We know times are tough — and we’ve heard enough about what we will sacrifice during this recession. But I don’t hear much about relinquishing intangible things, such as taking chances with one’s life and giving in to desires to live an existence not quite like that of everyone else. I’m talking about losing some of the freedom of individual risk that has been feasible for those willing to grab that lasso and ride it, exhilarating ascents and rope burns notwithstanding.
I’m someone who has taken many chances on jobs and places to live during the past 10 years, time I call my “decade of discovery.” And I worry that such indulgence will not only be considered deviant behavior, but may be impossible for many to even contemplate as they hang clothes outside to save on electricity.
To be clear, I’m not talking about risks that hurt others. You know, things like buying a home one cannot afford and then seeing it foreclosed. Or making loans for such homes — pawning the junk mortgages elsewhere, and then grabbing billions of dollars in bailouts.
Risks that make life richer
No, I’m talking about the types of risks I’ve taken in my own life that have, for better and worse, made my days richer and more interesting than might have been the case had I just been white-picket-fence secure.
To start, I’m an old maid. OK, I’m single and over 40. This alone gives me more latitude to do what some consider insane things. And I have a mother who, while not always understanding how someone with so little regard for a settled life could have been her child, helped me when the lasso broke and I crashed, ending up dusty and bruised.
In late 1998, I had a respectable job with a respectable St. Paul organization. I had been there for nearly three years, having previously spent more than a decade (and much of my youth) at a major university. These jobs often involved working with people from around the world. My name was in newspapers frequently, and I was interviewed on television and radio a fair amount too.
But I had been in the same apartment for more than 10 years and had not lived outside the Midwest. Until I hit 30, I had not traveled as much for pleasure and edification as I could have had I reconsidered my priorities. I was at the point where I felt like a tattered turnip in a faded flour sack sitting in a room full of blondes in black velvet. The thing was, my jobs involved answering curiosity. And the question that started to nag at me was: Why was I so uncurious about MY life, especially since I could do something about it?
A bumpy, but educational, ride
So one day, I did something. I quit my job and moved to Washington, D.C., where I lucked out after some time by getting a job as a speechwriter to the U.S. education secretary. But the job ended when the Clinton administration ended, and thus began a long and bumpy road to what was next. I returned to Minnesota and eventually got a visible position with one of the world’s largest airlines. It was a very difficult place to work (talk about turbulence), but it was vastly educational and, as some say, adversity introduces you to some of your best friends. When an opportunity arose to leave the company before it declared bankruptcy, I took it. It was on the West Coast; there were good times, but there were too many days when airline turbulence would have felt like lavender aromatherapy. Given that my Potomac Fever had never been sufficiently quinined, I jumped at a chance to return to Washington. In retrospect, that jump was very stupid; before very long I was back in the permanent job market (and still am).
I know some think me confused. However, I’ve learned that risk-takers must be willing to be thought of as such, especially when things don’t work out. Even though I’m bruised again, my fever is finally cured. And no, I don’t rue most of my choices; I would make most of them again. One fine day, I hope I can take reasonable chances again.
But with people worried about paying rent and retiring (much less on a golf course), I fear that the freedom to take gambles may soon be something many can only imagine. I think this is unfortunate. Sometimes risk produces great happiness, as well as bad bruises.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in Minneapolis.