Is Living Dangerously and Risk Taking Critical to Your Hapiness and Success?

A friend and blogger ApplePieMom brought an idea to my attention yesterday in her post Living Dangerously.

The idea that living dangerously enhances life is a conundrum that rolls around in my head frequently.

I understand AppliePieMom’s point that simply taking a few economic risks isn’t the same fighting in a war zone. No doubt. The difference is one of degree. Are you risking your life, your job, your money, your marriage, your freedom, your health, or your reputation? We clearly put different values on each of these things.

But that doesn’t get at the fundamental question…

Is Living Dangerously and Risk Taking Critical to Your Happiness and Success?

It is to me, but it is nuanced and complex.

Almost everything worth doing is risky.

I was driving down the freeway and my son yelled, “Dad the speed limit is 70 and you’re going 78. The policeman is going to take you to jail.”

I thought about it a minute and I said this to my son…

“First, no one is going to take me to jail. If I get caught I’ll have to pay fine. Second do you notice how everyone else is going even faster? If I drive slower we will be in more danger than if I keep up with the flow of traffic.

One of the most important things to learn about life isn’t to obey all the rules. It’s to learn the rules, know when you’re breaking them, and what the consequences are if you get caught.”

Risk taking and danger doesn’t always involve breaking the rules, but more often than not it does.

The need for risk and challenge can manifest itself  in harmless ways…

When a golfer first plays a clean round of golf, they can find it isn’t what they thought it’d be. They thought it’d be exhilarating but instead it was boring. Why? It is more interesting to get yourself into a mess and get yourself out than it is to execute near perfection.

manifest itself in incredibly destructive ways…

Claude Steiner writes about this in The Games Alcoholics Play. He states alcoholics and addicts don’t find “normal” life interesting. They are caught in an destructive obsessive form of risk taking, consistently digging themselves into a hole and recovering. This is why they are more likely to relapse when life is going well than when they are having problems. They crave not only alcohol but the risk that goes with it.

Some people climb mountains, others jump from airplanes, and some put their life savings down on a startup. These activities make them feel alive.

What do you think? Is living dangerously critical to your hapiness and success?

For me it is. Too much safety and comfort bore me and lead to apathy. But there are a couple of caveats…

  • The risk must be calculated and intelligent, not a blind gamble or reckless endangerment.
  • The likely result of my risk taking should be constructive and positive.

ApplePieMom shares her experience as the mother of a 26 year old soldier on the ground in Afghanistan.

Another Unoffical Lesson Taught in School

The lessons kids learn in school that aren’t part of the official curriculum are the most powerful lessons taught in these institutions. John Taylor Gatto wrote about the unofficial lessons he taught in school.

Today I have one to add to his list.

Respect can be achieved through the purchase and acquisition of status symbols.

Let me explain.

I work with a guy who has two teenage boys in a large suburban public high school. Parking in the school lot is by permit only and costs $180.00 per year.

However, students can park in the lot across street for free but few do.


Student culture has labeled the free lot the “loser” lot.

I would think that the intelligent kids, the entrepreneurial kids, and the healthy kids, would park in the free lot. It’s good exercise to walk a hundred yards more to school and you’ll save almost $200 a year. Why would you throw your money away?

Simple, kids believe having a parking permit makes them a ‘winner.’ Why? They, or more importantly, their parents, can afford to throw money away on a piece of paper. Only ‘losers’ can’t or won’t spend money on a piece of paper that gives them membership in a herd. The parking permit isn’t a parking permit at all, it is a social status symbol and a subtle symbol of conformity.

Can You Live on 50% of Your Income?

Let’s talk about money. Someone will probably call me insensitive or naive for posting this, but I don’t care. It’s important. Please keep in mind, I’m talking about people with normal to above average incomes, not senior citizens on SSI or single moms on state assistance. I understand there are hard cases.

I heard a 60+ year old man say this today…

When I was 18 I made a decision. I decided I never wanted to be under financial stress. I have lived that decision my entire adult life and have never experienced financial stress. How did I do it? I saved 50% of my take home income without exception. I’ve had months I’ve made $100, and other months I’ve made $100,000. But regardless, I still saved 50% of my income. My income has fluctuated but my saving percentage hasn’t. This has enabled me to purchase several business and a large ranch without incurring debt. I hear people say ‘I couldn’t possibly live on 50% of my income.’ Oh! baloney, you choose not to. Sure it’s harder once you have a 400K mortgage and kids in private colleges, but you decided to live that way. You don’t need to live that way. And if you had decided when you were younger to live differently, you could have your 400K home and private college today without a dollar of debt.

I’m not trying to preach. I don’t save 50%. But I know everything this man said is true. I could have saved more, and if I had, I’d be much better off today.

I’m aiming the following list at the 18-25 audience. Why? Most older people are already working like slaves to pay off debt and can’t imagine living on 50% of take home. A huge percentage of people are living paycheck to paycheck by 30 with college loans, cars, credit cards, and mortgages. Once you’ve accumulated your debt, living on 50% will become impossible due to the choices you made earlier and your financial stress may never subside. Creating financial freedom starts young, requires disciple, and must become a habit.

Here are some ideas you could use to help you save 50% when you are just starting out in life:

(Keep in mind that these lifestyle sacrifices would be temporary – delayed gratification)

  1. Live in a small apartment with roommates
  2. Avoid buying a car. Cars are money pits. If you must purchase one, buy a cheap used car with cash. Never buy a car on credit
  3. Don’t indulge fashion trends. Instead wear practical durable inexpensive clothing. If your friends say you look like a dork, find new friends
  4. Avoid high-maintenance boyfriends/girlfriends
  5. Avoid expensive vacations. Instead make them local and cheap. Maybe go camping or biking.
  6. Don’t eat out
  7. Warning – this one is blasphemy – Avoid student loans. Pay cash (Community College) or learn free on the internet
  8. Don’t upgrade your home, your car, your education, or your clothes until you can pay cash

You may not want to live this way, but you certainly could live this way, if you chose to.

Most people say they can’t live on 50% of their take home. When in reality, they mean they won’t live on 50% of their income because they aren’t willing to make the trade offs. Or maybe they don’t think the trade offs are worth it.

I genuinely want to discuss this with you. Is saving 50% reasonable? I don’t know if it is. That depends on who you are, right? But for many people it is possible. What would happen if your income was cut 50% right now? Would you go bankrupt? Would you die? Would it destroy your marriage? Or could you survive for years?

Today’s post was inspired by Episode 63 of The Focus Society of Overachievers podcast.

Are You An Extraordinary Person?

Before you attempt to answer the question “Are You an Extraordinary Person?” read this story.

After my mother-in-law watched our interview with Jonathan Fields on Career Renegades she mentioned to Christine, “I wish Steve wouldn’t talk like he was this regular ordinary guy. Why does he do that? We know that he isn’t ordinary at all.”

Let me explain why I describe my past that way.

For the first 30 years of my life I viewed myself this way:

I grew up in an ordinary family, in an ordinary middle-American city. My dad had an ordinary job. Just like every other boy I knew, I did shitty in school and I hated it. I was told by authorities that I’d never amount to anything, that I’d be lucky to get a job that could pay the bills, and that my generation was the first generation who would have it worse than their parents. I worked jobs I hated so I could come home, sit on the couch, drink beer, smoke cigarettes, and watch TV. I wasted my weekends watching televised sports. I was in debt and I couldn’t see myself getting out.

I was told that without a higher education I would never amount to anything. I saw myself as working class. I accepted the social sorting our schools and institutions had applied to me. I became what I believed I was. I felt like I was an ordinary working class guy and that’s all I would ever be.

I felt guilty when I wanted more. I should be happy, right? At least I had a job. I had a cracker box to live in. I had a wife who loved me unconditionally. I had so much food I was getting fat. When I’d dream for more, I’d hear a demon in my head shouting “What do you want more for? You ungrateful little bastard, you’ve got everything you need. Quit feeling sorry for yourself.”

Was I ordinary? Yes, I was ordinary because I thought I was ordinary. Who am I to presume I am extraordinary?

If you listen to the news and the lessons taught in our schools you’ll hear the same message again and again. Ordinary people are helpless victims.

Do you want to know the truth?

It’s a lie. There are no ordinary people. You are all extraordinary. You are all gifted creators. Everyone of you has amazing things to offer.

I’m a slow learner. It took me almost 30 years to learn this.

It is my story and I am compelled to share it with you in the hope that it won’t take you 30 years to figure this out.

I was what I thought I was. And now I am what I think I am. And that’s what you are too.