I saw a Broadway version of a circus the other night, called Circus 1903. (If it ever comes to a venue near you, go see it; you won’t regret it for an instant. Bring the kids.) It was extraordinarily entertaining for many reasons. I gasped at the contortionist as she demonstrated that her bones are apparently made out of rubber. The palms of my hands got sympathy sweat on them during the tightrope act. The sideshow was intentionally amusing, and not at all creepy the way I imagine an actual sideshow from a real circus back then would be.
By the end of the show, I was very nearly emotionally wrung out. Certainly my hands were a bit tingly from applauding so much. My mouth was tired from smiling and laughing so much.
More than being entertained though, I saw some fun parallels between certain aspects of the show, and life. There were three life lessons I extracted from it. In this first installment, I’ll tell you about:
“Juggling” Acrobats –
…You know, the guys who juggle each other. Their routine was very nearly flawless. One of the guys was the “base.” He had a contraption that supported him while he laid on his back, legs in the air. The second man was the one who would jump onto the base’s feet, and then the base flipped and flung his partner in a quick-moving choreographed routine. There were flips, and flings, and all manner of exhibition of strength and agility. The orchestra accompanied them perfectly, with a rapid-fire, energetic soundtrack that mimicked their moves.
For as effortless and easy as they made it look though, at some point I realized I was witnessing what was probably thousands of hours of practice for what amounted to a mere seven-minute performance. But that small amount of time looked effortless, simply because of the countless rehearsal hours. This pair didn’t just decide one day, “Hey, you’ve got strong legs and I know how to somersault; how about we team up and see what we can do?” and then execute a flawless performance that first time.
It’s like an iceberg producing an ice cube. You don’t see all the mountains of work that goes into producing the end result. You just see the ice cube and think, “What a nice little refresher for my drink,” without thinking about the process and the time it took for that frozen chunk of water to be perfectly formed.
I’m certain they started off with lots and lots of cushions around them, and spotters, trainers, coaches, and probably even training ropes while they taught their muscles what it feels like to move this way, contort that other way, and land here. It takes hours and hours of making mistakes, falling, and a willingness to get back up and try again, even if muscles are sore, bruised and achy, before you can have a finished product that looks as effortless as theirs did.
Today is the day!
How many times do we not start an endeavor because we see someone else’s finished product and think, “There’s no way I could ever do that!”?
And you know what? That idea is absolutely correct – we can’t ever do something if we don’t ever try.
Is there something you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t? Is it fear of not being perfect that’s holding you back? If that’s the case, you will never succeed if you don’t even try.
When You Fall
For as seemingly effortless as the acrobats’ performance was, there was one point near the end of their act that the “tumblee” – the guy getting tossed around on the other guy’s feet – fell. Granted it was during an intense moment of flipping and spinning so fast he appeared to be nothing more than a blur of motion.
Nevertheless, he fell, and it definitely was not part of the act. Of course their was a collective gasp from the audience. It seemed that everyone held their breath as two stage hands or perhaps coaches came onto the stage to check on him. His partner was visibly concerned, and it took the tumblee several moments before he was willing to stand.
When he did regain his feet, he slowly straightened and faced the audience. Supportive applause started in a wave that moved from the front to the back of the auditorium, and that applause swelled in volume as the performer raised his hands high and encouraged the audience to support him.
The Courage of Vulnerability
There was a sweetness to his moment of vulnerability. Had he not fallen, it would have been one of the many acts from the evening that went off without a hitch. The applause still would have been generous and well deserved, but there was something different in this moment as the audience recognized that falling down – hard – in front of 2000 people, and then getting up, was perhaps the most difficult thing he did all night. More difficult than trusting his tumbling partner and more difficult than the physical feats.
To show a sold-out crowd that he was not perfect, despite the many hours of practice, took a great amount of courage.
And the audience responded in kind. What had started as encouraging applause swelled into cheers of admiration as this man inhaled deeply, readied himself, then resumed the routine with his partner.
You have to be willing to take risks and even fall before you can experience complete success. And when you do fall, even after those thousands of hours of practice, you don’t just give up and quit. Nope, you ask for the support and love and safety net (emotional) of your support crew, and try it again. That willingness to express vulnerability will make your “audience” love you even more than before.
“Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You,” April 2016.)