Lessons I Learned at the Circus

Are you aware that you can think and relax at the same time? Just because you are enjoying a particular activity you are not precluded from exercising your brain cells. Heck, some of my best ideas have come in the midst of some really enjoyable...


The relationship between the Sailor Circus and the Windjammers dates back a number of years. It is our tradition to play traditional center-ring concert before the regular circus performance begins. Our group then provides a separate, fully staffed circus band to play the support music for the circus performance. It was at this year's circus performance that I received the inspiration to create this week's visit with you.

I cannot take all of the credit for this idea. A great deal of time was also spent during this past week in Sarasota with Ed Cleveland, a dear friend from my days with the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, and his charming wife Sonja. We had a number of interesting discussions on the future of the fire service. He also gave me a really neat tour of the area and showed me all of the fire stations within a ten mile radius of my hotel.

He and Sonja took me out to supper and then spent a couple of hours listening to our Friday evening rehearsal for the Sailor Circus performance. They then attended our annual memorial service on Saturday, and followed up on Sunday by attending the concert and the circus performance. I believe that I have found two new circus-music aficionados in Ed and Sonja.

It was at the circus that Ed and I began to discuss the life skills we saw being exhibited by the young people who were working in the show. It was a couple of words my from friend that led me to see the lessons that the young performers and their dedicated mentors were living out in the midst of their circus performers.

As we watched the teenaged performers running through a flying rope routine, it occurred to us that we were watching people who were extremely well-trained. I can only imagine the number of hours that each of these dedicated performers had devoted to learning the intricate flying maneuvers.

Let me also stress that the dedication was a two-way street. In addition to the many hours of practice which each performer had to undergo, I want you to ponder the number of hours of coaching and mentoring that each of the PAL adult mentors offered to their charges. Adult guidance, supervision, and examples are a critical element in the creation of a new generation within any field. It just happens that I had this lesson reinforced for me at the Sailor Circus.

We also were treated to an excellent example of the need for coordination in an organizational setting. The acts were scheduled in a given order, and as each act was performing the next act was gathering on deck so that there would be no delay in the sequencing of the performance. This came about as a result of a great deal of planning and practice.

The aerial act was the highlight of the afternoon. Five young performers ascended to the heights of the arena to take their positions. One young man took the central position and began his back and forth flying routine. One by one the young ladies leapt out to swing back and forth taking on the forces of gravity, and human nature.

As these young ladies flew through the air, released their grip on the trapeze bar, and flew out into mid air, they were displaying the ultimate example of trust. Having practiced many hours with their partners, they were confident that the young man would be there to grasp them at the appropriate instant.

I believe that it was the combination of training, practice, mentoring, and guided repetition that created this aura of trust that created the performance Ed and I witnessed. How else can you explain why a person would let go of a sure thing and fly out into mid-air? I say it was the certainty that their partner would be there for them that allowed this dangerous interaction to occur.

Let me share the magic moment which occurred just before the aerialists took to the skies. Their coach called them together. They huddled up around the coach and received their last-minute instructions. They were tightly entwined in a beautiful example of teamwork, trust, and personal motivation.

These were people who were about to place their lives in each other's hands. They hugged tightly and then moved off to take care of business. It was touching. It was also something that should be emulated in our world. I recently wrote of the difference between leaders and managers. The people coaching these young people were not managers. They were leading their youthful charges into a series of challenging, and sometimes dangerous activities. They were coaching them in the use of some really neat physical skills, as well as some vital interpersonal skills.