Have you ever watched young children ice-skate? They spend more time scrambling, flailing, and crashing than they do balancing on those two thin blades. But they do it joyfully and don’t give up easily. In fact, even with fingers turning a frosty shade of blue and backsides longing for a soft place to land, kids will beg for “just one more turn” on the ice before allowing themselves to be dragged homeward.
Most of us realize as we age that it’s much easier for small children than adults to learn how to do anything that requires balance: ice-skating, roller-skating, skateboarding, skiing, or riding a bicycle. Not only are they closer to the ground, ensuring a shorter and less painful fall, but they’re also fearless and determined. They don’t understand what danger is or what it means to not be able to do something.
I grew up in Massachusetts, down the street from the local park, which includes a pond small enough that it freezes solid every winter. When I was a kid, the city allowed folks to skate on the pond after a city worker drove a truck over it v-e-r-r-r-r-r-r-y slowly to ensure the ice was thick and stable enough to support the weight of skaters. Yes, sometimes the truck almost fell through. (These days, skating is prohibited no matter how cold it gets and stays, but an indoor rink sits only a few miles away.)
I owned a beautiful pair of white skates. Every winter, I’d rush up the street to watch both children and adults take to that slab of ice as soon as the city posted the sign saying it was safe to skate. I’d push a chair in front of me for balance. I’d spy other kids stagger and dodder, ankles turned at painful angles. I’d watch with envy and fascination as adept adults escaped to the center to move in graceful figure eights and tight spins.
Ice-skating is much like life. You start out slowly, wobbly, unsure of your ability. You fall down—a lot. You get up and try again—a lot. You collect bumps, bruises, cuts, sore muscles, and a battered ego to boot.
You learn to persevere, to keep trying until you get it right, understanding that proficiency comes only after an awful lot of practice. Even if you someday end up at the Olympics, you start out on your knees and your rear end.
Unfortunately, even as a kid, I was full of fear: fear of falling, getting hurt, looking foolish, failing. I never learned how to skate on that pond or anywhere else. My skates remained white and beautiful from lack of use. I also never learned to roller-skate, roller-blade, or do anything else that required balance and intrepidity. (Yes, I can ride a bike, but other forces are at work there.)
And it has cost me dearly. Not only did I miss out on all of the fun of doing those activities, I missed out on the priceless opportunity to discover the places fearlessness could deliver me from and, more importantly, lead me to.
When you understand that fear is the only thing holding you back from achieving any goal, you begin to pry its grip from your life, one experience at a time. When you believe that you can do anything—start a business; raise healthy, happy children; write a book; become a mentor; lose weight; teach; go back to school—that’s the point where fear takes a back seat to unadulterated courage. Fear has only as much power as you give it. Fear—like love, forgiveness, and faith—is a choice.
See you at the next Olympic games.