The first time I tried to ride a two wheel bike, I remember my dad running alongside my six-year-old self as I swerved down the street, nearly sideswiping multiple parked cars. The neighborhood was loud that day, with kids screaming over the hum of a bounce house set up five houses down from mine. “Keep going,” my dad said over the noise. “You’ve got it.”
But as I zigzagged toward the street’s dead end, the end of my jeans got caught in the gears, jamming the bike to an immediate halt. My feet didn’t have time to brake. Before I knew it, my arms hit the gravel and my bike was on the ground. My dad kneeled right beside me, shouting over the sounds of high-pitched laughter.
“Nicole, what happened? Are you okay?” he asked as I started to cry, seeing the bloodied scrapes on my elbows and forearms. “You almost had it!”
In the days following the first bike ride and crash, I was a lot more cautious. At my request, my dad followed me at a close pace. I wore shorts, no long pants. And I kept a comfortable distance from the cars lining the sidewalks. I had managed to wobble out a couple trips around the block within this time, but my efforts were average at best. In being so scared of falling again, I limited myself to playing it safe, keeping at a steady, slow rhythm, and braking the bike before the round-about end.
My dad, being the risk-taker that he is, tried to push my limits. “Come on, you got it,” he repeated over and over again. “If you go faster, you’ll get the hang of it better.” But I listened to the sound of lawn mowers and starting cars instead.
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, then you’re in luck because I’m about to switch gears (no pun intended).
In many ways, the story of how I learned to ride a bike is similar to how I used to (and still sometimes) write—as a young woman, scared of her own potential.
As of this moment, I have a job that post-graduate writers would kill for. I write an article every day of the week, if not two. I work with a team of editors whose impressive resumes make me sweat beads when they’re reading my work. I make dirt as far as money goes, but that’s beside the point. The point is, I’m in a great position that I earned through hard work and determination. But truth is, at times it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes, I believe I’m still that nervous girl riding a slow moving bike to the dead end of the street.
Flip back to 1999, and the more I started to ride my bike, the less scared I became. My dad eventually stopped running alongside me. He’d jog for the first couple feet before letting me ride by myself, watching from a distance as I peddled faster, getting a good two-step pace before breaking at the round-about.
As time went on, I started to stray from my straight line path. I’d lean to the right to feel the way the bike’s path curved, leaning slightly back to the left to make a full squiggle. And so on.
Soon enough, I was testing out my swiveling skills on the dead end. I’d jerk the bike left, left again, and more left until I got the hang of making a full turn. My dad hollered from ten doors down the first time I did, making a big Y with his arms. “Yeah baby!” he shouted. His bright, toothy smile could have been seen from miles away.
I’ll admit, the first article I wrote for my current job was crap. My editor shook her head, probably wondering how the heck I’d made my way into the business. Since crying isn’t a welcomed reaction in journalism, I held back my tears and instead broke the tension with a promise. “I’m a slow learner,” I told her. “But I promise you I will get better, it’s only a matter of time.”
Fast forward two months and I’m continuing to keep that promise. I’ve improved, but I’m not quite there yet. I still make dumb mistakes like forgetting to italicize a news source when using attribution and it’s likely my editor thinks I’ve never been taught AP style. But I’m getting there, and someday, I’ll get it like I did with riding a bike.
As writers, we all fear failure, especially when we’re first starting out. When we take risks that aren’t well-received, we slink into a state of insecurity, or anger, or hurt. It’s only natural. However, what we have to realize is that it’s all a part of the process; and even at our worst, we’re on the path to becoming the best in our chosen craft.
So when you’re submitting your work to our magazine or elsewhere, consider this: all great writers weren’t born great writers. They took a chance, made a few errors along the way, listened to the critics, but ultimately never stopped learning, or allowing their insecurities to get the best of them.
As for me, I’ve got a long way to go before then. In the meantime though, I’m still working on pulling off a few more BMX tricks. With a little more practice and a lot less nerves, I’ll get them someday soon.