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Let Go of the Brakes

unsplash-logoMay Lawrence

“I want to buy a bicycle, can you please take me?” My 86 year old grandfather asked me that on a Fall day.  “I’ve never had a bike and I want to get one now.” 

At 86, he’d been 4 years into an almost full recovery from a stroke he suffered at 82.  Still, he walked to Publix every day, sometimes twice - a 4 mile round-trip trek.  And it wasn't like he donned some comfortable, breathable exercise clothes to go on a leisurely stroll in sunny South Florida. He wore a button-down long sleeve shirt, buttoned all the way to the top, long pants (because no self-respecting man should wear short pants), sneakers. and a fedora or a white and black captain’s hat.  In Florida's two seasons -- hot and very hot -- this wasn't the "comfortable" choice.

He had to be dressed the way he had to be dressed; no doubt a result of his many years in the military.

“If I get a bicycle (he meant a tricycle) I can go to Publix and bring back the groceries in the little basket and it would be easier for me." A fair point. So off we went to Niagara Bike Shop, a staple of the central Miami area for years.  It was an hour away from where we lived, but it was the best place we knew about for buying bikes. Three hundred or so dollars later, he beamed as I packed the pieces and box into my trunk, heading home with his new ride.

Within a few hours, it was built and ready.  He looked like a little kid on Christmas morning.  It was parked for a few days. He probably didn't want to break it in and ruin its "newness." I definitely got that from him. 

It was typical for me to find him on his walk back as I headed home with the kiddos after school or extracurriculars.  On this particular day, we spotted him about a mile from Publix in the back-home direction.  We were so excited to see that he was on his trike. He was moving slowly, but I didn't think much of it considering he was -- oh, I dunno -- 86 years old.  We pulled up next to him to celebrate with him.  When we exited the car, he found him extremely tired, barely able to breath, his face beet red from the ride and sweat beads running down from everywhere.  “Are you okay?” I asked.  His response, as always, was “like the flowers in the Spring," although it didn’t look that way.  He told me he didn’t realize it was so hard to ride this bike and that he felt something might be wrong with it because it was such a struggle for him to peddle, feeling like something was just not right and that it wasn’t as smooth as it had been on his ride to Publix.

I checked the tires. Perhaps there had been a flat somewhere? Some kind of chain gone missing? I looked around until I noticed that he was holding the handle bars with a white-knuckle grip on the brakes. 

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I asked him if he’d been riding the entire time pressing on both brakes. Confirmed.  It broke my heart to think of him struggling there, wondering whether or not it was the bike or his age or a thousand other reasons it could have been such a tough trek. I asked him to let go of the brakes and peddle a bit. No surprise -- that fixed his problem. He looked exhausted, of course, and with another mile remaning before he would reach home, I asked if he wanted a ride back. Without hesitation he agreed, not even really caring about what would happen to his bike at the moment.  

I somehow managed with the kids’ help to put enough of that ginormous tricycle half in and half sticking out of the trunk of my Volvo to get him and his bike home.  He laid down for a nap and I wheeled his tricycle to the backyard, where it stood and rusted away, never to be used again.  I suppose he was turned off by the experience and any encouragement to have him try again was futile.

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This memory popped into my head the other day during a Mindscape class. It occurred to me how many of my friends and coachees are going through life with the brakes on.  Things become difficult, we don’t understand why we’re not gaining the traction that we should because we’re ‘peddling’ but not really getting anywhere.  We feel we’re exhausting ourselves with effort to get to where we’re going. We get overwhelmed, we get turned off. Then we stop trying, we jump off, give up on a dream, just quit because it’s too damn hard.  What we’re not doing is checking to make sure we’re not pressing on the brakes, even subconciously.

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This was a great lesson I learned from my grandfather and his trike and I’ve learned to ask myself a few very important questions because of it:Is my traction reflective of the work I’m putting in or rather, is my work providing the results that I need.  If not, something’s got to change.

  1. Am I just peddling, even at a struggle, for the sake of peddling and a not really seeing that finish line drawing closer?  Sometimes we give ourselves credit for the busyness of our lives but not for the productivity.  There’s a difference, trust me.
  2.  If I’m not where I should be - what is holding me back? What is standing in the way? Am I holding onto my own brakes without realizing it?

If you're struggling with reaching your goals, ask yourself these questions. Explore the truth and go in-depth. Sometimes, we get in our own way when the road ahead is ready for a smooth ride.

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