Have you ever seen someone else do something and just known, down to the core of your being, that you HAD to do that, too?
But in the very next breath, did you think to yourself, “How in the world am I going to be able to do that? I have no idea where to begin…”
I’ve had that thought, too.
And here’s how I got around it – the lack of experience, not knowing where to start, and ultimately reaching the goal I wanted to attain.
It was my Senior year in college and I was on a spring break road-trip with two of my closest friends at the time. One of our stops was Las Vegas, where we saw the Cirque du Soleil show, “Mystere.” In the middle of the show, during the Bungee Trapeze act, while watching the performers spin round and round as they bounced up and down in the air, I had that feeling. That undeniable sense of knowing that I just had to do this. It felt like someone had lit one of those 4th of July fire-flowers right in my stomach, and it was spinning and throwing sparks all over the place.
The emotion was so strong, so anchored way down deep in my core, that it actually brought tears to my eyes.
And I got the ultimate validation when my two friends both turned to me after the show and said, almost in unison, “I could totally see you doing something like this!”
I had never been a big circus fan before that; I had seen an act here or there that I liked, in the Moscow Circus or others; but as a rule, they were mostly take-it-and-leave-it experiences for me. But this… This was different. And the pull was so powerful that I couldn’t deny it.
Now picture me trying to explain to my mom that, just as I was about to graduate from Stanford, I wanted to go join a circus. I had no experience in gymnastics other than taking classes recreationally; I was way too tall to have ever been a competitive gymnast anyway.
Everyone told me it would never happen. That people who did things like that trained from the time they could walk.
Only one person told me otherwise. My dad said, “If it’s not illegal or immoral, and it’s not hurting anyone else, and it makes you happy, then do it!”
So graduate I did, and I found a place to start training. At age 21. With no real gymnastic experience. I was hell-bent on becoming an aerialist – and not just for fun. Oh, no – I wanted to become good enough for a company as cool as Cirque to take notice of what I could do.
Needless to say, I had an uphill battle before me. Zero upper body strength, I could hardly hold onto the trapeze the first time I tried to do a pull-up. The pull-up was a laughing matter. But I had natural flexibility, and an iron-will set with determination that I would do this – no matter what.
It took more than a year before I could do a single pull-up, but I learned how to do lots of other cool tricks in the meantime, using technique to make up for what I lacked in brute strength. The natural flexibility and my tall body actually worked in my favor, once I learned how to use that to my advantage.
Soon, I had a video ready to send off to Cirque. Then I waited. And waited. And kept training while I waited. Kept performing. Kept training.
It took a year before I got a response from Cirque, inviting me to audition. I can honestly say that I squealed like a kid on Christmas morning when I opened that letter. It said that they would get back to me with an audition date.
So I waited some more. And trained, and performed, and waited. It took another year for the audition to be scheduled.
A lot of things can happen in that many years. A year and a half, almost two years of training to get the audition tape ready, a year to wait on a reply, and another year to wait to do the actual audition. Almost 4 years by this point, so when the audition finally came up, some of my life direction and goals had changed a bit since the beginning.
And when audition day arrived, I expected it to be like the cattle-call auditions I’d seen around Hollywood in the past. But no – there were only 10 people there, including me. Wow… Talk about being put under the microscope. (Hello, nerves!)
They asked me to demonstrate some skills during my audition that I had never spent much time learning. I’d been 100% focused on training as an aerialist for the past 4 years, not a hand-balancer. So handstands were not part of my repertoire. So when they asked me to do one, all I could do was look sheepish.
Then they asked me to climb a rope, which I’d done successfully thousands of times by that point; I used to do 10 rope climbs just as part of my warm-up. But they wanted me to climb it differently than I ever had needed to do – just hand-over-hand, no using feet wrapped around the rope to re-grip in between pulls. Uh-oh… So I couldn’t do that either.
Then they asked me to do something I’d done well thousands of times before – hold onto the rope and flip upside down in a straddle – but for some reason, I couldn’t do it on that day. I couldn’t help but think, “What gives?”
By that point, though, if I asked myself if this was something I still wanted, deep in my heart the answer was, “No.” I had met someone and gotten engaged during those 4 years, and to get cast would have meant having to break off that relationship and go away for a minimum of 3 years, perhaps longer.
I’d also learned through friends in the industry about the low wages and injuries that the performers lived with, and had serious second thoughts about whether that lifestyle was one that I truly desired.
But the original goal of getting Cirque to notice me? I’d accomplished that. And I’d done it against all odds.
I’d just forgotten to state the goal in a more affirmative way. Rather than just wanting to get invited to audition, I should have said I wanted to get cast into a show. Duh…
Some of the other performers in my audition were lifers – one guy had been born in a circus to parents who were also performers. Climb a rope, sing a song, easy-peasy. Another guy had auditioned for cirque several times but never been cast yet. He seemed spot-on for what they must be looking for, but perhaps there was that “it” factor that was still missing there.
Two other hopefuls were good friends of mine, from the same training program I’d been part of, who had been training and performing since they were kids. One girl made it all the way to the end of the audition before she was told to go and take more acting classes, and the other girl was released at the same time I was because she was still a minor.
When I drove home that day, I felt a teensy twinge of failure and regret; but I felt an even bigger sense of relief that I hadn’t been offered the chance to do something that I no longer truly wanted to do, but would have felt like I needed to do because I had wanted it for so very long before that. It may have been very hard to turn down, because I’d spent so many years training for it. But my body was wiser than my mind, in that instant, and it made a decision for me that I had been too afraid to voice, even to myself.
So I got the audition although I didn’t get cast. But the ultimate lesson I took away from this experience was this: It’s never too late to learn something new, or to get “good enough” to get noticed by the pros and become something unique in your own right in that realm.
What you would need to do differently that I did would be to constantly review and renew your commitment to your goals, because those things can change significantly over time, as was definitely the case in my experience.
I still feel like a circus freak at heart, but now I can take the hard-won lessons I learned there, and apply them to other walks of life.
And I still have that letter from Cirque and my number from the audition day, stored in a keepsake box, to remind myself that nothing is impossible. Nothing.
What about you? Have you ever defied the odds and all the naysayers to go after something you wanted?
Please feel free to share your experiences below.
And if this helped you in some way and you have a friend who might also enjoy it, please pass it along.
I wish you a wonder-full and magical Happy New Year!