I fell in love with mountain biking 30 years ago. I’m an expert mountain biker now, but I certainly wasn’t in the early days. Back then, I figured out quickly that if I wanted to get better at the sport, I’d need to learn to fall. I was so hooked on feeling incredibly alive on each ride, this didn’t seem like a big deal.

In mountain biking, there’s a special kind of fall called an “endo” when your front wheel stops rolling forward suddenly, and you’re pitched over the handlebars. Early on, I had endo after endo. Because I was “all in,” those bruises and broken bones looked like an essential part of the learning curve. Not once did I think that all those falls, all that pain, was a reason not to go on a ride again as soon as I could. 

But in my life off the bike, I’ve been afraid to fall. Too often, I’ve convinced myself that looking bad and coming up short should be avoided at all costs. I’m now waking up to how this fear of falling has prevented me from being “all in” on my life. 

A recent “endo” – that took the form of an emotional breakdown – brought this into focus. In a state of deep exhaustion, I behaved very harshly towards colleagues that I really care about. I stewed in feelings of self-pity and indignation. I couldn’t escape the constant barrage of thoughts that filled me with anger and recriminations. I felt crazy.

Eventually my head cleared, and I came back to myself. But not before my ego thrashed about in the well-worn habit of trying not to fall, and, almost comically, denying it when I did go metaphorically flying right over my handlebars. 

What was different this time was that when I dusted myself off, I saw the gift of my fall. Being “all in” on mountain biking has meant that falling, even if it hurts, is part of learning and part of the joy of sometimes getting to feel free as a bird. And what cracked open for me was seeing that being “all in” on life means that screwing up, making mistakes, even if it stings, is part of living and part of the joy of being alive. 

For the first time that I could remember, I forgave myself. And then, in a flash of insight, I felt that feeling I know so well, of climbing back on my bike, and getting on with doing something I love.