Risk: What’s your primary objective?

I was talking with a friend recently about the risks that young people take. A quote came to mind from a retired race car driver when asked why older drivers lose their competitive edge. He said: In the brief moment that a gap opens between two cars ahead, the young guys go for it and the older guys consider the risk. Risk assessment isn’t always dependent on age. I believe it’s dependent on the primary objective.

For instance, the young gun wants to race or get to the front. The old hand wants to have a car left to race to the finish or to live to race another day. I don’t believe we can accuse the young racer of not thinking. I believe we have to understand their mindset at the moment of decision. What is their priority?

This is true of workers on the factory floor and executives in the boardroom as much as it is of kids in a car on a Saturday night or middle-aged mothers parasailing off a beach in Cancun. What’s their primary objective? It doesn’t excuse a bad outcome, just explains their thinking at the time.

The fellow I mentioned at the beginning is involved in a project to teach young people about risk assessment in the hope that they can be better equipped to make appropriate judgement before taking risky actions. I told him a story of an outing I took as a teenager with a group to a gravel pit in winter. Where I grew up, winter meant snow. Lots of it. So, the sides of the pit were covered in snow. I remember diving down the hillside doing huge somersaults, with the momentum flinging me farther out on each roll. The snow cushioned my contact with the hill. It was a blast. No one else chanced it, so I got to be the centre of attention with the group for my feat of daring (stupidity). I never once considered that I had never done this before, so I had no idea if the technique itself could injure me. I didn’t think about hidden rocks or buried equipment that I might land on.

What was I thinking? Probably wanted to show off. To have an adventure. Use my athletic abilities to have fun. I didn’t think of risk. I would now and I wouldn’t let my son do it if I could warn him off. But would having a knowledge of risk assessment applicable to fun, have had an effect on me? You just don’t know until the moment comes. There is likely to be a conflict. Like the mom who told me that before she got harnessed up to go parasailing the thought that she might be invalidating her travel insurance did run through her mind. But it lost out to the need for the freedom to do something completely different, thrilling and, yes, dangerous.

For young people, the primary objective seems to be living – experiencing, growing, testing, chancing. As we get older, the primary objective seems to be staying alive. So, it’s easier for older people to stop and think. (Obviously not always and certainly not for all older people.)

I’m back to my race car drivers. The young gun goes for the gap while the older driver makes a fast risk assessment. The young driver goes to the front or crashes and goes home early. The older guy sees the gap close but survives to run for the checkered flag or just survives another race. A lot depends on the primary objective.

 I applaud my friend’s efforts to help young people live and live. Fewer deaths by misadventure is just a very good thing.

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5 Responses to “Risk: What’s your primary objective?”

  1. Diana Ward Says:

    Pat – I always enjoy hearing, or in this case reading, your perspectives on the challenges and decisions we face in life and work. Keep blogging.

  2. DeNel Says:

    Good post, Pat. And, relevant to me right now. We (the main squeeze) and I are planning to move to southern Mexico for six months while I’m on sabbatical. I’ve never felt that I’m a risk taker, but this move feels risky to me. I think that the primary goal of staying alive is only part of the age difference in risky decision making. I think another factor is that as we get older, we just think too much.

    Good luck to your friend. I want more kids alive and well, too.

  3. DeNel Says:

    Make that: (the main squeeze and I). Too early in the morning!

  4. Rashi Says:

    Fantastic post. I’m beginning to come to terms with this phenomenon. I
    wouldn’t dare do things I did without even flinching a few years back.
    I think my depth perception is undergoing experiential adjustment.

  5. patrickmcgee Says:

    Well, this post touched a bunch of people. Highest viewership so far. Thanks for reading and for comments.

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