No one steps up to bat for the first time and hits a home run, and no one steps up to five clubs and starts doing backcrosses. I look at videos of my early performances and cringe. When starting out you need some ridiculous amounts of optimism to convince yourself that it was actually okay and the next time will be better. I’ll be honest with you, it’s not always better next time. But over time it definitely gets better. As jugglers we have found 10,000 ways to drop and a few ways to stick it to gravity. We are no strangers to failure and how the odds of failing seem to increase whenever trying to show anyone a new trick. Failing means you’ve had the courage to try something new. Failure gives you a very clear indication that you should try a different approach. Failing gives you the opportunity to reach inside yourself, persevere, and turn the disappointment into growth.
I could give you some motivational BS about how an arrow needs to be pulled back before it shoots towards the stars. But when you’re feeling down and like nothing is going right, that kind of motivation just doesn’t cut it. All I can think when I hear that, is how shooting for the stars would just land me in an ever expanding void where I would suffocate to death painfully. Though I do still like to consider myself an optimist. There are good ways to fail and not so great ways to fail. When you get right down to it failure is great feedback. It gives you the opportunity to see why things didn’t go as you’d hoped in order to improve; it also gives you the chance to become bitter. I hope you’ll go for the first option.
Good ways to fail
To go out and try anything new creates the opportunity for failure. For every good idea there are at least 10 bad ones. I have notebooks full of bad ideas and I keep them because I know that those bad ideas might come together and form a good idea later. Sometimes bad ideas inspire good ones down the road.
There was a study done with students in two different ceramic classes. One class was asked to make as much pottery as they could. The second class was asked to make just one great piece over the course of the class. In the end the class that produced many pieces of pottery not only had more work, they had better pieces. Mastery comes from repetition, as long as you’re repeating the right way that is. So go out there and juggle a lot! Perform your show- a lot! I always recommend to new performers to street perform and/or work at a theme park. The feedback from the audience is instantaneous and these venues will have you doing your show several times a day, every day. It may be a little hairy at first but with each show evaluate what went well and what could be improved. Multiply that by a hundred times over the course of a summer and it will be impossible not to notice how much better you are.
We’ve all seen those twelve year olds that seem to learn 5 club backcrosses over the course of a weekend. Don’t compete with what others are doing (unless you’re going to WJF). Often times we look at others and feel insecure, but in reality, we are comparing our uncut behind-the-scenes footage with everyone else’s highlight reel. Competing with others actually limits you. Those that really excel are beyond compare. Aiming for the best possible performance that you can do is a much better goal than besting someone else’s.
12 Year Old Juggler:
Have you ever seen someone pick up three balls and get juggling right away? I have many times. I’ll let you in on a secret; I am not a naturally good juggler. I worked very hard for almost every single one of my tricks. Some tricks click right away, and some come gradually over time and those are the ones that I continually slam my head against for years while these 12 year olds seem to learn them in a single day. I’ve taught people to juggle in a fraction of the time it took me to learn. But when I try to teach those people more difficult tricks that take longer to learn often times they give up right away. It was so easy for them in the beginning that when it comes to harder tricks they often don’t have the patience or the perseverance to stick with it.
So while the word failure often evokes only negative thoughts & feelings, failure can be one of the best tools for growth and learning-if you know how to spot it and embrace it properly.
Not so good ways to fail
Setting vague goals
“I’m going to practice more.” “I’m going to get more shows this year.” “There’s going to be more of that one thing that I like at some point.” These are as vague as goals can get. Make your goals specific and hold yourself accountable. Tell everyone and your dog what your goals are and stick to them for at least 30 days. That’s how long it takes to develop a habit. Write your goals down and make them quantifiable. Instead of “I will practice more” try “I will practice at least 1 hour 3 days per week.” Realistic and specific goals are most achievable.
Going full tilt and then burning out
Everyone has had those sparks of inspiration. When you’re going to practice five hours every single day. To top it all off you’re going to add an hour-long workout before hand. And for about a week it’s all going so well. But then suddenly one excuse pops up, then another, until all motivation is gone and you’re left looking down at all your shattered intentions. The problem with putting that much on your plate is that you’re picturing yourself as a completely different person with infinite time, money, energy and resources. Be realistic, pace yourself. Harness that passion and use it to sustain you in the long run. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Unless you’re jogging… Then it could be a marathon or a sprint.
Failing on Purpose
I’m sure you’ve seen it appear in many different ways. This type of person sets a goal but doesn’t actually try to succeed; they invent ways to fail, seemingly on purpose. The theory is that it’s all a calculation on the part of your subconscious-you accept one type of failure out of fear of suffering a much greater one. Not failing at your ultimate dream, by purposefully having smaller goals fail can make it so you never have to prove yourself. It comes from being afraid of succeeding, and being comfortable with what is known and normal even if the norm is awful.
The juggler that runs out into combat and does a fancy trick only to fail and knock himself out of the game doesn’t want you to know that he just doesn’t feel like he’s good enough to play, so he turns it into a joke. The juggler that gets sick or suddenly is too busy to respond to that audition notice until she’s found that it’s past the deadline because what if she put her video in and is rejected? Or worse! Accepted and then can’t meet up to the challenge of being in the show. I wish I could go out and give everyone of you a hug, tell you that you are good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it people like you. That it’s a long race in which you’re only competing with yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Don’t be afraid to look foolish and don’t be afraid to be successful!
You don’t just have one chance at success; you have as many as you give yourself. What’s the worst that could happen? What are you giving up by not playing bigger? You were meant for something great, and you were meant to have a meaningful life. What could possibly be more important than that?!
Constantly focusing on the negative
There are always more tricks to learn, more props to tinker with, more numbers to keep in the air. Don’t let the idea of how much there is to learn and do get you down. It’s a journey made up of single steps, one after the next. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Improve your weaknesses and build on your strengths. While juggling, don’t let your mind go negative. Instead of thinking “don’t drop,” change it to a powerful positive, “nail it,” “catch it.” If you keep trying not to think about moose poop, guess what’s going to keep popping up into your head? Those that really care about you want to see you succeed. When you’re performing, the audience wants to have a good time, and aside from that one drunk guy that harbors a secret jealousy, they all want to see you hit every trick.
It’s great to get useful advice from others. They can help keep you accountable to your goals and give useful insights. Here’s the thing about people – everyone is just giving their best guess based on past experience and what others have told them. Everyone from your doctor to your dog are just guessing, though some have better guesses than others. You will rarely get everyone to agree which way is best. This is why it’s important to know yourself and your strengths so that you can separate the valid criticism from people just talking. One comment can be hit or miss, two of the same kind of comment warrants a second look and three is a pattern.
After a performance or practice, take a moment to think about the things you did well. We are all way too quick to berate ourselves. I’ve seen many an artist go from an all time high to complete self-loathing in the drop of a hat. Once you have collected several things you liked, then you can move on to critique and identify a few areas for improvement. It’s important to minimize mistakes, but remember flawlessness is not the ultimate test of your abilities. Rather than trying to see how many of your hardest tricks you can fit into three minutes, allow your enthusiasm to infect the audience. People will forget your name and what you did, but they will never forget how you make them feel-I live by this idea. If it was just about skill, we could have computers juggle; it’s about the zeal and passion behind it.
Robot Juggling Five Balls:
You’re waiting for a day that never comes
It’s all those little excuses that leave you waiting for a day that never comes. “If only I wasn’t sore I would learn that trick.” “If only I didn’t have so much to do today I would go practice.” If only I knew how to juggle 7 balls I could audition for that show.” These are baseless excuses and they are holding you back.
There’s no better day than today. There’s never going to be a better time than right now. So why are you still sitting there? Go juggle!
But first watch this video: SDRAWKCAB GNILGGUJ