October 28, 2020

Critics Be Damned—Becoming the Ringmaster of my own Sh*t-Show Life.

*Warning: naughty language below!


“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my life, the messiest show on Earth.”

I have wanted to scream this from the rooftop lately and sell tickets to those transfixed by the circus that is my life at the moment. As spectators laugh at the well-intentioned bumbling, I am putting out fires like my life depends on it (because in many ways, it does).

The audience roars with applause as I try to keep dozens of flaming balls aloft, and they howl in delight when a ball drops. It’s even better if something catches fire, by the way. I, along with my family, have walked tightropes while my body has trembled; sauntered into the lion’s den with the naive trust of a child (pretty kitty…); and taken risks well outside of my comfort zone.

I have danced holes in my shoes and worn blisters on my feet, all in an effort to please the fickle audience. I am exhausted and exasperated by the jeers of the crowd, and I have considered dropping the curtain permanently. But instead, here’s what I have decided: This is my show, damn it!

And from now on, I am in charge of how the show plays out.

Things in the circus of my life are are not great. Our family is trying to claw its way back from loss, chronic illness, financial insecurity, and the stress that accompanies those life events. That’s not the part that keeps me up at night, though.

I am excellent in the face of adversity, and hope is at the top of my character strengths. I have never met a challenge I wasn’t up for, and I am no kind of quitter.

But in life, as in circuses, it is exhausting to perform to hostile or unappreciative audiences day after day, especially when you work your ass off to please the crowd. The barrage of negativity makes it impossible to get on with the show. How can anyone innovate and improve their act when they spend hours a day reacting to “constructive criticism” from onlookers.

In my life, I have become so afraid of the spectators that I accidentally gave them control of my show—how the hell did this happen?  

I am a recovering people pleaser. In an attempt to please those who have shown up in my life (many of whom were uninvited), I have danced the side-step, worn every mask in the dressing room, wrestled fearsome beasts, and performed unnatural acts of contortion.

I did this all because I thought that’s what the audience wanted. I never considered what acts I was good at, or whether I wanted to perform at all, but instead played the clown in hopes of winning the adoration of the crowd.

But years of performing have left me sick, frustrated, and at the end of my ever-loving rope. Thank goodness that somewhere in the middle of the show I saw my audience through the blinding light: There they sat, shoveling popcorn into their mouths between jeers, demanding a perfect show while they sit on their rumps and demand more. When the fiery balls drop or the lion attacks, the spectators do nothing, save cheering and wondering how we got ourselves into such a pickle.

Gluttonous, chortling cowards—those kinds of folks do not get to run my show.

I am building the courage to return to the big top and take active ownership of my own show, critics be damned. For the first time in my life, I am the ringmaster.

Brené Brown has made the concept of “daring greatly” famous with her book of that title. Her book got its name from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote, which comes to mind often in challenging times:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doers of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strive valiantly; who errs, comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

I don’t have many regrets in my life, but there are two.

The first is that I spent 45 years of my life bending to the wishes and demands of others.

The second involves socks. In a local shop, I came across a pair of socks that said “Ringmaster of the Shit Show,” and my heart soared. Those socks captured my sentiments so perfectly, but then I exercised a rare moment of financial restraint and walked away from those beloved socks. My thought before walking away was, “Who needs 14 dollar socks?”—This girl, that’s who!

After some serious scouring of the internet, I found the socks, and they will be here tomorrow. I can’t wait to incorporate them into my daily wardrobe. Why?

As a reminder that my shit-show-circus life is messy, beautiful, terrifying, exhilarating, confusing, child-like, and mine. It smells like day-old soda, lavender, Doritos, dirty socks, and puppy breath. It sounds like Fortnite and tickle fights, sibling brawls, impassioned arguments, the laughter of friends, and Pink blaring in the kitchen to mute the scream of the smoke alarm (mom burned the beans, again!).

I count “freaks” among my closest friends and find “normal” people boring. On closer examination, turns out those “normals” are just freaks like me who are desperately hoping no one sees under their mask.

The circus of my life is an absolute shit show, but it is my shit show, and to me, it is pure magic.

To all those in the audience, whom Roosevelt called “cold, timid souls” too paralyzed by fear to act—come on down here and throw your hat in the ring!

Let’s get messy, fly at dizzying heights, and see the world in a whole new way together.


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