The Secret To Success

Here’s a thought:

There’s one simple secret that will make you successful at what you want to do in life. It’s not even really a secret, though, because I guarantee you already know it.

I’ve spent years reading books, taking classes, watching tutorials, listening to lectures, and more, hoping to hear the magic formula that would take me to the next level. I was convinced that someone would eventually say the correct combination of words that would give me the knowledge to be truly great at something.

I’ll save you some time: the answer is already in front of you. You can stop searching for it because I’m going to tell you what it is.

The secret to success is simple (at least in theory):

Find the thing you enjoy doing most, then do it as much as possible. After that, do it a lot more.

That’s it. It sounds simple, right? Almost too simple even. But it’s true - the way to be truly great at something is to do it as much as you possibly can.

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but there are no shortcuts. You can’t cheat your way to being the best at what you do. You have to work at it nonstop - and then some.

I don’t think we (I’ll include myself here) like to hear advice like this. We want a magic pill or a secret elixir that will catapult us to the next level of proficiency. So we devour self-help books and TED Talks in hopes of gaining wisdom that will keep us from needing to truly work towards mastery in our given field.

The truth is: there is no Secret formula, there is no four-hour-work-week-quick-path-to-success. You’ve known the answer all along, now you just need to put in the work.

For me it’s stage time. I try to get onstage as much as possible. I do a hundred full-length 60-75 minute shows every year. Plus, I do unannounced open mics, cabaret spots, hosting gigs, and storytelling events around Chicago in between.

I love studying my favorite authors and learning about their writing process. Some people write by hand, others prefer a computer. Some write in the morning, others in the evening. It varies, depending on the individual - but all of them have this in common: they try to write every single day and reach a certain word count.

I’m also a part-time, non-elite runner. I enjoy logging miles along Lake Michigan in the summer and I’d love to be faster. When I read about elite runners I notice that the amount of miles they log is insane. They have to spend more time on their feet so they can run further and faster. Hard for someone like me - a self-employed artist - but I do the best I can to commit to runs as often as possible and gradually add mileage throughout the year.

No matter your interest, if you want to be great you need to spend as much time working on it as possible. You don’t need any more self-help books or online tutorials, just 20-30 years of hard work.

Other Thoughts:

  • The New York Times says human contact is becoming a luxury good so I guess that means I provide a luxury service now.

  • Some people asked about the typewriter in my recent photos. It’s an Olivetti Lettera 32, used by famous writers including Cormac McCarthy, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, and more. I’ll write more on it in a future post.

  • You have one chance left to see MIND READER in Chicago, then it’s off to Pittsburgh. All upcoming shows can be found here.


Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to reach the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert. Some people take exception to this rule, but for my purposes this week let’s just analyze the magic number: 10,000.

Gladwell is talking about “dedicated practice” - focused training on a skill that helps a person continue to improve over time. You need to push yourself out of your comfort zone, seek feedback, and dedicated yourself to continued practice on a regular basis for an extended period of time.

I think about the 10,000 hour rule a lot. It gets thrown around in pop culture, on TED talks, in magazines, and referenced in numerous self-help, motivational books.

So, I was curious…how many hours do I have?

Being a mind reader is a tricky thing - it’s difficult to practice without an audience. Most of my practice time is onstage - learning the ebbs and flows of a live performance, understanding the connection with an audience, and working on my material.

Given that each performance meets the “dedicated practice” metric, I calculated how much time I’ve spent performing for other people.

I started doing magic when I was 3 years old. That was 29 years ago. Growing up, I did magic every year at family celebrations (Christmas and Thanksgiving) for probably 10 minutes. That’s fifteen years of holiday performances.

When I got in school I would do magic each week at Show & Tell during Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. That’s 5 minutes a week for 30 weeks over 3 more years.

I also did a talent show many years (5 minutes a year for six years), shows at nursing homes and local libraries each summer (10 shows for 60 minutes for 10 summers).

So far that’s as follows:

• 15 years x 10 minutes = 150 mins over the Holidays

• 30 weeks x 5 minutes = 150 minutes x 3 years = 450 mins of Show & Tell

• 6 years x 5 minutes = 30 mins at Talent Shows

• 10 shows x 60 minutes = 600 mins x 10 summers = 6,000 minutes of Summer Shows

Altogether that comes to a total of 6,630 minutes or 110.5 hours.


So what about college? I did dozens of shows during my time at both USC and WSU. I ran the numbers and it comes out to another 5,000 minutes of stage time while I was getting my degree. That puts us at 11,630 minutes or nearly 194 hours of stage time.

At this rate, this is going to take forever…

Since school I’ve been doing close to 100 shows a year. Some years more, some years less but let’s use a nice round number. Also, the shows vary in length, from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, so I’ll stick with 60 minutes just to keep things simple.

• 100 shows

• 10 years

• An average of 60 minutes each

That’s an extra 60,000 minutes of stage time or 1,000 hours.

A whopping total of 1,304.5 hours.

So that does it for my stage time. It feels like I’ve done so much more but the reality is there are only so many hours in a day and so many shows I can do each year. Even if I did 500 shows a year it would still take me 20 years to get 10,000 hours in front of an audience.

The good news is…it’s not all about stage time. Doing shows is clearly a big part of what I do but not the whole part…there’s more that goes into it.

I spent several hours a day writing, rehearsing, studying, and creating my shows. Plus, I attend other performances, lectures, and workshops to improve my skills. Additionally, I’ve taken theatre, improv, storytelling, and writing classes to implement new ideas and knowledge into my shows. And there’s all the other plays, musicals, storytelling shows, and cabaret showcases I’ve been a part of.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the numbers here but believe me, I’m way closer to the 10,000 hour rule than I originally thought. However, the more I tallied up my practice time the more it struck me that 10,000 hours is not a hard and fast rule. It’s a guideline.

The idea isn’t that you reach that threshold and suddenly have all the answers. It’s that you put in the hours each and every day. If you want to get better at something it all comes down to a continuous pursuit of personal improvement.

I’m far from an expert at what I do. Some shows I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders and other times I’m left stumped, wondering why I didn’t connect and how it could have been better. There’s always room to improve and new things to understand.

However, the more shows I do the fewer bad shows I have. And I think that is the best part of this whole process. I can actually look back and note a visible, positive change in my work. That excites me and motivates me to keep going and striving for each new level of mastery. I can’t wait to see what the next 5,000 hours have in store.