Someone smart once said to me that self-deprecation and an outsize sense of responsibility were expressions of ego. Just as one who always sees themselves as the best has an ego problem, so does one who always sees themselves as the worst.
So, last week my wife said to me, “I like skiing with you.” We have been together for 30 years, and I have a pretty poor track record of having people I’m related to enjoy doing outdoor activities with me, with the prime example being bike riding, so I was pretty elated to hear I hadn’t yet ruined skiing for her.
For a long time, I blamed myself for my family’s disinterest in riding bikes, and it is true that I had the wrong expectations for them, that I was impatient, that I was overly ambitious, that I failed, often, to meet them where they were on the bike. But also, it’s not really my fault.
So why aren’t the people I love avid bike riders? This is a thing I’ve thought about a lot, not just recently, but over a period of years, and the explanations I’ve come up with have evolved. Yes, I failed to ride down to their levels. I was less generous than I needed to be. Those things are true to some degree, but they don’t tell the whole story.
The thing is, what captures people’s imagination, what they love or learn to love, is really up to them. They didn’t need me around to start liking bikes and my being around didn’t actually prevent them from loving to ride. It was a thing I really wanted, and that it didn’t happen leads to self-recriminations, but that’s an ego reflex.
I’m not controlling my family. I’m not forcing them to do or not do things. I am not the critical factor.
In fact, I think, ultimately, my influence on them is more passive than active. Riding bikes is my thing. It’s a big job to come as far up the curve with cycling as I have, and that’s maybe more than anyone wants to take on unless they’re sure it’s their thing too. And it’s just not. They like other stuff.
Skiing is not my thing, or more accurately, we all took it up at the same time. We all started in the same place and got to learn it together, and that made the job of figuring it out much less daunting. Additionally, I have tried to dial myself way back on skiing. I’m no expert, and when I get to ski with my family I just ski, often wherever and however they want to. It’s much less freighted.
And look, there are external factors too. Where we live, it’s densely populated and there’s a lot of traffic. Riding a bike around, if you’re not really into it, is intimidating. My point here is just to say that I’m not a bad person because my family doesn’t love bike riding. I’m just a regular, imperfect person, and it helps to recognize that, in addition to being expensive, the barriers to entry for new cyclists are not insignificant.
As partners and parents, we are over-invested in outcomes for our loved ones. We want them to see what we see, feel what we feel, share the things that are most dear to us. But each of us has an imagination that will be captured by some facet of life. There are a lot of things to do. Bike riding, although obviously the best one, is still just one of them.