Choose Your Risk: A RePost

In Life Is Short by David11 Comments


I wrote this post three years ago this month (April 20). A couple days later I fell off the wall in Pisa that so changed my life. Don’t think I don’t appreciate the irony of the timing. Seemed a good candidate for a repost from the archives. Funny how it all plays out…

Last year I decided to make a change in my life. I bought a truck, sold my stuff, gave up my condo and a fixed address and set out on an adventure that’s still barely two months old. My plan was to spend the rest of 2011 traveling North America when I wasn’t photographing or teaching internationally elsewhere. And then I started the journey itself and things began to change. I began to like this lifestyle more than I thought. I miss having a home less than I expected. I had more time with people than I imagined. I found myself settling into the rhythms of nomadism and I started to dream bigger and allow myself a few more “What Ifs”

And then my buddy Zack Arias hosted a meet-up event at his studio in Atlanta and that night was magical for me. I met some amazing people, including Zack, face to face for the first time. And Zack, if you don’t know him, is the kind of guy with no shortage of opinions on things. One of those opinions that evening was that I should speak to the group, and say “something inspiring” or something. I declined. He insisted and told me that “in one beer, you’re on!” I figured I could make my beer last all evening and avoid speaking entirely, until he made it clear I was on when his beer was done, not mine, and I got the feeling that wasn’t going to take long.

Not sure what to say, I told the story of the last few months and the growing awareness of the brevity of life that had led me here. And the more I talked (a barely coherent mix of spontaneous babbling and preaching) the more it galvanized something in my own mind; a feeling that I’d passed a point of no return. I have written before that life is short, but it’s becoming more than a passing feel-good idea; it’s becoming the place from which I make my biggest decisions. I am moved more than ever by the awareness of the brevity of life and that the fulfillment of our dreams and longings aren’t simply things that accidentally happen to us. Life is complicated and at times feels more like something that happens to us than something we make happen, I know, but people live extraordinary lives because they overcome those circumstances and choose to do the things they dream about.

But too many people don’t listen to their dreams at all. Or they listen but allow the dreams themselves to get drowned out by the desire to fill their homes with stuff or even just to play it safe, or – and this is more likely – they listen to their fears.

But while our hearts swell with resonance as William Wallace says “All men die but not all men really live,” we wash it away with popcorn and sodas and go back to sleep.

The culture we live in would rather watch great stories on movie screens than live them. Why? I think it’s fear of risk. The bigger the risk the greater the potential reward but also the greater the potential for “Oh God, Oh God, we’re all going to die!” or something similar. Fear is the loudest voice in many of our lives. Fear of rejection leads us to buy some crazy stuff, as well as keep our voice down when it should be loudly telling others “I love you.” Fear of the unknown keeps us close to home. Fear of fear keeps us in therapy. So we’d rather watch Braveheart and imagine ourselves with that kind of courage than risk finding out for ourselves if we have it. Makes sense. Afterall, Braveheart gets horribly disemboweled at the end. But while our hearts swell with resonance as William Wallace says “All men die but not all men really live,” we wash it away with popcorn and sodas and go back to sleep. That very quote, or the sentiment it reflects,  points to two things for me, and these two things make it easier to listen to something other than the fear.

1. All we have is now. I’ve said it before: none of us lives forever. The time to make a change is now. You may not be able to pack the house and go on an adventure right now, but you can put yourself on a path to doing it. Don’t wait until you’re 65 and retired. You might not be around or in good health. The time is now. Don’t be the one breathing his last breath wishing he’d gotten around to the things that were most important. Live with all the passion and energy you’ve got now. Now is all you have. Each moment matters.

2. Risk is inevitable. We all risk, day in and day out. You fall in love at first sight with someone amazing and you’ve two choices, both involving risk. You can act on it and risk rejection, or you can sit on it, do nothing, and risk losing what might be the best thing you might ever experience. Sure, rejection’s painful (but not certain), but it’s nothing compared to the life-long regret of letting her slip away (absolutely certain). You have a dream and the only way to get at it is to make some changes, live sparsely, and pull your kids out of school for a year. You can do it, and risk failure (not as likely as it seems) or play it safe and let the dreams remain un-lived (absolutely certain).Life is about risk. The best stories hinge on it. But even those risks aren’t as big as they seem. It’s funny how we often prefer to listen to fears and avoid risks that are only potentially painful, and in so doing sacrifice our dreams – a loss that is most certainly painful.

It could be that the last thing you want to hear is another sermon. I get it. None of this stuff is easy. There were moments of nerves, and even overwhelming fear, as I was staging to give up so-called normal life. It’s taken some painful decisions and course-corrections over the last few years to get to this place. It’s taken falling down and getting back up. One day my diabetes may prevent me from pursuing these adventures. All the more reason to take a deep breath and do it now. I had planned to go back to Vancouver at the end of this year – it was the “sensible” decision. Instead I am looking into what it will take to come back to Europe and live nomadically here for a year – to spend time on the British Isles and Scandanavia before taking the boat to Iceland for the summer, then to drive to Istanbul or Marrakech or Ulaan Bator.

All those many words to say: don’t settle. Your dreams will be different than mine, but the regret for not living them will be the same. Life is short. Choose your risk intentionally, don’t try to avoid it. Live a great story; don’t settle for merely watching them. Whatever got stirred in you when I wrote the first blog post in the Life is Short category, I hope you’re moving towards it. Because those dreams are part of what it means to live life to the fullest.


  1. Hi David,

    This morning my wife and I were on a bus travelling back from the Fitz Roy Mountains in El Chalen heading for another spot in Argentina. I was watching the sun come up and drifting a little I caught myself wondering how this miracle of getting free had come about. We’ve now been on the road for nearly 2 and a half years galavanting around the world making photos in the most exceptional scenery and having a fine time. I don’t say this to brag, I’d just like you to know the enormity of your impact on my life.

    I remember listening to an interview you gave on TWIP where you talked about the absolute certainty you had that you were about to die whilst falling from the bridge in Italy, you hit the ground, realised you weren’t dead and then wondered ‘now what’. For a while I managed to maintain that miracle of a mental framework. Talk about ‘taking one for the team’, thanks David.

    I had a year where my business partner dealt with cancer and then my father and then another friend. I really became very clear that if we were going to travel it should be whilst we were young and healthy enough to enjoy it. Life is shockingly short even if we get to live full term. So I followed your example, put everything we didn’t get rid of into a container and set off. For one adventure after another. Initially we thought one year but there’s just so much to do and the lifestyle just gets easier.

    This was in no way easy for me and can still be tough. I adopted your ‘adventure is out there’ mantra and forced myself out of my comfort zone. I was largely all about comfort and stability before all of this but I’m pretty much out of the box now. I was busy getting fat watching other people’s adventures knowing there was more to life. Your ‘sermons’ generally always resonate with me and I just wanted to say a really big and heartfelt thank you for your contribution. I really should comment more but this morning I decided to let you know about your contribution to my life. Then I saw you’d republished this article and I saw the perfect opportunity.

    Thank you David, you are a very good and wise soul.

    1. Author

      Michael – I don’t think I’m overstating it when I tell you this is one of the most encouraging things I’ve heard in a long time. It is exactly this kind of change I hope for in myself and the ones I love – to see people breathing deep and being intentional with their lives – moment by moment. Have a fantastic adventure. I hope it never ends. (Check out Coen and Karen-Marijke – they’ve been on the road over ten years now! – )

  2. Pingback: Living the Dream | Ready Steady Pro!

  3. Hey David,

    The original post was actually my first introduction to you. Then as well as now I was blown away at how you had your fingers on the pulse of life.

    I think I have then and continue to take the risky path of looking for comfort of not putting my neck out. What Brene Brown calls getting in the arena.

    Put of it is what Steven Pressfield coined the resistance but as you point out so eloquently it’s all risk.

    The risk of staying on the sidelines and not getting in the arena is the risk of not living a full life, of not sharing with the world what you have to offer.

    The risk is a life of regrets or a life of oh wells.

    Thanks David!

  4. You have spoken what most do not want to hear. You have spoken beautifully and clearly. I hope your time of being a nomad continues to bring forth your prophetic voice.
    For what is a prophet worth if he is not willing to speak that which must be spoken and other fear to say.
    Well done!!

  5. A great line I try to incorporate into my risk taking strategy for photography is from The Patriot, “Aim small, miss small.” If you want it bad enough, make sacrifices and go get it!!!

  6. wow ! that is a powerful message !

    “The culture we live in would rather watch great stories on movie screens than live them.” Very well said.

  7. Wow, great article ! Inspired me so much in a season of change ! Thanks you SO MUCH David !

  8. Thank you, David.

    Risk is something I have always been averse to, but the greatest success in my life has resulted from a risk I took one day in 2006 that literally changed the course of my life. I started a successful website that (ironically) I closed today to merge with another project I started a year ago. If it wasn’t for that one little bold move I made in 2006 I don’t know where I might be today, but I certainly don’t think I would have enjoyed the journey as much as I have done, and the future may not look quite as bright as it does today.

    1. Author

      It’s a wild adventure, isn’t it, Dallas? Best to you as you move forward into the unknown!

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