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I Fell Out of a Tree

Sometimes you have to fall.

By Blake A SwanPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 12 min read
Top Story - September 2021
I Fell Out of a Tree
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

When I was 10 years old, I fell out of a tree. Perhaps not my finest moment. I remember feeling the sudden pull of gravity. Now, gravity was an old friend of mine. We had a mutual understanding until this point. Today it was the day I finally learned who’s the boss.

Yes, I leaned back, and I deserved to fall. My parents had told me not to climb that tree a dozen times. Time moved so slowly from that point on. What brief life I had lived flashed in front of my eyes as I hit each branch. Flipping over and over as I flew until suddenly I wasn’t flying anymore. Suddenly, I was dying. I hit the ground and knocked all the wind out of my body. Everything hurt, thus my child mind assumed I was at death’s door. Until an overriding feeling took over. I wasn’t supposed to be climbing that tree.

You heard that right. In my little mind, this may well be the end. However, if my mom found out that I got hurt in that tree, then she would actually kill me. I picked myself up off the ground and zombie walked my way back into the house. Which is actually an effective way to sneak around. Made it past them without making a peep and suffered in silence like a good catholic schoolboy. 

Now, I had all the information required to make the right decisions. In my youth, there were several incidents. Getting stuck on my great aunt “Aunties” armoire. Which ended exactly the same way as when I climbed on to the roof of my childhood home with my bare hands. Calling for someone to come and save me. There was a concept of falling being bad, but then again, I had yet to fall. Which leads me to ask, what’s the value of information? 

What I Learned From Falling

Like many of you out there, I was hard-headed when I was young. Of course I listened to the adults. Heard everything that they were saying. Just had nothing to do with what I was doing because, unlike everyone else, I was pretty good. Nothing bad had happened. What else would you expect from a child?

Some people have to learn things the hard way. Took plenty of bumps, but fortunately I was a fairly quick learner. Becoming that annoying child that always had to ask “why?” It made sense that the people who could give explain why in a way that made sense to me I could trust. Even with discipline I was the child that you explained things to and I got it. Made sense to me. My brother that’s a Taurus. Well, that’s a different story. A unique personality. A different learner.

We All Learn Differently

If we all agree that people learn in different ways, what’s the value of information if it’s not presented to you in the optimal way? Everyone knows that person who is a natural mover. Sports, gaming, dancing, anything you throw at them, they can watch and learn. Do it even better than the person who showed them. I was one of those people. A pattern learner. Which helped with anything visual, physical, or auditory. Really useful in sports and a fun party trick. 

A person with that kind of learning pattern can blend well in most situations. It’s not an absolute. Put me in a classroom and I can pick up on the hints the teachers and professors were giving. Other than that, if you just spoke to me, it was easy for me to check out. 

We all Learn at Different Rates.

Do you compute?

By Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

Comprehension is another area where students may differ. Receiving the same information, but it takes longer to digest for some. Think back to the opening credits of Star Wars. I never read through it as a kid. Hell, even as an adult, it took a long time for me to be interested in reading through all of that text. Watching the film, I can pick up on the hints the filmmakers and screenwriters were giving. It doesn’t take a film student to realize that. Another benefit of being a pattern learner. Yet, reading that scroll wasn’t doing it for me. 

Now, coming from a family of educators and higher education, reading was a regular practice. I was familiar with the concept. Just wasn’t the way I preferred to learn information. Think about what that means for anyone who is given information. Is it presented in a way that they prefer to learn? Is it given in a format that allows them to comprehend? Sometimes we need something more. 

Even Video Games Have Tutorials

Experience is the best teacher. It’s interesting that every modern video game has an extensive portion dedicated to showing you how to play. With no chance of failure. Explaining every mechanic to give you the minimum skills required to advance. Even in the game, they’ll show a new challenge along with some explanation of how to defeat them.

By David Dvořáček on Unsplash

As we have been discussing how people prefer to learn and process information, it's all worthless without experience. Every trading school, undergrad, graduate, and doctorate program require labs, internships, and externships. Before they sign off on your education, prove it. In real time, under the microscope and usually with actual professionals in your field. 

You’ve advanced beyond regurgitating information. It’s time to show us what you know. Knowledge is what’s valuable. The information is just the instruction manual. Gives you the framework for what you’re building, but you have to build it. Surrounded by people who’ve been doing it for years and have all the knowledge you need. Which allows them to offer you some wisdom. Saving you precious time and effort as you avoid the mistakes of the past. Rapidly developing into an experienced professional that can handle most any situation… or at least capable of pointing you in the right direction.

Information is how to do it. Knowledge is the why you do it. Wisdom is the what, where, and when to do it.

Fear of Failure

Listen, falling out of a tree wasn’t fun. I didn’t rush back up into the tree… right away. When I returned, I had some concept of falling. That knowledge was useful because I realized my body positioning. Scouted out where I would climb. Started looking before leaping. All thanks to falling. All thanks to failure.

Trying to protect everyone from failure is limiting their ability to gain true knowledge. No feedback in the loop. Stopping a child from receiving a poor grade doesn’t help them. They won’t learn from their mistake. Might not even know that they did anything wrong. How does that end? One day no one will be there to “fix it.” That person will be in a position that’s important. Maybe your mechanic. Maybe your doctor.

By Jane Almon on Unsplash

Imagine my parents running out and putting me back in the tree. Trying to convince me I didn’t “fall,” the tree was poorly designed.

Envision slipping on your front porch. Knocking yourself out. A few hours later, you wake up with no memory of what happened. In order to save your pride, witnesses never mention it. Can’t fix it without telling you why, so every year you take a big fall. Doing more damage as you age until the fall that does serious damage. 

We All See the Same Information

One of the prominent features of the age of information is not being able to remember a damn thing. Directions, phone numbers, important dates, conversations. We rely on technology for all of that. It’s a safety net that’s just another way of preventing us from failing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty great. In the short term. Long term, it creates several problems.

Not Letting People Fail

Nobody likes to lose. It’s a terrible feeling when you don’t get what you want. However, there’s a reason you didn’t get it. It’s an obstacle to overcome, a beast to be slain. In order to do so, there’s going to be some pain. Out of love and kindness, we do our best to spare others from that pain. Like my parents telling me not to climb that tree.

Except, they had to experience that pain in order to gain that knowledge. Remember, we all learn differently. Telling me as a person who needs the experience, needs to see it, not to do it as a child won’t work for me. Even with age, if I never face that pain, well, that ignorance is bliss. Until it catches up. There will come a time when no one can protect you from failure. 

Think about all the college kids with high levels of stress today. How many of them were dragged through school? Parents battling for every grade. When they get to college, that’s gone. They’re on their own and it turns out those A’s don’t come as easy. Suddenly there are consequences. You’re not as smart as you believed. A reality that can be devastating.

By Teslariu Mihai on Unsplash

The value of sports. 

Winning and losing. Eventually, every athlete faces failure. Highschool, college, or if they’re lucky professionally. One day, it won’t be so easy. You’re not the star player anymore. No longer the coaches, darling. Fighting for minutes against people with more skill, more experience, and equal athleticism.

What do you do?

Consequences are Natural

We are born fighting gravity. Poorly of course, but a fight we all conquered. That’s how we crawl, stand, run, then finally walk. Yes, you learn to run before you can walk. Without the balance and coordination, you will tumble forward and fall over, which is actually running. Fun fact of the day.

Children never worry about failing when they learn how to stand. They’ll fail a thousand times before finally balancing. Bending their tiny little legs to lower their center of gravity. Widening their base. Basically, they walk like an elderly person. We start in diapers we end in diapers. That’s the value of consequences. 

By yang miao on Unsplash

Even in sports, we fail hundreds of times in practice. That’s why we practice. To learn what we’re doing wrong and perfect our craft. As a coach, when you can’t explain this to your athlete, they never take practice seriously. They don’t have the knowledge. No matter how many speeches we give and motivational posters, the information isn’t as valuable as the experience.

Look at failure in nature. Survival of the fittest. During quarantine, people saw all the birds that don’t make it. It’s not a recent phenomenon. You’re just used to seeing nature when it works out. Even then, we are inclined to save creatures from failure to make ourselves feel better. Which is great except that dying bird was food for that stray cat. That stray cat has a litter of kittens that you may have adopted because of that dying bird. Again, when we never are exposed to the consequences of the actions, we feel compelled to act out of a confident ignorance. Just like a little boy sitting in that tree without a care in the world.

What I Learned

The age of information breeds a false sense of security. Anyone can google. Read an article… well, the summary of the article… at least they watched a YouTube video on it. Doesn’t mean a thing. There’s a reason all these people give out the information for free. Information is easy. The hard part is knowing why that information is important. The knowledge. Of course, they’re always selling you the chance to gain the knowledge which you will then have to buy the wisdom. Meet with a coach or trainer to teach you the how, what, and when of all that information. 

No, you’re not an overnight expert. You will advocate for them with the easy to remember slogan. Makes you look smart enough. Really, you’re just that kid in the tree. Oblivious to so much of the world but quick to show everyone how high you can climb.

Waiting for the people with actual knowledge and wisdom to go inside so you can sneak out and show off to the other kids. Destined to fall on your face just like I did all those years ago. Except now you’re dragging other people down with you.

By Joppe Spaa on Unsplash

Nothing Beats Experience

I’m still falling on my face. It doesn’t feel any better, but it’s part of the process. I’m a hands on learner. Absorbing all the information and knowledge that I can on the quest for wisdom. Approaching it like that baby learning to walk.  

We have to stop pretending that we never fell on our face. Every human being, every single one of us, did at some point. Cried about it too. Until one day when we get older, we pretend like we never failed. Some weird badge of honor, like the kid that never washes their uniform. Be honest, it doesn’t smell right. There are underlying issues you need to address and you’re just as concerned as we are.

I have a fair share of scars. They’re like natures tattoos. A reminder of the lessons you’ll never forget because, despite all the information, you never heeded that warning. Symbolizing knowledge that was earned. The wisdom that you will try to pass on to others so they don’t make the same mistake as you. 

Keep in mind when you do, it requires more than information. I’m a fan of Detroit sports, so trust me, all the information in the world doesn’t stop me from being stupid. Philly, New York, Sacramento, Chicago, there are so many fans that feel that pain. No amount of information could ever change that. It takes experience, years of pain, to know better.

Trust me, I love learning. Please give me all the information you have. I just know that information isn’t enough. Without knowing the application or implication, it’s meaningless. Meant to provoke thought not to give you license to be an expert. Experts have knowledge. They had to gain the experience in their field so you can determine if their knowledge applies to this discussion. A process that is the definition of wisdom.

By Ksenia Kudelkina on Unsplash

Plato’s Cave warned us about the dangers of having some information. Just enough to make us dangerous because we assume that information is enough.

I hope that falling out of a tree all those years ago wasn’t in vain. You can gain wisdom from the failure of a brash kid with no concept of consequences. Sitting in a tree with the information that you shouldn’t sit in a tree.

Putting myself in a position for gravity to give me the hands on knowledge of why you shouldn’t just sit care free in a tree. Gaining wisdom from the ground, from nature, about the consequences of my actions. So if you take anything away from today:

Kids do crazy things. They’re supposed to. It’s how everyone of us learned. It’s what makes everyone of us excellent at what we do and we shouldn’t be robbing them of that.

By the blowup on Unsplash

Interesting in hearing this story? Listen to it on my podcast!


About the Creator

Blake A Swan

NCSA Strength and Conditioning Professional certified as a CSCS, TSAC-F, and CPT. I have my FMS Certification as well, and spent over a decade working with athletes in various sports. Including youth, high school, college, Olympic and Pro.

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