The Wallenda Factor

On Becoming a Leader is an excellent book written by leadership guru Warren Bennis. In his book, Bennis references a theory he has labeled as “The Wallenda Factor.” 

Bennis says: 

“Shortly after the great aerialist Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978 while doing his most dangerous walk, his wife, also an aerialist, said, ‘All Karl thought about for months before was falling. It was the first time he’d ever thought about that, and it seemed to me that he put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tightrope.’ If we think more about failing at what we are doing than about doing it, we will not succeed” (143). 

I think this line needs to be read again…

“It seemed to me that he (Wallenda) put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tightrope.”

and then this one, too…

“If we think more about failing at what we are doing than about doing it, we will not succeed.”

Wow. What a potent observation. In other words, where you put your focus becomes your reality. 

This really hit home with me, not just because I wholeheartedly embrace the idea, but because the great Karl Wallenda was a friend of my grandfather, who I called Pop.

When I was a little girl, Pop, a trial lawyer, was, oddly enough, very involved with the circus. I often found myself around interesting characters who seemed just like everyone else; but, under the big top, they transformed into horse-riding acrobats, spotlight sweeping clowns, dancing bear trainers, and tightrope walking daredevils. I had an up close and personal peek into a life that I found, and still find, absolutely fascinating. 

With all of the intimate exposure to the circus life, I desperately wanted to be an acrobat. I wanted to dance on top of elephants and fly through the sky on a trapeze. In all honesty, I don’t think I was particularly attached to the expression of my acrobatics, I just wanted to bend my body, wear sparkly spandex, and live a life as far away from ‘traditional’ as possible. I practiced my splits every day just in case the opportunity presented itself. Unfortunately, it never did; but, even if it had, my FBI agent father would have never let me run away with the circus. He was way too good at finding people. It was a fun dream, though… a dream only my grandfather understood. 

When Pop passed away, he left me a small memento as a reminder of our love for the circus life. The token he left me was a one-inch thick slice of Karl Wallenda’s balancing pole, the very one he had in his hands when he fell to his death in Puerto Rico. The pole was basically an extension of Karl himself; so, after Karl died, his family sliced the pole into sections and gifted the pieces to Karl’s friends and loved one’s. This tiny metal ring given to me by my grandfather has served as a consistent but gentle reminder of my childhood dream….a dream to not just be bendy and sparkly, but to live and think outside of the highly marketed box. 

I am sharing this because, ironically, this tiny piece of Karl’s pole is an example of how the Wallenda Factor came to play in my own life. To me, Karl’s pole is an example of how my focus became my reality.  I will get to that in a minute, but first, let’s look at a clear, physical, but non-circus, example of how focus quite literally becomes reality. On a surfboard, if you look down, you will likely fall. (A lesson I can’t seem to learn.) However, if you look up and to the left, your body will follow and so will your board. The same can be said for mountain biking. If you look down, you will probably spill forward. If you keep your gaze up, you will keep moving. Where your eyes go, your body goes, and where your body goes, everything else follows. 

These are physical examples, but this same theory can be found in the meta-physical. The focus of our mind becomes the direction of our life. This is a reason why vision boards and dream boards are so successful, and it is also the same concept behind the best selling book The Secret.  The Law of Attraction is fueled by our focus. It tells us that we can manifest our reality, we just have to be conscious of where we are putting our mental gaze as well as what subtle suggestions we are placing in our periphery. 

In Karl’s case, he started to focus on falling instead of walking, and his mental focus literally pulled him down. In my case, however, this metal ring, this tiny piece of Karl’s world, has in some small way kept me alive and happy. (Alive might seem like a strong word, but my bendiness nudged me on to the path of yoga, which I can confidently say has saved my life.) For the past twenty years, the ring has taken up residence on my bookshelf, on my dresser, on my mantle, on my desk, and on my hutch. Somehow, its presence has kept alive the essence of what the circus represented so long ago. It has reminded me, time and time again, not just to be an acrobat in the physical from, but to be bold and brave with my choices. My desire to blur edges has been a key to my happiness. I may not be in the circus, but I am a gypsy of sorts, I have a pair of sparkly spandex yoga pants, I can still do the splits, and at thirty-seven years of age, I walk on my hands every damn day. I am an acrobat in my own life.

So, the question is, where is your focus? What suggestions are you placing in your periphery? What are the subconscious and conscious focal points influencing the direction of your life? Are you afraid? Are you pessimistic? Or, instead, are you planting subconscious seeds of health and abundance?

Hmm. 

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Need help finding your focus? Maybe you should come to Drishti Fest this October in Virginia Beach. Just a thought.

References

Bennis, W. (1989). On becoming a leader. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub.

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