Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Taking Risks

"Take a ch-ch-ch-chance"
- The Beatles

(<-- I took a risk and shaved my head in Sudamerica. Not sure if this one paid off...)

This is kinda like a part 2 to what I posted last week. Again I came up with this one while travelling. It was sort of a natural process to start taking more risks just because of the freedom that travelling provides. At first these were just small decisions like when it came to eating I wouldn’t turn down any food no matter how exotic. This immediately paid dividends as now I enjoy a much larger range of food than I used to.

I started to make decisions like this more often. Instead of safe, expensive flights between cities, I started choosing the cheap and rickety buses. This was also a money based choice and I figured it wasn’t going to hurt anybody except me to sit in a bus for 15 hours (or 35 hours). I used all that time to listen to music, check out the views, write down some thoughts or ideas and the greatest thing was that I developed patience. Instead of getting flustered and annoyed and focusing on the negatives, I just put up and shut up and found it easier than I thought.

So I had already increased my enjoyment of food and improved my patience. This was really paying off. It wasn’t all roses and kisses, though. On a number of occasions I got sick from eating a shoddy looking soup, or drinking some dirty tap water. This led to one or two sharts. Also there was a bus trip that went beyond developing patience and reached the point of fighting off pneumonia, when freezing my ass off travelling at 4000m altitude at night with dodgy windows that shake open as the bus rolls over bumpy dirt roads. But I survived didn’t I? Now my stomach can handle dodgier foods and I’m more accustomed to dealing with the cold. Then there was the shoddy drug deals, but even when getting ripped off I was still improving my Spanish.

Always the self analyst I broke it down to the fact that taking a risk generally means you have to go through more to achieve something. Usually I would only do this if the increase in risk provided a potential increase in reward. The business graduate in me could draw a graph to give a visual representation of risk-reward theory, but I’ll spare you. However, I don’t think the business part of me fully understood risk. Like Lee always says (quoting someone else who I can’t remember) “The path is the goal.” Aside from any rewards in the end, the lessons learned getting there make it more than worth it (maybe I didn't understand reward now that I think about it).

These risks continued to pay dividends either on the journey or after it, e.g. I took a risk when deciding to extend my stay in Bolivia a month to check out some park that let volunteers care for pumas. So now the theory was proven. I decided, when embarking on a three week trip through the South of Argentina, that by principle, when in doubt over a choice, I would choose the riskier one. This started with an ill-fated hitchhiking expedition, which began well enough with a few pick ups and ended with me sleeping in a cold garage behind a service station, woken up by a stray dog sniffing me and my bag. It ended with me standing through 7 hours of sunburn, not getting picked up by anybody and then catching a bus.

The self analyst in me came back and observed my frustration. I came back to thinking about regrets. On this particular risk, it would have been cheaper, quicker, safer and easier to have never hitchhiked. But I thought if I never tried to hitchhike I would always be wondering what it’s like to do it. And now I want to try hitchhiking again. I imagine next time I hitchhike I will be better at it, more patient and enjoying the conversations with the drivers instead of being fixed on the final destination. No point in regretting that I took a risk. That’s the whole point of risk, it might not pay off. But a riskier situation causes you to be more alert and aware and you end up a smarter, more capable person for the experience.

- Eden (while listening to In Rainbows - Radiohead)


  1. "The path is the goal".
    You can put that on my tombstone.

  2. Taking a risk is like the feeling you get on a roller coaster. It feels like something you shouldnt be doing, but the rewards are great (even if the risk doesn't pay off, and roller coasters are pretty safe). So it seems risk taking is basically a no lose thing to do, if the risk pays off - you win. If it doesn't then you have a valuable experience that's only made you wiser to the traps of this world - you win.

    Though my risk taking isn't nearly as risky as yours Eden.

  3. great article, there's not much more i could add, but i'll just say that the rollercoaster theory is spot on too hamish. I've thought before about how the thrill of theme park rides is because there is that slight chance of death. Awesome topic

  4. Really nice post.. Why do we focus on the final destination? Is it a matter only of instant gratification and expectations? Are we acknowledging our own mortality by focusing on the final destination... Grabbing at whatever will make as feel validated and alive at that present time