When I’m about to make a big decision, I often take the time to ask myself, What is the worst that can happen? I don’t mean this in a throw caution to the wind sort of way. I mean this as; based on my judgement, experience, and intuition, what are the consequences of my actions and am I willing to suffer the worst case scenario. I’m not always right but I trust myself to make the best decision I can at a given moment.

When Sophie and I moved to Chamonix we exposed ourselves to a number of risks: our security, our careers, even our reputations. Likewise, when I set off on an alpine climb in the high mountains I am exposing myself to risk, this time: injury, or worse.

With so much on the line for either of these paths, why would anyone voluntarily put themselves into these positions?

As humans, we are naturally curious; from our earliest days as children we explore the world, eating worms and getting scrapes; in our teens we explore internally who we are and who we want to become; and, in adulthood we apply the years of experience we have gained to explore the world, other people, and life further.

My Exploration in Adulthood

I have had a varied and unconventional path as an adult, from dropping out of art school to touring the world selling t-shirts for bands and the World Superbikes, I then returned to uni this time to study linguistics. After graduating, I moved to Spain to discover the wonders of the Basque Country then returned to London and joined an exciting and fast growing startup. From their I joined a small web agency before deciding I wanted to do this myself and started my first business. With Medium Rare Digital growing well I then threw it all in the air and put everything into a real startup, Goals for Giving, that didn’t work out and left me a little battered and bruised. A short stint at another amazing and fast growing startup, OnScroll, brought me to my biggest step yet, moving out to Chamonix to explore what life out here can provide.

I have always considered myself a jack of all trades and, sometimes, a master of none. It has worried me on countless occasion but I always come back to the belief that I am only able to do the things I do well because I’m a generalist and jack of all trades, not despite it.

My comfort in moving about, taking what other people often consider as large risks, and pushing my boundaries as I do is down to my (not always unwavering) faith in my judgement. I believe that, based on the current information available to me, I will make the best decision possible. That does not mean I will always make the right decision but it does means that I know I will try to do my best.

What is Judgement

Judgement is the ability to make considered decisions or to arrive at reasonable conclusions or opinions on the basis of the available information; the critical faculty; discernment, discrimination. Oxford English Dictionary.

Judgement is crucial in climbing and especially alpinism, playing a pivotal role in safety while on the hill. Equally, it is important in life so that we don’t overextend ourselves and end up in financial or other difficulty. A balance of three core requirements, I believe judgement is a mix of Common Sense, Learning from Others, and Mileage.

“Common sense is not so common” Voltaire

We’ve all been there; done something that, almost immediately, you realise was a mistake. It happens. However, it normally happens because we haven’t taken a second to listen to the little voice in our head that says if this is a good idea or not.

If you are pushing your boundaries then you will find yourself in new and unfamiliar situations. Once there, you need to carry on making good decisions but, without prior experience, how can you? Trusting that little voice in your head will give you a good first impression on whether what you’re venturing into is a good or bad thing.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

The wealth of knowledge of those around us is staggering. I made a promise this summer, for my Alpine Apprenticeship, to climb with everyone and anyone who asks, regardless of ability or experience. It has opened my eyes in so many ways and I have learnt from every single day in the hills. Whether the person has years of experience under the belt and is full of pearls of wisdom, or a novice, like me, who has just taken a different path to acquiring their experience, they have just as much to share.

It is through being out there, in the hills, putting new experience into practice, making mistakes, and then digesting them after that the simple tasks have become second nature, and the more complex ones more intuitive. Seeing how different people solve the same problem in their own way opens up the fundamental steps you need to complete a task and enables you to find the method that works for you, that sticks in your memory, muscles, and instincts.

“Knowledge without mileage equals bullshit.” Henry Rollins

Nothing comes easy. No matter how talented you might be or you think someone else is, that talent can only manifest itself as expertise through hard work. And hard work means time. Time and time again.

Built up over hundreds, if not thousands, of days in the mountains, it takes years to acquire good mountain sense to keep you and those around you safe. I am very much at the beginning of this journey but already I feel my decision making is improving rapidly, applying the knowledge I have gained time and time again until it is fluid, natural, and instinctive.

In my life, I get itchy feet if I’m not growing; be that learning a new skill or developing on existing knowledge. The only way to grow and develop new skills is to practice them. Time and time again, up to 10,000 hours, some people believe, is necessary to master them. When you’ve been practicing for even a small amount of time, it is easy to forget how far you have come. You forget that first time you walked into a new job and felt so lost when now you’re juggling your original responsibilities and more with ease. Or the fact that it took you three attempts to safely tie into a belay on a climb when now you do it without looking or even thinking, secure in the knowledge that you have done it correctly.

Not knowing the answer

You might ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? But come up blank with an answer. That is ok. If you haven’t developed the judgement to know the right answer then that is ok too. Maybe you just need to practice a little more on smaller decisions, to build up your confidence in your common sense, maybe ask some advice from someone you trust, and finally to gain that all important mileage.

Once you can trust yourself to make the best decisions, they become less scary, less life-threatening, and much, much more enjoyable.

Now, whenever I’m faced with a new or difficult decision, I ask myself What is the worst that can happen?

by Charley Radcliffe

2 Responses to “What’s the worst that can happen?”

  1. Patrick D.G.

    Yes, what’s the worst thing that can happen? well, i’ve learned only to look forwards, the future counts, the past is history. I came from divorced parents, lived only with my mom since i was 8yrs, my mom died in 2012 and i’ve no contact with other family members, and i’m home alone. So far the history. I hope the future is better than that. I gave up my job in 2012 (worked at a customers call center) cause i want to live. In last 2 years i’ve climbed my mountain. Thinking about your question “what’s the worst thing that can happen? “…. well, do you know the answer, i don’t.

    You know me in Twitter as @koersberichten


    • Charley Radcliffe

      Thank you for the message Patrick. Amazing job, taking control and climbing your mountain, as Maurice Herzog said “there are other Annapurnas in the lives of men”.


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