This is Why You’re Scared

You’re scared because you shouldn’t be doing it.

This is what I wanted to say to the woman in front of me, but I held back. I was leading a free group ride, which, as is often the case, had devolved into an informal skills clinic. This woman wanted to session a rock feature, and I wasn’t being very encouraging, because from an objective point of view, I didn’t think she should be doing it. She was scared, and upset that I wasn’t telling her she should totally send it, and then further upset that other women had ridden the feature. She felt that my role as a ride leader was to spot her and help her work up the courage to try the feature. I felt differently. I felt like my role was to keep everyone safe.

This isn’t the rock feature in this story, but you get the idea.

“I’ve wanted to do this for ages,” she told me, “and I thought I could do it with your help.” Implied: you’re supposed to be instructing me and now you’re refusing and I’m pissed.

At this moment I really missed my skills coach Lee (Lee Likes Bikes). This is exactly why Macky and I don’t teach formal clinics or private lessons on our own — we did do a skills clinic with Lee in October — because we need not only his skills but his thousands of hours of experience in telling people *NOT* to do things. Lee would straight up tell this woman what I didn’t have the guts to say — you don’t have the skills for this. Move. On.

And yet, here we were, arguing over a small rock feature, on what was supposed to be a casual just for fun no-drop group ride.

Her: “Doesn’t this scare you? Why doesn’t this scare you? I just don’t understand how you psych yourself up to ride things like this. ”

Me: No, it doesn’t scare me. I’ve ridden lots of things like this. But you shouldn’t do it if you’re scared.

[In my head: It doesn’t scare me because I’ve ridden way worse things than this 1000s and 1000s of times. Because I’ve spent hours and hours and days and days and months and months working on my skills and it finally paid off. Because I’ve been racing professionally for four years. So, no, lady, this does not scare me, and no I do not have to psych myself up for it. But it’s not because I’m brave. It’s because I’ve put in the damn work and you’ve done maybe one skills clinic ever, yet you’re mad at yourself for not being able to do a challenging rock roll. GET REAL.]

Her: I just need to push through the fear. I’m such a wimp. I can’t believe things like this scare me.

Me: Why don’t you come back to this another day? It’s not going anywhere.

Her: I have to do it. I don’t know why it scares me. I should be able to do it. I hate how much I suck.

Me: Beating yourself up isn’t going to help.

On and on and on.

She never rode the thing. I don’t care that she didn’t ride the thing; in fact I’m pretty relieved that she didn’t. I can’t say I’ve never been this person — the person losing their damn mind because something scares them — I most certainly have — but this experience was a wake up call as to how AWFUL it is to watch someone else talk down to themselves, especially when you can see that they are totally unaware of how counterproductive this habit is. And I felt bad that she was using me as barometer of whether this feature should be considered scary or not. What scares us is a function of our experience. Nothing is “objectively” scary. What’s scary to a beginner rider is not scary to me. What’s scary to me, often isn’t scary to Macky. And what’s scary to Macky probably isn’t very scary to the guys that throw themselves off 75ft cliffs at Redbull Rampage. Perspective, and experience, is everything.

Mainly though, I was irritated, because I saw for the first time how this sort of negative self talk, beyond just being unpleasant to listen to, stands in the way of actual, useful progression. I was willing to offer this person helpful instruction on something that was at her level, but she was far too caught up in what she couldn’t do and what she “thought” she should be able to do, to take advantage of that. Ironic as it sounds, that sort of self-deprecating negativity is a way of protecting the ego, and I knew, watching this scenario go down, that I have been guilty of similar patterns far too many times.

I spent my first year of racing beating myself up for not being as fast as many of the women I raced with. I thought, for whatever totally addled reason, that I “should” have been faster, than I should be as fast as these women who had been racing and training for years. How insulting, I realize now, that I thought I deserved to be anywhere near their level. I hadn’t put in the work. I didn’t have the experience. I hadn’t earned it, so I didn’t get it. Simple as that.

When you’re giving yourself a hard time, and telling yourself you “suck” and you “should” be able to do something, more often than not you are protecting your ego. Somehow, it’s easier for our egos to handle thinking “I’m a talentless fuck-up” than to realize “I just need to spend more time on this.” Because if you think “I just need to spend more time on this” you have to accept that you have to commit and practice, and that results and progression are not just going to fall in your lap. If you think “I need to spend more time on this” then, well, you have to do something about it. And it opens you up to all sorts of worse fears. Like, what if I put it the work to learn this and I still suck?

It takes incredible courage to accept where you are, and to accept that others are better than you — not because they are more talented, but because they have put in more work. You’re not scared because you’re a worthless human and a terrible bike rider. You’re scared because you are not there yet. And that’s entirely okay.

Related Posts:

If you want to get faster, get faster
How to get better at being bad at things
Stop saying sorry

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

more here

6 thoughts on “This is Why You’re Scared

  1. Syd,
    Thank you for your wonderful posts. You are a beautiful, talented young lady. Maybe it is that I have gone through my 85th year so I am supposed to be to old to care but your very talented writing didn’t seem to need the F- word. Thank you very much for sharing your talents.
    Thanks again,

  2. My take on this is multi-faceted.
    I hear so many women (sometimes men, but usually women) talk down to themselves, apologize, & (this is my counselor’s term) “should” all over themselves in activities that are supposed to be fun – biking, climbing, boating, yoga…the list doesn’t end. I’m constantly reminding myself not to participate in my own self-condemnation, so I get it. And I also recently read a fascinating article reaching into the psyche of women based on cultural expectations. Boys are encouraged to fail forward. Girls are discouraged from taking risks. As a grown woman, learning to fail forward is more like erasing all of my previous education than it is a simple epiphany. I certainly wouldn’t encourage someone to do something if they are legit scared, but what is more important is saying “Hey! You’re doing something really cool & getting better at it with every pedal stroke! Give yourself credit!”
    Next, I sometimes need that extra encouragement or push to do something I’ve been avoiding. Other times, there’s a damn good reason I’m avoiding it, & that’s because my head isn’t in the game, or my skills aren’t up to par. It’s up to me to make that decision. When my friends, boyfriend, or anyone else encourages me to do something I’m hesitant to do, I have to ask myself if it is a good risk, or just a risk. I have to admit that there are a lot of good risks I didn’t take until someone encouraged me to take them & talked me through taking them. In addition, I’ve taught myself to walk past sketchy drops all the while reciting “Ain’t no shame in the walking game.” Some of these drops I have conquered, some I’m still studying, but what I do know is if I’m scared, it doesn’t matter if I have the skill. If my mind is muddled by fear, I’m likely to make a costly mistake.
    Lastly, & maybe you did this, be sure to stress to your group riders that it is just that – a ride. You might give some advice, unsolicited or requested, but that’s because you want to see others do well, not because you are conducting a clinic. I can imagine riders who look up to you want more of your time & attention that you can give when you’re just out on the bike for a fun day, so they may need that extra reminder. “We’re here to have fun! Let’s only do/say things that feel good, today!”

    • Thanks for these thoughts, Jonea. Yes, it is a fine line between being “good scared” — i.e. feeling uncomfortable because we are outside our comfort zone — and so scared that we are fighting back those instinctual panic responses. The former makes us better, and the latter can lead to making really bad mistakes.

  3. I feel like this experience really highlights the ongoing challenge for anyone who is process focused and committed to personal growth. You want to be understanding of and have compassion for the person you were before but it’s a LOT of work and you really have to come up with some good strategies to redirect not so productive tendencies. “Yes, the electrical outlet looks like it was made to hold a butter knife. Great observation but let’s plug in a toaster and make toast instead!”

    It’s understandable why both of you were frustrated. I mean on the one hand you have a handful of folks treating bike riding as process based. On the other hand you have just about everyone else who just wings it. Especially the friend who has been riding half as long as you have and just does this stupid scary roll as a drop and makes it look easy. Or the person who has been riding forever but isn’t great at coaching so they’re helpless to help you and just like rode bikes a lot until they were pretty good at it. There are endless emotional traps. It’s a crazy making scenario and I think it can take a real leap of faith to escape it and continual work to stay escaped :)

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