|Jordan Romero, age 13, atop Everest|
This post is going to possibly rub some people the wrong way. Thats fine. It is, after all, just my opinion (although, i'd argue, a reasoned one).
I think that as a society we are a bit risk averse. modern middle class american life leaves little to no need to ever even begin to discover what we, as human beings are capable of. And while i'm not about to argue that it's impossible to live a happy and fulfilling life without approaching (or even exploring) your true mental and physical limits, i will argue that there are benefits to doing so.
EVERYONE is going to experience pain. Loss. Everyone is going to suffer. everyone is going to struggle against the odds and face difficulties. These are facts of life. For many folks one of the purposes of life is to try to avoid these moments through wishful thinking and ultimately futile practices of 'risk avoidance'. in fact, i think that we all adopt this strategy at least on some level. but the issue here is two fold: to start, excessive use of this tactic takes time and energy and can be consuming if overindulged (without actually being able to thwart very many calamities), and secondly it often prevents the use of 'risk management' in a meaninful way (which of course requires risks to be taken).
Risks - defined here as activities in which the outcome is unknown and for which there exists at least some possibility of a negative result - give us great opportunity. it is through risk that we learn about our most true and fundamental selves. how we behave when the chips are down speaks to who we are. The things we cultivate when it matters are things that guide our growth. my belief is that approaching risk this way is tremendously rewarding and important. This is why i love major endurance races and crazy adventures. They teach me about myself. And it's why i enjoy introducing youth to these big races and expeditions.
This is where i feel people may disagree. after all it may be fine for me, a 35 year old, to go out and accept risks for myself - but i'm experienced - an adult. recommending this as a good idea for a 17 year old seems irresponsible to many. I'll stick to my guns though with the caveat that it is of course not for everyone - it has been my experience that most teenagers don't have the passion for adventure, and for me that is the one thing that is required. if the fire is there, then waiting to take managed risks until some 'magic' age of adulthood doesn't make any sense (i've got lots of thoughts on what i call the myth of adulthood, but we'll leave that alone for now). of course it's important to accept risk as safely as possible - you learn as much as you can, etc etc. 17 year olds make stupid decisions all the time - ones that stand to have FAR less positive impacts on their adult lives than attempting some hairbrained ultra endurance race or self-styled wilderness adventure. Yeah, there are risks - but these are the good kinds. They don't involve unnatural changes to body chemistry, possible juvenille detention, etc. And the bottom for me is that if this is in someone- if this passion to push, to challenge, to discover the limits of themselves is waiting to get out - if i can see it there straining behind the eyes when i relate my own epic tales - and if they're even close to being physically ready - then damnit if i'm not going to invite that kid on my next sufferfest, or push them to pursue their own.