What Kind of Risk Taker Are You?

Are you a risk taker?

I’m not. I have always been more on the cautious side, preferring to stand back, observe, listen and analyze a situation.  I’ve always admired people who are not like me, people who are more daring, or willing to throw caution to the wind.

Being a risk taker is not necessarily a good or bad thing, it’s simply another component of who we are. While we might be able to develop confidence or strive harder to push ourselves further, as with many things, our genetic makeup probably determines how much of a risk taker we are. Some of us are simply born more adventurous and more willing to take risks.

Recently I saw the movie, “127 Hours” starring James Franco. This is a movie about a serious risk taker, but even more importantly it’s about survivorship. It is a biographical adventure film which tells the story of climber Aron Ralston, who was trapped while hiking in Canyonlands National Park, Utah in 2003. It’s common knowledge, so I’m not revealing any plot, that Ralston was trapped by a falling boulder while he was climbing alone. His arm was crushed and pinned under the boulder, so he was unable to free himself for over five days. Ultimately, he self-amputated his forearm with a dull knife in order to free himself and survive.

Watching this movie made me really stop and think about risk taking and survivorship, among other things.

People will do almost anything in order to survive. I think this is why cancer patients don’t particularly appreciate being called brave or courageous. They just do what they do because there is no choice sometimes if they want to survive. Real bravery or courage happens when there are choices, when one can choose to do something, but also choose to retreat or do nothing. There is a huge difference.

Aron Ralstad chose amputating his forearm after five days because he realized no one was coming to help him and living without an arm was better than not living at all. In an odd sort of way, many cancer patients do this same thing. They remove breasts, ovaries, uteri, prostate glands, pieces of their colons, or whatever body part(s) they must in order to survive.

While trapped, Aron Ralstad spent those five days examining his life, relationships, dreams and goals. He acknowledged past mistakes and thought a lot about his future, and if he would indeed have one. Again, similarities here abound for those with cancer or any major illness.

While it was graphic and a bit disturbing to watch at certain moments, to me this was a very inspirational movie. I liked how the character was flawed because, well, who isn’t? He was over confident in his climbing skills, perhaps even bordering on cockiness. He broke all the important rules when one ventures out into nature. He went alone. He didn’t take a cell phone. He didn’t take enough food or water. He told no one where he was going. He didn’t think he needed to. He did not think anything bad would happen to him. He knew what he was doing.

Ah, I think we can all relate to that one!

So, despite his flaws and cockiness, maybe even partly because of them, we still care about him and root for him to survive. While watching, you can’t help but ask yourself if you would be able to do what he did. Would you be able to ration out a limited supply of food and water? Would you be able to leave messages for loved ones? Would you be able to maintain sanity and formulate a plan? Would you be able to cut off a limb? Would you be able to survive?

The human drive to survive is an amazing thing. Maybe it’s still part of our genetic makeup, an instinct that kicks in when needed. Maybe we are all capable of amazing feats of strength, be they physical or mental. Maybe each of us taps into only a tiny portion of our potential.

How much more is each of us really capable of accomplishing? Do we only truly discover our potential/limitations if we are pushed or forced to the “edge” in life?

“127 Hours” certainly got me to thinking about these and other things. It managed to get a few other people thinking as well since it’s nominated for six Oscars, including best picture and best actor. It’s a movie that will force you to reflect about things like limitations, survivorship, risk taking, poor judgment, family, friendship, life and death to name a few. I guarantee it.

Are you a risk taker?

Have you seen “127 Hours”? If so, what was your reaction?

Do you think anyone ever reaches his/her true potential?




24 thoughts to “What Kind of Risk Taker Are You?”

  1. I am not much of a risk taker either, but I know that when it comes down to it, I would do anything to survive too. I haven’t seen this movie, but I’m interested in it now!

  2. Excellent questions, Nancy. Certainly ones I grapple with over and over. How strong am I? Can I do what needs to be done or even face the truth about a situation without falling to pieces? Dealing with cancer makes non-cancerous challenges seems easier to handle, but I don’t know. I guess everyone has a limit.

    This is one of those topics I could on and on about, but to save space on your site, I’ll stop and just thank you for the thought provoking post. Not sure I want to see that movie, though.

    1. Stacey, Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. You’re right cancer makes some of the other challenges seem easy in comparison. I don’t want cancer to make me even more cautious than I was, so I have to keep pushing myself, but I have no intention of ever rock climbing as the character in the movie did and still does. I’ll stick to the marked trails!

  3. I found your blog today very interesting. The movie sounds fascinating and I will have to watch it one day. Yes, we all have survival instincts.

    I found myself nodding my head when you talked about cancer survivors being called brave and courageous when all we’re doing is trying to survive. I feel the same way. Although, I guess how you approach the chemo, radiation and/or surgery can influence how others view bravery.

    Am I a risk taker? Yes and no. I’ve gone skydiving and want to zip line and waterwater raft, yet I’m more reserved and contemplative in my professional and personal lives. However, I was the one who approached my husband to tell him I was interested (a bit risky). So I’m a semi-risk taker.

    Thanks for the movie recommendation!

    1. Tina, I think most of us are more reserved and contemplative in our professional lives. Semi- risk taker, good for you! You are brave to even consider skydiving and you actually did it! You really should see this movie if you get a chance sometime. Thanks for your comments, Tina. Let us know if you ever do those other things you mention!

  4. I especially like how even after this ordeal, Aron still continues to climb. When it comes to doing something you love, nothing can really stop you.

    Most of us have experienced this on some level. I’ve been bitten by several dogs, but I still love to work with these “challenging” dogs more than ever. I had to get stitches after a rugby injury, and I still played rugby after that. Every time I am running a race, I think, why do I do this to myself? But I always compete in yet another race.

    1. Lindsay, Yes, the fact he continues climbing is impressive after all he went through. Good point, that most of us have experienced risk taking on some level, some are just more obvious or dramatic. I would say you are definitely more of a risk taker than I am! Thanks for your insights and don’t take too many risks!!

  5. Hi Nancy,

    Nice discussion of the movie and how it relates to cancer.

    Generally, I have not been a risk taker. Prior to cancer, going up to strangers and talking to them was risky to me (I was exceedingly shy). Cancer made me an extrovert, and it’s amazing how gutsy I can be nowadays.

    I guess reaching out for help when one is diagnosed and going through treatment helps one gain certain social skills!

    This would sound weird to anyone who didn’t get diagnosed with cancer, but I feel in some ways my cancer was a gift because it gave me the appreciation of life that I lacked before.

    1. Beth, I’m glad you are able to see all the positives and how you have evolved. Good for you! Thanks for taking time to comment on three posts, Beth. I really appreciate it and always enjoy your feedback.

  6. Well, I’m much closer to a risk taker than not. I have been much more careful since the Big C and all the “fun” side effects, but yeah, if given the choice, I will lean more towards the risky side of life!

  7. Nancy, somehow I fit into the category of ‘risk taker.’ Seems to just be the way it is although my Mum referred to me as ‘The Black Sheep’ She definitely had difficulty dealing with it.
    I understand from discussions on radio today that people seeing the movie have had seizures, vomited and on several occasions at one theatre, the paramedics have been called.
    I know in myself, the will to survive is very strong. I saw that after Jeremy’s tragic passing.
    In spite of the challnges I have faced, I will myself to live.although I do not yet know the purpose for being here.

    1. Chez, Thanks for taking time to comment on this. Sounds like you were a handful growing up. I’m surprised by that radio discussion you heard, I didn’t think the movie was too difficult to watch. Your will to survive has certainly been tested too many times. Keep up that strong determination of yours!

  8. Great post, Nancy. I haven’t seen the movie but was very moved by his story when it was first featured in the news.

    For me, the definition of risk-taking has changed since cancer. Things I would have been terrified to do before are now doable – and I’m talking life stuff as well as physical challenges like zip-lining. The fear is still there, but it is dampened by the knowledge that life is short and is meant for living. I’m less worried about looking stupid, too; but I think chemo does that! 🙂

    1. Cyn, Thanks for reading and commenting. Good for you, taking on new challenges, even zip-lining! Life is indeed meant for living and I agree with you about now worrying less about looking “stupid!”

  9. I feel like every time I go onto a new cancer treatment I’m taking a risk. I mean have you read the possible side-effects blurbs that Big Pharma put out????? Cancer aside, it’s a wonder I’m still here if those darling little leaflets are to be believed. But seriously in answer to your question, I do consider myself quite bold, but am rather a “calculated” risk taker. Also I don’t do carnival rides, so I think that says a lot!

    1. Anna, Thanks for commenting. Yes, every cancer treatment is a risk of sorts in itself, you’r right about that. Sounds like you are a “sensible” risk taker!

  10. Nancy great post…I will definitely check out the movie. (Actually going to see if it is out on DVD yet and watch this tonight as I could use a bit of inspiration today.) Within the last few weeks, a few survivors that I know have been rediagnosed…with stage IV cancers.
    I totally agree with you when someone says you are brave or courageous for walking the cancer journey, wondering really? Aren’t we doing just what we need to do to survive? But, in actuality, by definition those of us in the cancer journey are risk takers.
    Thank you for a very insightful blog…I am already feeling more encouraged!

    1. Kim, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I don’t believe it is out on DVD yet, but yes, you should see it if you get a chance. I’m sorry to hear the news of more stage IV cancers in survivors you know. Every time I hear about more of these, I get angry about it. And yes, those in the cancer journey are all risk takers. Perhaps we all are.

  11. Nancy, great post! I haven’t seen the movie, but I would say I am a low-to-moderate risk taker. I’ll go on challenging mountain climbs, even with a lymphedemous arm, but only with a partner. I’ll go skiing, but at a commercial ski park and only with a companion. On the other hand, my husband is a high risk taker; he goes mountain climbing in winter by himself, glissading and skiing in the wilderness. We love the mountain-climbing movies “Into Thin Air” and “Touching the Void.” We haven’t seen “127 Hours” but will have to get it and let you know our reaction.

    1. Jan, It must be interesting when your spouse is a much bigger risk taker than you are! I hope you do see the movie, it’s pretty good. I look forward to hearing about your reaction to to. Thanks for commenting!

  12. 127 Hours is the kind of movie I avoid like the plague. I never go to movies or read books that will make me cry. There are too many things in my life to cry about, if I wanted to. So I don’t seek out any. I guess I am an avoid risks person. When I was younger I did do some risky things. But now, I really treasure every day as a gift and try to really enjoy the present. My son, daughter, and 19 year old grandson are all risk takers and when I hike with them I tell them I need to stay on the marked trail. I want to see the beauty around me, not be looking at my feet and crawling over trees, rocks et. which I’ve done with them. I’ll leave the risks to you young people. I have friends with replacement hips, knees etc. I want to stave that off for as long as I can. Ha! Just the opinion of one cancer survivor, Baby Boomer. Betty

    1. Betty, It sounds like you and I think alike! I did really enjoy this movie though. Somehow knowing it was going to have a “happy” ending before I went probably helped.

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