When I see “March” appear on my calendar, a smile appears on my face.
That’s because for the past twelve years on the second weekend of March my husband and I head to Utah for the Skinny Tire Festival, a delightful bike event with big scenery and an even bigger mission to raise money for cancer treatment and research. Over the years, the Festival has come to mean so many things to us— a break from work, a way to contribute to the wellbeing of others, a good time with friends, and, you likely guessed it, the start of our cycling season.
The organizers, Beth Logan and Mark Griffith, asked me to provide the festival keynote this year—something short and inspiring for the gathering of cyclists at a dinner during the event. I felt honored to be asked. In preparing for the presentation, I also realized: I’ve discovered some of the best things in life on two wheels.
Here are five truths I’ve learned from the seat of my bike:
Truth 1: The best way to fully engage is to know when to disengage. Sounds counterintuitive, I know. Yet, this truth has served me well. In our oftentimes crazy-making lives, it’s easy to disconnect with what it means to thrive; we can live in such an energy deficit that it becomes our norm. However, there’s another possibility for life and work: to end a project (or a bike ride) with as a much energy or more then when you started. This means making wellbeing equally as important as achieving your goals, plus honoring the recovery time required for a stellar and sustainable performance.
Truth 2: A clear purpose can fuel the extraordinary. I’ve always loved author Kevin Cashman’s definition of purpose: Purpose is spirit seeking expression. On more occasions than I can count, having a clear purpose has been the fuel I needed to keep pedaling on an ouch-this-is-long bike ride because the cause was greater than myself or to stay motivated on a work project that seemed to be taking forever to complete. A larger raison d’être gives our decisions and actions deeper meaning and is frequently the difference between ordinary and extraordinary organizations, projects, and teams.
Truth 3: Things break. Fear crops up. How you respond sets the direction for what comes next. Relationships break apart. Work projects break down. Or, in my case, bones broke in what felt like a million pieces when I flew off the bike and hit the pavement full force. It took me at least six months to ride again. But, I knew I had to. After the wreck, I could hear myself retelling my bike crash story with more and more charge; if I didn’t get back on the saddle, my nervousness could become a full-blown anxiety preventing me and my husband from realizing our dream to ride bikes across the USA. In life, as on the bike, fear is natural; facing it instead of avoiding makes all the difference.
Truth 4: Real thriving is an inside job. When we wait for our circumstances to change so that we finally experience wellbeing, we forget that wellbeing has been within us all along. This truth is simple: the capacity for thriving is an innate part of every person, and it’s just waiting to be tapped. I learned that lesson (again!) on a 33-mile bike ride on a steep incline up to 10,000 feet, finding that the only thing required for shifting gears from irritation to liberation was a change within me.
Truth 5: Celebrating each other makes it all worthwhile. When a group of family and friends completed a 350-mile ride from D.C. to Pittsburgh, we ended our ride with smiles and a collective fist bump. That little gesture was our way of saying, “We did it! WE ROCK!” And why not? Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “People of our time are losing the power of celebration.” I agree. No matter how large or small a success, why not underscore it by appreciating people, honoring progress, acknowledging mistakes overcome and something new learned, or expressing gratitude? When we celebrate people and experiences, we circumscribe them with a field of positive energy, worthy of pause and praise. And we make life and work worthwhile.