Quite possibly it’s the adrenaline that comes pumping fast through our veins, or that uncontrollable excitement that seems to burst inside our very being, filling every inch of our body, or maybe just being able to breathe that big sigh of relief that puts our feet back on the ground with imaginary medals placed over our pumping hearts. But one thing will always stand sure – there is no denying that the risks we take give us the most important moments of our lives.
Anyone can push themselves to the limits. Taking risks could be traced back to our childhood days, of figuring out if our chubby hands can hold tight enough to cross the monkey bars, or deciding whether play-doh would taste as well as its looks suggest. Moments of pressure and challenging the impetus continue through our adolescence, when we find conflict welling on our tongue as we take a sip of our first beer, and traces on when we contemplate the right set of words on how to ask someone to be our last dance at prom. But even if we might forget what happens after these heroic hits or misses, emotions that were felt stay remarkably fresh upon recollection, and could make us ponder on how unbelievably awesome, or naively tragic these moments came to be. So why do we constantly take a spin on the uncertain, rather than just playing it safe?
Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
And with the exception of literally sailing away from the harbor for most of us, isn’t that the way life should be: a constant education of human limits and its very last capacities, pushing away comfort zones, and exploring the greener grass on the other side? I think most people fail to realize the difference between discovering, and knowing better, which leads to consistent flailing with decisions that actually need no sailing for us to discover that they were, and should have been perceived as, mistakes.
Thinking about it clearly, there seems to be no logical answer as to why people love risk-taking. It doesn’t really add up when we watch all those skateboarders, grinding balls rather than board, or those poker players that go all-in with a pair of 8’s, for a payoff so little, or with none at all. Yes, there is that thrill, but modern research has shown that it is not just thrill, but rather the uncontrollable addiction of the brain’s neurotransmitter, dopamine – the feel-good chemical that flows through our brains every time an Archer hits a clutch three, or make us feel satisfied after a big Agno lunch, and also the main reason why we’re extremely happy after every bong hit. But dopamine shouldn’t get all the blame for all of our YOLO moments, when in reality it’s just our unusual estimation of these risks that drive us to take them. Teenagers’ brains, according to certain studies, have shown that they are wired for greater tolerance for uncertainty and the unknown, with an increased desire for them and a focus on rewards and benefits on the other side.
To illustrate this capacity for risk, people need to look into history and literature, as people often overlook the real pioneers of the YOLO mantra that actually goes way back, all the way to the 16th century. Before Nicholas Sparks made every man seem like an incredibly bad boyfriend, there was a writer named William Shakespeare who wrote this love story called Romeo and Juliet, a love story between two star-crossed lovers who risked everything and everyone just to be together. This story continues to be a step-by-step guide for young love as it displayed love on first sight, tons of French flirting, and a reckless disregard for rules and safety, like many juvenile relationships these days.
But the reason why the story speaks to us most is its raw depiction of young rebellion, this dopamine-induced decision that drove them to pubescent madness, the same rebellion that gives us the push to put everything on the line to get what we want. This mindset could be both brave and stupid, but that is why courage is a sword best paired with wisdom. May Romeo’s cautionary tale remind us to think before we drink.
Because chances are everywhere. Every day, sets of choices are constantly presented to us with different possibilities that hold numerous outcomes that affect us infinitely. With all the pressure that surrounds our decisions, for instance forgetting to pair the sword with wisdom and opting to forget reason by getting drunk on the night before finals can be a popular choice, but definitely not the best one. We have to remember that in this stage of our lives, we’re not the only ones our decisions affect (but sadly the next morning’s hangover will still only affect you).
As I write this, I can’t help but look back on every risk taken, and am currently taking. And in all those countless right and wrong decision chosen, there was always an experience lived and, more importantly, learned. This is why will always bring the most important moments of our lives, but it is how we elect to learn from our decisions that determine whether they really are unbelievably awesome, or insanely naïve.
P.S. A final reminder that comes from experience: there are just certain love stories worth taking the risk.