I’ve been thinking about the topic of risk-taking as this Lent period comes to an end and I ponder where next for this blog and my writing. As I wrote in my Day 17 post ‘Trusting your gut’, in the past I was always very good at taking physical risks: jumping off bridges into rivers, jumping out of planes with a parachute, leaping off bridges with bungee cords or hitchhiking on my own on long, lonely Australian highways. Some of these were calculated risks, others were acts of recklessness, perhaps even acts of defiance, borne out of a sense of invincibility that bordered sometimes on stupidity. I was always looked after but I had a few scares – a couple of armed muggings in Mexico City in the late 1990s, for example, after taking unlicensed taxis off the street at night despite knowing full well that that was dangerous.
As I’ve grown older, calmer and more sensible, I’ve become much more cautious. That’s not a bad thing when it comes to avoiding danger but sometimes I think I’ve swung to the opposite end of the scale – I am a person of extremes after all – and been over careful. But one of the conclusions I’ve come to thanks to this Lenten blog is that I’d like to take more risks, I’d like to operate more freely, with less fear, in my work, my relationships and my activities. So I’m hoping after Easter I’ll put that into practice, with this blog and whatever I decide to turn it into (I’ll keep you posted!), with my freelance journalism career and in many other areas of my life.
After all, it’s only me holding me back. There’s no one stood behind me tugging at my shirt, stopping me from moving forward. I’m the only one who puts limits on my potential. As an aside, a friend told me a funny joke about potential the other day, a joke told by a TV comedian whose name escapes me. I’ve never been any good at retelling jokes, and especially not without having heard the original delivery, but it was something about our potential being this bright, shining, mystical thing that hovers above us, something we look upon with admiration, knowing it’s amazing. But don’t, the comedian apparently said, go anywhere near it whatever you do, or you might discover it’s not all that bright, shining, mystical or amazing after all. You might discover it’s actually pretty dull. As I said, that was a joke. I actually think we all have amazing potential – some of us put it to good use, others partially put it to good use and others, unfortunately, keep their potential at a safe distance!
When thinking of people who fulfilled their potential Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros spring to mind, the photographers who were killed on the frontline in Libya yesterday. Hetherington had been nominated for an Oscar for his documentary on Afghanistan, Restrepo, and had won the World Press Photo of the Year Award a few times. I’m generally moved when journalists are killed, being one myself. I never really fulfilled my childhood ambition of frontline war reporting (for years I wanted to be Kate Adie) although I have been to a few turbulent places and been in some scary situations. And I’ve worked with and come across many fabulous and courageous photographers. I’m finding Hetherington’s death particularly moving. He was from my hometown of Liverpool, a year older than me it seems. And he’d also studied at Oxford. Had I ever come across him, back home, at university or in some far-flung place? I was particularly moved by the words of his girlfriend, Idil Ibrahim, who called him her ‘Timinator‘, and the tributes that flooded in from his colleagues. There’s such camaraderie in that line of work.
When it comes to taking risks, these photographers were certainly out there, fulfilling their potential and working at something they felt incredibly passionate about. I guess the only consolation is that they died doing something they really loved.
Going back to the topic of risk-taking outside the war zone, there are plenty of great quotes out there on risk. Here’s one I like by T.S. Eliot: “You have to risk going too far to discover how far you can really go.” But then there is also value in weighing up a risk before stepping out as French historian Andre Malraux said: “Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage one has to bet one one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act.”
To end on a brighter note, I was reminded by a good friend the other day how women love to talk. Her husband had been wondering what on earth she and I talked about for an hour or so on the phone, especially when we were going to be meeting up in the near future. I remember my Mum saying that to me when I was a teenager – why was I talking for hours on the phone when I’d be seeing my friend the next day? I guess when she was a teenager she didn’t have the luxury of long phone calls. But yes, most of us women love to talk – and that’s one of the many things I love about being a woman!