This holiday season, to celebrate our 20th anniversary, my family went on a Caribbean cruise.
It was full of joyous moments. But as you might imagine, given the December 2021 surge of the Omicron variant of COVID, it was not without its concerns. In fact, I’d say that the travel day, from the moment we woke up to the moment we got on the boat, was one of the most stressful days of my life.
I joked with friends that our vacation was like the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in that there were over 300 single points of failure. This completely upended my typical approach to logistical challenges of “expect the best, prepare for the worst.” Besides the usual concerns of sleeping past my 2am alarm or our luggage getting lost, there were vacation-nullifying concerns like one of us catching COVID the week before. Or our flight being late and us missing embarkation — that weekend thousands of flights were cancelled due to crew shortages. We were outside the contiguous States in a territory that primarily spoke Spanish, and had its own set of COVID travel rules to comply with. No one could get on the boat without passing a rapid COVID test, which required preregistrations and documentation (all fastidiously carried around by me in a big manilla folder)… and there was the chance someone would test positive and we’d be denied boarding.
I don’t know if you can fully appreciate the relief on these vacationers’ faces, after being up for 15+ hours, on two flights for 6+ hours (including 30 minutes on the tarmac because Charlottesville ground control was short-staffed), in airports and shuttle busses and giant testing centers and boat terminals, wearing KN95 masks the whole time… to finally make it to our room. Even when it turned out the cruise didn’t depart San Juan until almost midnight, waiting for other delayed travelers to make it.
We weren’t out of the woods yet. There was still the chance passengers on the boat would get COVID. The cruise might get cancelled midway through, as some others did. Or that we would get COVID, and be quarantined on the boat. Or worse, stuck in San Juan for weeks after the cruise until we were cleared to travel to the mainland! Our minds reeled with all the possible terrible outcomes.
The experience led me to a startling revelation: my family’s philosophy is that joy is worth the risk.
We exemplify this throughout our lives. Every time one of us steps on a stage to perform, be it singing solo or with a chorus, or performing in a musical or marching band, we take the risk of screwing up and the risk of rejection. We audition knowing we might not get the role. We try the new food, at least once, to see if we like it. We look for new experiences, new locations, new people. We take the risk. We are joy seekers.
Mind you, we are not risky people by nature — my bulging manilla folder is exhibit A of how we mitigate the risk whenever possible. In general, humans are terrible at evaluating risk, and we ourselves can be susceptible to recency bias, or the sensational news story, or other fallacies that skew our perspective. But we like to think we make smart choices in these situations, and weigh the benefit against the risk. Sometimes we get burned. Sometimes we are disappointed. Sometimes things don’t go quite as we planned, and we have to adapt or improvise or accept.
There’s joy to find out there — and it’s worth the risk.