Do It Anyway – How to live a great life even when you’re scared

A fish without a bicycle

Yesterday, at 37 years old, I learned to ride a bike. Well, relearned really. Because you can indeed forget how to ride a bike, and I did. I hadn’t ridden since I was ten and had been perfectly fine at it. Perhaps not popping wheelies or anything, but I had long since lost the training wheels.

Then at around 28, I hopped on a friend’s bike and attempted to pedal off. Instead, I fell. I hit the pavement hard but I laughed it off, stinging with both pain and embarrassment. I tried again – and again I fell down. I was suddenly acutely aware that if I broke my wrist and couldn’t type, I would be in a bad financial situation very quickly. So I made a joke out of it. I was the one person in the world who could forget how to ride a bike. Ta da.

I have always been a klutz.   Despite attempts to thwart it with years of ballet, yoga, and walking with a book on my head, the only effect was that I knocked things over with good posture.

Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t see you there!
While it’s funny to others, it’s mortifying to me. When I bump into a table and spill something with an inevitable crash, I feel a small breeze as heads snap towards me. In general, I avoid things that require coordination.

My husband is an avid cyclist, not in a way that involves lots of spandex, but he definitely things of biking as an enjoyable time. For years he has suggested that I take one of the free bike riding classes offered by Bike NYC. I always nodded along and said, “Maybe I will!” But inside my head, I heard, “You can’t do it.   You’ll fall. You’ll get hit by a car. You’re too clumsy for this.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it. I truly thought I couldn’t.

The Bucket List

As I do at the beginning of each season, I made a “Summer Bucket List”, which I might as well title, “Nah, let’s do it next weekend.”

As in the past, it included “Learn to ride a bike”. There was no indication this year would be any different. After all, we still hadn’t gone to Governor’s Island or had a picnic in the park, and I’d certainly push for those before teetering around on two wheels towards certain injury.  I don’t know what it was that made me one day go and sign up. I felt proud enough of that step.  That’s close enough to doing it, right?   “It’ll probably rain” I reasoned. It always seems to rain a lot on the weekends! No such luck. The weather was perfect.

So off I went. I threw on the incredibly dorky training helmet provided and proceded to waddle around on a bike without pedals, the seat cutting into my lady bits.

If you tell me I’m going to get calluses I quit.

The Bird

They put the pedals on my bike and I freaked. I was going to fall. I had a two-year-old and a new job. I could not break my arm right now!   (Because there are definitely convenient times to do so.)  But the instructors had my number. They did a number of drills with me to build me up to it, and all of a sudden I was off. I was wobbly at first, but before long I was pedaling quickly to build up speed and then feeling the wind skim across my face while I cruised. For an hour and a half, I was ten years old again. I didn’t feel like a mom, or a wife, or an adult, though I love being all those things. I felt like a bird. I was flying.

Because my mind always keeps everything right-sized, about a half hour in, I thought to myself, “I could do a triathlon now!” That might be a bit of a stretch. But you know what I can do? I can bike down to the pier a few miles away and watch the sunset over the water with a view of the statue of liberty. It’s one of my favorite places and I almost never go because it is too much of a trek by foot. I can’t believe I’ve been giving that up for so long.

Feeling proud, and thinking about it that night, I realized that like so many of the best things in life it had followed a predictable pattern:

  1.  I was scared to do it
  2.  After much procrastination, I did it anyway
  3.  I couldn’t believe how much I loved it.

Getting sober was a lot like this for me. I honest to goodness didn’t think I could do it. But I finally got to the point where I was willing to at least try. I will always have a voice in my head that tries to keep me stagnant. It wants to glue me to the couch. Some of its arguments are very well reasoned at times. But slowly but surely I am learning a new mantra.  Do it anyway.

Do it anyway.

This may sound like a bastardized version of Nike’s “Just Do It”, but to me, they strike a very different tone.  “Just Do It” sounds like it’s addressed to someone who is tough.  Do It Anyway acknowledges that there will always be a reason not to do something.  It’s the simple and patient answer to the list of excuses.  It acknowledges fear.

Do it anyway. even though you might fail. Do it anyway, even if you don’t know how. And yes, even when you just don’t feel like it, do it anyway. Because your brain will do everything it can to talk you out of having the best experiences of your life.  Fear isn’t the enemy; stagnation is.  It’s so easy to forget that we have so much less time than we think.

Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes

While picking out a bike for the class, I found myself standing next to a woman in her early 70s. “This is my second class.” She said. “They wouldn’t give me pedals on my first one because I wasn’t going fast enough. But I’m going to get them today.”

Actual badass not pictured.
This woman is my hero. She is learning a new physical skill at 71. She’s not saying she’s too old to learn how. She didn’t give up when they told her she was too slow. She just showed up again and did the work. Later that afternoon as I was riding past, I saw the instructors putting pedals on her bike, while she beamed. Not 20 minutes later she was up and riding. Maybe slowly. Maybe with a bit of a wobble. But she did it.

Pick something on your list that scares you. Do it anyway.