Stepping Out Into Air: Why Everyone Should Try The Trapeze


By: ROCHELLE NEWMAN, Walton Isaacson 

            Every year, our agency orchestrates a summer outing. There have been VIP experiences at Dodgers games, chartered boats to Catalina Island and hot air ballooning.  These inclusive bonding experiences have been turn-key. Just show up and have fun.  A few years ago, the summer outing e-vite featured an image of the Santa Monica pier where, in addition to a Ferris wheel and bumper cars, everyone could participate in aerial activities like climbing silks or swinging on a trapeze.  

            “Are you going to do it?” an intern asked me. “The trapeze?” His tone was part dare part doubt.

            “I don’t think so. Maybe. We’ll see,” I answered, wondering why I didn’t just say no. While I had never been on a trapeze, I imagined it would take considerable upper body strength to hold onto the bar mid-air and even more lower body strength if you were going to use your legs to hang upside down. If I couldn’t swing on monkey bars as a child, what made me think that I could fly through the air with the greatest of ease as a fifty-plus workaholic woman?

            Still, I arrived at the pier dressed for anything, just to keep my options open. I stood on the sidelines and watched as a handful of my colleagues powdered up their hands to improve their grip before ascending the sky high ladder to the platform. There they were tethered to a harness, taught how to hold the bar--arching back like DiCaprio and Winslett on the Titanic--and given instructions about stepping off the platform on the cue hep. Some people made it look easy, gracefully extending their legs and creating enough momentum to wrap their knees around the bar and swing hands-free. Other people froze on the platform, unable to take that all-important first step. They heard the cue to jump but they must have heard a louder voice telling them to stay put, to play it safe.

            I was watching someone struggle with their platform dismount when I considered giving it a try. I wasn’t afraid of heights and, with the harness and the net below, falling seemed safe enough. So what was holding me back? Fear. Fear of falling short, of failing, of discovering that fantasy beats reality. I didn’t want to climb thirty feet into the air or step off the platform. I wanted to skip straight to swinging, straight to success. But life doesn’t work that way, and magical thinking can get in the way of real experiences, which is where the real magic lies.

            When I think about thriving, I think about that trapeze experience, the steps leading to the platform and that critical last step into thin air.  The feeling? Alive. Aware. I was capable of holding on and letting go at once. It’s worth noting that “grasping, clutching, gripping, and taking hold of,” are all included in the etymology of the word thrive. It’s as much about prosperity as it is fulfilment of one’s potential.

            On the trapeze and on the job, thriving starts with:

·      showing up and keeping an open mind

·      reframing failure as essential to risk taking and growth            

·      taking on challenges and releasing expectations

·      appreciating the steps

·      facing fears

·      walking into the unknown

            Thriving is less about action than awareness. It’s not something you force. It’s something you bring forth. Trust is key. Trust in yourself and trust in a net.  You will swing, momentum will build and you will fly. You will also drop, you will fall, only to rise up and swing again. It’s not about set backs, it’s about cycles. It’s about stretching and reaching new heights. 

            I heard the word hep and stepped into air, my arms extended above me, my body swinging to and fro, momentum building along with a sense of freedom and weightlessness. For a fleeting moment, I even thought my knees might make it over the bar and tried to lift them up a little. I didn’t get very far before reality set in but that was all right with me. Plain old swinging was more than enough for a first try. Years later, I return to this experience, reliving the moment that my foot steps into air. It’s the image that moves me forward whenever hesitation conflicts with hep