Monday, December 3, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Recently, I watched in wonder as a boy of about 10 years rode a unicycle expertly down one of the streets in my neighborhood. He was obviously having a great time, gliding up and down driveways, tracing large circles on the sidewalk and generally looking about as comfortable on that one wheel as most people do hanging out in their favorite easy chair. When he looked up and saw me admiring him, his face beamed with pride and joy.  I called out, “You are really good at that!”

“Thank you!” He smiled and rode toward me.

“How long have you been riding?”

“Oh, not too long. I started practicing on my friend’s uni every day after school. I just got my own today.” As we spoke, he maintained his equilibrium by rolling back and forth a couple of feet in front
of me. I thought about the fearlessness and faith that it must have taken the first time my little friend climbed on top of that unicycle. I pictured myself trying to get up on it, looking down to the pavement several feet below me and promptly falling back down.

“How does a person ever learn to stay up on it?” I asked him.

“Well, at first you fall.  And then you get up. Then you keep doing that over and over until you don’t fall anymore.”

He said it simply, like it was the most obvious thing ever.  And he reminded me of one of the most basic facts of life.  To get good at something, you have to keep working at it, through the uncertainty, beyond the failures and despite the falls.

Children seem to have an easier time of accepting this than adults do. Maybe it’s because, as we grow, so do our lists of “shoulds” and “musts”. Somehow, we get used to the idea that falling, both literally and figuratively, is something to be avoided and ashamed of, and the older we get, the less likely we are to put ourselves in positions of vulnerability.

One of my friends, a former professional dancer and now a much sought-after dance teacher, is fond of telling the story of adults who, when they find out what he does for a living,  tell him that they’ve always wanted to learn a particular form of dance – ballet, tap, whatever. He asks them why they don’t take classes to help them learn that which they’ve always wanted to do. At this point in the story, he opens his eyes really wide and in a shocked voice mimics them, “I can’t take a dance class, I don’t know how to dance!”

Silly, right? But we all carry this attitude with us. Maybe some of us take the plunge and try something new, but at the first sign of “failure” or difficulty, we pull back and resume life as usual.

The other day, I was teaching my son Jayden how to blow up a balloon. That’s him you see in the video above.  Boy, did he ever have a great time filling that balloon up with air and watching it get bigger and bigger! But, notice how, when he inadvertently let all the air out, he didn’t even skip a beat? Oh, the balloon deflated? 
No big deal, I’ll blow it up again.

What if we could recapture that sense of openness and possibility that seems to come so easily to the very young? What if we did, actually, “dance like nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening”? Chances are, we’ll never sing at Madison Square Garden for thousands of adoring fans, or dance as the featured soloist for the American Ballet Theatre. So what? Go ahead and sing, dance, write, run, ride a unicycle even. As long as you’re learning and growing, falling down and getting up again, you’re living  - and that’s what really matters. Life isn’t meant to be a spectator sport. You’ve got to get in the game and do your darndest to give it everything you’ve got.

So, is there something you’ve always wanted to do? There’s no time like the present! Do you have your list of reasons for why you can’t or shouldn’t go for it? Well, I won’t tell you to let go of them. I’ll let the former World Champion tennis player, Andy Roddick do it:

“At one point in your life, you either have the thing you want or the reasons why you don’t.”

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