I often wonder what alternate turns my life would have taken had I not learned to juggle.
At eleven years of age, I chanced to meet a skillful and kind performer named Mike Vondruska at the King Richard’s Renaissance Faire, and he offered me encouragement and instruction. Thinking back, it is extraordinary how that one event has shaped my life so profoundly. To me, juggling was much more than a passing interest or an amusing skill. Over time, it became my path to understanding performance, discipline, and how to excel when it matters most.
Learning how to face “showtime” and greet uncertain moments with hope and confidence is the real skill. Even after all these years, every presentation conjures the same raw emotions (fear, wonder, and exhilaration, to name a few) and I squarely encounter the first and most important lesson:
In juggling, as in life, you must be willing to release control in order to make something happen. Holding the objects in your hands is safe, but boring. The instant you launch those objects into the air, however, you create interest, expectation, and opportunity. It takes a willingness to let go and surrender to the uncertainty. At that moment, your skill, input, attitude, and attention enable you to craft a performance that is unique and real.
Juggling isn’t about catching. It’s about making excellent throws. If your throws are on target, the catches are likely to follow. But even then, it is not a certainty. Countless times (in both practice and performance) I’ve had perfect throws bounce out of my hands, causing unexpected drops and the necessity to recover, compose myself, and try again.
We all like to feel that we are in control. In an uncertain world we grasp for any sense of surety about what will happen. But the truth of the matter is, control is really an illusion. No matter how much you prepare, practice, plan, or ponder, you cannot completely control the outcome. You can, however, greatly influence the process. Your ability to execute capably and handle the unexpected moments with resilience and resourcefulness is more dependent on your thinking than it is your talent. Some call it staying cool under pressure. I think it’s more about the ability to interpret what is happening around you and produce actions that are aimed at shaping the process in a positive way.
Guiding events toward a desired outcome is about making continuous, subtle adjustments. In order to recognize which adjustments are necessary at a given moment, you must have the right perspective. You must first “grasp reality,” and see the events around you as they are, without judgment or self deception. “Grasping reality” also means understanding your capabilities, your resources, and the obstacles threatening your efforts.
With an accurate picture of the real world situation, you can then understand how you can “influence the process.” Perhaps you can offer useful assistance, expertise, words of encouragement, past experience, a supportive smile, an attentive ear, an accurate observation, a timely question, or an unexpected answer. There is almost always an action you can take to influence the process in a positive way. Once you do, however, you must be willing to let it go.
Let go of the necessity to control everything. Expect an outcome, but let go of the expectation for it to happen exactly as you have it planned. It won’t! Let go of ideas, judgments, and behaviors that are no longer useful. Let go of negative emotions (resentments, fears, and anger). Let go of projects that just don’t matter. And let go of the things you can not influence at the moment.
Once you make a throw, it is out of your hand and out of your control. You must let it go, and shift your focus to the next task at hand. Busy people (and expert jugglers) move their focus from one action to the next, shifting their focus and energy and releasing the objectives that are, for the time being, out of their direct influence. The feeling of “being overwhelmed” stems from an inability to let go of the events and outcomes you can not control.
1. What situation in life is causing you the greatest stress (or distress)? Does your frustration stem from a desire to control the outcome?
2. Let go of your attachments to exact outcomes. Understand that you are a participant in the unfolding events, but you are not the conductor of everything and everyone around you. Whatever happens, it will likely be different than what you presently envision.
3. Get a Grip. Grasp the reality of the situation. Honestly assess the circumstances, your capabilities, your resources, and your motives. What do you really wish to happen, and why? Then, influence the process. With love, kindness, assertiveness, and respect, exert your influence. Then, watch to see the impact of your efforts.
Until next time, keep your focus up and your throws on target.
With encouragement always,