Sometimes we need to take the stabilisers off.
Think about it. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike?
Remember when the stabiliser wheels were on, and you gripped those handlebars so tightly your knuckles went white?
Remember that tiny wobble you’d sometimes feel if one stabiliser left the ground for a moment?
Remember how you felt when they were taken away?
Maybe they were taken off one at a time, so you could be safe in the knowledge that you could lean to one side for balance.
Eventually, both of those stabilisers would be removed and we’d wonder how on Earth we’d stay upright.
Maybe someone was holding the back of the seat for you, keeping you safe for those few extra moments before letting you go into the unknown.
Now, remember how it felt when fear morphed into excitement.
However long it took for you to stay upright on that bike, I want you to remember – or imagine – that moment when everything came together, that time when you were freewheeling beautifully, wind in your hair, nothing and nobody holding you back or helping you to balance.
You did it.
All on your own.
Remember that sense of freedom as the world rushed past and the entire future lay ahead of you.
You – living life without the stabilisers.
If I close my eyes, I can still see, feel, taste that moment. I don’t know how much of my memory is accurate, or how much I’ve embellished it, and it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is the sense of magical, heart-pounding possibility it creates.
As kids, we faced fear differently. We embraced it.
We wanted the thrill of free-moving wheels on our feet more than we worried about falling off our roller skates.
We wanted to feel the waves splashing on our shins more that we feared the sea sweeping us away.
We wanted to experience life from the top of that tree more than we feared branches being unable to take our weight.
We wanted to win that sack race more than we feared falling over in front of our peers.
Every now and then, I meet someone who was so wrapped in cotton wool as a child, so conditioned to be afraid of pain, afraid of looking silly, afraid of fear itself, that they never really experienced that sense of childhood freedom. For them, it might take a bit longer to take the stabilisers off in adult life, but it’s still entirely possible.
For most of us, we can look back and remember those halcyon days when our biggest fear was *not* doing something, instead of going for the experience.
When did that stop for you? When, as a grown up, did you last embrace fear and allow that to morph into freedom?
I’m not necessarily talking about something that’s genuinely life-threatening. I’m talking about those experiences that push you out of your comfort zone, just enough to give you that buzz when ‘impossible’ becomes ‘I’m possible’.
A few weeks ago, I successfully completed a 5k muddy obstacle course to raise money for Cancer Research.
I say ‘successfully’ but, really, that’s in the eye of the beholder!
I wasn’t fit enough to run full out between all those cargo nets, crawl spaces and inflatables. My chest burned. I had to walk parts of it. At times, landing in dirty water, being hosed with wet, gloopy mud, my shoes squelching as I moved, it felt yucky. But I finished. And I finished with a giant smile.
My friend finished too. The pair of us did it. Me, afraid of not having enough stamina to make the course, my friend Suzanne’s fear of heights with some of the obstacles. We faced those fears, beat them down and felt the elation – and freedom – as wet, muddy and sweaty, we climbed that last net, slid down the last slide into a vat of slimy, grimy wet stuff and saw the finish line ahead.
There’s nothing like that sense of achievement when we face something that scares us a little and go at it full tilt. Success tastes so much sweeter – and the air we breathe feels so much cleaner – when we’ve conquered our fears at the same time.
I’ve signed up with another friend to do a Tough Mudder later in the year. That will be much more challenging.
As for Suzanne, we’ve put a date in the diary for the Go Ape treetops adventure. She’s ready to stare down her fear of heights too.
My wife, Asha, is also terrified of heights. She’d been promising me a trip to Go Ape since my 40th birthday. I’m now 45. We went a few weeks ago – me, Asha and Dee, the pal I’m doing the Tough Mudder with.
There we were, all rigged up in our climbing harnesses. Me – wondering if that old childhood asthma would allow me the stamina to climb the ladders and finish the course. Asha – knee-knockingly afraid of heights. Dee – battling vertigo.
We smiled past those fears, laughed through the challenges and supported each other.
I completed the course. Asha and Dee finished most of it. Afterwards, I heard them tell each other they’d come back another time and complete it.
And that’s how Suzanne came to be signed up.
Suzanne has already tackled so much – she’s flown to far flung places, climbed mountains and walked The Great Wall Of China – but there’s a difference between gradual climbs and sharp ascents and she wanted to try something new.
She knew Asha did Go Ape when she was afraid. She knew Dee managed most of it, in spite of her vertigo. So, she decided it was time to give it a try. Asha, Suzanne and I are getting into the treetops later this month.
Next year, all four of us have decided to go to Wales and get onto the world’s fastest zip wire – reaching speeds of 100mph, high above the ground.
Is it scary? Yes. Is it safe? As much as it possibly can be, yes. Statistically, it’s much safer than getting into a car, crossing the street or, probably, climbing a flight of stairs.
We know, at the end of it, we’ll feel elated. And that’s where it’s good to reawaken that sense of childhood adventure… we’re not thinking about what might happen before, or during, our escapades – we’re focusing on that sense of freedom, on how we’ll feel afterwards.
When did you last do something that felt daring? It could be anything – there are no real rules here, outside of relative safety for yourself and others. Just pick something that pushes you – something that will give you that sense of excitement, adventure – something that proves to you that you’re capable of far more than you imagined.
Maybe it’s a rollercoaster. Horse riding. Abseiling. It could be holding a spider. It might actually be getting back on a bike if you haven’t ridden since childhood.
It doesn’t need to be anything huge. You don’t need to compare your sense of adventure – or the bounds of your comfort zone – with anyone else’s.
Whatever you choose, do it for YOU.
Go on. Take the stabilisers off. Sometimes, facing our fears really can be good for the soul.
Until next time,