What I learned from running a carnival sideshow

I worked for an American fun fair for three months in my early twenties.

I call it a fun fair, but it was properly known as a carnival – and as a temporary ‘carnie’ I travelled around the small towns of Northern California that blissful summer, helping to set up the sideshows and relieving the locals of their hard-earned dollars, sometimes giving them a plush toy in return, if they managed to win.

Mind you, winning wasn’t easy.


The sideshow to which I was allocated was called Scat Cats.

Three or four giant wooden cats stood at the rear of the tent, each with a circular cut-out mouth: you won by throwing a baseball through one of them.


Well, no.

Appearances were deceptive, and when you looked closely (which you couldn’t really do from the punters’ side of things) it was evident that the hole’s diameter was only marginally larger than the ball.

The only way to get one in (and we were taught how to do so, in order to make it look easy) was to throw the ball with a strange kind of pushing action, straight out from your chest.

Trying to get it in using a ‘coming in from the top’ strategy wouldn’t work, as the ball would meet the aperture as an ellipse rather than a circle, bumping into either top or bottom, or sometimes both.

(Imagine you were a tiny person on the surface of the ball – as the target approached, its circular shape would be foreshortened into an oval.)

Of course, this didn’t stop people having a go.

It was ‘all the fun of the fair’ to try but not succeed, walking away convinced that you’d been so close.

If only.

To some extent the players of my game were aiming at impossible goals.

I suppose they didn’t mind, although they may have if they’d stopped to think it through.

However, in general we do best when we have real, achievable goals to look forward to.

So what goals could you set yourself today?

And how could you reward yourself for achieving them?

They needn’t be big – in fact it’s often helpful, especially if your mood is at a low ebb, to choose easier targets which you might be able to reach in much shorter time periods – but they should be specific and attainable.

Although I’d steer clear of the Scat Cats game should you come across it, if I were you.

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