July 19th, 2010
10:53 AM ET

Beware of Life

Chris Guillebeau
AC360° Contributor

From January to September 2009, 21,833 people died in my home state of Oregon. Just like that, each one of them left the world—here one day and gone the next.

Not long ago, three hikers also died on our nearby Mount Hood in a tragic accident.

After their deaths, there was the usual pontification about what they could have done differently. Despite the fact that they were all experienced climbers, and despite leaving for the hike when weather conditions were good, some people blamed their “risky behavior” and suggested various reforms that wouldn't have made any difference in their case.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/19/chris.blog.copy.jpg]

Then, I scanned through the comments on our newspaper's website. “I don't want to say they deserved to die,” one person said, before going on to explain why they deserved to die for pursuing their passion.

Fatal accidents are sad. I wish they wouldn't happen, and I wish we could bring back the lost hikers. But I also don't think they should have stayed home, and I don't think they are that different from the 21,833 others who died last year.

I propose that the greater risk is to play it safe all the time. Properly experienced, life is a very risky behavior.


I recently read Christopher Reeve's autobiography, Still Me. He wrote about how during his years playing Superman, he worried about dying in a “dumb” accident. Superman Hit By Bus, he imagined the headline. Later, he fell off a horse and was paralyzed for the rest of his life.

The book is a fascinating account of his first two years adjusting to a very different (and extremely limited) way of living. He was angry, bitter, and at times wished he had died in the accident. But he didn't regret riding the horse that day his life changed forever. As he put it, if he knew when he got on the horse that he would be thrown, he would have slept in that morning. But there's no way to know something like that in advance; you just have to live your life, risk and all.

From time to time people send me stories like the Mount Hood climbers, or something bad that happened to another traveler somewhere. I don't have a death wish with anything I do, and I don't think that world travel is particularly unsafe. Like Superman, I could get hit by a bus right down the street from my home.

But if something ever does happen to me, all of you can tell the real story to anyone who asks: Chris didn't want to take any risks on missing out. That's why he climbed the mountain.

Instead of trying to live a risk-free existence, let me tell you a few things that are truly worth worrying about:

The road not taken.
The destination not explored.
The adventure not pursued.
The life unlived.

If we're going to lose sleep over something, it seems to me that those are the things that should keep us awake.

Life is dangerous. It's risky. It's worth it.

Editor’s Note: Chris Guillebeau writes for a small army of remarkable people at ChrisGuillebeau.com. Follow Chris's live updates from every country in the world at @chrisguillebeau.

Filed under: Chris Guillebeau • Travel
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. bangleskin3

    Life is worth it.

    October 8, 2018 at 12:45 pm |
  2. Jennifer V.

    This is the best article I've ever read. It has inspired me to take risks and live a beautiful life.

    July 27, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  3. AJ

    I love it! So true. Ya gotta live, life is short and we all die sooner or later.

    July 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  4. Ron

    A great saying I heard once but don't remember who said it:

    "I do not wish to die, knowing that I never really lived".

    July 20, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  5. Joe

    Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty, well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow' What a ride!

    July 20, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  6. riverrunner

    Bravo! who wants to die on their couch? not me. let people take risks and be self sufficient. parks need to stop automatically trying to rescue everybody. zion national park recently closed the river to kayaking at all but ridiculously low flows due to bad publicity of rescuing people!!! don't rescue me (I don't want it or need it) but let me kayak! I'll sign a waiver please open up the narrows to kayaking again!

    July 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
  7. Samantha Rowley - Nashville, TN

    From one adventurous spirit to another...well written Chris!

    July 19, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  8. Michael

    Do you see any limits to this though? How about extremely risky thrill seeker behavior? Or stupidity like the guy that attached balloons to his recliner and ended up floating at several thousand feet freezing in a tshirt and shorts? I'm all for calculated risk, as long as people see the potential consequences to themselves AND others. I've done crazy stuff too (rappelling, jumping out of perfectly good helicopters into lakes, low level MMA fighting, heavy weightlifting), but now that I have a wife and kids, I've toned it down a lot because I have others dependent on me.

    July 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  9. Isabel Siaba

    Great article! Thanks!

    Life is worth it. 🙂

    July 19, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  10. Di Canada

    Doing what causes the most angst is always so rewarding but the precipice always; so daunting.

    July 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Chi

    So true, Chris : )

    July 19, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  12. Alex Valiao (DMLK, NJ)

    Every person has their own role to play in the world...everything is designed big, nothing small. I suppose that would account for man being the highest specie in the mammal kingdom & on God's creation. Every person has crossroad/s to follow. All you have to do is hang on and live. It is almost baffling how people say grab every chance/opportunity that comes your way. But come to think of it, as long as you are breathing, you are given the chance and/or opportunity to do something for yourself and for everyone. As for me, I am in my own crossroads at a 360 view. It feels like there are choices/monitors surrounding me like a huge halo. It's kinda weird but I more than grateful.

    July 19, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  13. April

    Great post! Rings true! Would I change anything in my life? Not a chance.

    July 19, 2010 at 11:00 am |

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.