I introduced myself to classmates in my first graduate class with a video highlighting my ability to juggle. My attempt to infuse humor into this required introduction assignment contained more foreshadowing than I ever thought possible. The year 2022 marked huge milestones for my family including:
my return to school at WVU
selling two homes
buying a bigger home
remodeling the new home
starting a new job
maintaining a marriage of five years
parenting three children ages 4, 3 and 3
Before going any further, credit for my physical juggling skills must be paid to a professor named Shawn. I encountered Shawn while attending Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My undergraduate work, first studying theatre with the Conservatory of Performing Arts and then a degree in broadcast journalism, required me to take Shawn’s stage movement courses.
Thank goodness those requirements put Shawn in my path. Shawn stood by each student in the class with enthusiasm as we tried juggling three objects at the same time. He broke down each step of the juggling process by comparing the path of the ball to a sideways figure-8. Ball A is thrown into the air, and Ball B follows it going on the invisible figure-8 path. Ball A falls from the sky back into your hand. You throw Ball C into the sky, and then you catch Ball B. You think about the ball that is right in front of you. You focus on what you’re doing at each moment. Thinking ahead can result in dropping the balls.
From day one, Shawn had more confidence in our efforts than we did. Our nervous energy to try something new calmed quickly with his patience and understanding. We learned so much more than juggling within the four walls of that performance studio. It took me years to fully understand the gift given to us by Shawn during the juggling segment of our coursework.
From school, family, work and everything in between, the lessons taught in Shawn’s class can be referenced throughout life. Just make sure you see each situation from the lens of a “juggler” with the following hints:
Be in the moment. Shawn preached living in the moment. Juggling requires a person to embrace each second of the process. Anything else leaves the juggler too anxious and they drop everything thrown in the air.
Start with one. A beginner doesn’t start juggling by throwing three balls in the air. They start with one. They master the invisible figure-8 pattern with that one ball. Then they add in a second ball. “Toss, toss, catch, catch, pause… Toss, toss, catch, catch, pause…” over and over, until you think you’re losing your mind. The juggler masters those two balls in the figure-8 pattern. Then, a third ball is added to the mix. Life in grad school is just like that. A million things may be thrown at you. Don’t get overwhelmed. Just start with one and keep crossing items off your immediate to do list.
Keep trying. It’s inevitable. Jugglers will drop one or all of their balls at some point in this process. Most likely, the frustration level goes beyond anything I can put in writing. Those who learn to juggle successfully just never give up. They’re persistent. They eventually get it right because they keep trying.
Practice. Then, practice some more. Anyone can get rusty in their skills without practice. Jugglers, and marketers, must practice to keep their muscle memory strong. Getting in the mindset of enjoying practice can be the key to success.
I can’t tell you what happened to Professor Shawn. As I’m writing this, I can’t even remember his last name. The only things that stand out are his long curly hair reminiscent of a classic rock band from the 80s and those juggling lessons. They continue to shape the way I look at the world. May Shawn’s teachings help you see challenges as opportunities to juggle everything that will inevitably be thrown your direction during grad school and long after.
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