The Year of Living Dangerlessly

Life is all about risks, I’m told. We take personal risks at managed points in our life — going off to college, changing jobs, asking someone out for the first time. We get to decide these for ourselves, largely. Sometimes, we don’t get to choose. With COVID, we have all had to manage a little more involuntary risk than we would like, whether you are a double-masked jogger in Boston Common, or fully embracing the whatever-the-fuckery of Texas. Regardless of how we are choosing to ride out the pandemic, we’ve all had to formulate a position on our safety that we’ve likely never had to ponder. I’ve certainly given mine some thought.

We’re all preoccupied with it. I get a lot of unsolicited sales emails, and many of them start with some variant of this: “I hope you are staying safe in these uncertain/troubling/souls-of-men-trying times.”

Let me assure you, dear Account Director, my safety is not a concern. After five decades of continuous service on this planet, I have achieved optimal safety. And after a Year of Living Dangerlessly, I’ve come to appreciate what a gift that has been.

Our culture celebrates risk. We are often presented with Captains Of Industry who fail fast, learn from their mistakes, and dare greatly. As the Earl of Montrose proclaimed in the 17th century,

“He either fears his fate too much,

Or his desserts are small,

Who dares not put it to the touch,

To win or lose it all!”

Well, my desserts were smaller in 2020. Literally. I lost 15 pounds by the end of a year, after an early binge of attempting to defeat coronavirus with calories that was shockingly ineffective. I’m not going to lie here — for the first six months of quarantine, I struggled just like everyone else. My life has been built around a relentless travel schedule for 20 years, and all of a sudden that baggage carousel ground to a halt. Business travel and events went away overnight. Vacations were canceled. Eventually, we stopped eating out anywhere, regardless of precautions or local policy. I wasn’t able to see my son as much. Quarantine sucked. Sucks. It’s still a fact of life for us. One of the invisible inequities of this virus (but not the most egregious) is the fact that for those of us in Boston, to use inventory management-speak, we are FiLo. First in to lockdown, and undoubtedly the last out.

It’s now been one year since my last business trip, when I spoke at a couple of podcast events in New York City in early March, 2020. In that time, I have given up drinking, conserved thousands of dollars, strengthened my bond with my wife, started writing again (and more importantly, been given back the gift of the compulsion to write), and spoken regularly to a therapist. I’ve spent a year being safe.

Until our mettle is tested, it isn’t formed — that’s the very definition of mettle. And ours has surely been tested, these past twelve months. We have all had to deal with risk in some fashion — even the risk of going grocery shopping. But here’s a thing my brilliant wife often tells her clients: the biggest leaps start from the surest ground. Whatever I accomplish in the coming years, it won’t simply be a product of the risks I take. Dissatisfaction may drive you to the precipice, but the success of your leap also depends on how well you’ve shored up the ledge.

For me, therapy shored up the ledge. As a society, we tend to stigmatize therapy. But therapy is to your mental health as flossing is to your dental health. It’s hygiene. It is, unlike bath salts or binaural feedback headphones or gin or Clubhouse, actually therapeutic. There are lots of distractions in this life that can, in a moment, make you feel better.

But when you find yourself needing those distractions, day after day, know that you are not, in fact, better.

So, consider this as risky a foray into unsolicited advice as I dare venture. It’s been a risky year. if you haven’t done so over the last year, and you are at all able to do so, floss your teeth, try to move a little every day, and talk to a therapist. Just as a check-up, if nothing else. Honestly, it should be like a colonoscopy or a mammogram — at a certain point, you should just get one, and it’s not even as intrusive. A competent therapist isn’t there to tell you what you should do. That’s what drunken friends and social media are for. It doesn’t fix you, because you are not broken. A professional therapist gives you the tools to feel better, on your own, not just “in the moment,” but in every moment, when the camera is switched off, the microphone is unplugged, and you are left alone with the noise of your thoughts.

If you and I are going to do the things we need to do in the coming years, the biggest dangers aren’t external. They lie in how we choose to think about things.

You are going to do great things, and take great leaps. Be safe.

Photo credit: Chris Eilbeck, Dangerous Bridge

SVP, Edison Research. Co-author of The Infinite Dial, The Podcast Consumer, The Social Habit, and other widely cited studies. Newsletter

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