The Risk of Living

Lightning StrikesWhat makes an 80 year old woman jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet? Maybe she wants to prove to herself that she’s finally a risk taker. Perhaps it’s for the thrill. Or just because she can.

Every day we take risks. Most of the time we don’t even think about it because the risk is so stacked in our favor that there’s hardly a risk at all. Like eating raw oysters. Or taking a taxi ride in New York City.

Then of course there is the opposite of risk. Comfort. Being so comfortable where we are that we never want to risk losing what we have. But without risk, life is very dull indeed.

Sometimes it helps to think in extremes. To wonder about your life if everything was to change overnight. What would you risk everything for? For your children’s lives? Certainly. To escape an inevitable death? Probably. To gain your freedom from an abusive relationship? Maybe. To leave behind a prosperous career to do something you love?

Risk and motivation are very closely linked. You can’t have one without the other. Most extreme motivation involves taking significant risks. And risks, after all, are assessments of probability. The probability that there is a greater prospect of a positive return over the risk of loss. Or not.

Sometimes others take the risk for us. Like a partner who leaves you. Or a boss who lets you go. But some of the greatest achievements come out of adversity.

Perhaps the greatest risk you can face is the risk of losing your life. Of course, in the end it’s not a risk at all. It’s a certainty. We all face the grim reaper in the final chapter. There is no risk we can take that will save us from mortality. All of our vain attempts at building comfort and security will mean nothing when that time inevitably comes.

In the end we will always wish we had done something more. How, if we could go back in time, we would reach out for what we could have even if it risked losing what we were holding onto.

The human spirit is driven by risk. There is no progress in life without it. And the greatest risk of all is not to live the incredible life you could really have.

And looking back over your life, knowing you were just too comfortable to do anything about it.

The Future is Ours

Crane DawnI was on a flight from Hong Kong to New York recently when I realized something that could change my life forever. How little time we spend actually thinking. I don’t mean worrying about the trivia that fills our minds with useless thoughts every moment of the day. I mean stopping for a considered time to clear our minds of meaningless nonsense and to think about something different, something perhaps bigger than who we are today or the contribution we could make to this life.

And it started me thinking about the ambition of my youth and for a moment I was sad and lost and then I simply thought of something that filled me with an overwhelming sense of exhilaration. The thought that ambition is not over until we choose to give it up. And it is our choice whether we live this life with the thoughts of something bigger or lose ourselves in the everyday minutiae of nothing at all.

By thinking about something – writing a novel, starting a business, a charitable cause or whatever it may be – we have a proven chance of achieving it. But all the time we have meaningless arguments inside our heads, reliving the past or worrying about things we cannot change, we are wasting something vital that could change our lives forever – using our minds to create a beautiful and more enriched future.

So now, I am banishing any thought that has no purpose, the internal nonsense that goes around and around and burns up the most important development of evolution, the ability to think for ourselves.

It has taken six billion years to evolve us to where we are today, with the most developed brain of any species. The limbic brain and the neocortex, 3 lbs of jelly that represents the absolute pinnacle of evolution. We can use it to play Candy Crush all day or change the world we live in. In the end it is down to thought and motivation – and the other great gift we have. The gift of freedom of choice.

Don’t waste it.

I have been writing again after many months of absence and I feel thrilled that once challenged, our minds come forward with a mass of creativity, of invention, of wonder. I’m now half way through writing a new book and I feel more excited than at any time in my life.

Be excited for all that can be rather than worried about all that may be or all that was. We have been gifted the greatest thinking machine of evolution, the human mind. And we need to use it.

The future is waiting to be created. And it is all ours.

Please Dance with Me

PoorI asked a girl to dance and she said that she would only dance with me in the extremely unlikely event that “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd should be played. It was simple for me to ask the DJ for a favor so that an infatuated kid could dance with the girl of his dreams.

And so we danced.

I held her as close as I dared and as we danced she told me that this was it and there would be no more dances or dates after the final notes of the song. She did not have any interest in a boy who came from the wrong side of town, not now, not ever. And all I wanted in that desperate moment was to kiss her and to know her for all eternity.

I told her of my ambition. I told her of the poetry that was streaming inside my head. I told her of a future where every dance would be like the first and every kiss would make her float high above the ground. I told her that if lovers from a simple smile were made, I would smile at her forever.

And still she said no. I did not belong in her world.

I sat in my room, alone, for days after that dance. I could not eat and I could not think of a single positive thing about the future. You might say it was an adolescent crush and I might agree. But it was a moment in understanding that I was worthless. And it took a lifetime to find that I was wrong.

I don’t remember her name but I wish that I knew her today. Not out of some motive for revenge but just to sit down with her and to talk. Because I want her to know that being from the wrong side of town can be a very good thing indeed.

Being cold and hungry makes you want to be warm and fed. Being the underdog makes you want to succeed and have recognition. Being poor makes you want to know wealth. Being from the wrong side of town can give you a burning ambition to escape.

I wonder if she found love. I wonder if, in all the chance meetings that life creates, she was able to find a boy who was loyal and smart and crazy and had poetry in his head. I wonder if she remembers that dance.

I’m not from the wrong side of town any longer. But that does not matter because I don’t judge people by the place they live, the accent they have or by their possessions.

I still like that Pink Floyd song. But it will always tell me that there is nothing after the final notes, even though life and the music play on and now I am in a place where I belong.

I belong in a place where poetry streams through my mind from the joy of living and finds its way into the lives of others who love me for who I am.

Buried Alive

ImageIt may be an ironic thing to say, but it is only with the passing of time that we finally see how much of it we have wasted. Most of us are buried alive in a prison of our own making, believing that we do not have the courage, the strength, the ability to be something different. To live in control.  To have focus, energy, clarity and time for ourselves.

Time is more valuable than money but we rarely see each and every moment in our lives as precious. Time is a gift that is gone as soon as it arrives.

In my early twenties, I was terrified of forming lasting relationships. I was afraid that I would get hurt through rejection, abandonment or betrayal. And as I developed my first long-term relationship, I believed profoundly that I did not have the strength to survive in this world on my own.

It was the perfect trap.

As that relationship developed, it became a hideous disfigurement of what love and friendship should be. The person on the other side of that relationship worked out early on what my inner fears were, and could therefore manipulate every shared situation for their own satisfaction. It became a living nightmare of emotional abuse.

I realized that I had traded the bullying of my childhood for the bullying of my adulthood. Worse, I knew what was happening but I was powerless to escape. Or so I thought.

Of course, there may be many other circumstances that keep you in your prison. The fear of financial ruin, the fear of losing the relationships with your children and your friends. The fear of failure, of humiliation, of starting something new from the beginning. But most of those fears are entirely unfounded, often planted by the very person and situation from which we want to escape.

It took the exposure of betrayal for me to finally muster the strength to leave. And looking back from where I sit now, I am sorry that I did not break out so much sooner.

Actually, we must never see time as wasted. Time is gone and we cannot get it back. You should only look back to help you see your way forward.

You may be in a loving, perfect relationship. But you may not be fulfilled in other ways. Your ambitions, your passions, your self-realization.

Try picturing yourself as you truly want to be. How you should be. Imagine every detail of how you feel, how you are standing, how you are dressed, where you are. Think of the people around you and how they are reacting to you, the positive things they are saying about you.

Now think about why you cannot make that picture come true. Break down every wall, every bar on the window, every lock that is keeping you imprisoned. Even small steps towards the door are better than sitting in your cell. It’s time to free yourself.

Don’t let this world bury you alive.

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