A Weird Move

I used to start my Life Psychology classes with a very much simplified way of looking at risk taking personalities.

There was the BASE Jumper, someone standing on the edge of one decision, jumping, completely trusting in their ability to pack a chute and pull a rip cord at precisely the right time.

Next followed the Tarzan, someone who would swing from liana to liana in life, holding on to new experiences and decisions until they felt stable enough to let go of the previous. Tarzans trust in their ability to see when something is stable enough to let go of the older.

Finally, the Stair Climber, someone who chooses to climb stairs, evaluating the stability of every step ahead of time, and again while climbing. Security, safety, and predictability are the stair climber’s most important factors in development.

Anyone following me over the past ten years might be surprised by my admitting this, but: I am a stair climber. The changes in my life, be they professionally or personal, never came about as a BASE Jump or even Liana. They were, most of them at least, the result of crumbling, previously deemed stable, stairs.

With that, I am in a minority. Most adults, at least those scoring along the median in the Big5, are Tarzan personalities. BASE Jumpers trade a comparatively high risk for faster goals and remove any and all dependence on others while doing so. A BASE Jumper relies on her or his abilities, quick wit, and fast reaction times. Stair Climbers are much more dependent on stable surroundings.

Classifying risk taking in three buckets is, as you might expect, just as careless and psychologically useless as the MBTI’s 16 “types” or any other assessment attempting to compartmentalize personality traits. But it’s a good start to get talking. How one sees risk, how reward vs. risk are perceived, and how averse someone is to change, depends largely on trust: trust in one’s own abilities, one’s own understanding of the work, risks, and rewards involved, and trust in a set and clear path.

Each of the above has its drawbacks. BASE Jumpers might overestimate their own abilities, Tarzan Personalities the risk involved in their new liana, and Stair Climbers are truly lost if the stairs they’d depended on crumble. Unlike BASE and Tarzan, there is no second way, no new liana, no “winging it” on the way down,

That, too, is a very simplified way of looking at things. But be honest: where, in your life, are you a BASE Jumper, where a Tarzan, and where are the Stairs the only real way for you? And then ask yourself: how am I compensating for those possible mistakes?

Yes, it’s simplistic. But approaching new endeavors in this way, classifying risks and rewards, being open to changing one’s approach based on the factors at hand: this can make the difference between a preparedness for success and failure and utter destruction at each of the possible extremes.

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