Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Risk Taking

The fourth chapter of my book starts something like this:

“Where are you from?”

Anytime I travel I always seem to get this same perplexing question.

Well, nowhere. Everywhere.  I don’t know how to explain my movement over the years.  “My parents were carnies,” I lie.  “We traversed the earth.  I also spent a lot of time in a box being sawed in half.”

There are many plausible rationales for my unconventional risk taking over the years.  Perhaps it was being raised by bohemian scientist parents.  Perhaps it was the legacy of past Isern women that climbed Mt Kilimanjaro.  Or perhaps it was the fault of my grandfather’s telescope.  I was age six when I first peered through the tiny lens into Montana’s expansive sky.  I saw Saturn’s rim and fell instantly in love with the inconceivable.

I made a pact with young self to spend each day of my life seeking exotic adventure, finding the untold story, and lassoing dreams.  All of them.

Most people don’t do this.  To quote T.S. Eliot, most people plan out their life in coffee spoons.  Most people also think I am crazy. They raised eyebrows at my breakup to stable “Picket Fence Peter”, my career choice to “leave the firm and do my own thing,” and my recent desire to create a business off of the written word and not for profit partnerships. Some have actually yelled at me and told me that I am ‘too passionate’ and that I am doomed to fail.  “You need to pick ONE focus-you cannot be about so many things” chided one.  “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway” said another.  Apparently my belief in stories and causes actually makes people angry.  And my tendency to chase multiple dreams infuriates them.  Is it wrong to think I can do it all?

I don’t understand other’s wrath at my wide eyed approach to life.  If people weren’t passionate or didn’t try random things than we wouldn’t have penicillin, the telephone, Twitter or even David Sedaris.  If people didn’t experiment and preserve through failures then we’d either die from bacteria or die from yawning.  When I was in a particular dark moment of self doubt, a start-up friend consoled me.  “You may fail,” he said.  “I may fail.  But at least we tried to do something we were passionate about.” He then added, “And here in San Francisco failure is sort of a badge of honor.”  In fact, if no one thinks we are crazy, then perhaps we aren’t trying hard enough.

Interestingly, the same people that think I am crazy also send around quotes about ‘Live each day as if it were your last’ and applaud movies like “One Week” where a man diagnosed with terminal cancer uproots his life and takes a motorcycle trip across Canada.  Why do we have to be confronted with death in order to do what we should have been doing with our life all along?  And why do others only applaud adventure and risk taking when someone is dying?  If we aren’t dying, is adventure considered irresponsible?

I know that some readers will say that risk taking is impossible once one has family responsibilities, mortgage payments and other things they had spent their lives trying to attain.  But what good is attainment if we view it as shackles, preventing us from doing that which we really desire?  I would assume that buying a house and having a child to be one of the greatest adventures of all.  It certainly is risky to a carefree single! Perhaps the true lesson is to not judge other’s choices and support people’s spirit regardless if it takes them through the mundane or the ridiculous.  Instead of critique, energy is much better spent living out your own passions, however many of them you may have!

You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”  -George Bernard Shaw

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