there was a time in the fifth grade where I was walking home with a couple of friends. We were arguing about some stupid thing kids argue about.
I remember getting mad at my friend and crossing the street to avoid him.
While the side of the street we were walking was well-lit, the other side was covered in darkness. As I continued walking alone, stewing my anger in my head, I failed to notice a wire placed around the height of my ankles. For whatever reason, a steel wire was stretched along the sidewalk, right in my path.
My friend yelled out to me, trying to apologize. As I looked over in his direction, my foot got caught in the wire and I hit the concrete like a bag of bricks dropped from the top of a 10-story building. There was no wiggling around in the air, no trying to find my footing; I went from walking to crashing in a matter of milliseconds.
A few moments later, my eyes adjusted and I saw a river of blood flowing from my mouth. Apparently, I fell down direct on my front teeth and smashed them against the pavement. And sure enough, the pain quickly followed.
I started crying and screaming, while my friends rushed over to help me up. They brought me home, where my mom started screamed alongside me once I showed up at her door looking like a character out of a Japanese horror movie.
It was a painful experience, to say the least. But it taught me one important thing: how to fall.
The question I got asked the most after my recovery was: “How come you broke the fall with your teeth? Why didn’t you put your hands up?” And my response was… well, I don’t know why. It’s not like I was expecting to trip in the dark and had practiced my landing in preparation. The whole thing just… happened.
But that question always stuck with me. And being ten years old at the time, I knew there were a lot more falls ahead of me. If there’s one thing I wanted to avoid, it’s repeating my mistakes.
So I fell again. And again. And again. Sometimes from a swing. Sometimes climbing a tree. Sometimes just walking down the street and tripping out of nowhere because, well, I’m a clumsy guy. But each time I fell, my hands were instantly in front of me, ready to break my fall. Even when I crashed from a motorcycle years later and rolled around the pavement, I did my best to break the fall with my arms. It wasn’t a conscious decision, mind you — my body was simply used to it.
Like the quote from Batman Begins says: “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Life is full of falls. Some minor, some major. Some are physical, some psychological, some emotional. A breakup is a fall. Losing your job is a fall. Making a bad decision is a fall.
There’s no way to avoid “the fall”. Hell, a few years after I left my front teeth on a nearby street, I walked head-first into a street lamp while talking to a girl I had a crush on. It hurt like hell and she laughed at me, but hey, I kept moving anyway. Even at that moment, I knew there were more falls to come.
The actual fall hurts, sure. And the actions that lead to that fall matter as well.
But what matters more is how you deal with each fall. Do you learn a lesson from it? Or do you keep shattering your front teeth the same way until you’re toothless, old, and full of regret?
That’s something to think about.
P.S. If you want more lessons like this on how to build and keep a strong mindset, grab a copy of my book Mind of Steel Handbook: The Essential Rules of Mental Strength.