I have a confession: I am not a natural juggler! Yes, I co-own a company that teaches juggling and advocates for all of the fabulous outcomes of learning to juggle. But I did not enjoy the process of learning. At all.
Fresh out of college, I took some time to play with different ideas about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Moved to a new city, started waiting tables (prior to that my culinary experience had consisted of toasting bagels and heating up spaghettios), took photography classes, and worked at a non-profit. All new learning experiences and all very exciting. Paul worked at the same restaurant and began juggling and doing magic for tables. He loved juggling and wanted to teach everyone he knew how to juggle. I avoided the lesson as long as I could, but alas my number came up. Not that I wasn't sporty - I played field hockey, competed in track and field events, and swam. I just never had much hand-eye coordination.
The Struggle: The lesson began. He broke it down into steps and I mastered one ball (yay, me!) As we moved through the steps, however, I quickly got frustrated. I intellectually understood the juggling pattern and what path the balls were supposed to take, but the rest of my body hadn't gotten the memo. So I would stop. Then another day and another lesson would come leading to more frustration. In between lessons, Paul would check in and ask how juggling was going. When I would explain that it wasn't, he would just respond, "Have you been practicing?" or "Just keep trying." None of which worked for me.
The Breakthrough: The thrill of first feeling the juggling pattern for more than 5 throws finally came for me months later. My juggling balls had been gathering dust on a shelf and although Paul had never given up on me, he had stopped pushing. We were with a group of people that I didn't know very well and several of them were in the process of learning to juggle. One woman had the most infectious laugh and every time she dropped a ball (which was a lot), she filled the room with the most playful energy. I couldn't resist. So I picked up a set of juggling balls and tried again. I couldn't help but laugh along with her and that's where it all finally clicked for me.
The Insight: What I learned from the whole experience goes beyond just keeping balls in the air. Juggling has provided me with critical insight about how I learn best, why I avoid certain challenges, and how I can better lead others. There are a ton of assessment tools available to help increase self-awareness from Meyers-Briggs to Gallup's Strengths Finder to Compass Points to the latest FaceBook quiz about which character, color, or car represents you. But these different tools rely on self-reporting and we are masters at fooling ourselves.
Because of the tangible and visible nature of juggling, I couldn't sway the results or sweep reality under a rug with rationalization and other defense mechanisms. I had to face this new self-awareness and develop strategies to change the patterns that needed fixing.
Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences best explains the learning struggle I experienced. Gardner challenged the traditional idea of one type of intelligence measured by an IQ test. His theory instead identifies 8 intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic (with one or two additional intelligences currently being tested). Juggling drove home the importance knowing my areas of strength as well as those of colleagues for clear communication, feedback, and coaching.
Paul's strength lies in areas of spatial (being able to look at images of juggling in a book and turn it into actual juggling) and bodily-kinesthetic (being able to manipulate objects easily). So his method of teaching involved doing demonstrations and saying "do it like this." On the other hand, my strengths tend to be in linguistic (thinking in words), logical (sequential reasoning and patterns), and interpersonal (interacting with others). I needed the steps clearly explained in words by someone that I didn't feel was getting frustrated by my efforts.
The Take-Away: As a result of this experience, I now try to practice the following:
Each of these strategies has increased my own self- awareness and as a result helped me as a learner, leader, and team player. Not to mention significantly reducing frustration (for lots of people) along the way.
What new challenge will you try this month? Where can you squeeze in time to stop, breathe, & learn from a frustrating experience?