Life is a Risky Business (Or At Least, It Should Be)

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IT WAS ERNEST Hemingway’s birthday last week. And if he was half the man he would have lead us to believe he was, then not only was he a talented writer but also quite the adventurer, the risk-taker.

He was a writer the like of Zane Grey and Marc Twain, Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, Lord Dunsany and C.S. Lewis—writers who didn’t just write, but writers who also did.

These are writers I admire, not because of what they wrote or what they did in life (in fact, I admire some of them in spite of their writing and life choices), but I admire them for the passion with which they lived.

If you compare presidents of today with the early presidents, you’ll find an important distinction. Presidents of today have been raised in politics, have lived in offices and worn suits most of their lives. But the presidents of yesteryear were men of action—soldiers, inventors, travelers, and adventurers. So it is with many writers. There are those of us in the modern age who are merely men of concept, and there are those of days-gone-by who were men of action.

If you ask me what kind of man I want to be, I would tell you that it is not the man I am now. The man I want to be is a man of confidence, of courage. A man of God, yet not so far removed from the people around me so as to become unrelatable. I want to travel and experience adventures, so that when I come back I will have something to draw upon for my writing. I want to face my fears and overcome them, even if it means doing the occasionally dangerous thing, even if it means getting into a touch of trouble from time to time. Lord knows it’s my habit to do the right thing the first time, or to do nothing at all! I wish to end this behavior.

I’ve got my work cut out for me.

They say the first step to fixing a problem is to admit that there is one. Fair enough. I admit that, all too often, I find myself acting the coward. The goal? I want to turn my cowardice into confidence. I wish to become a man of faith and action.

The dictionary defines the word coward as “a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.”

It defines risk as “a situation involving exposure to danger,” and courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

The definition of confidence is “the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust,” and faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”

It would seem to me that a coward must cultivate courage by taking risks. And when he has learned that taking risks is not detrimental, but actually beneficial, he will gain confidence in his courage, in himself (and for those of us who believe in God, in the Lord’s providence). This will lead to faith.

A well known Jewish proverb says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Throughout the Bible, there have been many men who have put aside their own fears—their own understanding about themselves and the world in which they live—and put their faith in what God was wanting to do through them.

Moses said he couldn’t lead people because he was “not eloquent” and “slow of speech and tongue.” But sure enough, when he trusted on God, he did lead his people for forty years, teaching them all that God wanted them to learn.

Gideon, when he was threshing wheat in a winepress (because he was hiding from the Midianites), was approached by an angel of the Lord who addressed him as, “O’ mighty man of valor.” Quite the opposite of how Gideon saw himself. Of himself he said, “Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Nevertheless, Gideon acted in the Lord’s strength. He delivered his people from their enemies, and for forty years, Israel lived in peace and walked in righteousness.

When I look at my own life, I want to make sure that I am not leaning on my own understanding. My own understanding tells me that I am a coward, that my goals are seemingly unattainable, that my dreams will go unmet. But when I look back, I can see that there are plenty of times when I have taken risks and come out on the other side, triumphant. Times when I acted courageously and took a risk.

I look back to the winter of 2003 when I moved out of my house for the first time and into an apartment with my fellow bandmates. I remember the odd feeling that I was doing something I had never done before, and that I could never do this again—because a first can only happen once.

I remember the time I went off to a one-year college, hundreds of miles from home, to a place in the snow. I had never seen snowfall before, and here I was living in it for seven months straight. Before I moved there, I questioned whether it was the right thing to do, whether it was something God wanted me to do. Then I remembered that I had been accepted into a program that only takes fifty-odd students out of the hundreds worldwide that apply, and here I applied months too late.

When I returned to my hometown, I spent four more years in my parents’ home before permanently moving away for the first time. I had spent twenty-four years of my life in this small town of 3,000 people. It’s now been over seven years since that day, and within that time there have been numerous other adventures.

Since moving to San Luis Obispo, I have undergone a life-saving surgery. I have backpacked across Europe with one piece of carry-on of luggage, never knowing where I would rest my head next. Over the course of those forty days in Europe, I faced my fear of flying, not once, but eight times!

Two years ago, I accomplished a childhood dream. I started my own video production company. It hasn’t been filled with creative filmmaking opportunities like I had hoped, but it has given me experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have had. It brought me to Santa Barbara for six months to work for a non-profit international ministry. That ministry took me on a trip to Israel to document the incredible work that they do for the people on the streets of Tel-Aviv and elsewhere, the work they do for injured children in hospitals, and all for the glory of God. While my time with them was only six months, it was a wonderful six months, and I am so immensely glad I did it.

I have recently move back to San Luis Obispo, the town I moved to at the age of twenty-five, the town that I may very well call “home” for the rest of my days. I have always lived month-to-month, always expecting to move to the next place at any given moment… but that moment never arrived.

Recently, I signed a year-long lease, something I had always seen as a risk. But this time I saw it as something else—not a risk, but an opportunity.

As I look into the year to come, I think about the man I want to be, and I realize that I have been working toward this goal for much longer than I thought—and that’s a good thing. That tells me that I am even closer to my goal than I ever knew. And I think about what risks I want to take next.

This year, I will be publishing my writing for the first time. It’s a daunting task and will require a lot of work to accomplish, but it’s something I need to do, because it’s something I have been wanting to do since I was a kid.

There are many risks I want to take this coming year. What they are is less important than remembering that each risk is an opportunity, and each opportunity—whether taken or attempted, whether achieved or not—will get me one step closer to becoming the man I want to be.

Will I ever become that man? Is it even possible? Man’s nature is not easily satisfied with the goals he has accomplished. Perhaps the end-goal is not really what’s important. Perhaps it is like the old adage says, “It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”

If that’s the case, I say let’s fill this journey with risk and adventure. After all, a journey any other way is not worthy of a story. And a story is what I aim to write.

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