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STOIC POETRY | The Risk of Avoiding Risk

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

September 5, 2019

Dear Eric,

An important principle of The Good Life is something I call The Risk of Avoiding Risk. The idea is that there is risk in security, and that this risk must be assuaged early in life if we are to avoid some serious consequences later on. For life offers no second chances - and even when it does, there are still no second chances.

Worthy risk Consumes unworthy security

It is possible to be too secure... Especially when security comes at the expense of our worthy dreams. What's a "worthy" dream, you ask? These are the ambitions which won't let you go, for they were worthy of our younger self, worthy of our lofty dreams and ambition, the one true shot at life we know we’ll never again get. Typically, such dreams are begun and completed in youth, when they are either realized, satisfied and then allowed to become part our life narrative, or set aside to possibly haunt us the rest of our days. But the haunting isn't faint - it's cumulative, and building, and nagging and changing, changing for the worse. By the end of life the ghosts we spawned in youth - through our avoidance or neglect of the life we wished to live, or even the simple adventure we were too afraid to allow ourselves - may become something else altogether; something terrible inside...a fearful thing growing from - and feeding on - our regret and doubt about our earlier decision to say no to the life - or adventure - we wanted. This early regret may then become a more sinister, simmering dissatisfaction with whatever secure status-quo we selected in favor of the life - or adventure - we wished to live and instead gave up for no better reason than our fear. In some cases, such regret transforms in mid-life to a burning, consuming anger and resentment over the life we did not want - yet now live - because of our fear; or dulls into apathy and surrender and a listless giving up and quiet, impatient waiting for life to be done. But yet we're safe... We tell ourselves that. We've got the things we feared we might not have when we started out into early adulthood. We have a home perhaps, and a car, and a family, and a nest-egg; as well as a handy parachute to use when it's time to float down through retirement into our grave. And the people whose opinion's we once feared are satisfied with our selection of the choices they made for us. Satisfied perhaps, from within their own graves. Ghosts who linger in our minds and gaze at us askance with questioning uncertainty regarding our continued resolve. Will we still toe-their-line? Will we keep to their safe path? Avoid the thorny, less-trodden way we once wondered after? Will we be a good boy or girl? Good, then... Be a good boy or girl. Never-mind that haunting voice that asks about what might have been... We all die listening to the words of our regrets.

But maybe it doesn't need to be this way? Perhaps there's another path?

The alternative is to heed that early voice and calling - if you hear such a thing. And if you don't hear such voices at a young age, then lucky you, as the safe and sane route may be precisely your path, and you might live your whole life without the haunting I've described above. And I sincerely mean it when I say, "lucky you," as the life you live - the sane and sober path - is a good one, and you will likely be a blessing to your family and community. Lucky you... I really mean that, though I can imagine that some might think these words of mine now are typed with a tint of sarcasm. That's not the case. Lucky you...

It's the others I'm addressing now. You know who you are... You'd better listen to that voice you hear now, as it won't go away unless you do something about it. And you have to do that something early in life. It's too late to wait until you're retired; as although the voice you heard might still be there when you're won't. The young man or woman who first heard the voice and calling is now long gone. Replaced instead by a middle-aged loaf of stale bread - yes, that's what you will become. For you will, at that time, have lots of feign safety, yet less courage or resolve for true adventure, or even capacity for the most worthy of risks, than at any time before in your now declining life. And you'll never get it back. Your chance is done. Whatever adventures you will enjoy now at this late stage will be a poor and sorry compensation for a life of capitulation; giving in to fear, yielding to the pressure of family and peers, and telling ourselves over and again that there will be time later... Later is gone. Enjoy what you can. It'll be fun - sort of - but it won't be the thing you gave up. You can never get that back.

So now, I've painted a pretty bleak picture... I've done this deliberately to scare you. You, who are still young. You who have a dream of adventure. You who are restless for some form of living which isn't the safe and sane. My answer is simply. Just do it.

Clear the agenda for the full decade of your twenties. Enroll in college. Study hard. Get a degree - at least a bachelor's degree. Find a way to do this on the cheap, so you don't graduate with a mountain of debt. Go to community college first, then an inexpensive public school. Work part-time and take an extra year to finish. But finish free-and-clear if you can. I know it can be done. Never-mind the fancy schools, as the school you went to will only get you your first job, it's who you are - and more importantly, who you will become - that will take you from there and get you every job thereafter. Next, head out into the world to pursue that dream of yours. Tell everyone you'll be back by age thirty. And when you get back, you can then settle into the life of the safe and sane. The ghosts then won't be fully gone then - never fully assuaged. You'll be haunted still. But the voices are different. Voices of churning, painful, questioning regret are replaced by the simple observation that you may be so much further behind your peers in the "rat race" of life. You may be in an apartment while they own a house. You may be dating while others your age are celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary of wood. Children are still just a gleam in your eye while your friends are exchanging sports cars for SUVs with baby seats. And your career is just getting started while others your age are supervisors and manager. And finally, you'll probably need to work five or more years longer than those who did not adventure. But trust me... Those five years, the delayed career and later start of marriage and family...these things are worth the while...when you remember the life you just lived, and the person you have become, and the satisfaction of the voices inside your head which would otherwise have given you little peace throughout life. Now you have peace, of a sort. There are still voices in your head...

...but at least you are not haunted.



My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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