During a routine check-up, a week after my 43rd birthday, my doctor asked how I had celebrated. When I told her I went skydiving, she nearly fell off her chair. After all, just a year ago I had visited her with one of the worst headaches of my life, and an MRI had revealed an aneurysm, a bulging or weak wall in an artery. The thunderclap headache, as it's called, was due to a leak in the aneurysm. Surgeons inserted platinum coils and two stents into a major blood vessel beneath my skull to keep the aneurysm from rupturing.
Now, here I was, one year later, getting a tongue-lashing from my doctor. “You're risking too much! Something could have gone wrong. No more skydiving for you, young lady,” she told me. Then she offered alternatives: No to skydiving, but yes to hot air ballooning; scuba diving is out, snorkeling is in. “You don't have to risk your life in order to celebrate life,” she said.
Initially I resisted, but something about the way she spoke gave me pause and prompted me to reassess my pursuit of novelty and adventure. Did my definition of fun have to include risk? I decided to find out. For my 44th birthday, I went hot air ballooning in Albuquerque, NM. Was it fun? Absolutely! Different and memorable? Definitely! But exciting? Not nearly enough. The words of Helen Keller—“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”—kept dancing in my head, and for the next few birthdays I threw caution to the wind. It was as if the platinum coils in my head had granted me a new superpower: fearlessness.
I turned 45 in Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in the Philippines, a park that contains the world's longest navigable underground river. On my 46th birthday, I paraglided over the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. For my 47th birthday I trekked the Inca Quarry Trail and mused among the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, thinking, “Aren't we all just ticking time bombs with pre-programmed detonation points?”
If so, I choose to live life as fully as I can, while I can. Visiting places I've never been, connecting with strangers, tasting foreign foods, getting comfortable with discomfort—these activities make me feel more alive. Instead of going with the flow, I am the flow, tapping into my deepest longings.
Five years after my doctor's stern words, my travel itinerary is busier than ever. In September I fly to Singapore, where my sister lives. Together, we head to the Philippines to celebrate our mother's 70th birthday. From there, I will travel through Australia and New Zealand before heading to Asia, where I plan to hike to Mount Everest's Base Camp. I realize now that the platinum coils in my head didn't impart fearlessness—they simply gave me the courage to face and embrace my fears.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, once said: “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
With that in mind, every day I ask myself, am I scared enough?
Lili Price is a registered nurse in New Orleans. She's also an avid traveler and a member of the International Travel Writers & Photographers Alliance. Follow @liliprice3 on Twitter and Instagram, or @thewandersofliliprice on Facebook.