It’s Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away (or, How Risk Is Not An Excuse)

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the story of a classmate from my school.  At the end of our Holistic Nutrition program, we were to complete a co-op placement, and Kim  decided to go to Africa to help work on a Nutrition program that the school was setting up there.

I didn’t know Kim well, but I do know that she never quite fit in . She was a lovely person with the kindest soul, and it always seemed that she was searching for something more.

When she went to Africa, she found it. She loved working on the program, she met the man of her dreams, fell in love, and became pregnant.

And then she contracted malaria.

She have birth 6 weeks before her baby was due, and then she died.

I was told that before she passed, she told her loved ones that she refused to have her remains sent back to Canada. She had fallen in love with Africa and wanted both her body and her baby to stay there.

And this got me to thinking…

1. That life is too short.

and wondering

2. Is it better to die while living out your dreams, or live into old age without ever having really lived?

And I seriously had to sit and think about this.

Here I am, preaching the world to get out there and take chances, to risk the comfort and safety of their current lives, to venture into the unknown. And doing this is exactly what led to Kim’s death.

Have I gotten it wrong? Is the of pursuing your dreams some kind of improbable fantasy I have created, full of puppy dogs and rainbows and never having to endure pain again? How does my message change now that I have evidence of someone actually DYING because she was following her heart?

I sat with this for a while….

And then I gave myself a little shake, and snapped out of it!

Of COURSE there is risk involved with choosing to live life on your own terms. There is risk involved in just living, period.

The hazards of living a mediocre life are many. Resentment, mid-life crises, stress leading to a plethora of health problems. Always wanting something more. Never knowing what it REALLY feels like to be fulfilled. Constant BOREDOM. Constant FEAR.

Whether you’re deciding to leave a marriage, quit a job, go traveling, or work for yourself, you will come up against fear. Your mind will start performing its own complex risk:benefit analysis. You will find an infinite numbers of reasons NOT to go ahead with it.

When this happens, stop for a moment and think about what your life would be like if you were to stay in your current situation.

What would you be giving up?

What are you missing out on?

How would you be cheating yourself?

Would you rather burn out, or fade away?

Risk is inherent to life. And I firmly believe that if we don’t risk, we don’t really live.


I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you taken risks that have changed your life? How did you get over the fear and just go for it? Do you agree that it’s better to die living your dreams than to live forever in an unhappy life?

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9 replies
    • Rebecca
      Rebecca says:

      I agree – risk is real. I also think that too often, we use risk as an excuse not to move forward in our lives. It’s easier and safer to stay within our comfort zones. I also find that one we start pushing our boundaries a little, what we thought was “risky” begins to feel normal, and we become much more adept at identifying real risk vs. perceived risk.

      Thanks for the comment, I love hearing new perspectives on this!

  1. Steve Safigan
    Steve Safigan says:

    Yes, risk is real. It’s so real that not a single one of us will get out of this world alive. Becca, I agree completely. I’d say 99% of all people live lives that are too safe, believing that their cocoon of safety will protect them indefinitely and living lives of quiet desperation. It’s an illusion that keeps us from feeling fear and anxiety, but at what price? (And just how much are we avoiding fear & anxiety these days anyway?)

    • Rebecca
      Rebecca says:

      … At what price …

      What are we sacrificing by staying safe?

      It’s no wonder taking risks seems, well… risky.

      We live in societies that condones this kind of behaviour – giving the illusion that material items, cushy jobs, and the occasional night out is what living is really all about. It’s easy to stay safe when you can basically buy a false sense of safety (have you seen the new rogers alarm systems that alert your cell phone anytime a window or door in your house is opened!?)

      Thanks for the comment Steve!

  2. Daniel Rotman
    Daniel Rotman says:

    I learned to equate risk with personal growth. Not because every risk leads to growth, but because the lack of risk results in very little movement in our need to change to survive.

    I think that we can make much better choices if instead of talking about risk, we talk about the potential to grow into a better person. With this frame of mind, we can approach the necessary steps and decisions in life with the proper motivation. Instead of letting fear be the most salient factor in considering risk, we should follow through to, and focus on the emotions present after accomplishing something “risky”.

    The shift is primarily in the mind. There is a distinct difference between real and apparent risk. The risk to our physical lives is constant and real and entirely independent of the misconceived risk to our emotional or social lives.

    Most of the time we are afraid to do something, we are simply confusing the kind of risk involved. Physical risk is one thing. Personal growth is another and is what is stunted by bringing risk (with its immediate connotation of physical injury) into the picture. Of course there are many situations where there is a real danger in the pursuit of living your life; but becoming aware of the distinction between physical danger and emotional danger will help properly qualify the appropriate response.

    To quit a job, for example, involves no physical risk, however, the obvious financial risk, or social risk in starting fresh are very real, but i submit that they are inconsequential. It is easier to tell ourselves fictions of our perception of other peoples thoughts about our actions than to consider our actual desires.

    So the question becomes, would you rather spend your time worrying about what other people think? Or learning a new language or working in what you love? Presented with this choice, it sounds easy, and is actually easier than most believe.

    Try it!

  3. Mel
    Mel says:

    I quite like your babbling :P

    I think North Americans are particularly guilty of letting our creature comforts get in the way of a truly fulfilling life. It seems as though we live to work rather than the other way around but perhaps this is just because to live in Toronto is just so damn expensive. I look at my friends living in a small seaside village outside of london – working very minimally at jobs they love yet still having enough money to travel several times a year and I’m jealous! Anyway us Torontonians can still get out of our funk can’t we? You are a good example of that. You are still living here right? lol

    In terms of making sense of your classmate’s death I think that opens up a whole new subject and I would think of it in spiritual terms and not doubt the advice you give. Everyone must live out their purpose as that is why we are here and that includes the mistakes we make along the way.

    • Rebecca
      Rebecca says:

      Hehe yes, I am here in Toronto… for now. However if I had to take a stab at my monthly expenses, they are probably under $1000 (give or take a few hundred depending on how I choose to live that month). Rent is the biggest chunk, and other than that I have chosen to live in a pretty minimalist way. But that’s a WHOLE other blog post : )

      If you’re going to decide to quit your job and do something else, the reality is that you may have to pare down your lifestyle. There is real value in having a good look at what’s important to you in life, what you NEED to live, and being really honest with yourself about what luxuries you could do without for the sake of following what would make you happy.

      And, it’s also nice to be able to work for yourself on your own terms AND be able to afford whatever lifestyle makes you happy. not everyone has to own one pair of shoes and live out of a backpack to find their happiness :)


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