I dusted off my old unicycle and brought it down to the bike shop where they put on a spiffy new Specialized tire called the Renegade.
While circling the cul de sac last night on my spruced up one wheeler, my husband Steve encouraged me to put on my helmet. My initial response was that I didn’t need it since I had never worn one growing up and I didn’t injure myself when I fell. After a few minutes, common sense and an abundance of caution led me back into the garage to get my helmet. It was fun to ride on something that I learned to balance on 40 years ago but you can never be too careful.
Strong and vivid childhood memories came rushing back and they reinforced a key concept I recently read in Ray Dalio’s book titled Principles. Learning from our mistakes is key to growing and developing new skills.
I was reminded that it is okay to try something new and fall down. If we are going to learn a new skill we should not be afraid of failing, in fact, we should look at our failures as the ultimate learning experiences. This is also the Agile mindset which embraces experiments and encourages doing, testing, reflecting and adapting in an iterative manner.
When I was 10 years old, my eldest brother, Billy gave me a unicycle for Christmas. It was a shiny steel Schwinn with a black leather banana seat. I was so excited and couldn’t wait until spring arrived so I could take it outside and ride it.
I knew that I had to learn how to balance in order to ride but I was ready for the challenge. Little did I realize just how hard it would be since my memory of mastering my first coaster bike at age four was that it was simple, quick and easy.
When learning to ride a bicycle, I didn’t use training wheels and was helped by Billy holding on to my sissy bar and running along side me as we traveled on Maiden Lane. After a few sprints up and down the block, he encouraged me to keep pedaling so I could balance and ride on my own. In little time, I was off to the races and just a bit wobbly.
There are no training wheels when learning to ride a unicycle- just continuous practice and persistence. You have to experiment and try an action in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.
I had to continually fall and fall again until my muscles and my brain learned how to balance. I practiced for many weeks by holding on to the side of my brother John’s 1973 blue Chevy pickup. I went up and down the length of the truck until one day I got to the end of tailgate and kept going. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom and I remember thinking “What do I do with hands now?”. In the end, I used my hands to wave hello and goodbye to all my neighbors and friends.
I road my unicycle all over Spotswood NJ in the early 1980s and loved the responsive steering it provided. You could turn on a dime and make quick 90 degree turns just by rotating your hips. It was fun, lighter and so much easier to stow than a bicycle.
Learning to balance on one wheel wasn’t a quick and easy endeavor but in retrospect, I think it helped prepare me for the future challenges I would face in life. I had to experience what didn’t work, learn from it and try again. Over and over and over.
Making mistakes and falling well are part of the process of learning.
I appreciate Ray Dalio’s reminder of this important principle and for all the happy memories of my Spotswood unicycle adventures!
Remember: It’s okay to try something new and fall.
It’s even better when we learn from our failures and do it better the next time!