FINDING SELF-WORTH IN THE CIRCUS
My first sale was long before my first year in business and that is where this story starts. While working a summer position in the wardrobe department of Cirque Du Soleil a performer noticed my handmade earrings and asked me to make her something similar. Then, she paid me for it. I was surprised and almost ashamed to take her money. All I did was twist some wires and added some beads while sitting on the floor of my Boston apartment- was this worthy of money?
Upon interviewing for Cirque, I felt immensely under qualified for the position. I was interviewing to be one of two Dressers (a role that is essentially what it states- dress actors throughout the show and then do a whole lot of laundry!) I had worked backstage in small theater environments before but had minimal experience with this particular role and zero in anything close to it's production magnitude. That said, I led them to believe this was old news for me and when I got the job, I was surprised, just as I would be later that summer when the performer paid me money to twist some beads and wires around. I was also nervous. What did I get myself into?
It turns out that so many of us minimize our capabilities and value. I'd learn this at the circus that summer. I didn't need to have experience. I needed to meticulously follow instructions: help the “angel” into his harness- velcro the ankles and clip this ring to that hook. I needed to manage time- in 10 minutes be in the first bay to get the Romanian acrobat into his stilts and shrimp costume and then head to backstage to zip the trapeze artists into their outfits. I needed to have good nonverbal communication skills as there were only 3 Americans in the tent, so many spoke different languages. I had to be reliable, consistent and present. So often, it's simply life skills that makes us capable and worthy but we get buried in the idea that we need specific technical experience.
There was a particular circus incident which taught me a lesson I would carry with me into Mimi & Lu, years later. That lesson was to rely on myself, first. Try to solve the problem and if it doesn't work, try again. I worked with one other dresser, who had more experience than I did. At the end of the show, we'd be the last ones in the tent, collecting laundry, washing clothes, hanging them back in the correct performer's wardrobe. It was a sweaty and smelly part of the job. On the first day, our supervisor said to us- “There is a duplicate of every outfit, and we have a shoemaker on site so don't panic if something happens to a costume. Except for the lead singer's white dress. We only have one.”
One night, we were doing our usual laundry routine after a tiring day of back to back shows. When it came time to put the white dress in the washer, we put it with the small mesh bags that the performers put their undergarments in- since all the undergarments were white and we only washed the dress with other white laundry items. Upon pulling the dress out of the washer, it was covered in purple splotches. I was horrified. Holy Sh*t. What happened? Why is it stained purple? We dug all of the mesh undergarment bags out of the washer. Hidden inside a single musician's bag was a pair of purple socks- the only undergarment in the entire circus that was a different color.
In my head, my immediate reaction was “we have to call our supervisor”. There were two shows the following day and they needed a dress for this lead performer. My fellow dresser took charge. She was at the sink with some concoction of soap, scrubbing, blotting, concentrating on the task. She soaked it in this bucket, then that bucket, then blotted again. We were there so late that night, but we did it. The dress was white again and hanging neatly in the singer's wardrobe for the following days' performances.
Later, as a boss, I found this quality in employees hard to come by but it was also the attribute I looked for the most. Since year one, I've had many moments where I did not feel capable or worthy, but at the same time I am consistently reminded that often our actual capabilities far exceed our perceived capabilities. Many of us share this struggle of self-doubt but perhaps a stint in the circus is all it takes to help yourself fly a little higher.