I was out for a run last week, counting my steps like always.
One. Two. Three. Four.
It was cold, about to rain, but nice enough to get in a few miles.
Get to that tree. No the next. Catch that guy. You’ve got this.
I rounded the curve next to the golf course in Lincoln Park, just hitting my stride, when I came down on the side of my foot and sharply rolled my ankle.
I winced in pain and collapsed on the side of the path. I’ve rolled my ankle before but this was worse. The run was over and I hobbled a mile back home, my foot throbbing with every step.
See, the past couple of years have been all about getting back on my feet. Custom orthotics, physical therapy, special shoes, and so on.
I’ve been a runner most of my life but a few injuries here and there have left me discouraged and stagnant.
This year was supposed to be different.
But then I rolled my ankle and over the weekend I’d wondered if I might have ruined my chances at getting back to marathon pace this year.
Another freakin’ setback.
I’ve had a lot of setbacks over the course of my career. Both big and little things that made me put stuff on hold or go a different direction.
I’ve had so many setbacks.
I moved to Los Angeles after I graduated and slept on couches for a while. I only had $500 to my name and worked tirelessly to find gigs and get my name out there. I’d take the bus two hours to a show then back again several days a week, just to afford my tiny room and a few groceries to get by. After a year, I had made progress with gigs and gotten better - but I was still broke.
Our first year living in Chicago was miserable. My wife and I spent all of our savings just to afford our first apartment. We maxed out a credit card just so I could travel to gigs. I even got in a car wreck and totaled our car. It was rough.
I self-represented myself for a few years, convinced I would meet an agent who would want to work with me. And I did! An agency offered me a spot and promised me big things. Two years later, I had no gigs to show for it and the agency went bankrupt. I was back where I started.
I’ve had so many attempts at weekly shows in Chicago. (Including my current show MIND READER running right now in Lincoln Park.) This will be my seventh year doing a long-running show in the city. I’ve had venues close in the middle of a run, producers not hold up their end of the bargain, and shows have to close due to unforeseen circumstances. It often felt like the shows would come to a screeching halt, without any warning.
So many setbacks.
But you know what’s great?
Looking back I don’t view any of those moments as “setbacks” because every one of them ended up leading to something better.
Failing in L.A. didn’t mean giving up. It gave me the focus I needed to know how I could make this a success. I realized I didn’t want to sleep on couches forever but that I had what it takes to get gigs and be successful. I just knew it would take time. So I took a step back to reassess, get better, and make a plan.
The first year in Chicago might have been a disaster but it led to a year-long job doing my show at Disney World. When I totaled the car, we made a stupid decision to put the insurance money towards a new camera. My wife taught herself to take photos so we could promote the show. It worked. And now she’s opening her own photography studio in Chicago.
Having a failed experience with an agent made me realize to never rely on someone else. I had a fantasy in my mind that an agent meant I had “made it” and would suddenly be successful. But that’s simply not true. If anything, getting an agent just means you have to work even harder, only on different things. I found out that no one can work as hard on my behalf as I can. I’ll get back to you if that ever changes.
And my experiments with weekly shows has culminated in a current run right now. Every run has gotten better. Every performance was been an education. This year will be my longest run yet and hopefully we’ll keep it going for a while this time.
And as for my ankle…it’s luckily not a fracture. Just a sprain. My doctor tells me I’ll be running again by the end of the month. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. You’d better believe I’m going to conquer the Chicago Marathon again this year.
Every single moment of disappointment has led to something better. Sometimes the better moment happened within a week. Sometimes I didn’t realize it for years. But after I got through the initial phase of being “incredibly bummed out” I got over it and made the most of it. And that has always meant that I was better off than when I started.
Another setback…so that means something great is on the way.