A Taste For Risk
An authentic life is rarely a safe one
Today’s essay expands on the topic of this week’s Think Piece Podcast episode, Find Your Hustle. The podcast is the practical/tactical, with powerful questions to ask yourself if you’re in a business rut and need to make a change—or just make some cash! The essay here is the psychological underbelly, a bit of personal melodrama. Honestly, I couldn’t quite get my brain into scholarly brilliance mode this week because I’m mired in emotion. So that’s what you get. Take care of yourself, friends.
Halfway up the wall, I stop breathing. Or maybe I'm only breathing, my entire body convulsing around my lungs to make them move faster and faster. My hands are covered in white chalk, and I grip the holds more tightly. Both are orange. One is shaped like a milk jug handle, the other like a clamshell. They have the texture of dirty sandpaper, filled as they are with sweat and chalk and dead skin. My toes are on orange holds as well, smaller, far thinner than a ladder rung, rough pebbles of molded plastic.
I look down, see the grey padded floor many yards below me, and definitely stop breathing.
I let go.
The one-second free fall is quickly forgotten as the auto belay catches my weight and gently lowers me to the ground. I laugh a little, eyes wide. On the ground, I pant, overstimulated from the stress rather than the actual climb, which was easy and well within my limits. And also short, since I only did half of it.
I slow my breath and shake my arms to dissipate the adrenaline. I sip water. And then I start the climb again, with a goal: grasp one hold higher on the wall.
Welcome to Risk Camp, my personal program to cultivate resilience and reignite my ability to do hard things.1 Risk Camp began in May 2022 at a climbing gym in Brooklyn. It consisted of me, a harness, some terrible rental shoes, and a very short climbing wall that I still haven't reached the top of.
Risk Camp has evolved to include scary social situations, random skill building,2 and income-ruining decisions.3 There is only one rule of Risk Camp: I must choose to do things that make me nervous. They don’t need to be terrifying or far from safety. But I must do things that make me shake a little, that my brain fights against and says I shouldn’t do, that other people may find odd or scary or (increasingly) not appropriate for someone my age.
Risk Camp continues today. And, if I’m lucky, will continue until I die.
I refuse to atrophy.
It's Not A Risk If You've Lost It All
Popular knowledge holds entrepreneurship to be a risky endeavor. That’s how we attempt to justify the outsized rewards for successful founders.4 And it is risky, of course. Something like 50% of small businesses fail in the first five years.
When I started my business, it didn't feel risky. I had gotten sober from alcohol and drugs, losing most of my friends and my identity in the process. I had broken up with my partner. I had left a promising career I loved. I could barely pay rent on unemployment.
I didn't have anything left to lose.