Risk, in Training

For the longest time, I have been labelled as a risk taker. Ask my middle school teachers, employers over the years, employees, and friends. Above all, ask my family. Travel to take on the unknown, in typically extreme circumstances, is my MO.

Neither my wife nor oldest son are on board with the idea of living at extremes. Over the years, we have come to make some compromises in how we like to spend our down time. When it comes to vacations that include everybody, we alternate the type of trip. That means we take turns….I plan a vacation, then she plans a vacation. Our friends hear us say that we are going on a vacation, and they ask, “Is this a Linda vacation or a Jeff vacation?” They know that if it is a Linda vacation, we will travel to a place that is warm, sunny and includes water. There will be flush toilets, people who say “please” and “thank you” and maybe even a menu to order from. If it is Jeff vacation, we will be in the middle of nowhere, using equipment that needs a description, and it typically includes animals, fish, and insects of one sort or another. To say that she and I are opposites is an understatement…like calling Bush and Obama identical presidents.

This month’s edition of National Geographic (NG) had a story about those who take risk, and what it is that they appear to biochemically have in common. Recently, people reported on a study where researchers asked what biochemically is going on in the brain of those who like to take risk. Not all risk is created equal. For some people, motivation for risk is obvious and readily defendable: financial gain, political office, fame and saving lives. But, as danger increases, the number of people will to take the risk decreases. Yet, without this motivation or reward, some of us stick it out and still want to take the risk anyway…and we face consequences. The article claims that researchers at multiple universities have testing the brains of those of us who take extreme risks have observed increased levels of a chemical called dopamine in our brains. The article started with a piercing comment. It reads, “when you’re talking about someone who takes risks to accomplish something-climb a mountain, start a company….” I stopped reading after that part of the description. Mountain climbing and entrepreneurship are two of my favorite activities…they are the things I remember the most.

Until I read this article, I had no idea why I gravitate towards risk. I had never pondered that this may be connected to chemistry in my brain. The event I am training for currently is a challenge to visualize. I will run in the desert for 20 minutes, cycle for somewhere between 45 and 50 minutes, then run for another 20 minutes…maybe 18 minutes, if I am ready. I will be in a different sort of environment than I am used to, in a place that I have never been to. And, I can’t wait for it to happen. I explained the dopamine findings to my wife. Her response? She turned to my youngest son and said, “I hope you didn’t inherit this!” Bad news, Honey. He is going to Everest with me in 2015. And, he is looking forward to it. Sorry, but I think he has my dopamine disposition.

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