February 1 this year marked the 13th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when seven crew members lost their lives after the orbiter burned up upon re-entry.
Space travel is, by its nature, a risky endeavour. Placing people on a controlled explosive device and launching them into the void is a dangerous business. Why do that? Why risk life and limb for an unknown end?
The proverbial answer is because a turtle only makes progress when it sticks its neck out. The optimistic answer is because we, as a species, are explorers and need to see what is beyond the horizon. The capitalist answer is that without risk, there is no reward.
My answer is because you never know who you are until you face risk.
There have been times in my life when I have jumped into the unknown void and risked what I cherished.
After I graduated high school in southern California, I moved two-thirds of the way across the United States to attend college in Illinois. In doing so, I risked the relationships of the friends and girlfriend I left behind in the Golden State. In the four years of higher education, I risked and lost and I have risked and won. I cherished what I had gained and I pined for what was no more. There were new friends made, old friendship made stronger, friends lost, and one ex-girlfriend.
Much later, after three years establishing myself as a computer programmer in San Diego, I risked a comfortable life and moved my family to the East Coast where the job opportunities were more plentiful, but where no one knew me. In the eighteen years we have lived in Virginia, I have risked and lost and I have risked and won. I cherish what I have gained and I lament for what is no more. There have been new connections made, new skills acquired, hard lessons learned, and limitations to my abilities exposed.
Yet in those two cases and many others too numerous to mention, the risk has always been worth it regardless of what has been lost. It is when I come out on the other side of that risk that I see what I have become.
After attending college in a different environment, I left with a greater understanding of the depth of the world around me in the conversations I had with people from all over the country and world. In that time, I met my first denizen of Wyoming, which I had always assumed was a fictional state. I also met my first citizen of Cyprus, who, in an unfortunate bit of cultural misunderstanding, only attended our university because she had heard it had a large Greek population.
After all of my job experiences in Virginia, I learned that I was capable of being a manager of a software testing team. I also learned that I did not like being a manager of a software testing team. I learned that you are never too young to be a mentor and never too old to have a mentor. I learned what it is like to be laid off and to wait in line at the unemployment office.
It is only through risk that experience is gained.
There have been times when I have not risked and it is those moments that I regret for not walking down that path. Rarely have I regretted doing things. I often regret having not done things.
Case in point was the time I had the opportunity to be launched off an aircraft carrier.
I was working for a radio station in Ramona, California (near San Diego) and the general manager had asked if I wanted to produce a news story about an open house that the USS Constellation was having over the weekend. As part of the story’s feature, I would be placed inside one of the fighter jets to record it what is like to take off from the deck of a Navy carrier.
I said no.
I said no because I was busy that day.
I really said no because I was scared.
It’s a small thing to regret, but I regret giving in to my fear. That giving in to my fear showed that I am capable of it and that is something one rarely likes to view in one’s self.
We risk because we come out better for it.
That’s my story.
P.S. Since it’s slightly on topic. I have also learned that the best way to win at the board game of RISK is to take the four territories that comprise the continent of Australia. Once you have that, you have a beachhead into Asia and with that, you are nearly unstoppable. How I learned this is a story for another day.