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The Joy of Getting it Wrong

When our fears come true we become free from the hold they have over us.

I finally laced the back wheel for my motorcycle project. I’d laced the front wheel a few months back, right after I moved into the apartment across from the park.

It was the easiest wheel I’d ever laced, being as I’m used to lacing bicycle wheels where there’s a bit more complexity to the spoke layering pattern. On a motorcycle wheel, everything is drilled at a specific angle and there’s no complicated interweaving of spokes, so it’s pretty straight forward.

I was afraid to do the back wheel though. The two sides of the hub weren’t symmetric and I couldn’t figure out which side went to which side of the rim. The drill pattern on the rim was ever so slightly different from one side to the other, but I couldn’t quite figure out how that matched up with the hub.

So I put it off. The front wheel sat there, waiting to be tensioned and have fresh rubber put on. And the back rim and hub sat too. Sadly separated and lonely, longing to be joined together into something useful, not just pretty parts.

I was afraid that I’d get it wrong, or that I’d ordered the wrong spokes and it wouldn’t go together properly. So I ignored it. If I never lace it, I’ll never find out that I did something wrong. And then everything will be great.

Pretty clever strategy right? Well, not really. Because I traded the potential for a brief moment of disappointment, where I might need to do some problem solving, for months of subtle anxiety and a stalled project. And when projects stall and we don’t do anything to correct, we start to feel our self confidence deflating and our momentum waning.

The funniest part is this: that moment of disappointment? It wasn’t even disappointing. It was joyous.

I laced it backwards. Meaning I had the hub and the rim flipped 180 from where they were supposed to be. I knew this was a risk, so why was I so happy that it came true?

Because I knew then which way was right. And the fear of getting it wrong no longer had any power over me.

I took the wheel apart, flipped everything around, and re-laced it in under an hour. Now it’s all set for tensioning and truing.

There is freedom in getting things wrong. There is freedom in learning what doesn’t work, because every time you learn what doesn’t work you get one step closer to the truth. You get one step closer to learning what does work.

Benjamin Zander demonstrates a beautiful practice for this. When you make a mistake, or when something goes poorly, train yourself to immediately raise your hands, put on a face of curiosity and wonderment and say “how fascinating!!!”

Train is the key word here. You need to make a practice of this in order to reap the benefits.

Now, a lot of people are still wrapped up in their fears and insecurities. They don’t yet know the freedom of getting it wrong. And if you screw something up they will not go “how fascinating!” They will panic and say “how did this happen??? We need to fix this right away, this is not okay, you are not okay.”

But this is just their fears talking, not the truth. This is a good opportunity for you to practice.

You can choose to remain curious and joyful and free, or you can choose to let their insecurities trigger your insecurities. I’m not saying it’s easy, nor am I saying I choose perfectly every time, but with practice it becomes less effortful to stay joyful amidst pessimists.

My wish for you is that some small fear of yours comes true today, and when it does you find clarity and freedom. That you choose to be curious and joyful and continue taking one step closer to the truth. And that this keeps happening day after day, until your default state is to walk towards your fears, not away from them.

If you’re afraid of being exposed as a fraud, I hope someone calls you a fraud. Because in that moment you’ll realize that you’re not, and you’ll be freed from that fear.

When your deepest fears come true and you find that you’re still fundamentally okay, you realize that your fears aren’t actually big scary monsters to avoid. They’re helpful guides on your journey, to be befriended and smiled at.

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