Learning to Fall

Jen Wise // Bravery, Fear, Risk

The wind was whipping the sails, whipping my hair, whipping the waves—whipping up a healthy dose of fear. I stood in front of a row of sailboats at the edge of the lake. Why!? Why would anyone in their right mind get into a sailboat captained by an 8 year-old? And why does it have to be so windy?

I walked a few feet out into the water and climbed aboard, sat where I was told. “If you start to tip, loosen the rope. Duck down when he yells tacking.” she said.

And with a big shove, we were off.

Breckin and I cruised back and forth across the lake and I realized this was the first time I’d experienced this dynamic: him, my child, the cool, calm guy in charge – me, the parent, a nervous, white-knuckled student.

Every time the wind caught, and the boat leaned hard to one side, I was terrified. (Do I know how to swim? Yes. Was I wearing a life jacket? Yes. So, totally irrational fear? Yes, again.) On the flip side, at each close call Breckin would just smile and say, “Don’t worry, Mom. I know what to do if we capsize.”

Because there is one main reason why he was so calm, while even the thought of tipping drove fear to my core: he had learned how to fall.

You see, the week before as I drove my sons to sailing camp they chirped from the backseat,
“Today we’re going to learn how to fall!”
“So when we do, we won’t be scared.”
“And, we’ll know how to get back into the boat.”

Learning to fall feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I spend a good amount of energy trying my hardest NOT to fall. Falling hurts. Falling can leave lasting damage. Falling is scary, and embarrassing, and exactly why I’ve never been able to do a simple cartwheel.

This same fear has kept me from all kinds of things beyond childhood gymnastics. I’ve missed out on opportunities because I was afraid of applying and not making the cut. I’ve missed out on relationships because I was afraid my friendship wouldn’t be reciprocated. I’ve missed out on all kinds of experiences because I was afraid of starting at zero when other people were already well on their way down the course.

But not anymore.

I’ve had to STOP IT. I’ve had to just KNOCK IT OFF and stop being SUCH A WIMP and get BRAVE.

I’ve had to learn how to fall, so I won’t be so scared when it happens, and I’ll know how to get back in the boat.

And for as terrifying as it is, it’s also every bit as easy. Here’s all you do:

Keep moving forward, take every terrifying step—even if your legs are shaking. Keep showing up, introducing yourself, trying new things. Use every ounce of your talent, the first time might not be pretty, it might not be expert or gain recognition—but it’s you, it’s what you have to offer, and it’s the only way forward. It’s the only way to see if that idea has a future, if that new company will grow, if the seed will sprout.

There’s a risk: that you may or may not be able to ever really find your groove in this new space. And there’s a guarantee: that you’re definitely not going to be immediately impressive. But there’s another guarantee: that whether you become a wild success, or truly can’t cut it, you’re learning that while falling may hurt, it doesn’t kill you. You’re learning to get back up, and that only gets easier from here. You’re learning to be brave.

Try the little things—try the big things. Begin those night classes, pick up a set of used golf clubs and see what you can do, put flesh on that business idea that’s been a skeleton collecting dust in the corners of your mind. Invite someone new to lunch, apply for your dream program, show up at that tennis clinic as the only adult beginner (not that I know anything about that).

And then don’t shrink back at the first sign of danger, failure, rejection. If you’re brave enough to get into the water, be brave enough to hold on. We’re not releasing the sails. We’re not backing off. We’re gathering wind and momentum, we’re holding tightly and fearlessly pressing on.

What new experience, opportunity, or relationship is waiting for your brave attempt? What dream is calling? What next steps have unfolded before you?

Let’s learn how to fall—because it’s the only way we’ll learn to fly.