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By Sophia Ebanks
“You don’t know how to ride a bike?!”
My cousins and I stared in disbelief at our then seventeen-year-old cousin – the eldest of the pack – as she confessed that she had not achieved a common childhood feat. She shook her head, embarrassment written all over her face as she tried to laugh it off. “Well then, we’ve got to teach you!” We all agreed in unison and she tried her very best to wiggle out of our grip as we headed towards the front yard to get her ready for her practice. It was our collective mission to finally teach her how to ride a bike. We’d spend the next several hours pushing her down the sidewalk and holding her hand as she painfully exclaimed, “I DON’T WANT TO DIE! IF I COULDN’T DO IT AS A CHILD WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I CAN DO IT NOW!” And in that humorous expression of hysterical fear, I now find one of the most damaging pressures of life to which we have all subjected ourselves at some point.
We live our lives feeling that we will reach only two outcomes down the road: success or failure. Even between those two options, one is more valued than the other; the former bringing a sense of valor and honor that the latter lacks. That’s why we spend our time categorizing every single experience based on how successful we are and can be in it. Eventually, we move from categorizing our experiences to categorizing ourselves.
We push ourselves to live our lives in search of this success because it affects how we see ourselves. Before we realize it, this becomes one of the core ideas of our lives. A person that is considered successful is revered, glorified, and loved. A person who is considered to be a failure is shunned, ridiculed, and condemned. As we continue in this frame of thought, however, the actual end result is neither success nor failure. Ultimately, what we end up doing is rejecting the abundance and vastness of human life and experience.
As my cousin learned to ride a bike, she was faced with this task that so many have accomplished, making success seem very hard to miss. But under the circumstances, she carried this burdensome fear that she had already passed the opportune time to be successful in it. Subconsciously, this limits the extent to which we’re willing to delve into our experiences. We’ll happily take our wins where we can get them and avoid seeing what more we can get out of our experiences. It creates a dull life filled with pressure, fear, and worry at every corner.
The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t have to be that way at all. We can choose to crumble up this old paradigm of successes and failures, and trade it in for lives where expansion is the only true option. In expansion, we detach from all the categories that we’ve used to classify our being, our livelihood, and our human experience. We see that neither success nor failure is intrinsic or necessary to define a fulfilling life but that expansion is always possible.
It offers us the chance to see where joy lies in our lives because we can simply be as we are in the moment without the pressure to define ourselves through it. Life will continue to be life without our judgments, without our chasing after success or our running from failure. We give ourselves the opportunity to see more of our authentic selves without the boundaries that limit how we do so. Every experience becomes a tool that reveals to us more of who we are with each passing moment and all the possibilities of who we could be that lie ahead.
My cousin did eventually learn to ride a bike, but that’s not what we remember most from the experience. We remember the screams as she rolled down the sidewalk uncontrollably, the laughs as she stood up after having fallen off several times, the cheers as she rode down blocks on her own and the cheers even when she rode for a millisecond. We don’t remember the fear because the fear slid away once she realized that the joy of the moment wouldn’t change no matter the outcome. We were all simply too glad to be out having fun for the day. We neglected to define it as a success or failure. It was an exciting, expansive experience, plain and simple. All experiences can offer that to us. We can live them fully as they come, just riding along with it.
Image: Daniel Santalla