0 Comments | May 04, 2010

Take Off the Training Wheels

  • Share

Life is gloriously circular. Lessons of childhood repeat. And teaching the lessons of childhood to our kids can be a tremendously powerful reminder of inexorable truths and insoluble tenets.

To wit: picture a brow furrowed in fear, tears of worry and dread trickling down a sour visage, and quivering mouth forming those crippling words: “I can’t.”

Endemic. Instant. Tragic. Who teaches us to imprison ourselves? It’s as if we’re programmed to sidestep disappointment by limiting our expectations. We fit ourselves into smaller and smaller spaces to avoid the pain of growth.

“Yes, baby, you can. You can do…” I trail off in an expectant pause.

“ANYTHING” comes the somewhat muted but visibly invigorated refrain. You can do anything. Our shared mantra. Mine and my four-year-old daughter’s.

You can pick up the pieces.

You can take back your life and your body.

You can set off in an entirely different direction.

You can live with purpose and confidence while you smile genuinely at the self-imprisoned hecklers lining your path.

You can even learn to ride this bicycle without training wheels.

If you just let yourself.

If you choose courage.

If you recognize that all the pressure is self-imposed, and that worry is always worse than the worst.

And if you decide that failure is a necessary precursor to success, your ally in your quest for a better life, your chief educator, your best friend, your cheering companion on the road to the life you know you were designed to lead, it is possible to create a life that is drastically, unrecognizably different – better – than your life today.

Something happens to us when we “grow up.” We lose connection with the people who push us, encourage us, exhort us, cajole us into getting beyond our fears.

We lose contact with the support structure that teaches us to confront fear. And we stop confronting fear. So we stop growing. Worse, we become addicted to the path of least resistance, which keeps us subdued and sedated.

We have invented entire systems whose sole purpose is to isolate and eliminate risks of all sorts. Unfortunately, risk is essential to reward. By grand design, the two are inextricably linked.

Wellness and productivity are based on personal risk-taking. Confronting fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of standing out, fear of being wrong, or worse, fear of being successful (crazy as it sounds, the last one plagues most of us) always precedes innovation, productivity, and positive life changes.

So how do we return to that place where a loving hand and gentle voice encouraged us to bravely place both feet upon the pedals and set out training-wheel free?

Here are five suggestions:

1. Find someone in your life who will push you. Don’t place your spouse or significant other in this position. There can be no politics involved. You’re asking for bare-knuckled honesty and patient but relentless engagement.

2. Find someone in your life who will journey with you toward your goals. If you have a fitness goal, find a workout partner or class. If you want to stop smoking, find a friend who’s doing the same. You’re accountable to each other, of course, but more importantly, you’re experiencing the ups and downs together. Misery needs company. IMPORTANT: this cannot be the same person you chose in #1.

3. Find an expert in the field of your chosen endeavor. Enlist their support. Ask for their advice and mentorship. Pay for it if it’s appropriate to do so. Life is difficult enough; you might as well find someone who has already blazed a trail in the direction you need to go, and learn from their experience. Don’t be afraid that you’ll lose out on the richness of the experience – the hills will be just as high for you. More importantly, you’re five times likelier to fail without expert advice.

4. Put your goal in writing. You’ve heard it dozens of times before, yet fewer than 5% of people ever write down a goal. As Yogi Berra says, “if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s awful tough to get there.”

5. Follow Churchill’s advice: “Never, ever, ever, ever quit.” Period.

More important than what you gain by achievement is what you become through it.

But any accomplishment of meaning will begin with a white-knuckled grip on the handlebars.

What story will you tell yourself?