It’s true. A few days ago I went from being a mere mortal to someone who has leaped from the heights of a towering platform and flown through the air with the greatest of ease.
There was even a back flip involved.
All of this happened at the Flying Trapeze School in Bayfront Park, Miami, near where I happened to be involved in a workshop on the significantly less death-defying activity of strategy formulation. Celisa (see her version of the story on Mission to Learn) came across the school while walking through the park, and the next thing I knew, the strategy workshop was over, and I was standing on the top of a tower wondering if I could really make myself jump.
Thankfully, I not only jumped, but did quite a bit more (video proof of which I have, of course, included below in this post). Here are some essential points about learning that got reinforced along the way.
1. Listening is (to put it mildly) essential
Mark, the owner of the school and the lead trainer, told us up front that he had four rules for trainees, and the first two of these were “Listen” and – you guessed it – “Listen.” Now, I’ve always appreciated that listening is a very important part of learning, but I’ve been in few situations that brought the point home so clearly. If I could apply the same level of focus and attention to all of my learning activities, I’d be a genius.
2. The comfort zone is not where learning happens
I’m mildly afraid of heights, and my back is not what it used to be. If I’d given in to my fears, I would have never stepped on the first rung of the ladder, much less jumped from the platform. As is often the case, the reward was worth many times the risk.
3. Compensating for risk is important
This may seem to contradict my point above about the “comfort zone,” but really the two points complement each other. Learning often involves pushing yourself out of your comfort zone while maintaining a reasonable assurance that everything will be okay in the end. In this case, there was a net, and there was a safety harness. While those certainly don’t eliminate all risk, they limit it to about the greatest degree possible.
4. Knowing what to expect helps tremendously
This is true in any education or training situation – particularly with adults – and it was certainly true here. Mark and his team were excellent at making clear what would happen, what we needed to do, and most importantly, why. They conveyed this information in a clear, straightforward way.
5. Building competence and confidence is a process
We started with simply making the leap, holding on for dear life, and swinging. Then, once we were used to that, we move to pulling our legs up and handing upside down. Then to doing a back flip dismount, and finally, to being caught. This all happened quite rapidly – the entire lesson was only two hours – but each step in the process added tremendously to my motivation and ability to do more.
6. A good teacher tunes to each student
Mark coached one of the women in the group to perform a split while hanging from the bar. This seemed clearly within her capabilities. He did not, thankfully, ask me to try it. Another trainer coached one of the men – a big guy – to swing his feet around the outside of the bar, rather than through his arms, to achieve hanging position. Without that change of approach, I suspect he would not have been nearly as successful. (Every student was able to achieve the final goal of being caught by another trapezist.)
7. Intensive learning forges connection
I didn’t walk away from this two hour lesson with any new BFFs, but even so, I felt a sense of connection and community with the five other students (granted, I already knew one of them well) and the teachers. It felt like we had accomplished quite a lot together.
I’m sure I could name at least another half dozen key lessons, but I’ll finish with just one final observation: it is amazing what you can achieve in a couple of hours of focused effort with good teachers and other committed learners.
What about you? Have you had similar intense learning experiences? And if so, what were your takeaways?
P.S. – Celisa and I wrote up our different takes on the experience without comparing notes. Be sure to check hers out over on Mission to Learn: Learning How High You Can Fly. And if you are ever in Miami and want to stretch yourself a bit, I recommend the Flying Trapeze School.