A Time to Take Risks

A Time to Take Risks
Photo by Jay Kudva / Unsplash

Congratulations to all the graduates! What an exciting and memorable time. If you're feeling the pressure to rush into the next responsible thing, to optimize for safety and security, I'd like to offer an alternative with an anecdote.

When I was 21, I undertook an under-planned bike trip with a friend from my college fraternity from a (then) small town called Saratoga Springs to Zion National Park in Utah. At first, four friends would come, then three; then it was down to just Dash and me. It was almost a 300-mile biking trip with no support vehicle. All our clothes, tents, food and water were schlepped in bulging backpacks. With barely a plan other than "bike south as far as we can" and our water bottles full, we set off.  

Sixty-three miles later, we arrived at the small town of Levan, where we found a park with picnic tables we could sleep on for the night.

A man (whose name I've forgotten) with a dog (whose name somehow I haven't forgotten) named Lady saw us resting our sore rear ends and let us know that pretty soon the sprinklers were going to go off. He offered to put us up in his garage on a pull-out sofa when we told him we were riding through. The next few days were filled with mountain vistas, smells of flowers and the sounds of birds– all the beauties of late summer riding across a mountainy desert. Once, we were almost hit by a house! It's one of those double-wide houses on trucks. We suffered a few setbacks and flat tires, and by the time we made it to Zions, where some friends waited to pick us up, we had forged memories and a friendship that formed the rest of our college years.

The following year, Dash and I went on another ride, this time to Jackson Hole. That one too had its own (mis)adventures.

From this and other "crazy" things I did in my 20's (has anyone else been car-bowling?), I earned the name "Crash 'n Burn" from my Uncle Mike, who specializes in giving captious nicknames. Though I never actually crashed or burned anything, he must have figured I wouldn't survive into my 30s if I kept taking such risks. But somehow, biking 90 miles daily with no support vehicle de-crazed me. There's nothing like the feeling of falling asleep physically exhausted but peaceful inside. 

Theodore Roosevelt said, "Get action! Do things; be sane; don't fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action!" That's not just hype. It's solid advice for good mental health.

Unfortunately, I haven't always lived up to this creed. In my late twenties, I was in New York City, being interviewed by the NYPD for a job as a data analyst. At the time, it was my dream job in my dream city. They offered me the job, and I wanted it, but I succumbed to pressure to turn it down in favor of a higher-paying "safer" job closer to family. 

Nate in NYC after the interview with NYPD

Books have been written about decisions and taking risks, which I won't undertake to copy here. But the best way to fight the malaise of modern life is to live and live boldly. Young people have so much potentiality, but without action, that potentiality looms and produces anxiety. Perhaps only actuality–a decisive act– can calm one down. Young people are capable of doing remarkable–even unforgettable– things. You can create your own education tract. Make it hard. Expand the horizon of your risk. By doing so, you discover that reservoir of resilience and character within you that is rarely required in everyday life. Your past can be your validation.

Later in life you can say, "If I could do that, then why not this? I can manage this!" To echo Rep. Stephanie Bice's recent commencement talk, "Why not?"

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