Andy has been a street performer for over fifteen years. He’s originally from Britain, but he’s called Berlin his home for the last four of those years. We watched his show at a festival in Berlin’s Westend neighborhood this past weekend. In his performance, Andy combined juggling, balance and slapstick – all suffused with his dry British humor. His finale: fire juggling on a tightrope held by members of the crowd.
While I enjoyed the wit, the feats, and the crowd reaction, it was a post-performance chat with Andy that really left an impression.
Over a beer, we spoke with him about travel, the places he’d been, and his business.
“Crowds in Argentina are fantastic, but you have to keep an eye on your stuff or it will disappear,” he recalled. “On the other hand, crowds in Berlin are not as enthusiastic. But at least you don’t have to worry about your stuff.”
He followed with a story about his six-month journey to India to practice juggling many years ago.
“Why India?” Dan asked. “Is there some special juggling school there?”
“No, I was crazy about juggling and knew that if I were to become really good, I needed to practice, practice, practice. India seemed like a good place to do that since it was inexpensive and away from it all. So, I worked in a factory in the United Kingdom, saved money and went first to Amsterdam to practice on the streets and then to India for six months to really learn the trade. I traveled with my buddy – he was also a juggler; we pushed each other to do more, better. When I returned, I was ready to perform.”
Andy not only had a passion, but he also had the discipline to pursue it, to harness it, to hone it. He worked his butt off to take that passion from hobby to profession.
During our conversation, I felt like we were playing out a chapter from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. In it, Gladwell emphasizes the value of repetition in developing proficiency, noting that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to make a trade your own.
Then I considered all the ingredients that stitch their way into the development of a street performer’s craft – anyone’s craft, really: talent, passion, hard work, courage, persistence, good fortune, and a sprinkling of magic dust ground of life circumstances that expresses itself subtly in exceptional performances.
And all this got me to thinking that the discourse on passion is often over-simplified:
“Follow your passion and the – (fill in the blank) money, success, happiness, satisfaction – will follow.”
There are many – myself included, at times – who subscribe to the belief that passion alone is sufficient.
Passion is necessary, for sure. At the core, yes. But sufficient? Not really.
It goes back to the ingredients, not least among them the hard work and endurance, that make the difference between a dream of success and the reality. And even then, there’s no guarantee.
Our conversation with Andy prompted me to evaluate my own situation. No, I’m not a street performer (most of the time), but I took his experience to heart. And I wondered: do I have the necessary ingredients – the discipline and the gumption in particular – to take my performance to the next level?
Excuse me, but I need to go juggle some fire.