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I had what I guess you could call a near-death experience last year, and it’s changed my life – not in a dramatic moment of epiphany (do those really exist?), but in a very slow, unexpected , unspectacular sort of way. It comes down to this: I find that I’m taking more risks, even as I avoid danger.

It sounds contradictory, I know, but my calculations have gone something like this: no matter how careful you are, someday life is going to turn around and bite you. You can avoid smoking and drinking and fatty foods and bad company and polluted air all you like, but in the long run none of it will protect you. You will meet with a freak accident or an evil person or a senseless disease or just plain bad luck. And you will get hurt, quite possibly very badly. The best you can aim for is this:

  1. Delay death as long as possible.
  2. Have as much fun as possible in the meantime.

So, accepting that there is no failsafe protection, I now find myself weighing risks and benefits in a far more calculated way than I ever did before. Some dangers I used to seek out, in a kind of stupid overcompensation for being generally too cautious, I now avoid altogether. The limited amount of pleasure they bring just isn’t worth it. Walking alone at night or in deserted places and driving too fast used to be my particular weaknesses; for others they might be getting recklessly drunk, riding without a helmet, having unprotected sex with strangers: all those daring, fate-tempting things too many of us confuse with fun.

On the other hand, there are some things I always wanted to do but avoided in the mistaken belief that I was being sensible: learn rock climbing and quit my job, for instance. I’ve done both in the past six months, and found that some risks are big, but manageable. It took a while, but I’ve finally got the message: there is a middle ground between (blind) fearlessness and (frozen) timidity. I can be bold carefully.

Life is sweet, and far too short to waste in a futile effort to avoid rejection or failure or pain. So, choose your risks carefully, and embrace them wholeheartedly: with luck, you’ll still be having fun when you’re ninety.

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