Lessons from a Trapeze

Photo Credit: Ratana

Photo Credit: Ratana

Several months ago, I joined a group of girlfriends to celebrate one of their birthdays. The honoree’s activity of choice was not typical: rather than a spa day or a girl’s night out, she chose for us to take a flying trapeze class at a local circus school.

 Sounds crazy, and I’m sure we all took a deep breath before we willingly signed ourselves up for the 3 hour class on a sunny fall Saturday morning. Still, we all got up, trooped over to the acrobatics facility, signed our waivers and made our way to the back lot of the school, which housed the flying trapeze. We stood in the a.m. sun, looking up at the trapeze, watching a few very experienced acrobats warming up on the three-story (24 feet!) apparatus. They flew and flipped and spun fearlessly through the air before falling gracefully down into the net. I had absolutely no expectation that I’d leave my first lesson looking as graceful and lovely as they were.
Eight students lined up like little soldiers and waited our turn to climb the skinny little ladder into the sky and take our turn on the trapeze. And when it was my turn, I had to take a deep breath and power through that climb, as I’m not fond of heights.
Rung by rung, foot by foot, until I hoisted myself up onto the platform. One instructor stood up there with me, helping to make sure my safety harnesses were all in place and giving me advice on form as I grabbed onto the bar with my right hand, and then my left. Leaning 45 degrees into space with only my toes hanging onto that platform and “solid” ground, I took another deep breath while I waited for my cue to push off. One, two, three… “HUP!” (Apparently the universal cue for “OK, TIME TO DO A CRAZY TRICK!”)

…. and off I went, flying through the air with the greatest of….ease? Well, exhiliration for sure. It was an amazing experience. After a few swings as a human pendulum, I was coached back to earth and encouraged to line up for a subsequent turn, each time up on the platform learning a new technique or trick to add to the basic free fall, whether it was hanging upside down by your knees, a backflip or even a catch! It was amazing!

That day our instructors kept reminding us: Look Out & Up. If you look down, you’ll fall. Each time I climbed to the platform, I repeated that mantra and took a moment to take in my surroundings before ascending to the takeoff area of that small bit of solidity, 24 feet in the air. It made each flight that much better for being open to my surroundings – the encouragement of my friends below, the sky and trees at my height, the fresh air and exhilaration of learning something new and out of the ordinary.

Reflecting back, I realized Looking Out & Up isn’t just great advice for mastering the trapeze; it is great advice for living and working and pretty much accomplishing any goal you set for yourself. On the trapeze, looking down means giving into your fears. It means falling, failing. So instead of giving up, look up, take in your surroundings and draw strength from that which inspires you and keeps you motivated, whatever that is. Look out and up, and stay open to the possibilities.

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