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To lead a great life, you must learn how to take risks

"I think it's worth asking yourself, 'What risks are worth taking?' And once you've decided to take them, change who you are so you can win."

  • "Everything worth doing in life has risk."
  • In the face of risk and uncertainty, your job isn't to be afraid. It's to defeat the risk.
  • Taking risk is the path toward living a richer life.

Chris Hadfield: Everything worth doing in life has risk.

Learned to ride a bike, learn to walk. When I was a kid learning to walk I fell and cracked my skull, but I needed to learn to walk. Taking a test, getting married, getting a drivers license, all of those things, they give you an approved capability or an improved richness in life, but they all come with a degree of risk. That is exaggerated if the thing that you want to do is fly a rocket ship. Rocket ships are dangerous. It's a controlled explosion. If you drew a cartoon of a rocket what it would be would be a bomb with six seats on the top. I mean rocket ships are crazy dangerous. On the first flight of the Space Shuttle when Bob Crippen and John Young were sitting there back in 1981 and they blasted off out of Florida, now that we go back and we look at what the actual history of the Space Shuttle was, their odds of dying that day in the first eight-and-a-half minutes were one in nine! Terrible odds, one in nine. I mean look around you at ten people and realize: just to try that one in nine times they would have died. They got away with it, and we learned a lot from it, but even when I flew on my first shuttle flight on the 74th shuttle flight we learned enough things, we had improved it, but the odds of dying that day for my crew were still one in 38, which—no insurance company would be happy. It's hard to get life insurance as an astronaut actually.

But the question you really need to ask that is do I want to learn to walk? Do I want to ride this bike? Do I want to get married? Do I want to learn to drive a car? What risks are worth taking in my life? Because even if you decide "Okay I'm going to take no risk, I'm going to stay at home and hide under my pillow," there's still risk with that and you're still going to die eventually anyway! So it's kind of a measure of what was worth doing in your life, and therefore what was worth taking a risk for? Once you've got that behind you and said "Okay I'm going to be an astronaut, I'm going to fly a rocket ship, that's a risk I'm going to take," now it changes your whole job.

Your job is not to be afraid, your job is not to be an incompetent nervous passenger, your job now is to defeat the risk, like when you learned to ride a bike. If you just stay as a passenger on the bike you're never going to know what to do with the handlebars and you're never going to master riding a bike. And once you can ride a bike you've got a freedom you've never had before.

And rocket ships are just the same, you have to decide what risks are worth taking and then start changing who you are, learning how to turn the handlebars so that you can make this thing do something that otherwise might hurt you or kill you. And then once you've got that done it can take you to places and give you richnesses in your life that you never would have had access any other way. And in my case when you make it through that launch, when you've guided that rocket up through the atmosphere and the engine shut off, suddenly you're in the rarest of human experiences. You're weightless, and the world is pouring by at five miles a second, and you can see across an entire continent and you're peering into something that is brand new for humanity. So I think it's worth asking yourself: "What risks are worth taking?" And once you've decided to take them, then change who you are so that you can win, you can defeat, you can master that thing and open a door for yourself that otherwise was just shut.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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