By Gary Z McGee
“Sit as little as possible; give credence to no thought that is not born in the open air and accompanied by free movement — in which the muscles do not also celebrate a feast.” ~Nietzsche
Comfort and safety are overrated. A well-lived life requires at least a little discomfort and danger. All things in moderation of course, but too much comfort can lead to laziness, softness, and brittleness. Too much safety can lead to privilege, blind faith, and the tendency to take things for granted.
So the task becomes discovering the sweet spot. Where does safety meet freedom, and how do we keep freedom just far enough ahead of safety that we don’t kill ourselves? Likewise, where does comfort meet courage, and how do we keep freedom just far enough ahead of comfort that we are consistently stretching our comfort zone?
Here are a few strategies to leverage a little more courage and freedom in our lives so that we may live a more well-risked life.
Don’t be risk-averse:
“In a fear-based, failure-averse culture, people will consciously or unconsciously avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that’s been good enough in the past. Their work will be derivative, not innovative. But if you can foster a positive understanding of failure, the opposite will happen.” ~Ed Catmull
This one seems like a given. But risk-avoidance is a huge hurdle. Most people will subconsciously put self-preservation over self-improvement or even self-empowerment. They will succumb to cognitive dissonance before they accept an uncomfortable truth. They will remain tight in a comfortable bud at the expense of uncomfortable blooming.
Don’t be risk-averse. Break the trend. Choose self-empowerment over self-preservation. Choose strategic risk over complacent comfort. Risk-taking is superior to script-following. Vitality abhors complacency. Creativity loathes laziness. Adventure despises comfort. To live life well you must be prepared to lose it.
Try this: go on your own Hero’s Journey. Escape the default setting. Set up spaces where self-empowerment and uncomfortable blooming are possible. Set up stages where the art of a life well-lived can be acted upon. Make possibility possible.
Taking the Hero’s Journey is the epitome of a life well-lived. Win or lose, adapt and overcome or crash and burn, live long or die young; either way, if it happens while in the adventurous throes of a Hero’s journey, it’s a win.
The only way to lose is to forever remain stuck in the default setting. To forever be grinded down by the daily grind. To forever chase the tails of the other rats caught up in the rat race. To forever conform to just being another cog in the clockwork. To forever remain risk-averse.
The way to win is to consistently escape the default setting. To question the lot. To take risks. To understand that default settings, like comfort zones, are good for regrouping and licking wounds but terrible for self-expansion, spiritual growth, adventure, or a life well-lived.
As Jen Sincero said, “There is no riskier risk than refusing to risk at all.”
Live with hope; love without hope:
“The only way of loving a person is to love them without hope.” ~Walter Benjamin
The embodied life at play in the world is the only action that can foster deep wisdom rather than superficial knowledge in the world.
What is the embodied life at play? It’s living on purpose, with purpose. It’s living with hope, full-frontal, unbridled, and overflowing in mind, body, and soul. It’s rising above the superficial song and dance of politics, the artificial smoke and mirrors of religion, and the insincere cartoon in the brain of cultural conditioning.
Indeed. Living with hope is loving without hope. Because if you are genuinely allowing yourself to love, then you must open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt. This is what it means to be vulnerable. If you’re not “all in,” then what’s the point of trying? Living with hope is being “all in.” Loving without hope is being so absolutely open to possibility that your heart breaks.
It’s a tough lesson. But pain should not be avoided at the expense of love. Love should be embraced at the risk of pain. Challenging indeed.
Loving without hope means allowing love to be free. It’s being in love with life as it comes. It’s accepting that everything is connected and then deciding to be in love with the whole thing regardless: from the trauma to the drama to the mana. It’s loving in an attempt to understand, to discover, and to co-create rather than to control.
Loving without hope is loving dangerously, courageously, vulnerably, and honestly. Which is likely to hurt. Therefore, loving without hope is being open-hearted enough to be okay with having your heart broken. In fact, loving without hope is about becoming adept at adapting to heart break. It’s about overcoming the slings and arrows of life and becoming resilient, robust, and antifragile despite the pain.
It’s the deep understanding that life is less about getting what you want and more about making the best of what you get. Loving without hope is acceptance and deep surrender to the process. Living with hope is making the best of it.
“I can do nothing for you but work on myself. You can do nothing for me but work on yourself.” ~Ram Dass
Be bold. Be daring. Live dangerously if need be. Just be prudent. One can be prudent as well as daring. As Nietzsche said, “The good life is ever changing, challenging, devoid of regret, intense, creative and risky.”
Be intense. Be a force of nature first, a person second. Go full-frontal boss-mode on the status quo. Change as much as possible to keep yourself ahead of the curve and to prevent your comfort zone from shrink-wrapping you. Transform as much as possible to prevent horizons from becoming boundaries or safety from curtailing your freedom.
Worst-case scenarios should not be avoided at the expense of healthy progress; healthy progress should be embraced at the risk of worst-case scenarios. There will always be worst-case scenarios. But as long as you are making mistakes of ambition and good intention and not mistakes of fear and sloth, then the worst-case scenario will have always been worth the risk.
Otherwise, you don’t get anywhere but where you are. Which is great if “where you are” is perfect. But since perfection is not possible, you must be willing to challenge the status quo by upsetting the all-too-precious apple cart. You must be willing to make applesauce out of spilled apples, lemonade out of lemons, and best-case scenarios out of worst-case scenarios.
Living a well-risked life is not for the faint of heart. It is not for people with wishbones where their backbone should be. It’s for people with courage, audacity, and insouciance. It’s for people with the physical adaptability, mental flexibility, and spiritual plasticity to self-overcome.
Challenge yourself. Overcome yourself. Rebirth yourself. Live a more vibrant, strategic, and engaging life. Seek out challenging experiences at the edge of your comfort zone. They will make you come alive. And coming alive is what it’s all about.
At least don’t stand in the way:
“We tend to deprive the bold risk-takers who spur safety of the fullness of their lives in order to support the smallness of our own.” ~Christopher Cocker
Let’s say you simply don’t have it in you to be a bold risk taker living a well-risked life. Let’s say you are content to remain in your comfort zone. In that case, at least don’t stand in the way of those who would live well-risked lives. At least don’t deprive the risk-taker the fullness of their lives.
Let the trailblazer be. Someone clinging to the safety, security, and comfort of the shore will be too worried about things going badly. The person clinging to the shore, praying for rescue or a hero to save them, is the same person wearing their wishbone where their backbone should be. So be it.
If you want to continue being that person, fine. Just stay out of the way of the adventurers, the ones mad with passion and hungry for new seas and new shores. If you’re not willing to be proactive and engaged with living life to the fullest and making things better, then at least step aside and don’t impede those who are. Cheer them on instead.
As Audrey Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
So, celebrate their courage, their audacity, their fearlessness. Celebrate their honor, honesty, and humor. They rebel so that freedom may remain just ahead of security. They rebel so that courage may remain just ahead of comfort. They rebel, they persist, they risk, so that we may exist.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (How to Live a Well-risked Life) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.