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Confessions of a Balloon Handler

Little known fact, for several years I wrote the script for the Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS.  Yes…parades are scripted!  Fun and yet extremely challenging to write for some of the many celebrities who bravely hosted those gigs.

What a privilege to work with the likes of acclaimed actor, director, author and civil rights activist, Ossie Davis who, at that time, was co-starring in a TV series with Burt Reynolds called Evening Shade. I felt a huge responsibility to de-cringe-ify the words that would be coming out of his mouth…I mean, come on… “here comes the Betty Boop Balloon…”???   But I digress.

Working behind the scenes on the parades turned out to be a master class in people management, especially those highly visible, famous-in-their respective fields individuals, who soar high above the masses…like those ginormous “Macy’s balloons”. And yet, while all eyes were on them, I watched and learned about teamwork from the balloon handlers who guided them.

nancy mendelson hertelier

“The job of a parade balloon handler is a continuous battle to adjust,” says author, speaker, coach, Lance Loya. “They must adjust the pace at which they walk. They must adjust the amount of slack they give their rope. They must adjust the grip on their “bones”—the proper term for the balloon’s handles. And they must make all those adjustments in concert with their fellow balloon handlers. Failing to make necessary adjustments could cause the balloon’s lines to get tangled, the balloon to turn in the wrong direction, or something much worse, “who goes on to point out that, “being a good teammate is a similar battle of continuous adjustment. You must adjust to your competition. You must adjust to the elements. You must adjust to your teams’ circumstances if someone gets injured, falls ill, or otherwise becomes unavailable. And, like a balloon handler, you must make all those adjustments in concert with your fellow teammates.”

Over the course of my post-parade-writing years––a side-gig, BTW––I often found myself (and still am) in the position of writing for and/or working with extremely high-profile individuals and organizations; and realized that among the skill sets I bring to the table is, metaphorically speaking, balloon handling.

nancy mendelson hertelier

Metaphors “evoke vivid images and allow us to "see" things from a new perspective, and so are useful tools for creative problem solving,” says cognitive psychologist, Mark A. Runco.  And trust me, they are!  

Whether working with individuals or teams of dedicated individuals, imagining myself as a balloon handler has helped me creatively and responsibly navigate so many challenging situations.  So, the next time you watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, enjoy the giant balloons, but watch and learn from the hundreds of handlers on the ground who are making it all happen. 


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