Have you ever heard the term “jumping the shark”? I was around when it was born, just two days after my tenth birthday.
Happy Days was a sitcom that aired from 1974 to 1984. Set in Milwaukee around the 50′s and 60′s, episodes revolved around the everyday lives of teenager Richie Cunningham, his family, and friends.
That is, until its fifth season premiere, when things got really strange.
The main characters somehow wound up leaving Milwaukee and visiting Los Angeles. While there, family friend Fonzie, a motorcycle-riding, leather-jacket-wearing mechanic with a shady past and tough, “cool” exterior, was challenged to don water skis and jump over a confined shark to prove his bravery.
Though Happy Days limped on for several more seasons after that episode, the “jumping the shark” concept was so foreign to the show’s structure, such an outrageous and seemingly desperate gimmick to attract viewers, that it signaled the beginning of the end.
Since then, “jumping the shark” has been used to describe the point when something that was once great, starts to decline in quality and popularity.
A lesser known antonym of “jumping the shark” is “growing the beard”. Drawn from another TV show, “growing the beard” alludes to how much better Star Trek: The Next Generation became after Commander Riker grew a beard at the start of season two.
Though I’ve never seen an episode of ST:TNG, I vouch for the improvement based on looks alone. Check it out: the guy on the right just looks like a commander to me. The guy on the left? Greg Brady in Underoos. Am I wrong?
Understandably, the “growing the beard” idiom resonates with me these days. I’ve been literally growing a beard for several months now.
With this analogy in mind, it’s a great visual reminder to keep pressing forward – not to dwell on past successes or failures, grasp at crafty gimmicks, or slip into complacency. There’s always more to learn, apply and share. Every day I hope to be growing the beard – both literally and figuratively.
Are you jumping the shark or growing the beard?
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:12-14