Why We Need to Wobble

I was accidentally sabotaging my daughter’s dream.

For two summers, Caitlin began the season dreaming of riding a bike. And for two summers, by the time the bees were on the buds and the cottonwood was on the air, that dream had been stashed away, along with her bike, in the back of the garage. I couldn’t figure it out. Caitlin is brave, but our practice sessions would always end in her fear and my frustration.

It turns out, I wasn’t giving her what she needed.

A few weeks ago, signs of summer returned to our part of the world—grass got green and buzzing bees could be heard on the warming breeze—so Caitlin and I rolled her bike out of the garage, hoping for third times and charms. But, once again, the fear and frustration quickly set in. I began to wonder if a bike-riding gene had been deleted from her DNA. Then, the truth hit me. There was something missing, but it wasn’t a gene.

I wasn’t letting her wobble.

I was holding the back of her seat for stability, but I was holding on too tight. I was eliminating any sense of imbalance from her ride, so she would feel safe, so she could learn while unafraid. But, ironically, this had magnified her fear. Now, she wasn’t just afraid of falling; she was also afraid of the sensation of wobbling.

And wobbling is how you learn to ride.

Wobbling on a bike is the only way to learn balance. When you wobble one way, you lean your body in the other. When you overcorrect, you learn to recorrect. Eventually, you learn the skill of making countless minute adjustments to keep yourself upright and moving forward. Wobbling is how you learn to ride.

Wobbling is also how you learn to live.

Recently, my oldest son graduated eighth grade and, in a few short months, he’ll begin high school in a building which was the site of a school shooting only a few weeks ago. That feels like wobbling to me and, I suspect, to him. Recently, Quinn stepped in the ocean, sliced his foot from toe to heal, and we rushed him to the emergency room. That feels like wobbling. Recently, Caitlin began her annual summer camp. She didn’t know of any other friends who were planning to go. That feels like wobbling.

If you don’t want to wobble—if you refuse to exist in that discomfort zone between perfect balance and falling—you stay off the bike of life and stash your dreams in the back of the garage. You don’t pedal. You just stay home and play video games and binge on Netflix and buy stuff on Amazon.

Around the time Caitlin was finally learning how to ride her bike, which is to say, learning how to wobble, I was listening to a friend’s podcast, in which he interviewed Fred Kofman, vice president of leadership at LinkedIn, and author of The Meaning Revolution. In the interview, Kofman said something that brought me to attention. He said, “Walking is really controlled falling.” He said you can’t take a step if you are perfectly in balance. Rather, when you walk, you shift all of your weight to one side, then you fall on the opposite foot, shift all of your weight to it, and then allow the other foot to fall. Walking is controlled falling.

And living is controlled wobbling.

Caitlin learned there is no such thing as sustained balance in bike riding—you’re always wobbling minutely, and always learning to constantly correct, to bring yourself back into center. Likewise, there is no such thing as balance as we live our way through this unpredictable, uncertain, unbelievable life. There is only the process of constantly learning, constantly correcting, constantly making adjustments to seek that centered place.

Caitlin has been riding her bike all over the neighborhood for the last couple of weeks and yesterday I picked her up from summer camp. She was covered in dirt and dust, and she told me she’d been playing Gaga Ball—a game like dodgeball, played in a hexagonal pit, in which players slap the ball at each other and are eliminated if they are hit below the knee. She said she played all afternoon. I asked if she won any of the games. She said no, and then she said something that made my heart soar.

“But I’m learning to never give up.”

She’s learning to wobble. She’s learning that life is about learning, that it’s about existing in our discomfort zone, and finding out what it has to teach us. And most importantly, she’s learning that life is not about being in balance, but seeking balance, so that every once in a while you can enjoy feeling centered for a moment or two. It’s true for a little girl learning to ride a bike, and it’s true for all of us learning to be alive.

May you wobble.

May you learn.

May you live.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.