Sounds like a terrible rap group doesn’t it? But the mindset of ‘one life’ vs risk can be just as terrible…
It was the Roman poet Horace who came up with the original positive motto ‘Carpe Diem’ – which literally means ‘pluck the day’, but which is popularly translated as ‘seize the day’. It has been replaced more recently with the rather obnoxious acronym YOLO – aka You Only Live Once, and nowadays, there’s no escape from the continual bombardment of images and slogans used in marketing to sell products and ideas to people eager to make the most of their time available.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to live life as full as possible, what is wrong is the negative messages conveyed within these positive ones, which can lead to peer group pressure, discomfort and danger.
Marketing and media (especially of the social kind) are guilty of dictating to us how we ought to live, and guilty of making us feel guilty for not ‘living the dream’, ‘changing our lives’ or spending money on something we don’t actually want or need in order to capture the essence of the YOLO spirit. What is lacking and lost within all this positive messagery is sense, and knowing yourself, your limits and your comfort levels are far more valuable than going with the crowd and group mentality and finding yourself way out of depth.
The most important message, which is almost never conveyed, is that whilst seizing the day we have to do our utmost to ensure we continue to live for another day too
If living for the moment equates to unnecessary risk taking, is it worth it? I think not. There’s a very fine line between living on the edge and falling off of it.
I can speak from (almost literal) experience here because I have just had a very conflicting ‘seize the day’ vs ‘live for another day’ moment on the edge of a cliff. On a hair raising escapade, my partner and I edged our way along a minuscule trail, hugging a cliff face with a sheer drop of 850 feet into pounding and angry ocean below, all for the sake of getting to a beach which can only be reached in this manner.
When we first saw the sign which read ‘dangerous cliff’ I was happy to turn around and call it a day. My partner, however, was not. Let me tell you now, there are far better places to have a debate as to whether or not you should continue along a perilous path than when you are already on it. Clinging on to a cliff and shouting to one another over the crashing sound of the surf and the wind is not an ideal position to be having a semi-domestic. (However it would make for far more entertaining episodes of Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer). In the end it was decided that she would continue along the cliff and I would turn around and make my way back to relatively safer terra firma. 10 seconds later I came to the realisation I was now clinging on to a cliff by myself. This was a far worse prospect. As incredible luck would have it, a woman who can only be described as a Trail Angel miraculously appeared, bare foot and carrying nothing more than a cloth bag and a sarong, who gently cajoled me around the gritty path by assuring me it got better just around the corner. She was right – it did improve. But what didn’t improve was the fact that now I had got along the cliff edge, I would have to traverse this monstrous path yet again on the way back. This was a one way in, one way out trail.
Reunited with my partner, she told me how proud she was of me for overcoming my fears and crawling along the ledge (which, incidentally, is called Crawlers Ledge, for very good reason). In all honesty, I hadn’t overcome my fears at all (and fear and risk are two very different things, as mentioned later on in this article) – my fear for myself had been replaced by the fear that my partner would, in order to reach me again, have to attempt clambering that horrific ledge in the dark – an idea that really doesn’t bear thinking about. Personally, I would have been prouder of myself for acknowledging when my limits had been pushed and turned around, and let her hike to the beach and rejoin me the following day. However our cliffside conversation had not come up with such a sensible scheme, and our daft decision had been for me to make camp at a campsite a mile back, for her to continue the hike a further 6 miles to the beach, and, for some reason which I still cannot fathom, she would return to the campsite I was at later that night – yes, night – clambering the cliff walk by the light of a head torch.
Had we come up with a plan of us rejoining one another the following day, I would not have been coaxed along the cliff edge in the first place, she’d have got to the beach sooner, and we would probably both have been happier for it.
As it was, I was now on the wrong side of a cliff trail and feeling decidedly uncomfortable about it. That’s a very British and polite way of me understating that I was sh*t scared.
We continued the hike. The sun set. The head torches came out. The path was dubious in several places, but eventually, we made it, exhausted, frustrated and frightened, to the beach.
The following morning we got up to inspect said beach. I would love to tell you that it was a most magical, beautiful, amazing secret beach, worth every effort to get to, and that we would do it all over again just to be there once more. But we looked at it; surveyed the unswimmable waters, watched as a tiger shark attacked a baby whale (definitely unswimmable waters) and remembered with horror the path which awaited us when leaving it – and both agreed it had not been worth the risk taking to get to it.
As individuals we all have our unique takes on risk. As individuals, therefore, we should make decisions based on our own personal risk levels and abide by them – not be tempted to do something dangerous because we feel we ought to, through peer pressure or through fear of disappointing either ourselves or others. Whilst my partner was not overtly phased by the cliff trail, I was traumatised by it. Whilst she’s more than capable of canoeing over 15 foot Hawaiian waves 21 miles out in the open sea, I’m happiest careering 35 mph down volcanoes on a bicycle. Neither of us would chose to switch places with the other on either of these activities, and we accept our own personal abilities and risk levels.
This does not mean to say don’t try things that you are fearful of – give things a go until you know you’ve reached your personal limit. Fear can, and in some (though not all) cases, should be overcome. Risks, on the other hand, are a whole different ball game. When you reach your personal risk level, you need to have the confidence to say when enough is enough.
(For a point to note here, my partner was fearful of biking down steep mountain roads; she tried it and partway down got off the bike and walked as she wasn’t confident in her ability as a biker; I am not a great swimmer and got hit repeatedly by waves taller than me and got out of the ocean as quickly as I could before drowning. We tried to overcome our fears, but acknowledged when the risks to ourselves outweighed the benefits. Being better prepared, taking lessons, or going to areas where the terrain/oceans are not as extreme are options available to us. None of these options are available when foolishly hanging on the edge of a cliff!)
We have to accept ourselves and embrace our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Sometimes our greatest strength is acknowledging our weaknesses and knowing when to stop.
There are times in life when you have to take risks – sometimes unavoidable – but for those that are choices, we must assess our own personal comfort and risk levels and make a decision based on how we feel about it. Risks are a part of life – but when possible, be brave and confident enough to only do the ones you are happy with. It’s easy to be talked in to doing something you’re not comfortable with; it’s hard, sometimes, to say no. If you don’t want to disappoint someone, you may find yourself doing something you are not up to doing. You have to find your voice, and the confidence, to say ‘no’ when your limit is reached – sometimes even before it is reached – and to accept when others find their voice even if this means you yourself have not reached your limit.
This is perfectly illustrated in an Everest trek which took place a few years ago, when the guide advised the group it was unwise to summit due to conditions, but one man out of the group insisted upon summiting; the result was that several members of the group died from accidents, exposure and lack of oxygen (sods law being that the man who summiting survived while his comrades did not). And to what purpose? To get a photo on top of a mountain. Who cares?!
And that’s the thing – generally, nobody does. If you say you’re going to set out on some epic expedition, and people are counting on you to do something fantastic, that pressure can mean you take unnecessary risks. However, anyone following your progress – including sponsors – would far rather you quit your expedition than die trying – no matter what disappointment it is to you, to them, or to a company. You can always try again, better equipped and better prepared. If you’re dead, you’re no good to anyone.
And if you don’t have a catalogue of followers charting your progress, who but you will know whether you complete whatever challenge it is you’ve set out for yourself. And who, asides from you, will care? You can show photos and tell daring tales, but the experience of actually being there is something you will never be able to convey. And to those who you are conveying the tale – they would rather you return in one piece with a lesser exciting story, than to have a box of remains delivered with a selfie of your last moments (to highlight this point, not so long ago a girl fell off Crawlers Ledge; her last photo was a selfie of her on the ledge just before she fell).
This is where YOLO needs to be remembered for its purest meaning. You do only live once. So take calculated risks, enjoy life, and push your limits – but only to the point where you are comfortable and not unduly endangering yourself or others.