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Balcony vs. Basement People

Updated: May 30, 2023

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This month, with permission from the author to share with our insureds, we are featuring an article by Dr. Rachel Fry, a personal and professional coach for associate attorneys, partners, and legal teams.


bal•co•ny băl′kə-nē

  1. A platform that projects from the wall of a building and is surrounded by a railing, balustrade, or parapet.

  2. A gallery that projects over the main floor in a theater or auditorium.

  3. A stage or platform projecting from the wall of a building within or without, supported by columns, pillars, or consoles, and encompassed with a balustrade, railing, or parapet.


When you hear the word balcony, you’ll think of a few things. A grand theater. Someone watching play practice from above. Or, just sneaking into the last seat at a concert venue. That’s the normal definition, of a strikingly normal word. But something happened to me last year that caught me off guard, and it was this—someone told me about a new meaning for the word balcony. And it isn’t in the dictionary. It was in an email late last year when one of my dearest friends - a 70-year-old lawyer - told me:


“A wonderful book was given to me as a wedding present. The title is Balcony People. The essence of this book is—when we are on the stage of life our audience seated in the theatre is full of balcony people who are there applauding us and encouraging us through all our experiences, whether we handle things in a good manner or rather badly.”


Of course, he saved the best for last: “I am gifted to have you as a friend in my theatre of life seated on the front row applauding me”!!! It struck me, because it wasn’t just a friendly email—it felt like one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. But then I realized something about him: he’s one of my dearest friends. He’s honest. Self-deprecating. And about as humble and authentic as they come.


For me, I wasn’t just the balcony person. He was, too.


So, What’s the Difference?

We’ve all met them. These are the people that elevate you. Push you toward your goals. And without a doubt, they love you and encourage you. But then, of course, there are basement people. They’re the people that make you feel confined, push you down, and aren’t all that interested in helping you grow, or be your best. In short, they don’t want you to move upstairs. They want you stuck in the basement—whether consciously or unconsciously, intentionally, or unintentionally.


How to Find Your “Balcony People”

We all need them, and we need them now more than ever. With loneliness continuously on the rise, balcony people aren’t just “nice-to-have”—they’re psychological necessities. But here’s the key question: how do you find them?


While the reality of making - and sustaining - your balcony people is a topic that can fill a book, here are a few core tenets that can inform how you do it:


Clue #1: You Have to Go Looking

And, by looking, I mean, you must be a little vulnerable. Yes, I know—it’s uncomfortable. But there’s a catch. True connection only happens if you allow yourself to be vulnerable. And as Brene Brown relays in her book, Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you.” Turns out, it’s like a chess game—If we want others to be vulnerable, sometimes, we have to make the first move. So: be open. Share your story. Talk openly. Seek out others’ wisdom. And stretch yourself right out of your comfort zone. You can always be that person if you simply choose.


Clue #2: You Have to Notice Who Is “In” Your Life

Are there people in your life that are already bringing in good energy? How about people that drain you? Start to notice: how is your energy impacted by the people in your day-to-day life? And once you notice that, the next step is simple—seek out the energizing crowd a bit more often.


Clue #3: Follow Your Interests and Passions

Becoming a balcony person began with me simply following my interest in legal wellness. Being curious. Wanting to hear others’ stories. Having a genuine desire to learn. But of course, to my surprise (and luck), I gained a balcony person in the process. You, like me, might find your people in the most unlikely scenarios and places. But sometimes, you’ll find them right at the intersection of what you’re interested in, too.


Clue #4 (The Most Important Clue): To Find Your Balcony People, Become One Yourself

Notice. Listen. Keep your eyes wide open. And remember we all want to be seen and heard. To help facilitate this, striving towards becoming your “best” self is also critical. Being real and honest with yourself and others—knowing what matters to you and living your values—sounds trite, of course. But it matters because grounded people tend to attract and seek out people who share a similar orientation in the world. When you encounter one person in your theatre, you’ll also know when you see a person whose performance you’d attend without a second thought.


We Need Balcony People—More Than Ever

Psychologically, times are tougher now than they’ve ever been. The Covid pandemic was a “leveler” in the sense that the normal layers were ripped off quickly like a band-aid. Conversations have changed—the normal response of “I’m good,” has shifted to having permission to say “I’m struggling.”


But I believe there’s a silver lining: we’ll be discovering more “balcony people” in our own lives as the years go by now. And that’s because balcony people are not just “nice to have.” They’re a necessity; a vital part of our well-being, and a critical ingredient in what it means to be human.


For some, it might seem hard at first to actually find these balcony people. And truthfully, they can be hard to come by—especially in times of increasing isolation. But the funny thing is, if you actually go looking, and you become a balcony person yourself, you might just stumble into one or two. And when that happens, I promise: you’ll both be cheering.


With nearly two decades of experience in psychology and legal wellness, Dr. Rachel Fry’s programs, workshops, and training offer a practical, authentic, and proven pathway to long-term happiness. www.rachelfryconsulting.com.

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