Looking Before You Leaping Ain’t All That Bad

A short essay by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.

Evel Knievel is a famous professional daredevil. He’s spent his whole life doing extreme stunts, but he’s best known for his attempt at jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle. He built a huge sloping ramp so he could achieve maximum velocity before tracing a big arc over to the opposite side as he flew across the canyon. This would be impossible for any normal person. A tiny jump would be tough, let alone something as wide at the Grand Canyon.

Having just accomplished the impossible, Evel Knievel said, “Jumping isn’t difficult. Landing is.”

And yeah, that makes sense. Anyone with enough momentum can take off from a ramp, but if they don’t land well they’ll end up dead. It’s obvious, but for some reason hearing it straight from the mouth of the guy who successfully jumped over the Grand Canyon makes it feel like deep wisdom.

Kenzaburo Oe suggests the opposite in his book Leap Before You Look. As I young man I understood that to mean that you have to leap into something before you examine it too closely. It has its own wisdom. In the contentious period around 1970, “leap before you look” became a popular saying. It would be fascinating to hear Evel Kneveland and Kenzaburo Oe have a debate about jumping. I don’t think it’ll happen, though.

Looking back on my own life, I’ve grown a lot from taking risk. None of them come close jumping over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle, but they felt like big to me at the time. Sometimes I thought really hard about how I was going to stick the landing, and other times I leapt without thinking things through first. I got hurt, sure, but it was never anything life threatening, and now I get to live life in perfectly good health as a novelist writing about stuff that doesn’t matter.

Sometimes I’m asked if I’d change anything if I was given a chance to do life over. “Nah, I’m good,” I reply. I wouldn’t want to go through all those scary times again. I mean it.