Are You Still Using Training Wheels on the Bicycle of Life?

Last weekend, here in Paris, I went with my sister, Carolyn, and her three kids, Emeraude, Henry and Ferdinand, to the Bois de Vincennes to do some bike-riding. For the last two summers, Emeraude and Henry had started learning to ride a bike when they visited their Grandpa George in Concord, MA but hadn’t succeeded in riding without training wheels. When we got to the bike rental spot, however, the man said he didn’t have any bikes with training wheels. 

So for 30 minutes, with Ferdinand’s coaching, they attempted to ride the kid-size bikes sans training wheels, not able to go more than a few feet before losing their balance and falling over. “I’m never going to get this,” Emeraude said in frustration, probably remembering the incident a few years past where she fell off her bike going down a hill and lost a tooth.

That is, until she did. After dozens of tries, something clicked — maybe it was seeing her little brother Henry start to get it — and she was able to keep her balance long enough to maintain momentum. Then they spent the next two hours whizzing back and forth on the path, as if they’d been doing it for ages. Carolyn was thrilled: “If the bike rental guy had had bikes with training wheels, we wouldn’t have even tried riding without.”

So that got me thinking: If, as Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle,” then where in our lives are we dependent on “training wheels” beyond the point that we need them? Where do we assume we don’t have the ability to do something because we’ve gotten in the habit of not trying? Where do we play it safe?

Could you…

Present part of the investor pitch, even though your more extroverted co-founder usually does?

Make a business case to the CEO using data analytics, even though you’re on the “creative team”?

Read a book about investing, even though your spouse usually takes care of the finances?

Host a dinner party even though you usually order take-out?

Perform your piece by memory, with using the music?

Do a headstand without the wall?