Like most writers, I collect quotes.
Little pieces of wisdom, funny musings, words that understand me or switch up my perspective. Sometimes I share them with others or jot them down in a journal for safe keeping.
Seven months ago I stumbled upon one particular quote. It wasn’t catchy or poetic. I couldn’t recite it from memory. It wasn’t written by a famous author. It wasn’t well known or even particularly eloquent.
But it made my brain buzz.
Like the moment you get off an exhilarating ride at an amusement park and can’t find your mental footing. The world is still spinning, but you’re having trouble figuring out in which direction.
This is what Dan Fredinburg’s words did to me.
In April 2015, the Google executive/climate activist/adventurer/entrepreneur died in an avalanche on Mount Everest, triggered by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal. He was 33.
In a few short weeks, I too will be 33.
I had never heard of Dan before his death. I didn’t know anything about his philanthropy work, his adventurous soul or how he was loved by so many. I didn’t know that his words would become a catalyst for movement in my own life. Shortly after Dan’s death, his family posted a quote to his Instagram account. It was his answer to a question from an application for a trek to Israel.
I took a screenshot of the quote and to this day it remains the first picture in my camera roll.
The question: What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?”
“While climbing Cartensz Pyramid, the tallest mountain in Oceania, a fellow climber fell, lost a lot of her blood, and nearly died of hypothermia. Had we returned on the 6 day trek through the jungle that we used on the way in, she would have certainly died. To rescue her, I smuggled her through Grasberg Mine, the largest gold mine in the world. Along the way, we risked being shot by mercenaries, had our friends kidnapped and held hostage, and then were ultimately arrested and imprisoned inside a jail inside the gold mine. And I was on Mt Everest this year…when an ice serac fell into the icefall and killed all but my team on the mountain. Afterwards we executed body recovery and then climbed back down through the damaged route.
But these were mostly calculated risks.
If I had to select the greatest risk I’ve taken in my life, it has been to throw myself into a romantic relationship with someone to reach a point of deep, illogical and visceral love. To a point where emotion and human connection overpowers any reason and safety. To be vulnerable psychologically and emotionally. This is real risk, with the greatest reward.”
I could feel his words seep into the tiny cracks of my heart.
I thought about my life, the thousands of decisions and risks I had taken. And the thousands I had not.
How I’ve wasted time fearing results. How I’ve been terrified to make the wrong move, to fail. How even when I feel like I’m crawling around in the dark for some sign that I’m not a total screw-up, my steps are being guided by experience, rational thought and the deep desire to survive.
But love—the kind of love Dan spoke of, the kind of love we seek—is the very definition of risk. It has nothing to do with experience, thought or survival.
It’s a leap of faith. Nothing guaranteed. But everything gained.
There is no calculating. No exact measurement to follow. I have loved and lost with the kind of intensity that can’t be charted on a graph. It’s the only kind of love I believe in.
Anything less is human error. Just two fools trying to outsmart the smartest guy in the room.
These words were what I’d been searching for, the question and the answer. The realization that every day is a mix of calculated risks and the desire to take the ultimate risk—this is what makes a great life.
Dan’s words have become a guide map for the days I can’t get my shit together or am depressed and grumpy and can’t gather enough energy to roll myself out of bed and start the day. When I’m anxious about the way my life is unfolding. When things don’t go the way my brain had hoped or I’m faced with a decision that appears impossible. When I need someone to guide me up the mountain.
I finally understood that because nothing in life is certain, it also means that nothing in life is particularly scary. Even deep, illogical, visceral love.
So take the risk, because none of us are getting out of this adventure alive.
Author: Nicole Cameron