Dear children, there is something that I want you to remember when you are older: life is like riding a bicycle, and—to succeed to the best of your ability—you must find your center of gravity, otherwise you will inevitably fall down.

When you were younger, you didn’t know how to ride a bicycle, however, this is a skill that I helped you learn:

  • first we removed the training wheels from your bicycle;
  • secondly, clad in protective clothing and gear, you straddled the machine—the weight of the bicycle may have felt unusual, as you never needed to support the sway in either direction;
  • having selected a safe flat area (usually in a park or school lot), I taught you to peddle while I ran beside you;
  • you may not have known this, but my hand was perched underneath the bicycle seat as I ran beside you, although I never grasped the bicycle for you, and you did all of the work;
  • when your speed increased, as well as your confidence, and you found your center of gravity, I removed my hand entirely;
  • for the first few attempts, I permitted you to fall, and sometimes that resulted in scrapes or bruises;
  • eventually, you found your own center of gravity, learning to shift the weight of the machine on your own, peddling and braking as needed;
  • finally, you didn’t need me to help balance or spot you, you became mobile on your own.

The journey of life is like a man riding a bicycle. We know he got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop and get off. We know that if he stops moving and does not get off he will fall off. ~ William Golding

As a teenager, you will need to discover and realize your own identity—from hobbies to interests, from personal style to lists of things you loathe. You will need to try new experiences to find what you’re interested in, and sometimes that’s not an easy endeavor.

The world is your’s to explore: sushi, chicken noodle soup, or eggs over easy; black coffee, sweet iced tea, skim milk, or Dr. Pepper over ice; vegetarian, omnivore, or carnivore; summer at the beach, winter in Pennsylvania; automatic engine, manual stick-shift, classic or state-of-the-art vehicle; blue, white, pink, green, or no collar; blonde, brunette, or ginger; preppy, punk, athletic, nerdy; and the preferences and choices of life go on and on. These components represent the “I” in your identity. This fact-finding process will be the roadmap that you follow to get to adulthood.

Spoiler alert: sometimes you have to complete this exercise once again when you’re a parent, and you’ve lost your sense of self or way in this mixed-up, confusing world.

Once you figure out who you are and what you want to spend your time doing, you will have to focus on that goal. Sometimes that requires sacrifice and dedication, allowing other interests to fall away in importance. Spend some time researching occupations, learning about a potential career in the future. Find something that you’re really interested in, as it will consume the majority of your life. It’s never too early to begin to plan, to find your own balance in the world, but don’t forget to dream along the way.

Failure is the most difficult lesson that you will learn. The world around you will tell you that failure is a negative component in life—that you’ve done something horrible—but they are wrong. To fail is to incrementally learn, and to eventually succeed. Without failure, you cannot personally grow on a physical, emotional, or spiritual level. Prepare yourself for the scrapes and bruises; they are inevitable steps in the process.

Don’t forget to admit, to yourself, when you’ve failed. Failure without realization is a missed opportunity for self-improvement.

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. ~ Johnny Cash

There is one final word of warning on the topic of balance. Just like on a bicycle it’s easy to lean too far to one side or the other, losing your balance, shifting your center of gravity, and falling—metaphorically speaking, of course. As an adult, you may push your occupation in front of your family or spouse, seeking the financial reward that hard work and dedication promises, or possibly pursue professional kudos and accolades that justify a workaholic mentality.

In my career, there’s many things I’ve won and many things I’ve achieved, but for me, my greatest achievement is my children and my family. It’s about being a good father, a good husband, just being connected to family as much as possible. ~ David Beckham

Fathers who diligently work to support their families, yet sacrifice a physical presence in the lives of their children, are not properly balancing all of life’s demands. Find your balance, to find your way. A life unbalanced is easily visible to the outside world and to your family, but sometimes difficult to recognize yourself.

Author’s note: with the impending cold weather and snow, I opted to photograph one of my favorite images, captured with a pinhole camera for my instructional manual, rather than pulling my own bicycle from the garage.