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Lesson #1: Embrace Your Inner Child
As one of the most famous children’s entertainers in the world, Henson became a master at listening to and trying to reconnect with his inner child. He was an astute businessman but achieved success largely due to his ability to reach into the mind of a child and understand its workings.
“We never really lose a certain sense we had when we were kids,” he said. “That sense of looking around at this big world and not knowing who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing.” It was this feeling that Henson tried to recapture through his alter ego, Kermit the Frog. Through his simple childlike reflections, Kermit was able to echo the philosophical complexities of everyday adult life.
Henson used Kermit to enunciate the dreams that children so often have, but which seem to evaporate with age. “I’ve got a dream too, but it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy,” said Kermit. “That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.” Henson, too, was trying to make people happy – and the more, the better.
“You have to be able to put yourself psychologically and emotionally back to your childhood to understand its fears and joys,” said Henson. That was the key to Henson’s success – he reached back to his childhood and tried to establish a connection to it. He then shared this connection with the rest of the world.
This lesson was not one that Henson felt was restricted solely to those who played with puppets or who worked with children on a daily basis. Rather, it was a lesson for all of us. The clarity of vision, simplicity of thought and idealism resting within every child’s mind was something that Henson felt should never be forgotten. These characteristics should instead be cultivated as adults, for they can inspire and inform any line of work.
“You know that my feeling about puppetry relates to stylization, simplicity,” Henson said. The success of The Muppet Show owes itself to that simplicity with which Henson approached the venture, right down to the details of his Muppets. Kermit the Frog is a classic, simple hand-and-rod operated puppet, which was originally fashioned out of nothing but a coat belonging to Henson’s mother. But, it was that very minimal nature that made him so expressive and endearing. “Simple is good,” Henson often reiterated.
Henson’s childlike energy for his work and life is perhaps his greatest legacy and is what pushed him to the heights of success that he reached. “The enthusiasm that you have when you’re an adolescent stays with you,” he said. By bringing a unique mixture of childlike wonder and adult reflection to his work, Henson was able to find success across a vast audience.
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