Taking risks

Embrace Risk, If Only Because We Can't Avoid It

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As human beings, it could be argued, that our entire nature is based around the premise of risk and reward. Sometimes these two things go head to head and we must make a choice.

Chances are you have faced quandaries before: should I take a lucrative job offer despite the fact that it is in new city where I know no one, dislike the climate and will find myself far away from all that is familiar? Should I marry this person despite the fact that their financial prospects are nil but love is at the fore (or, maybe, vice versa)? Should I spend my life’s savings on a singular event that could forever shape my outlook but leave me penniless?

The entire issue of risk reminds me of the marine iguana. This creature with scaly skin, a thick muscular torso and a face that harkens back to something ancient and entirely prehistoric. It dives for food from high craggy, rocks on the Galapagos Islands into deep, cold ocean water almost every day. It is unique among the world’s reptiles in that its home is the land but finds its food in the ocean.

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The marine iguana is without wings, has no flippers or deeply webbed claws. It's one adaptation for their underwater quest for food is a long tail that acts as a rudder, speeding them rather clumsily through the sea so that they can navigate their way to the algae encrusted rocks deep below and feast.

Able to hold their breath underwater, marine iguanas look strange as they swim, almost as if it is entirely unnatural. But in fact, their evolution, and the subsequent risk they take to survival, is the exact opposite. A lizard that swims is a lizard that lives, and few other things are more natural that adapting for survival.

It is not just the chilly water, the breath holding and the long, dangerous fall into choppy seas that make the marine iguana’s hunt for basic survival dangerous. These scaly beasts also face a gauntlet of seals who surf the waves for their sustenance, too. The marine iguana has the distinct advantage, despite this seemingly obvious risk to life and very important limb, of being repulsive as a food source for seals.

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Too tough and spiny for seals to consume, they still do not leave the iguana free of harassment. No, after all of the marine iguanas efforts, the seals enjoy doing little more than tormenting and teasing them, biting and grabbing their tails, yanking them along in the chop, and treating them as oblong playthings for their enjoyment. One could argue that this is a crueler fate than being the source of prey at worst or insult added to injury at best. Yet, programmed deep into the iguana’s reptilian brain, is the continued pursuit of life, against all odds and against all tormentors. He is eager, every day, to eat and live.

In a world that is largely and comfortably at the whim of modernity, it may seem a foreign to go so far out of our own way to secure what we want or desire. These seemingly irrelevant ancient beasts actually have a lot to teach us. In fact, what these creatures impart, by the very nature of their being, is that risk is required for survival.

In business and in life, we face similar scenarios that are endless and unique to each person. What you fight for, what you swim to the bottom of a choppy sea for, what obstacles you face before, during or after the pursuit of your risk, are what make life, at the very least, interesting, and at the most, deeply profound and meaningful.

As a human being, one operates at the height of the metaphorical food chain. Even the physically weakest among us are leaps and bounds more intellectually capable than our animal counterparts. The benefits of our mental processes, our verbal communication and our ability to remain resilient in almost all of the world’s climates have given us great power. But the power is only as good as what we apply it toward or what we risk to sustain these gifts of life.

The marine iguana teaches us that despite our better, safer inclinations, it is necessary to take what has been given to us through evolution and apply it to our environment, even at the risk of death or starvation. It is a stark reality that marine iguanas face. Despite some of the modern, evolved comforts we as human beings have made manifest, there are aspects to our own survival that are equally stark.

We must push the boundaries of our comfort. To lie basking lazily in the sun of modernity and comfort appears, on the surface, quite similar to that of the marine iguana that lays in the sun, collecting its warmth for its eventual, unavoidable daily plummet toward that which guarantees its survival. But to sit on the rocks alone, basking in the glory of what it has been built for ourselves is simply, not enough. Our species is deeply, primitively competitive. If we ignore our animal instincts, we will find ourselves stunted.

Without accepting risk, the iguana will not live. Without braving risk, the human being may live, but not very well.

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