Chess, Life, and Other Games (aka: Taking Risks)

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

super crazy stuffI saw this on another blog, to use as a sort of journaling prompt. My mind immediately began to rewind back to a number of crazy things I’ve done – stupid choices and embarrassing mistakes. But then I stopped myself. It is too easy for me to focus on the negative crazy things I’ve done. But what about the positive crazy things?

Some people dive into life headfirst. I’ve browsed through dozens of blogs and social sites showcasing the lives of the brave people who walk among us, or skydive above us, or fly past us on motorcycles, setting the wind on fire, on their way to the next grand adventure. I stand back on the sidewalk, staring in awe, knowing that I can never be that person, but admiring their courage and spark and zeal for life all the same.

I take so few risks in life. It has usually been my habit to think and analyze and research the heck out of every possibility before finally deciding on the safest, most practical path. I suppose it is like playing chess with life. There is no way to avoid being defeated (as every one of us will eventually face the Checkmate), but at least I can protect my pawns, bishops, and knights for as long as possible. Chess is Life Bobby Fischer

Okay, enough with the metaphors. What’s the craziest positive thing I’ve ever done in life? Okay, well, maybe this one is only semi-positive, but here it is. When I was a senior in high school, I worked as a student assistant in the school library. It was a great job for an introverted book lover like me, with access to tons of books and, well, some private student records, too. So one day, I became curious. At the time, I had just turned sixteen, which made me the youngest senior at the school. And I wondered – who was the absolute youngest student in the school?


It took a lot of research. There were around 2,500 students in my school, and the student records were all on paper, stored in file boxes. Whenever the library was quiet and there was little work to do, I pored through the records, scanning birthdates, until at last I found him. Let’s call him D.W. He was a freshman, and had just turned 13. The youngest in his class.


I could have let it end there, having satisfied my curiosity. But that’s when I got a spark of crazy. I copied down his school schedule, then wrote my first note.

Dear D.W.,

You don’t know me, but I am hoping you’d be interested in playing a little game. I know that you are the youngest student in the school. I am the youngest senior in the school. Let’s see if you can figure out who I am.


A Mysterious Stranger


I folded the note into the shape of a frog (because, why not?), then used my student assistant powers to have the note delivered to D.W. in one of his classes. The game had begun. During the days that followed, I had several other notes delivered to D.W. containing small clues about my identity. I also learned that he was friends with a friend of mine (weird coincidence), and that he spent his lunch period playing games with a group of role-play gamers (what!). According to my friend, this kid was very into the game I had created, and was doing everything he could to figure out my identity. Ohmigosh, so fun!

Nerd Games

Eventually, he won my little game. He learned my identity and became an instant friend during the last few months of my high school years. So I guess that makes it a good kind of crazy thing. Of course, it could have ended up completely the opposite, with him getting all creeped out by this senior stalker and me getting in trouble with the library staff for misusing private student records. But maybe there was something about our shared experience of being young, somewhat-nerdy, so-called geniuses that put us on the same wavelength and kept the game in perspective.

So there you have it. Nothing exciting like swimming with sharks or bungee jumping (*shudder*), but definitely out-of-the-ordinary and risky.

4 responses to “Chess, Life, and Other Games (aka: Taking Risks)

  1. Very interesting post, fascinating topic to think about :). I notice that different people have different comfort zones with risk. Each person’s comfort zone could be plotted on a spectrum, and then we would be able to compare where our own comfort zone falls relative to other people. I believe my comfort zone with risk is relatively high – I would guess it’s higher than about 90% of people.

    At the same time, I learned during my years of skiing in Tahoe and ski instructing in Jackson Hole that my comfort zone with risk is not nearly as high as some people. There are people – Shane McConkey ( ( and Dean Cummings and Seth Morrison spring to mind – who embraced free skiing in its infancy. Instead of skiing off 10-foot cliffs, they started going off 25-foot cliffs, 50-foot, 100-foot, 200-foot cliffs, and sticking the landing and walking away to do it again. And then they were doing back flips and double back flips, and then they started wearing wing suites and parachutes so they could ski off 1,200-foot cliffs and soar. It’s pretty stunning stuff. But I never had any interest in any of that stuff. Undoubtedly there’s a genetic component that’s hard-wired to seek thrills.

    I watched the same thing happen in surfing. Going out in triple-overhead waves at Ocean Beach turned into jet skis towing people into 50-foot and 100-foot waves where surfers now drown every couple years.

    I’ve pushed my own limits, jumping into some famous couloirs in the mountains and surfing 32-foot waves, but I’ve never particularly enjoyed the experience of pushing beyond my comfort zone. I like being in my comfort zone! 🙂 And I don’t get any thrill from fear, and would never want to jump off cliffs or parachute out of an airplane. For some reason there’s just no appeal to any of that. I like having fun, but that’s it, I don’t enjoy pushing into the fear zone.

    But it’s tough for me to know if those extreme guys are pushing into a fear zone, or if their comfort zone with risk is just so far to the edge that they’re not really experiencing very much fear, maybe they’re just having fun afterall!

    I think I would be content to settle down to a simple life with lots of books, spending my days reading and writing and doing a little yoga and cooking healthy meals 🙂

    • That’s an interesting thought, that perhaps to some of the thrill-junkies of the world, jumping out of an airplane to them is not much scarier than, say, sledding down a steep hill may seem to me.
      The simple life works well for me. My idea of adventure doesn’t extend far beyond traveling to new places or eating very spicy or unusual cuisines. If I need more thrills than that, well, that’s what fiction is good for. 🙂

  2. I’m not sure I even need to try very spicy foods! LOL

    I don’t think I’ve derived much satisfaction or sense of accomplishment from the outwardly risky things I’ve done, which really just have to do with potential physical danger. I mean, what’s really so exciting about possibly getting injured? 🙂

    A different topic that might be interesting to explore would be emotional risks. Shane McConkey appears to have had a pretty safe emotional life, despite his incredibly risky ski jumping and parachuting stunts. I would be curious to know if thrill seakers who take outward risks also invest themselves in emotional relations where they could face rejection or severe emotional distress.

    What I find really exciting and stimulating is learning. So my outward world appears to be very boring, but my interior world is full of exciting ideas and wonderful things to learn about the world and the cosmos, the oceans and continents, and the astonishing array of phenomena in the universe!! 🙂

    • Why yes, there appears to be a physical different that accounts for the higher thrill-seeking tendencies of some people, and that area of brain activity is also thought to be connected to risky relationships, and even addictions: . That is only one of the sites I found on the topic. Fascinating stuff. There is another study cited in that article, by Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman, Ph.D, that defined 4 different areas of sensation-seeking. It also seems interesting, and maybe worth a closer look later.

      I usually prefer calculated risks. Statistically speaking, if I ride a roller coaster, I will experience a very thrilling, exciting rush, but it is very unlikely to result in injury (as opposed to, say, mountain climbing and rappelling, which I have tried and did not care for. Too risky). So roller coasters rank up there with spicy chili peppers. 🙂 (And how can you live in Texas and not eat spicy foods? Hahaha)

      Emotional risk, to me, is similar. I could not begin to imagine engaging in certain risky social behaviors, like casual sex with near-strangers, for example, any more than I could imagine going base-jumping from a cliff. For me, just working up the nerve to make a telephone call or say hello to someone sets my heart racing. Basically, unless I can be pretty certain that the response will be positive, the idea of interacting with people triggers a very strong fight-or-flight instinct.

      I get the interior world thing. 🙂 My inner world is far richer and more stimulating than my outer world. Perhaps that is also a result of being my own friend — most of my conversations, ideas, and adventures happen within my own mind. It was something that drove my ex-husband crazy (perhaps even literally); that I was living this other life in my imagination which he could never understand or share. It is the wall that separates me from the world (except, perhaps, when I write).

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