Lose Your Balance
What I learned about life from falling off a garage on purpose
A challenge that couldn’t be ignored
I was trying to get comfortable with the idea that I was about to walk off the roof out into empty space.
Dizzy with fear, I stood at the edge of the garage, peering over the leaf-filled gutter to the pavement sixteen feet below.
But I couldn’t make myself do it.
For obvious reasons—having to do with pesky urges about wanting to live and such.
But the thing was, I knew that I had to do this eventually. The prospect of meeting this challenge was too damn thrilling to pass up. “What challenge?”—you’re probably wondering.
Riding a unicycle that was taller than that garage.
Obsessed and overconfident
I was a 17-year-old athlete and daredevil. Obsessed with showing off in any way I could—I had mastered a six-foot-high unicycle and wanted a bigger one.
I scoured back issues of juggling, unicycling, and stunt magazines looking at ads for circus equipment without success. And then, by chance, a friend of my mother mentioned having seen a “giant” unicycle collecting dust in the garage of a neighbor.
This was too good to be true.
A kid like me had convinced his parents to order a custom-built, 12-foot-tall, unicycle. It was shipped to his home and he intended to ride it, but when the time came—he was too afraid to follow through.
Judging his fear, I knew I would be the one to tame the beast. I had this much confidence in my own confidence.
A meeting was arranged. I may not have even slept the night before. Finally laying eyes on it leaning up against the side of the kid’s garage—a freakish pole with a single skinny seat that hovered at the level of the black-shingle roof—my adrenals started priming my nervous system for the challenge.
Like a musician finding a perfect instrument, or a farm boy taking the reins of his own first horse, I walked up and finally took the dream machine into my hands. The jutting perch above my head was the Everest I was about to conquer.
Cocky and assured, I followed the kid into his house, up to the second floor, out his bedroom window, and over to the roof of the garage, where the seat could be mounted.
Oh . . . shit.
I hadn’t expected the one-wheeled machine to look three times taller from above than it did from the ground.
Now I knew why the kid had bailed, and if I had any sense of my own, I would’ve traced my way back through his window, and down a sane set of stairs.
My judgment was impaired as I had been drinking excessive amounts of pride.
All four of our parents were on the ground watching. I hemmed and hawed, shaking inside, pretending to survey angles and wind speed and such, but—in actuality—stalling.
Finally, as I managed to straddle the seat, one foot still on the roof, the other on one pedal of the monster, my head was now 16 feet above the cement.
Considering how to push off, catch my balance, and ride it down the concrete driveway—there was nothing but unyielding terror.
I don’t mean to get all Zen and the Art of Unicycle Maintenance on you, but unicycling is just like life.
Unicycling, as a process, can only occur under one circumstance.
The first thing you have to do on a unicycle is literally—fall off of it.
It’s the commitment to being off-balance, leaning into the void, that grants you the privilege of movement as you pedal to catch up with where you’re going; attempting to restore the order of uprightness to your teetering form, but never quite succeeding.
Because the moment you succeed, the process stops. Once you’re in a safe and perfect equilibrium—your adventure comes to an end.
Balance, my friends, is overrated.
And yet my brain clung to the security of balance like a marsupial to the belly of its mother; my mind creating a prison of safety that my spirit wanted to transcend.
There were long jagged cracks in the aging driveway. I imagined my body creating a new web of fissures upon my impact. I had to get a grip. I took a deep breath, trying to find an ember of excitement in the ashes of my dread.
Minutes earlier, I’d pictured myself parading down the street with my head held high. If only I could find the courage to push off, I’d be in charge of my own flight, soaring over the ant-people who’d stand agape as I passed, awed by my bravery and skill.
As with all dreams passionately pursued, I had reached the moment of maximum tension—like before the writer hits publish, before the groom says “I do,” before a speaker takes the stage—where anything resembling control and balance must be sacrificed for entry into the hallowed halls of one’s future. Here I’d have to push my way over a last hard edge with the grit of my own resolve, without a final affirmation or guarantee—of anything—and commit to the fall.
The more I thought about it, the worse the shaking in my body was going to get, eventually compromising my motor system beyond hope of meeting the challenge. So, in a final act of blind faith, I pushed off the roof and into the void.
Where is your edge?
As it turned out, it wasn’t a tall unicycle I had to tame. It was my own mind. I learned it’s not pride or bravado that fuels our dreams, but the willingness to shake and tremble in the dark end of a tunnel as we grope our way toward a distant light.
Earning the capacity to ride this beast was a rite of passage that changed my life, opening unimaginable doors that led over time to world travel as a performer and corporate speaker.
I found ways to re-stage the thrill of that moment, mounting the unicycle in public street shows and corporate events on the backs and shoulders of volunteers; even performing it once in a thunderstorm. The routine thrilled tourists, children, locals, lawyers, bankers, and the hungry homeless without distinction—because this wasn’t just a moment in a circus show. It was a story about what each of us do at the edge of ourselves, and how we meet our own challenges and risks.
And what about you? To be human is to stand on the edge of some next brave and beckoning step. Where is your edge right now?
Are you happily out of balance, or suffering the safety of some familiar stability? What door do you long to walk through, and yet still to this day know only the unopened side?
With a little practice you’ll find innumerable ways to unlock hidden blessings with the sacrifice of your balance. You’ll know the moment when it arrives.
Just waiting for your child to tie his shoes at his own pace without rushing him along, asking a new friend for help, or cooking a meal that feels beyond your skill might be how you lean beyond mediocrity and tease the waiting magic out of an ordinary day.
Who knows what adventure you might unleash?
Perhaps you’ll even leave the safety of your anonymity and risk sharing your thoughts with an author who is crazy enough to jump off a roof.
Lose your balance.
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Haha this is so meta! The call to action is literally post a comment! That is brilliant!
I really loved your piece Rick! The way you discribing trusting the void to give you movement, and how balance is overrated, made me really motivated to lean in my edge.
I enjoyed reading your piece, and I will save it to my favourites, to keep revisiting when I need to be reminded!