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Calibrating your risk/reward meter

Reaching the end of the world was a highlight of my whole life
Reaching the end of the world was a highlight of my whole life
Nancy Sathre-Vogel

There was an interesting discussion on a cycling forum I visit from time to time – I love it when people challenge my thoughts and ideas. Each time they do I learn something new and am challenged to think about the world and my actions in a different light.

One man responded to a blog post I had written about cycling to the ends of the world. “I just don't see how subjecting kids to this odyssey of self-discovery or whatever it was could possibly benefit them in the long run,” he wrote. “That's just irresponsible.”

He went on to say, “I always viewed [your journey] as risking almost certain disaster every day, for a prolonged period of time. A really unacceptable level of risk.”

It’s funny – I never considered that we were facing “almost certain disaster.” Certainly not every day and certainly not for prolonged periods of time. I felt our journey was entirely an acceptable level of risk.

Not only did I feel our journey from Alaska to Argentina was not particularly dangerous or risky, I felt it was an awesome way for my children to live their childhood years. I felt the benefits they would gain from a cycling/traveling lifestyle outweighed whatever negatives they would lose.

For every choice we make in life, we opt out of something else. Sometimes those decisions are easy; sometimes they are hard. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of those choices. In the end, we have to make a decision. We have to choose for one and against another. That’s just the way it is.

We could have chosen to stay in Idaho and the boys would have played on soccer teams and swam on swim teams. They would have eaten lunch in the school cafeteria and ridden the bus to school and raced outside to play tether ball at recess. They would have had sleepovers and played video games with friends. They would have been part of chess club and boy scouts.

Those things aren't bad.

Or we could, and did, take off and travel the world and allow the boys to climb on Mayan pyramids and Incan temples. They could swim with sea lions and scuba dive with turtles. Fly over the Nazca Lines, see the mysterious Ica Stones and conehead skulls, see ships rise and fall in the Panama Canal.

They could see real life penguins and guanacos and rheas and armadillos and foxes and bison and musk ox and big horn sheep and reindeer and iguanas in their natural habitats. They could stay with indigenous families in the Bolivian highlands and with migrant workers in Mexico. They could go sand surfing and real surfing. They could eat lomo saltado and carne asado and drink mate.

But these things came at a price.

Everything comes at a price. Whenever we choose TO DO something, we choose NOT TO DO something else. The trick is to choose wisely and spend our time doing the things that will most benefit us.

In the end we feel that, overall, our choice was the right one. Our sons have amazing life experiences that will benefit them tremendously throughout life. The important thing is that they grow up into capable human beings who can contribute to society - and that is exactly what we feel they will do.

As our discussion progressed, this man chimed in again. “Your "risk-reward" meter is calibrated much differently than most people's are. Again, I say you took on a really, really risky venture, and got through it without anything catastrophic. My risk-reward meter says that you were probably really, really lucky.”

I love that idea – the risk-reward meter. We each calibrate our meter based on our life experiences. We see those things we know and feel comfortable with closer to the reward end of the meter. The unknown, and therefore scary, things get placed at the risky end. My meter looks completely different from yours.

I would feel extremely uncomfortable if one of my boys decided he wanted to play American football. Ouch - talk about risky! I had twelve-year-old students that RACED on dirt bikes - like motorized motorcycle things that go a bajillion miles an hour? Gads - that scares the bejeezus outta me! I've also had elementary school kids who hunted with guns – you know those metal things that go *kaboom* and can kill people. And animals? Yeah those.

Those items are definitely on the risky end of my meter.

And yet I don’t judge those parents because I know that, according to their risk-reward meter, what the kids were doing was fine and the parents had taught them to be safe. I'm OK with that. I may say something like, "That is something I would never want to do, but good for you for allowing your kids to get out and experience life!"

My newfound ‘friend’ came back to the discussion one more time. “The fundamental issue is that your process of identifying and evaluating risks is quite different from mine.”

Is it really? Or are we both basing our evaluations on our own life experiences? I would be willing to bet that Mario Andretti or Anderson Cooper’s risk-reward meters would look vastly different from mine.

And his.

Is my risk-reward meter more valid than yours? Is yours more accurate than mine? Does the fact that I encourage my kids to ride their bikes make me an irresponsible parent? Does the fact that your child plays American football show your judgment to be faulty?

We all see the world through glasses tinted by our experiences – and that’s not a bad thing. I won’t judge you for the decisions you make, and I ask that you not judge me for mine. Our decisions are both equally as valid – but are based on different risk-reward meters.

What would fail miserably on your own risk-reward meter that others wouldn’t think twice about?


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