A story about pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do

My youngest niece is learning to stand up. She’s ten months old. She can already crawl well, and she learned to pull herself up on convenient furniture or a friendly adult months ago. Now, she can achieve the vertical unassisted and balance there, for a few seconds, before plopping back down again on her diapered hind end.

While she stands there, wobbling, or sometimes after she lands, she says “Whoa!” It might count as her first word.

She can’t walk unassisted yet, though she can take steps if she has something to hold on to. She’s been known to use a plastic chair or a laundry basket as a walker. The problem might be that her wide-legged, stay-low-for-balance stance makes walking impossible as yet. But she’ll get there. And we’re all very impressed. We clap and cheer and she smiles.

The adventures of an almost-walking baby may seem like a strange topic for a website normally focused on sports, but really, it’s kind of the same thing. My niece is developing her muscles and coordination. She’s taking risks, and she’s literally getting back up after she falls. She has a goal that she’s highly motivated to achieve. She even has cheering fans.

Almost anything you can learn about business from sports you can also learn from a growing, learning baby. Whether you’re trying to win the Super Bowl or taking your new, successful business public, or simply trying not to fall flat on your diapered bum, you have to push yourself. Failures and set-backs aren’t an if but a when, and they’re not necessarily a bad sign. Learning to walk involves falling down a lot. It’s just part of the process. If you never fall, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough, and you’re probably not learning.

A certain amount of fear is part of the process, too, and not just fear of falling (my niece does not appear to mind falling—she doesn’t have very far to fall, so it doesn’t hurt). You’re trying something you’ve never done before, so you can’t be sure you’re even capable of it. After all, there are people who can’t win sports championships. There are people who can’t succeed in business. There are people who can’t walk. And if it turns out you are one of the people who has what it takes, what is that going to mean about your life? What comes next? What do you do with this new power?

Years ago, I briefly became someone who couldn’t walk when I wrecked my bike and broke my pelvis. After the break healed, I had to build my muscles up again. My physical therapist gave me exercises and told me that, when I used my crutches, instead of swinging my legs forward together, I should use a walking motion. There was a week or two when I was almost strong enough, when I just needed my crutches—or convenient furniture or a friendly person—to take a little of my weight so I could take a few steps. And then there was the night I was just crutching along across an open field and I lifted my crutches to take the next step and I forgot to put them down again. Suddenly, I was walking, really walking, for the first time in three months, not even sure how I was doing it. It felt a lot like flying.

It also felt a lot like the realization that I’ve been making my living as a writer and editor (I even have a published novel!) for five years now. I’m doing it! I have a career!

Pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do–risking, falling, trying again, learning, and growing–these are not just athlete things. They’re not just professional things. They’re not just baby things.

They’re human things.


A guest post by Caroline Ailanthus 

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash