I’m old and feeble, I can only hope that people will say “he died doing what he loved”.
I am very grateful for posts like these. Embracing risks – small or big – are important and I quite often find opposition to it all around me. I took a 3 day road trip for New Year’s – me and my camera. There were a large portion of neysayers to try and sway me because I’m a young woman or a “girl”. The trip was empowering and peaceful and I was never at one moment in danger. Fear…is limiting.
First, I’m adding Reeve’s book to my to-read list. I’m not huge on bios, but your review certainly tempts me.
Secondly, what a super-inspiring post! One of the best overall posts on any blog I’ve read in a while.
What’s the bigger risk? Sitting on your couch eating junk food and watching garbage television, or exploring the world and/or exploring your passions with vigor? Give me an extra-large dose of the latter, please.
The biggest risk is the one not taken!
Bravo! Couldn’t agree more.
We are a fear-mongering culture, that’s for sure. Yet, I’ve never meet anyone who has experienced a positive life-changing or transformative event that didn’t include risk.
Apologies for the double comment, fellow readers. I’ve been pondering this post for the last several minutes and you know what irritates me? The people who say that the world is such a dangerous place and that you shouldn’t go here or there or anywhere are the same people sitting at home on their couches watching the polluted news for hours on end. Of course they think the world is a dangerous place – that’s exactly how the media portrays it. I don’t claim to know everything (not even close!) about the world, but I don’t sit on my a$$ and claim to be an expert. One of my favorite music lyrics ever – in the words of Bob Dylan – “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand” (The Times They Are a Changing).
(now where did I put the address for that scuba diving center…)
Awesome, awesome, awesome!
There are several people in my life that tsk-tsk my “risky” behaviors like choosing to ride a motorcycle, rock climbing, and skydiving. I usually jokingly tell them, “You are only truly alive when you are living closest to the edge.”
I don’t view any of my behaviors as a massive risk- I take the necessary precautions to ensure my safety the best that I can, but I would rather truly experience life and all it has to offer and die young, then live a sheltered existence and die old.
Although I enjoy your AONC posts immensely, and am studying your “Art and Money” product that was my only Christmas present to myself, it was this post that made me just stop and say to myself, thank the guy for this specifically, let him know how he’s been helping you through a tough time. I’ve got tears in my eyes as I write this. Thank you, dear Chris. Be safe, but keep moving and grooving, we all love ya for it!
As a climber (albeit just a recreational one) and a guy that chucked the big, fancy corporate lifestyle in the garbage about a year ago to be able to live a simpler, riskier life, I couldn’t agree more with you.
Most climbers will tell you that they know the risks, and the smart ones will mitigate those risks by choosing projects appropriate to their fitness level and experience, but there is always, should always be, some risk in whatever we do. Climbing isn’t about being better than anyone else; it’s about being better than you were yesterday, and about helping those you climb with to do the same. That aspect of competing only with yourself and supporting everyone else – the intense positivity of it – is one of the most attractive things about the lifestyle.
I’ll happily take whatever risk is available for the chance to be part of that kind of environment, and to really experience life with as few limitations and borders as possible.
Great post, Chris… thanks.
What a wonderful find… your blog. Chris, I was just today crafting a new entry for my blog about the importance of having confidence, facing your fears, and how our biggest and only fear should be saying “what if” while on our death beds. Missing out on living my life to the fullest scares me far more than being hit by a bus. I will keep working on that post. We all need to be reminded of what the greatest dangers truly are in life… not living it. Again, wonderful post, Chris. Thank you.
Love all your articles and this one really hit the spot! In my 70’s now I’m fulfilling my childhood ambition to see the world and spread the news that Life is for Living! Many thanks for your continual inspiration Chris.
I think you are awesome and I have great respect for what you do and what you are sharing and I appreciate it! I am grateful for finding your site!
This is so true. I would MUCH rather die doing something I’m passionate about, than die at a young age doing drudgery.
People regard risk as negative, when in fact, the only (emphasis on only) reason for engaging in it is in the pursuit of something valuable to you, that’s worth more than the potential negative outcome. Even if it’s a less obvious value, like an adrenaline rush, that feeling is still more valued than the potential risk of death, which speaks volumes about the human species.
“Two roads converged in a yellow wood, and I/ I took the road less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost
Thanks for the great post Chris! I join the others above who have requested more like this.
Mark Twain wrote, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
He was right. I am!
My single greatest wish is to die like the hikers, doing somethg I love. I’m sad for their loss but over joyed that they gave EVERYTHING to something they loved. That is a fine example for living a passion filled life. RIP.
I can relate so well, as one who pursues the “dangerous” hobby of racing cars. 🙂
My husband is always worried about going to a track and pushing himself and his car. He always goes back to the, “well, what if something happens?” Always worried about what if something breaks. How we’ll get home. What will we do. Sadly, it’s held him back. I have yet to see him realize track driving our S2000.
Conversely, my Miata and I were out on the track in 2009 for the first time ever. And I didn’t hold back all that much. (Yes, I was a bit afraid…) I did almost 90 down the straight before throwing the car back into third for some corners, and it was pure bliss. I almost spun out twice. And I learned a hell of a lot that day about both her and me. Oh, we were also perfectly fine afterwards. I wouldn’t give that day back for anything.
Great post Chris. Life is ultimately fatal to 100% of us, a fact that seems lost on those sad souls who traded their appetite for risk for a death from cancer or heart disease. In an ironic twist, they may still die in an accident, “before their time.”
Many of the most risk averse people I know are couch potatos, spectators and commentators on other people’s lives. Which makes me wonder: if I were to trade my love of doing “risky things” like traveling the world or participating in sports for smoking, drinking, watching television and a sedentary lifestyle, would I actually live longer? I suspect I’m safer taking risks!
What an awesome post… it shows in the amount of comments. 🙂 Reading this makes me want to live braver, and bolder. Thanks for the wise words.
You know I always say “Great post!” but this time I want to say “Thank you”. As I just tweeted, today I was thinking of you as I listened to the radio talking about enhanced airport security measures everywhere in the world and if you’d ever worry about being on an airplane. After I came home I read this post, and I now know what you’d say. God forbid if something happens to you, I and everyone who are reading your blog will know that you don’t regret not getting on that airplane.
I also love that so many people are commenting on this post! It is great to see that people are excited about living life fully, it’s energizing. I am always amazed by how you can inspire people to speak their truth!
I think living life to the max, as my motto describes at LifeExcursion entails this exact point.
In all my years of travel and all my crazy antics, I have lived and experienced life. And almost every time there has been at least one or more (usually more) people that think I am too risky, stupid, and/or cocky. Thankfully, I really don’t care what they think. But, it always astonishes me how unhappy so many people I know are, yet don’t understand the point of taking risks. I have taken risks that have paid off and some that haven’t. With those risks have come ‘The Times of My Life’.
Love this post, Chris…and would like to tell you a little story.
Last year I decided that as a hardworking artist, I didn’t want to risk moving cattle on horseback for local ranches. It can be quite dangerous, and although I’ve climbed the mountains and a lot more, and fear nothing, it didn’t seem prudent.
So, one day, I decided to do a hike involving an extremely steep, but somewhat civilized mountain climb…all total, about 8 miles.
Won’t go into all the details, but within the first mile fate was waiting and I ended up with a fractured eye socket and a severe concussion. Finished the rest of the 7 miles and only realized the next day that I couldn’t understand what someone was saying to me.
I recovered… and then it struck me that this was immensely funny. The Universe does have a way of bringing a lesson home.
I still take chances… after all, you can die crossing the street.
Great post Chris!
I am always energized by your writing. You inspire me a great deal to “rock the Universe”. Thank you.
Awesome post Chris, just what I needed today! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Its great to see, from peoples comments that there are other people in this world that are not scared to go and grab life.
I put my heart and soul into a business with my husband and lost it all. Money and friends!
I do not regret it one little bit, as the whole experience has shaped me to who i am today.
I have recently given up everything i own e.g, car, house, furniture, most of my possessions and my cat! to see the world!
All my friends and family want me to settle down but i cant.
There is too many things in this world that i have to see through my own eyes and experience before i can feel, even a wee bit that i want to ‘settle’ in one place.
The risk of losing everything i own to experience a tiny part of this world is definitely a risk worth taking!
Wasn’t it Jimi Hendrix who said – Everything in Life is dangerous, nothing would be really worth doing if there wasn’t an element of danger in it?”
Annmarie didn’t want to take any risks on missing out. That’s why she climbed the mountain TOO! Thanks for the vision.
Being a rock and mountain climber, I think your article is right on the mark. I don’t believe it’s ever tragic to die doing something you love.
One of the best “exercises” I’ve ever done was to write two letters: One to my 12 year-old self (speaking from my then 30-year old perspective), and one to my 80 year-old self (the future self talking to my then 30-year old self). It puts things in perspective. That 80 year old said “GO FOR IT” “LIVE” and “ENJOY”. Thank you, Chris, for inspriing and reminding us what is really important.
I actually DO lose sleep worrying that I’m not going to do everything I want to do in life. I get a bit frantic over it sometimes. Great reminder to keep moving in the direction of our dreams, not in the direction of our fears (great anecdote from How To Make a Living Without a Job – Barbara Winter).
Your article is great ! It speaks from your heart to ours… just don’t forget to add love… the greatest risk of all !!! (smile).
Nothing much to add to the above comments, but just wanted to say I liked the essay.
There was a shooting here (St. Louis) yesterday at a business and the related online story generated comments similar to the one you describe, not that the 4 workers killed deserved to die, but just ridiculously stupid things just the same. I wonder what kind of life those commenters, and the ones you mentioned, have when their entertainment for the day is to sit at home and bash the dead.
This is a great post and it is perfect timing w/the many changes I personally am making in my life today. Roy Williams (coach of North Carolinas basketball team) said recently that his goal as a coach is to teach his players “to be led by their dreams, not pushed by their problems.” Oh so fitting. Thanks for the post.
Great stuff Chris.
“Life is for living, not for living uptight.” Jay-Z Forever Young
Amen Chris! My dad planned to to travel when he retired. He died one month after receiving his first social security check. As an artist I am taking a different path in life.
It bothers me when people tell me to be “safe.” Have a “safe” New Year’s Eve. Have a “safe” ride home.
How much does safe suck? Obviously, I want everyone I know to still be alive and unharmed tomorrow, but definitely not safe.
If everyone did the “safe” thing, nothing would ever happen.
I have a very similar post on my blog (titled “Why don’t you get rid of that donorcycle?”) that was featured on the NYT motors blog.
As was aptly stated in the book “North to the Night”, “Death is one of many ways to lose your life.”
Thanks for sharing. Live ON!
I’m pleased, but not remotely surprised, that a theme of the comments above is ‘calculated risk’ rather than ‘risk avoidance’. I’d hate to see the ‘fate’ theme take hold though; if fate were true, risk wouldn’t exist, the path would already be chosen.
I’ve lived way too safe, until a few years ago. I’m still learning to chase fear and trample it on my way to whatever I’m going to learn today. (My friend Jerry wrote earlier this week “It’s giving up before we’ve had the chance to fail that kills us, little by little.” It’s my mantra for this year.)
I’ve been reading your blog for about a year and have gotten huge inspiration from it. Unfortunately, that inspiration was coming from behind a desk and a mind numbingly boring job as a personal banker.
Slowly, day by day my inspiration grew and I took little steps consistently towards achieving my goals.
Today I can happily say that I have accomplished my life long dream of playing in a band. We’ve made a few records, played a lot of shows and things are gong well.
I also recently quit my job and began pursuing my life long goal of becoming a graphic designer. I’ve never been happier in my life! I’m actually writing this from the design lab so I better get to work!
“Beware of Life” points out something that hit home with me five years ago, when I was diagnosed with cancer.
Guess what — EVERYONE DIES. We may get injured climbing a mountain, riding a horse, crossing the street, or sitting at home, staying “safe.” But we all will die at some time.
My mantra became to enjoy life to the fullest, and not to wait until there is a “better time” to do something I want — like travel.
So, six months after completing rigorous chemotherapy, and six weeks after 32 radiation treatments, I went on a wonderful hiking tour of Tuscany — something I had been waiting to do (waiting until a better time).
The “better time” became NOW, and I haven’t looked back. Some people thought it might be risky, but I was cleared by my doctor. So, in my mind, the risk to me became being fearful & not doing the travel I wanted to, and then dying without having lived well.
You said it so well.
Thank you for sharing your story, Shari. Very powerful. I just had to reply.
It’s way better to pursue one’s passion than to just live a so-so life. Sure, the dangers and risks are there but then, life wasn’t meant to be lived in a couch. 😀
I agree so much with the statement that life is dangerous, risky and worth it. However, to fully embrace life’s joys, I think we need to dig deep and acknowledge the reality of danger and risk. Having raised 3 teens towards adulthood (does growth ever really end?), I think there is a built-in drive for some teens (mine) to pursue risky behavior. Some go too far. The car flips over, killing them. They drink too much and die (it happens). Still, parents know they can’t control it all.
Nor can we EVER truly have perfect control. But isn’t that what makes life worth savoring? We know death hovers over us, that it will rise up to meet us someday. But in the meantime….we can acknowledge its reality and live, full steam ahead, while we can.
If you want an rewarding life you have to take risks. I understand that. However, all risks are not created equal.
Risks that you take to get closer to your goals or your dreams are worth taking.
Risks that are not related to your life purpose and your goals are not worth taking.
Life is a risky place, but we can choose which risks we want to take and which ones to eliminate – we should manage the risk to maximize the desired rewards and eliminate undesired consequences.
So much value in all of these comments. So much.
“Properly experienced, life is a very risky behavior.”
Here, properly for most means mundane, ordinary, run-of-the mill. That’s really not living at all, is it?
Thanks for this – it is absolutely excellent. There is absolutely nothing…more…to add. Thank you for this and know that, all over the world, virtual strangers are wishing you peace, joy, and safety in your travels.
Brilliantly crafted post, Chris. I hitchhiked cross country a few years ago and motorcycled down the coast of California, two risky acts that peole gave me a lot of grief over. But they were also two of the most defining experiences of my life.
Hi Chris, thanks for a great post. My fiance and I had this point graphically illustrated to us a few weeks ago … we got engaged on a Friday night and were of course extremely happy and excited. A couple of days later we pulled over to assist a man who’d had a heart attack and was in the process of dying. The duality of life. And as we decided … the synchronicity that caused us to meet (randomly, on the street) also brought us to be with this man as he died.
I sympathize with your article. To live without regret is a gift not many people can accept these days. They are afraid of consequences they may not handle, but the illusion of being safe is still holding the same consequences for them.
You know, it’s like the two sides of a coin. One side is the illusion where people hide their fears and tell themselves they are safe, although the danger is still there. The other side of the coin is like facing your fears and do it anyway. You know consciously what awaits you, but you still do it because you know WHY you want to do it. Maybe it’s all just about conscious living.
I love hiking and camping by myself in cold remote places. Other people often tell me this sort of activity is foolhardy and dangerous … yet most of these same people consume too much fat, sugar and alcohol, and drive too fast. I’ll probably outlive them, but if I don’t I will have enjoyed my stay on Earth
As you say Chris, all of life is risky. Thanks for an excellent piece of writing.
Excellent point. We’re on a ’round-the-world bicycle tour right now and we hear people’s fears all the time. And we just keep reminding folks… it’s just as possible to die of a heart attack in a cubicle somewhere as it would be to get hit by a car on the road… the difference being that, if I got hit by a car, I’d die doing something that fulfilled me.
Excellent post Chris!
“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom.” Bymes
Thanks for reminding us all to go for the freedom!
I can’t tell you how timely this email is. My husband and I were just talking about this kind of thing yesterday after a year and a half of pretty tough stuff happening around us. I was saying that I want to be more risky again, to not be so afraid of really simple stuff, but I’m finding it harder than I used to, to do that. Anyway, thanks for your message. It helps me be brave again the way I want to be.
honestly – vaseline on the door handles of all the people sending you emails about people dying while traveling. and, worse for anyone who says the hikers deserved to die. i do not claim to understand the risks that people take sometimes, but i never judge them. this – the most slippery, dangerous slope of all. blessings in your travels in 2010, chris.
thank you for the reminder that the brave may not live forever, but the timid barely live at all.
Age 17 I flipped a truck while driving slowly on an icy road. At age 18, I broke 3 bones in my ankle playing soccer. Age 19, I was hit by a drunk driver. With complications, it almost killed me twice. Age 20, an elevated porch collapsed with me and 10 others. The guy beside me fell on his head. Distance from his head to the ground – 16 feet/4.8 metres. (Luckily he survived). I was just scratched.
All of these things happened less than 20 minutes from home. In between these accidents, I’ve spent three semesters abroad on three different continents, traveled alone in 15 countries, spent 4 months doing HIV/Aids work in Africa, and I’m still on track to graduate summa cum laude with a double major only two weeks after I’m old enough to drink legally here in the USA.
The scars I bear all over my body are memento mori. I’m not even willing to put off chasing my dreams until after graduation, it’s far too risky. After all, who knows when I’ll get hit by a car (again).
Before long parents will be held accountable for letting their children walk to school or leave the house to catch a school bus, if something bad occurs. The focus seems to be in smearing the reputation of the victim (s).
What a fantastic post, Chris! And a motivator, too. I don’t want to wonder about the road not taken or the life not lived either!
I couldn’t agree more. My mother couldn’t agree less… conflict ensues;)
I took a trip once to Tasmania, Australia little did i know a week before reports of the worst blizzard in Ten Years on the overland track, so bad people were scared and wanted out. Before i left home I had to go out and get a good snow jacket, and we were not as prepared as we wanted to be, but thankfully things turned out ok-we could have done with more chocolate.
I know that from what we had in our packs at the time, if we had of been caught in this it could of been a disaster. It just goes to show you do learn from different experiences when your on top of the world. I look forward to what the year brings ahead on this amazing journey. Keep up the excellent updates, it is so true we can learn from one another, not to judge a book by its cover.
We all have dreams, and this is where we have to be, its the only way in life!
I just stumbled on your web-site two days ago and I am now addicted! I like many other people feel a little lost in my mindless job. I long for the road less traveled and to do the things I dream of but I am told its irresponsiable. I was asked by a freind “what is a job you would do for free because you love it so much?” That is the question I am focussing on right now. And this article and your others are helping me tap into those beautiful dreams I’ve kept tucked away in the back of my head for so long, no more though! I will tap into the road less traveled and along the way never forget to tell the one’s I love exactly that…..that I love and appreciated them. With their love plus my vision I feel one day soon I will be running down that road less traveled!
Completely agree and have written those last few lines on a post it as a constant reminder – right next to two of my favorite quotes for 2010:
One of the greatest joys in life is to be in search of one thing and to discover another. – Anne Wilson Schaef
You may be dissapointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you dont try
– Beverly Sills
I have been reading your blog for over two years now and thank you for your drive to seek new destinations and your passion for life. You are an inspiration.
What a great post! As one of my friends likes to say “life is fatal.”
Alexander Eliot said it a little more poetically, ” Life is a fatal adventure. It can only have one end. So why not make it as far-ranging and free as possible? ”
To expound on that idea a little more, Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun, has said “death is certain, only time of death is uncertain. What is the most important thing we can be doing in this moment?”
I love it when art, spirituality and humanity come together to point us toward universal truths. ?
Serenity through statistics: I like that way of thinking. Fear not adventure, but fear obesity and diabetes. You are much safer sky diving than driving a car on the highway day in and day out on a 30 minute commute to work. You are much more likely to die from some form of cancer than from a hiking accident. Shark attacks won’t kill you and commercial planes hardly ever crash (so stop freaking out during a little turbulence, and for god sakes jump on that surfboard). Yes careless acts of risk taking will probably end badly, but so will careless acts of fast food, low exercise, and two liters of soda. In the end, which is more enjoyable? So buck up, and don’t fear adventure: fear the crap we put in our bodies, the debt were told to take on to pay for things we might not need, and the complacency that makes us die a little inside when we get up in the morning.
i just had to think of aron ralston, and his amazing book about his accident in the canyon. he says this event made him much stronger and more grateful about his life.
Concern, Yes. Worry, No!
Worry is a wasting of energy. Unless you have boundless energy, you might want to stop with the worrying.
Living a life by way of quotes, aphorisms, etc. is dangerous as some take that travelled road to an extreme and wind up thinking that everything they do and say is right.
Very useful article! We gotta push ourselves to enjoy the life that we dream about.
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