My husband and I recently took our young son to a long, flat stretch of empty parking lot to teach him how to ride his bicycle without training wheels. We knew he was ready, he showed all the signs, he just needed a little space and practice to really get going on his own.
We talked it up as it took a few minutes to remove the training wheels, my son practically doing jumping jacks in excitement. He strapped on his helmet, helped unload his bike from the truck's tailgate, and in one, clear instant, I saw his affect shift.
"I can't do it." he looked at me with pleading eyes. "I won't do it. Put the training wheels back on."
I recognized what he was feeling immediately.
Doubt: the sneaky, shrouded thief of joy.
We all have it. It's the feeling that makes you want to shrink away into nothing. It can change your whole perspective, turning the volume way up on the self criticism dial.
It's a little bit of a natural consequence to taking any kind of risk. It consistently follows that our analytical brains would get right to the work of calculating all our fears at even the mere sight of bold decisions.
And that type of reaction never really leaves us completely even as we grow up, though we can increase our confidence in our abilities to perform, maintain, and even excel at challenges before us.
I like to think about professional baseball players or any other high level athlete. Even with skilled technique, polished performance, and legendary stats, because they are human, they without doubt experience doubt. But if they allowed those doubts to paralyze their performance, it would be detrimental to their game. And yet, it is statistically impossible for them to avoid failure at some rate. So what do they do? How do they cope?
They show up to bat.
They make one decision.
And then another one.
They keep chopping away at the thing they love most. Fans may jeer, competitors may mock, but they are not deterred, they just keep swinging. They have learned that the key to managing inevitable doubt, is to keep going and keep working.
And that is what makes a home run so much sweeter.
We could have put my son's training wheels back on, allowed the doubt to work it's black magic. But instead, we pushed onward. We tried, we fell, we got back up, and now he's soaring around this parking lot, with a new sense of freedom and pride.
And a valuable experience in his arsenal for the next time doubt attempts to creep back in.