Risking it All (or Not) for My Youth Back

I was at a sort-of networking/motivational speaker-type event recently, the kind of event where you have to wear nametags, but since this was an event for creative folks, they’re not just straight-forward, run-of-the-mill nametags…they’re free-expression, icebreaker-type nametags.

“Hello. I’m ­______________. I would RISK it all for ­­­­­­­_______________.”

I stood hunched over the registration table, Sharpie hanging in the air, totally stumped.

smug risk taker
That’s a throw back to my stumped face circa 1998, I think. And some brown lipstick/brown lipliner. RISKY. 

It was, after all, pre-coffee for me, and this was, after all, my first time attending the event, which was positively brimming with bright, shiny, young, creative faces—all of whom seemed to know each other and were totally comfortable in their own individual creative-y-ness. I was already questioning my decision to come.

With perspiration beading on my upper lip and after what seemed like an eternity–but was probably more like 45 seconds–I scribbled “more sleep” into that gaping, second blank spot, ripped the sticker off its backing, and slapped it on my blazer just below my shoulder. And thus began my morning-long fight against the insufficiently sticky nametag as each of the four edges took turns curling inwards and obscuring my most creative thought/answer.

I immediately regretted not writing “world peace” or, even better: “whirled peas.”

I walked around the pre-event, networking breakfast, reading other people’s name tags. And I was blown away by the responses some of these kids (well, yeah, mostly) had written on their name tags. Apparently, young, creative people will risk it all for just about anything, including coffee, breakfast, really good vegan cupcakes, and Cheetos.

scooter risk taker
Now this girl is a serious risk taker. Riding a scooter with mules? Dangergirl!

It seemed like a pretty weighty question and yet all the answers I saw were pretty frivolous, in my mind. I mean, not that mine was much better. Come on. “More sleep?” What’s up with that, old timer? Prostate acting up or something?

Then I remembered when I was young and embraced risk, and yes, all those frivolous answers reminded me of those days. Hell, I was not just a risk taker, I was downright reckless.

  • I thought nothing of accepting an internship and packing up my crappy car to move across country without a dime to my name. I ate trail mix three times a day for two weeks until my first paycheck because of that stupid move.
  • I sold all my furniture and most of my worldly goods for a short-term move to London, convinced that I would figure something out and never have to come back to the U.S. I had no plan beyond that first six months, nor any idea what I was thinking was going to happen. But it didn’t and I did come back to the U.S., now broke and with not a stick of furniture.
  • I accepted a job here in D.C. that I knew I was vastly underqualified for, sold my car for cash, and rented an apartment (sight unseen) before driving a U-Haul 24 hours straight to get to said apartment two days before starting that nightmare of a job. All of which was extremely risky. (The apartment turned out alright, though).

And that’s just the stuff I feel comfortable talking about on a public forum.

Risk taker
I guess we won’t talk about this questionable decision. 

Back then, I would have said, “I would RISK it all for a good time and a better story.” I was young, hungry (both literally and figuratively), and my hustle was impressive, to say the least.

But as I stood hunched over that nametag, I realized how much times have changed. I’ve settled down quite a bit and my hustle has, too. I’m way more risk-adverse in my mid-40s than I was in my 20s or even my early 30s. Gone are the days of Bill Roulette–that’s where you take all your bills, put them in a bag and pull one out, and that’s the one that gets paid that month. I pay my bills early. I put money into retirement. I keep my insurance up to date. I get regular dental cleanings. I try to not get involved and clear up every misunderstanding I see taking place on the DC metro system (I’m still working on that one, actually).

Angry risk taker
Riled up and giving ’em hell, even on Halloween, circa 1995 (?maybe?)

What would I risk it all for today? Nothing. There’s almost nothing worth risking it all for.

There’s a good reason for all this change of heart: I just have way more to lose. I’m no longer jumping at every perceived experience or opportunity, hoping that things work out. I don’t “fly by the seat of my pants” anymore. Now I like security: having a plan and a nest egg to fall back on.

Sometimes I miss that devil-may-care girl I used to be, the one with more guts than sense. But then I look at the really good life I’ve managed to build, and all the people that are in it, and I can’t imagine taking any risks that would jeopardize any of that. Not even for whirled peas.


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