In the world that I live and thrive, I am constantly balancing risk and reward. I am a kayaker, vagabond, and huge fan of wild and harsh places. I’ve suffered more concussions, quarrels with hypothermia, bizarre illnesses, and painful blows, lacerations, and things tearing than I’d like to admit. I was once nicknamed the Suicide Queen for my tendency to wander alone. I’ve heard several times people tell me in retrospect that they thought I was gone. I am scarred. I limp. My arms lock up and ache. Sometimes I laugh when I feel worn out at 25. I spend a significant amount of my time being uncomfortable, and anyone who enjoys my company knows that one of the most common phrases uttered from my mouth is: I hurt. It’s part of my world, and I’ve more than accepted that: I embrace it.
I am a firm believer that nothing good in life comes easily. Happiness is not simply placed in one’s lap, it is earned through any combination of blood, sweat, and tears. Part of me thinks that this is such an obvious statement, that people have forgotten what it truly means. Even I’m guilty of forgetting it because it’s become so innately obvious to me. But it doesn’t just mean that if you work hard enough towards something you’ll achieve it. In context to the goal, we can ask the same question: what are you willing to suffer?
So how can we be at peace with a such unsettling possibilities like death and debilitating injury? How can we justify risk? How does one with such a penchant for chaos clarify to his or her loved ones that it’s worth it?
First off, the obvious aid is that it is just a possibility. Part of finding peace before the leap is learning how likely that possibility is and what influences it. And with all lessons, one must start small and fail (which is why it’s totally great to start small, when say… your failure means you have to drink a beer out of your shoe instead of breaking your back at the bottom of a waterfall). But even the wisest will make mistakes. Knowing the likelihood, having the experience and preparation, and trusting your skill set are important, but they’re not guaranteed. At the end of the day, all these things add to a calculated gamble. It would behoove the wild inside us to show that we are not reckless to those who don’t quite understand. Our risks are not mere chances, despite what many would like to think, and those who walk with blind confidence into risk are ignorant fools. So we have to ask ourselves an even more important question.
Is the goal worth the risk?
In pursuit of your goal, if a negative outcome isn’t worth achieving it, perhaps it is best to walk away, at least for the time being. More importantly, our wild sides need no explanation why we must take the chance but those waiting at home might need such. Consider what’s at stake: children, pets, dependents, friends, careers… in most cases, you are not the only one affected by your choices. What is at stake if your life is changed forever in a less than peachy fashion? I have found that when dealing with the most hesitant to my lifestyle, they appreciate a deliberate display of knowing the outcomes. I’ve taken rescue classes solely for the sake of proving to my mother that I am prepared to cope with the worst. I have explained planned routes to her, knowing that she has no idea what I’m talking about solely to show her my preparation. Which bears the question, how do we help our family and loved ones be at peace with our risks?
The bitter reality of pursuing the extreme environments that I love, is that not everyone understands my choices, and many are willing to openly protest their lack of understanding. I have been marked, at times, a pariah for my life… and that is fair. I won’t pretend to say that I was as understanding as I should have been regarding others’ “traditional” choices, but over time I have grown to be, and I am thankful to be surrounded by people who try their hardest to appreciate and understand what I do. I’ll never be able to fully translate why I risk what I risk, but I can emphasize that the goals are important to me. And at the end of the day, the people that matter most in our lives should understand that.
There is a certain peace at coexisting with chaos. Friends tell me, “in the best way possible,” that they’ve “never seen anyone so happy to be so miserable,” in reference to summiting peaks whilst ill. There is a specific fulfillment in the obstacles I challenge. That is why I risk what I risk. It is what defines me as a vagabond, adventurer, and as an individual. It brings me endless smiles, and, after all, true happiness is worth any risk.