How Circus Has Taught Me Resilience

In a few days, I will be heading back to school to pursue an MFA in theatre practice at the University of Alberta.  This challenge has conjured many feelings including excitement, curiosity, anxiety, but also fear.  What am I so afraid of?  Failure.  But failure doesn’t have to be a fearful thing.  It can also be an opportunity for growth and resilience.


Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Oxford defines resilience as a person or object’s, ability to bounce back or “recover quickly from difficulties”. But, is all difficulty created equal?  Is it enough to simply recover from adversity? Or, is the bigger test of character, someone who can not only face hardship but learn from that situation and grow?

When I think of someone who is resilient I think of the refugee who comes to a new country barely speaking the language and having lived and experienced horrible things, and yet is able to overcome the odds stacked against them, learn the language, get a job, and create a new life for themselves.  Or, the First Nations peoples who have had their land taken from them, and multiple attempts made against them to annihilating their culture, and yet they continue to persevere, to teach the next generation and care and defend their land in whatever ways they can.  Or, my mother who when diagnosed with cancer and managed to survive the disease while still taking care of her children and maintain a healthy lifestyle.


My Maman- After completing the Run for the Cure.

These people are resilient.  They have endured hard circumstances and seem to have returned to a normal way of being.

Based on these examples I’m not sure I can prove any resilience in myself.  What hardships have I had to overcome?   I’m a fairly privileged person.  Sure, I’ve had my heart broken, and lived through times when money has been tight, but I’ve always had food to eat, and a friend or family member to hold my hand. I haven’t been to war or had my culture taken from me, or fought a disease.

If I haven’t experienced any great hardship, am I resilient?

If I haven’t experienced any great hardship, am I resilient?  Is there a scale that measures one’s resiliency based on the adversity they’ve faced?

I don’t think resilience is that simple to measure. Richard S. Citrin and Alan Weiss describe resilience as: “Our ability to effectively plan for, navigate successfully, and gracefully recover from challenging and stressful events in such a way that we are strengthened by the experience.” (The Resilience Advantage: Stop Managing Stress and Find Your Resilience, xviii) In other words, it is not the circumstance you have lived through that determines whether you are resilient or not, it is how you choose to react to that circumstance and who you become as a result.

Nothing that faces any kind of adversity is ever unchanged.  Even the trampoline, whose surface easily recovers from the weight of someone bouncing repeatedly on it, does eventually stretch out, and, with time, even breaks.


What is beautiful about the human spirit, is that it has the capacity to be impacted by its hardships, and not only rebound from the circumstances but be transformed from them. Not everyone grows from difficult circumstances.  Some people hang on to the past forever, for others the circumstances are too insurmountable, or they lack the support or the teaching.

My greatest teacher of resilience has been my training and performing in circus arts.

My greatest teacher of resilience has been my training and performing in circus arts. Circus disciplines that require a great deal of resilience.  The things we ask our body to do are hard, and yet we learn to persevere.  We put ourselves in uncomfortable positions, such as meat hook or flag,we hang off of structures sometimes 50 feet in the air, and then we learn to quiet our anxieties, breath and perform.  Although there are times when my body is tired, weak and unmotivated, I go to the gym and train anyway.  Why? Because I know I will get stronger.  I know that move that feels impossible right now, will one day be easy, “Learning to cope and even succeed with complex challenges effectively means that we build more confidence in our ability to take on the world.” (Citrin & Weiss. P.8). Circus has taught me that by not giving up, no matter how hard something may seem, it will get easier and I will succeed.


Leda Davies- Aerial Straps Montreal, 2018 Photo credit: PhotosdeCirque — Jim Mneymneh.

Resilience is not as simple as the Oxford dictionary would like to suggest.  Not all obstacles in life are created equal, and the human spirit rarely remains ‘unchanged’ by difficult circumstance.  However, a truly resilient person is the one who grows in their challenges and perseveres. The skill of resilience can be taught, but a strong will and support system is equally valuable.  The reward for our resilience is not returning to “normal” but witnessing the evolution of our human spirit and the pride of attaining our goals.  So, bring on the fear and the failure.  My circus training has given me confidence in my resilience, and regardless of the outcome, I will be a stronger person ready to take on the world!


Citrin, Richard S., and Alan Weiss. The Resilience Advantage: Stop Managing Stress and Find Your Resilience, Business Expert Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

“Resilience” Def.1. Oxford University Press, 2018. Web. 2 September 2018.





1 Comment

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One response to “How Circus Has Taught Me Resilience

  1. Maman

    Fear is a liar, do not listen to it!! Fourteen years a victor and still going strong. One day at a time is how you win!! You’ve got this!!!

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