When I was around 6 my dearest wish was to learn to ride a 2-wheeler. Late one Christmas Eve I was given a peek of Santa arriving outside our home with gifts in tow, one of which looked suspiciously like a bike. Then I was sent to bed so Santa could do his work in secret.
In the morning I raced to the living room and there beside the tree was the bike. My very own beautiful baby blue and chrome 2-wheeler with handle bar streamers and white training wheels. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
The day that started with such gleeful anticipation ended in tears. I didn’t learn to ride that day. I didn’t learn to ride the next day or in the days thereafter. So what happened? Fear happened.
My mother was terrified I would get hurt, sicken and die (she lost a child to CF before I was born). My father (stepfather #1) wanted a perfect child, in fact he demanded it. No room for failure in his world.
Learning to ride a 2-wheeler is a process of trying and failing and trying again, repeated until that magic moment when everything comes together and you balance and pedal and steer and a new world opens up. I started that process from a place of playful anticipation and I couldn’t wait to get started.
All my learning attempts were supervised. Each lesson was permeated with my stepfather’s judgments about my performance, his constant corrections and running commentary on what I was doing wrong. I couldn’t fall off and skin my knees and elbows without feeling my mother’s fear. Each minor injury treated as if it was life threatening.
His judgments and my mother’s fears soon became mine. Fear of falling off and getting hurt. Fear of not doing it right. Fear of not learning fast enough to satisfy my parents’ expectations. Instead of looking forward to getting on the bike, I came to dread it. And because I dreaded it, I stopped trying. After about 2 weeks the bike disappeared into storage and I never saw it again.
This kind of fear is the enemy of learning. It is the enemy of play. Learning needs to be a personal journey. A journey undertaken without judgment. Anticipation, not trepidation.
It took me 6 more years before I taught myself how to ride a 2-wheeler. It took another 30 years before I started to learn how to be truly playful again.
Many of you grew up with your own version of not learning to ride a bike. Of stuffing down, or losing the joy, enthusiasm, and just plain fun that can be a part of daily life. It’s not too late to find it again. It’s not too late to borrow a bike and learn to ride it, in your own way, in your own time, and to your own satisfaction.
While most people describe me now as playful, playfulness is a skill I’m still working to master. It is also a skill I’m teaching in my program, Playing to Prosper: 5 Steps to Living Happy NOW! Attend the next workshop and get a head start on living happy NOW! Don’t wait 30 years like I did.