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Overcoming Self-Doubt as an Aerialist

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Does fear of failure and criticism constantly stop you from achieving your aerial goals?

Have you avoided going to that advanced-level Silks class or signing up for that student showcase because you think you might not be able to do all of the tricks, or perform in front of so many people?

Have you ever thought it might be easier to just give up on your aerial dreams?

We are going to start out by saying that we are by no means the most confident aerialists in the world.

We struggle with bouts of insecurity as much as the next person. However, we vehemently believe that consistent hard work and dedication does produce results. Therefore, ANYBODY can be or achieve ANYTHING they set their hearts and minds to, whether it’s becoming a world-class aerialist, building a house or opening an artisan, hipster café.

🙂

Almost nothing truly rewarding in life comes easy, but keep in mind that the more difficult the climb (see what we did there?), the more one grows along the way, and the greater the victory.

Even if you aren’t brimming with confidence 24/7 (which is completely normal), if you know what you want, are willing to prioritize your goals over everything else you have going on in life (within reason), and put in the consistent hard work, you’ll get there.

​As artists, aerialists need to have a natural curiosity and desire to challenge themselves, to be willing to make mistakes, and to constantly analyze their work in order to set new goals. For those of us seeking to work professionally, we are also, many times, completely in charge of getting our names out there effectively in order to get clients and aerial contracts. All of this means believing in ourselves and what we have to offer. On top of everything else, we need to be able to take criticism constructively and not let it demotivate us.

Here at Womack and Bowman, being professional aerialists means we have had to be inherently courageous. We chose an artistic path in life while many people around us warned that it wasn’t a “safe” route. We have had to have the courage to believe in ourselves and our work in a sea of amazing and talented artists. We have had and still have to be brave enough to share our work with the world, even when we don’t think it’s ‘good enough’. We have had to be brave enough to put a price on our work and take criticism.

Over the years we have developed specific strategies that have helped us to stay positive and productive as professional aerialists and instructors and keep self-doubt at a healthy distance:

1. ​Don’t Rush Your Process

Creating an amazing aerial act takes time! The creative process can (and should) involve a phase of study and preparation (involving researching music, tricks, combinations etc.) before you even get to the studio. Enjoy the process of researching ideas and exploring themes. Look back on training videos and talk to your coaches about combinations and tricks they think work best for your body.

The same can be said for planning a phenomenal aerial workshop or class if you are an instructor. Take your time preparing and think about what your students will find most fulfilling. We like to conclude our classes with an aerial ‘routine’ set to music consisting of some of the combinations and tricks students have learnt in class. This allows the students to not only solidify the skills they have learnt and build endurance but it also develops a sense of artistry and musicality and is ultimately a deeply rewarding experience for all.

2. ​Work on the Fundamentals and Take Class

Being a professional aerialist and/or instructor requires becoming an expert on the fundamentals of the art form. We recommend choosing one apparatus to focus on, at least initially and deep dive into your training.

Take class from as many different instructors as possible, watch videos, ask questions, take private lessons and go to aerial retreats and festivals (if possible).

The more knowledgeable and experienced you become in your field, the more confident you will become overall. No matter what your skill or experience level, keep making time to study and practice the fundamentals of aerial throughout your career. By doing this, you will keep your skills fresh and your mind ready for whatever challenges that might come.

Look up resources online, buy books and invest in online courses as well as classes and workshops in your city! Being able to talk with experienced instructors and get feedback from others is very useful. We strongly believe that, no matter how skilled an aerialist has become, he/she should always make time to study the basics. 

3. Learn How to take Criticism Constructively

As aerialists, we simply have to learn how to take criticism. Whether from our coaches during class or from directors, choreographers and agents in a professional setting. Harsh criticism can be hurtful and discouraging, no matter what point an aerialist is at. It is, therefore, imperative to develop a somewhat thick skin and/or positive coping mechanisms in order to move forward.

Accept that anyone who is willing to put him/herself out there is going to get criticized at one point or another. Not everyone will like you or what you do, nor is it your job to make everyone like you. The sooner you realize that you cant please everyone, the better. It is important to keep in mind who the comments are coming from. If someone who has absolutely no experience in what you are doing is harshly criticizing you, take those comments with a grain of salt. Sometimes people are mean just to be mean (especially online) and their actions/words say more about them than they do about your work.

All this being said, it is also important to learn to accept peoples’ praise. Be proud of how far you’ve come and thank them for admiring your work!

​4. Don’t ‘Compare and Despair’

Every aerialist is different. We all have varying levels of expertise depending on the amount of time we’ve been at it, different likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and have lived or are living totally different life situations. No matter how much you try, your body and your art will never look exactly like somebody else’s. And you don’t need it to look like somebody else’s! The only thing you need to focus on is on developing your own skill and style.

Admiring and getting inspiration from viewing other aerialists work is perfectly fine as long as you are in a good head space, but thinking you’ll never be able to get to that level is damaging and unnecessary. Study other aerialist’s work to start realizing what kind of styles and dynamics you are drawn to and get specific ideas from them to apply in your own work.

5. Kill the Perfectionist Within You and Become a Curious Explorer!

“Healthy striving is self-focused. “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?” – Brene Brown

As with any other aspect of life, we should be striving for progress and not perfection in our work. Perfectionism and fear of failure are two of the greatest enemies of any creative being and can attack at any moment throughout our aerial careers, even when one is an experienced professional.

Realize no act or combination is EVER going to be perfect and there is ALWAYS going to be something to improve on. And even if you succeed at creating or performing what you think is a perfect NOW, there is a good chance that in a year from now you’ll look back at the video and notice all the ways that you could have done better. Your standards are going to keep getting higher and higher, which is great and means that you are holding yourself accountable and are moving forward.

Keep exploring, learning, creating and performing. Never, EVER let fear paralyze you!

6. Set Feasible Goals for Yourself

It is important to constantly set goals for yourself. SMALL, SPECIFIC, and FEASIBLE goals.

Here at Womack and Bowman we have a tendency to want to do it all and have in the past been overwhelmed because our focus gets scattered and we would end up doing only a portion of everything we wanted to do (create new acts, perform, teach, create online courses, produce shows).

We have recently become more realistic when setting our goals and chosen 2 or 3 areas to focus on (for example we currently do not teach at our studio regularly but will teach occasional workshops and at the AiRise Aerial Performance Retreat in November). Be honest about your life situation and be kind to yourself when you are setting your goals.

Once you have set your goals focus on one specific action at a time that will help you get closer to one or more of your goals. With every success you’ll become more experienced and confident in your skills and you’ll be able to progress much faster. Don’t forget to praise and reward yourself for your achievements!

Remember that there will ALWAYS be to more learn, no matter how skilled and experienced you become as an aerialist. In a year from now you’ll look back at your work and appreciate how much you have improved. Then you’ll set new standards for yourself and these will continue shifting throughout time.

7. Remember to Always, ALWAYS Stay Positive

This is important in all aspects of life. When you start something believing you will fail, you’re probably going to fail. If you attempt something and don’t succeed, try again tomorrow! If you ever feel a sense of frustration bubbling up inside of you, take a break and remember that every action causes a reaction, which means that if you are trying you are getting a little bit better each time, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

You have to know, deep within yourself, that you can do anything if you keep trying. Embrace failure and shift your mindset so that you start viewing mistakes as discoveries and milestones that you are moving past in order to become a masterful aerialist.

Whatever fear or anxiety comes your way, channel it into positive actions that will help move you forward and don’t ever give up!

​“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt.
Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented
​as a consolation prize.” 

-Robert Hughes

“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

– Aristotle

Have a wonderful weekend!

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