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Clowning To Avoid The Trap Of Thinking You Have Something To Lose

February 28, 2015

Many have asked me why our firm, Career Aviators, a national social purpose business, providing mentoring in career transitions and leadership development would sponsor the development of Clowning South of TO, a newly developed Community Of Practice in Authentic Clowning in Guelph?

At first glance, there might seem to be no connection at all. Clowning may provide a very useful answer for those leaders who are hampered by fear in achieving their goals.

Researchers tell us that fear of failure can inhibit the likelihood to act or it can enhance it. In practice, we notice this in ourselves and others. Nearly everyone can tell you an experience where fear of failure drove them to go the extra mile on the road to success; and other times, where their progress was inhibited or road blocked by this fear. With others, such as the late Steve Jobs, fear of failing plays no role in their lives. He expressed it well in his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005:

“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart”, said Steve Jobs, at his.

Exploring the meaning we choose to give to failure in our lives is the first place to start in understanding its impact.  Clowning is a profound way to begin this exploration and to experience failing in a different way.

Clowning is not about trying to be funny. It’s about being authentic and truthful; being able to express what you think; and about knowing and developing the ridiculous side of yourself.

Last November, thirteen of us participated in a Red Nose Clown Workshop with John Beale.

Even though the workshop was just the beginning of a long term learning adventure, it presented an opportunity to explore our self-knowledge of failure.  In clowning, failing, unlike any other experience I have encountered, can be as valuable as succeeding.

In the workshop, we quickly learned that clowning is about “the Flip” and “the Flop” and the Flop is where the audience does not laugh. It is when your idea falls flat.

Philippe Gaulier, a French master clown and founder of École Philippe Gaulier, a internationally renowned French clown school, just outside of outside Paris, encourages the clown to go for the Flop.

In our workshop we had several opportunities to experience “the Flop” in a light hearted way. In fact, it would be almost impossible to leave that workshop and not understand failure in a new way.

In the face of failure, the clown’s (and our own) vulnerability was revealed and that can draw laughter as much as the Flip. This is how failing, in clowning can also be succeeding. Its quite a different twist from real life failure.

In our business lives, we spend a lot of time and energy believing that if we just plan and think about things enough, we can maximize control and the outcome of events to avoid failure.

In clowning, we think we have things carefully planned for success but in reality, we don’t have any control. It just “is what it is” a Flop. The clown stays in the Flop with the audience to see if the vulnerability draws laughter.  The process makes one realize that failing has no meaning of its own –only to one we choose to give it.

Learning the craft of clowning can inform our personal and business lives. It teaches us that failing is just failing and to reflect on what meaning we attach to failure in our lives. It makes one wonder how much control we really have over the outcome and how that desire to avoid failing drives the complexity of our planning. It makes one think about how many times, despite all our best efforts in planning, we repeat the same mistakes over again, often camouflaged in different ways.

Clowning lends weight to following ones heart in our personal and business lives; taking action in the face of fear; and accepting successes and failures as they are and “standing in them” without self-judgement to see where to go next.

For those of us who are halted by fear of failure, clowning can be a powerful avenue for personal growth. As a career seeker, entrepreneur or senior manager, it could make the difference, in avoiding  what Steve Jobs described, “the trap of thinking you have something to lose”.

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