Rip The Training Wheels Off

training wheels

Are we ever really ready? Self doubt is an emotion that is unique to humans and some types of monkeys. It can be a paralyzing emotion that limits the experiences that we have and can oftentimes prevent us from reaching our full potential.

I will be the first to admit that I am very guilty of this emotion and I am certain there have been times in my life when it has cost me opportunities or given me undue stress. Why do we doubt ourselves so much and why are we so afraid of failing?

Unfortunately, I think self-doubt is an emotion that is gradually acquired as we progress from infancy to adolescence to adulthood. Have you ever watched an infant learn to walk? They fail miserably, hundreds, maybe thousands of times before getting it right. But for some reason as we grow older we start to doubt ourselves more and more. And we don’t attempt to do anything that could result in us not succeeding the first time, let alone something that might take hundreds or thousands of times to master.

In his book best-selling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” We as educators know this and yet we often behave as if we don’t. And those of us in leadership positions need to remember this and help our staff to feel comfortable taking chances and making mistakes.

Gladwell further went on to mention that “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”  While this may true, it is this very premise that often paralyzes us. Too often we think we must be experts at something before we are willing to take that next step. So we never do.

Well, yesterday during a parent conference I had an eye-opening experience that helped give me a little nudge. During the conference the parent was discussing her concerns about her son learning how to ride a bike. She had always had concerns about her son’s development and riding a bike was something that she thought would take him quite some time to learn. Her son’s bike had training wheels and she figured he would need them for quite some time. But then something amazing happened.

She came home one day to see that her son’s bike no longer had training wheels. Apparently one of his friends had decided to take them off. Without anyone’s permission. And it worked! He can now ride the bike without training wheels. All because a child thought it might be possible.

How many opportunities have we missed because we were paralyzed with self-doubt? If we are waiting to be experts before we take a chance then we are going to be waiting a long time. Ten thousand hours according to the experts cited by Gladwell.

doubt your limits


My advice for others and myself:

  • “Don’t wait for the perfect moment because you might just miss it!”
  • “Hurry up and make mistakes!
  • “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Ask a kid what they think you should do. They have less doubt and may know better.”
  • “Rip the training wheels off and take a chance! You might fall, but you might just ride off into the sunset!”





  1. Jon, I had training wheels until I was SEVEN. I’m still afraid of falling, especially on rocky downhill mountain biking, as I flipped over the handlebars and got a hematoma in my thigh in 200..7? I think we’re afraid of failing because it might really hurt – a lot. And it takes a lot to get back into the (bike) saddle again. But I get it, and I’ll do what I can to share experiences where I’ve failed so that others may not… or if they do, they can have a “next step” ready for them when they get up. 🙂 Again, thanks for another thoughtful post!

  2. Jon,
    Great post! I think another reason for our hesitancy to try new things may relate to our mindset. As Carol Dweck points out in her book, Mindset, those with fixed mindsets often do not try new things because of their fear of failure. Instead of looking at failure as an opportunity to learn and grow as those with a growth mindset do, individuals with a fixed mindset look at that as the end and a reflection on their abilities. They do not try new things because they do not feel that they need to, they are already as good as they are going to be in a specific area of their life, and therefore see nothing positive that can come from branching out. As the parent in your conference pointed out, her son was not afraid of taking those training wheels off because of an innate desire to grow, much like those that identify with a growth mindset.
    I think Dweck’s work has numerous implications for the classroom, and as she points out, we can learn how to develop a growth mindset at any point in our lives.
    Thanks for writing this post, it was very thought provoking.

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