What You Can Learn By Doing Dangerous, Stupid and Crazy Things

by STEVE BLOOM

 

A couple of years ago while traveling through Belize, I had the opportunity to take a boat out into the nearby coral reef and swim in an area full of sharks and stingrays. Before I jumped into the water, I thought about how crazy it was to put myself into that situation. Most people would probably think it was too dangerous.

But I love experiences like this. They seem dangerous and stupid at first, but afterwards you look back and wonder why you thought that way to begin with. In fact, I’d say there’s actually a lot you can learn by doing dangerous, stupid and crazy things.

Playing it Safe

First let’s take a look at the typical way people think about doing dangerous and stupid things. As you can imagine, most people would say that both of them should be avoided as much as possible. After all who would willingly put themselves into dangerous situations where you can get injured? And doing stupid things can lead to bad decisions and poor judgment.

I’m not going to say either argument is wrong because at their basic level they’re right. Putting yourself needlessly into hazardous situations is reckless and isn’t something I recommend. Eventually something bad will happen to you.

What I am going to argue is how people’s perceptions of what is dangerous and stupid can be wrong. Many things that seem hazardous or dumb might not actually be so. It’s just like how people think swimming with sharks and stingrays is dangerous even though it isn’t. Perception isn’t necessarily reality.

Unless you challenge that perception, you might convince yourself that something is dumb or unsafe. But what if it isn’t like that at all?

On Danger and Stupidity

One thing I’ve learned over the past several years of traveling is that many things considered dangerous aren’t really dangerous at all. When I took my first trip through Southeast Asia many friends were worried about my safety. Someone who obviously didn’t know much about the world even alluded to Vietnam as being akin to a war zone.

Their warnings and cautions were all different, but the common underlying message was that the world is very unsafe and I shouldn’t go. I get similar reactions when I tell people about some of the other crazy things I’ve done. It all surprises me since I didn’t feel as if I was in any danger while doing them.

It’s a similar situation for doing stupid things. A few years ago I had a job I really disliked, but I was unwilling to quit. Because the job market was bad and I had a good steady income, I figured I’d be an idiot to leave. That reasoning persuaded me to stay in the job far longer than I should have.

When I finally made the decision to quit, I was still uncertain it was the right thing to do. But I knew I’d never leave unless I took the initiative. Contrary to my fears, I found a much better job after a brief spell of unemployment. That stupid decision turned out to be pretty smart after all.

What You Can Learn

So as you can tell, there can be a big difference between perception and reality. That’s why I think it’s good to do crazy things once in a while so you can challenge that perception. Make sure you’re seeing the world as it is not as you think it is. Otherwise your perceptions might make you inadvertently miss opportunities.

If I had stayed home because I thought Southeast Asia was dangerous, I would never have had such amazing experiences. If I had stayed in my job because quitting seemed too stupid, I would have stayed there much too long. Don’t let perceptions limit your options.

Of course this doesn’t give you a free pass to do anything you want. It’s good to challenge your ideas of what is dangerous and stupid, but it’s a bad idea altogether to recklessly disregard all warning signs. For example, I don’t need to try cocaine or heroin to realize it would be a huge mistake. That’s not challenging your perception, that’s being irresponsible.

Challenge Yourself to Learn

When you look closer at doing dangerous and stupid things, you’ll start to realize that no one completely agrees on where those terms really land. But as you work it out, you’ll eventually start to get a good feel of the best place where you draw the line.

As you get into the habit of challenging these perceptions, you’ll start to realize just how much of it is simply misplaced perception. Freeing yourself from those limitations will help you see that some things aren’t all that bad after all. In fact, I say some crazy things are actually great opportunities in disguise. And that’s the biggest lesson of all.
photo credit: Lin Pernille Photography

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Comments

  1. Why do we think the rest of the world is such a risky proposition? Such questions result in an internal struggle with pessimism. Could it be the message pushed by an inefficient government seeking to justify its costs and controls?

    We are told every evening on the news that Mexico is engaged in a bloody drug war where no one is safe, yet my friends in Mexico City invite me to visit so they can show me the real Mexico. I see people striking out to explore the planet by car drive through Mexico report it is a wonderful place. Why the disparity?

    Earlier this month, I stepped off a plane in the UK and made a bee-line for the home of people I only knew through Twitter. Six days later, when we had to say goodbye and leave for Germany, it was really hard, as the friends I’d made on Twitter now felt like family.

    It wasn’t until we were safely back home that someone pointed out the risks involved in trusting a veritable stranger with your care and accommodation in a foreign land. Hadn’t even occurred to me!

    We are what we do.

    • Hey Brian, I’ve heard that Mexico is safer than you think. I’ve had a few friends going over there and they say the conflict is either calming down or not as bad as they make it out to be. I think you could blame some of that perception from the news which usually only shows what’s going wrong.

      That’s an interesting story about staying with friends through Twitter. Thanks for sharing that. I can see why some people would think that is risky, but I’ve had friends who have done things similar to that. It probably depends on well you got to know them beforehand.

  2. Amen! Now please tell this to my mother…

  3. This is a great post and a topic I find myself in heated debates over often in my own life. Just this past weekend myself, my wife, and some friends participated in the Tough Mudder. It’s a 12 miles obstacle course modeled after what the British Special Forces use in boot camp. It was at Whistler BC up in the mountains and included numerous swims in frozen lakes as well as other fairly dangerous and very strenuous activities. Tons of people told us we were stupid for doing it. “Why would you want to do that?” At the end of it the feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie was amazing and the physical and mental challenge showed lots about the people we are. Testing yourself against obstacles, physical or mental, is the single best way to learn about yourself and the world. Thanks for this post, love it!

    • Wow, Tanner, that sounds like it would be an intense experience. You’d have to be crazy to go through something designed for the bootcamp for British Special Forces. I bet you were exhausted, but I can see why you’d have that feeling of accomplishment at pushing yourself through that challenge.

      I can see saying something like that to you, but something like that would be something to look back on with pride.

  4. I’m right with you on this philosophy. I just wish my family would be more understand! They think that I’m insane for wanting to travel around on my own. They also don’t think that I have the guts to head over to Asia for round of TEFL. I guess I’ll prove them all wrong when I step foot onto an airplane with a one way ticket.

    • I don’t think it’s insane to want to see the world. I think it’s great that you want to go out and experience things you can’t get at home. It can be hard to get friends and family to see it as a good thing. For instance, my parents thought it was dangerous and reckless to travel to Nicaragua, but I did it anyways and it was just as safe as most places I go to. Keep working towards that TEFL.

  5. Jimmy Ball says:

    I think the premise is great, but the opening example is highly flawed.

    What is your justification for swimming in an area ‘full’ of sharks and stingrays being ‘not dangerous’. Because you didn’t die?
    Were they reef sharks? Were they a breed of shark known to have attacked humans before? Because it’s important to your argument.

    Then you say that taking cocaine is wreckless, without ever having tried it? Do you drink alcohol? That is just as wreckless IMO, having taken a few ‘party’ drugs and knowing plenty of people that have and are perfectly normal, functioning (and ALIVE!) human beings.

    NOTE: A LOT of people that take your advice and travel to Asia, will get involved in the Full Moon Party, involving ingesting magic mushrooms.

    I agree that it’s good to take yourself out of your comfort zone and the majority of people can travel round the world and not die or get hurt. I also agree People’s perceptions of what is hazardous can be wrong.

    I agree that breaking a routine that you are in for no other reason than you are scared to break it is also a good thing to do for personal growth….but that aside, isn’t this article just saying:

    What is dangerous to people is highly subjective.
    I swam with sharks and survived, so this is not dangerous.
    I have not taken drugs, but I know this is dangerous.
    Anyway, step out of your comfort zone and thanks for listening.

    • Jimmy Ball sounds like a prissy faggot that needs to get out more, and is one of the morons the article talks about.

      • Jimmy Ball says:

        Ha ha ha!

        Just pointing out that the main part of the argument was a lot of shit.

        Sharks > Drugs?

        Your comment was fucking great though, bet you’ve been travelling to Asia and got sunburnt with a bunch of other British cunts that are pissed out of their faces.

        ‘faggot’?

        What the fuck are you even doing on a website like this?

        Hide behind your keyboard Sam, you working class moron 😉

        • Charlotte Locks says:

          So Jimmy, I’m British and I’ve traveled to Southeast Asia, am I a “British Cunt” from the “working class”?

          You come off as a really bitter and jealous troll… just like what I see in YouTube video comments.

          Why would an article like this make you so angry? Are you just bitter that you haven’t traveled or done anything with your life?

          You sound like a huge creeper. I bet you’re a real hit with the ladies!!!

    • I didn’t realize that anyone would be interested in knowing what type of sharks were involved in the story, but I guess I can see why people would want to know that.

      But why would the type of shark involved be important to the argument? Sharks are scary and I’ve met plenty of people who would consider all of them to be potentially dangerous. There were even a couple of other people who were going to go with me to swim with them, but backed out at the last moment. Besides it’s just a story used to introduce the argument; it’s not the argument itself.

      To answer your question though, I swam out in the middle of the ocean where an area of sharks normally congregate. My guide said it would mostly be nurse sharks and stingrays, but potentially dangerous sharks could also show up. He did say that the more dangerous ones usually don’t show though.

      As for the drugs portion, I was just trying to point out that some things that appear dangerous actually are. Please note I only mentioned cocaine and heroin, not all drugs in general. I’ve known people who have used party drugs too and also are alive and well. But they were very destructive to their lives. Plus, my wife is a nurse and has seen what cocaine and heroin do to people.

  6. Doing dangerous things is sometimes a good way to step out of your comfort zone, which is so important to personal growth. I too have snorkeled with sharks and another time got into water filled with stingrays. The shark episode was particularly dangerous, but I loved every second of it and would do it again in a heartbeat. I agree it’s never good to be reckless because something bad really could happen, but I entered the water with sharks and stingrays on guided tours, so it actually was somewhat safe.

    It is really terrible that many of the people in my home country of the U.S. think of international travel as dangerous. I think one of the reasons for this is Americans think that other countries are riddled with the crime problems we have here, in addition to other potential dangers like unsafe traffic conditions, etc. In truth, though, many, many countries are actually safer than America than here in terms of crime and in other respects. Traveling can really make you aware that the world is not the scary place so many people believe it to be.

    • Hey Sabina, that’s awesome that you went swimming with sharks and stingrays too. I had a guide too and he was great. He’d dive down into the water and grab some of the sharks and stingrays to bring back up so I could get a closer look. I can now say that nurse sharks skin feels like sandpaper. It was pretty safe, but really scary to be surrounded by such huge creatures.

      I agree that traveling can make you aware of just how safe the world can be. Even in some places that many people think is dangerous really turn out to be ok.

  7. Great article. So many of the things that we consider dangerous are seen that way due to a cultural bias.

  8. You’re gonna die. Would you rather doing sitting on your couch eating Cheesy Poofs (and dying of a heart attack) or getting eaten by a damn shark? I know which way I’d prefer to go. The brave don’t live forever, but the cautious don’t live at all.

    • *do it (and probably others.)

    • I’ve thought about this before. Would I still keep doing adventurous and crazy things if it meant I might have something bad happen to me? I think I would because I’d rather have adventures out in the world than sit on a couch all day long watching TV. A lot of people say you can never be too cautious. I don’t buy into that. When it means limiting what you can do with your life and giving up awesome experiences, that’s being too safe.

  9. Fascinating post Steve,

    you had me worried for a moment that you were saying ‘do dangerous stuff’ but then I read on and completely agree with you that perception often does not = reality. In fact if you consider that everybody’s reality is different anyway (often very different, then we could get very philosophical on that point.

    Your article made me think of a good friend of mine who lived in my street where I grew up. He was something of a hermit and never went out – he stayed like this for a long time, living with his parents until eventually leaving home in his mid-twenties. When he did eventually leave home his perception of the world was as a very dangerous place, mostly because the stories he had heard about life in general ‘out there’ were mostly influenced by the news on TV – mostly bad news. He thought every time he got onto public transport he was at risk of getting attacked for example.

    Challenging and validating your thoughts and beliefs is always a good idea in any case, as most people have some kind of limiting beliefs even if tiny weeny ones…

    • Hey Alan, your friend reminds me of something I read once. It’s called the “mean world syndrome”. It’s when people have a view of the world that is much more dangerous, violent and unsafe place than it actually is. Apparently people who have this watch a lot of television. I guess if you watch the news and violent programs, you’re more inclined to think of the world like it is on the screen simply because that is what you watch all day long.

      Strangely enough I think the world is the safest it has ever been and will continue to become safer in the future. I guess that makes me an optimist. But it could be because I don’t watch much TV too.

  10. Pete the Wank says:

    Can I just ask.

    Were the sharks you swam with potentially dangerous?

    Were they a breed known to attack/kill humans before?

    Stingrays are generally peaceful apart from that freak accident with Steve Irwin which has changed their perception – so I agree that perception is wrong here. Less dangerous than getting in a car probably.

    Anyway, keen to know what kind of sharks they were.

    • It was out in the open in the Belize Barrier reef so we just swam with whatever showed up. The only ones I saw were nurse sharks which don’t attack humans.

Trackbacks

  1. […] As another friend of mine, Steve Bloom wrote in a recent article of his, which I loved, challenge yourself, challenge your perceptions and go crazy – because, as Steve puts it, “some crazy things are great opportunities in disguise”. […]

  2. […] Challenge yourself, challenge your perceptions and go crazy  –  some crazy things are great opportunities in disguise” […]

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