inspiration

Moving On and Getting Older

I turned 33 this week.

33 is my favorite number, so this is destined to be a good year. (It was my basketball jersey number when I was younger…I was a big fan of Larry Bird.)

I spent my birthday doing a show in Tennessee. I woke up at 3am to catch a flight, drove through the mountains to get to Chattanooga and worked from 4pm-1am. It was a pretty typical work day and that’s okay. Some of my favorite birthdays as an adult have just been typical days performing or being at home.

Every time I see an “it’s my birthday” blog post online it seems that people list out all of their huge career accomplishments from the previous year and goals for the year ahead. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that before myself…but I’m approaching this year differently.

This past year I’ve made some big changes in my life. I stopped using my phone as much, limited my social media use, and prioritized myself. I’ve been doing more of what I enjoy - running, writing, reading, filmmaking - and it’s really improved my daily outlook.

Instead of worrying about my professional goals for the year ahead I’m going to keep putting myself first. Sure, I still have big ambitions for my show and career, but those are mostly out of my control. I need to be content with where I end up, whether I fully achieve those goals or not.

My personal goals are another story. So, while I’m 33 I plan on focusing on me, including the following:

That’s a lot of hardware!

That’s a lot of hardware!

  • HEALTH: This year I’ve lost 25 pounds just by committing to healthy eating and going to the gym. I’m lucky to be tall and carry my weight well, so you probably couldn’t even tell I’d gotten a little overweight. But I was.

    After I fractured my ankle and broke a toe in the same week last summer I was unable to do any physical activity. So, I hibernated last winter and ate whatever I wanted. But, once the sun came out in the spring I got my head on straight and went back to running. I set my sights on a half marathon and spent all summer training. I ran a myriad of races - 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers - to keep myself motivated. I haven’t missed a run all year. And last Sunday I finished my first half marathon - 5 minutes under my goal pace. I was PUMPED.

    Over the next year I plan on logging more miles and running even more races. I want to run a couple more half marathons next year and maybe even attempt a triathlon. I’m fortunate that I recovered from my injuries and feel stronger than ever. And now I plan on getting in the best shape of my life.

  • CREATIVITY: I want to write a book. And a screenplay. And a TV series and a stage play and a children’s story. I want to make short films and start a podcast. I want to give stand-up comedy a shot. Anytime I think up an idea I want to turn it into a reality.

    I’m working on transforming my home office into a creative paradise. I’m removing distractions like the Internet, social media, Netflix, my phone, television, etc. from the space and only having creative tools within arm’s reach. There’s a computer for editing video, my typewriter for writing, microphones for podcast, my books for research, and my props for rehearsal. I have everything I need.

    The final step is to focus on what matters most. I’m going to have to say “NO” to friends and family that want my time. I’m going to turn down work that I don’t want to do so I can focus on the work I want to be doing. I want to reengineer my life so I can do as much “deep work” as possible.

  • LEARNING: I’ve spent so much time the past decade searching for work and traveling to gigs that for a while I stopped learning new things. I was too exhausted to read or study, so I’d binge a Netflix show instead or scroll Twitter instead. Enough is enough.

    Now that I’m a little more established, I can actually step away from work sometimes and do other things. And this year, I’ve been trying to educate myself more. I’ve been working on video editing, studying the courses on Masterclass, and reading like crazy. There’s nothing better.

    My goal for the next year is to learn more. I used to be able to juggle 5 balls but I can’t any more. So I’m going to teach myself all over again. I’m working on some new video projects so I can practice my FCPX skills. I’ve been getting better at chess and think I might join the club here in the city. And, of course, I plan on reading even more.

    Next year I hope to read 66 books. That’s 33 non-fiction and 33 fiction. I have a list of some must-reads already, but I’d love your recommendations. Comment below or drop me a line here.

  • TRAVEL: My final endeavor while I’m 33 is to see more of the world. I went to a ton of amazing places last year but they were all for work. This year I want to do more personal trips. Either I’ll extend work trips into a personal visit or I’ll take a few days off every few months so I can see new places.

    I want to take three main trips, which I just randomly chose right now. A road trip around Lake Michigan, Sequioa National Park, and somewhere in the Caribbean. I want them all to be getaways so I have some time away from work to read, unplug, and relax. (Stephanie, if you’re reading this…you’re invited, too.)

funny-travel-meme-tyrion.jpg

So that’s it. Those are my hopes for the next twelve months. For now, I’m happy to be alive, healthy, and inspired.

It’s going to be a good year.


Other Thoughts:

  • Here’s a fun video from a recent show in Chicago:

No, but...

Here’s a crazy thought:

I realized this week that I’m coming up on a decade of being a full-time, professional entertainer. A decade! TEN FREAKING YEARS.

I never had another option or a backup plan; it was always going to be what I’m doing now or some form of it. So I set out ten years ago with no real plan - just grit and the desire to get paid for doing something that I’m passionate about.

It took maybe 6 or 7 of those years to even feel like I’d made any progress. Then, I started getting more creative with the show, taking risks, and exploring more outlets for performing like producing my own shows or doing fringe festivals. It’s taken a long time and a lot of work to tell people I’m a professional entertainer and really believe it myself.

I didn’t really know what I was doing back in 2009, so I just started saying “yes” to everything. I figured being the person who always made stuff happen would lead to good things.

Them: “Can you do a show outdoors on the side of a hill?”
Me: “Absolutely.”

Them: “Can you do a show during halftime of a basketball game?”
Me: “No problem at all.”

Them: “Can you put a different show together for us by next week?”
Me: “Yes, of course!”

Over the past ten years I’ve said “yes” to more things then I can remember. I’ve moved across the country for jobs, driven overnight, lost money, lost sleep, and given more than I’ve received. But somehow I was convinced I would eventually get something out of it.

Many years ago I started changing my approach. I changed my answer from “yes” to “no, but…”. And suddenly, things started getting better. I started enjoying my work more and people started to take notice.

I had said “yes” to a job at the Disney World resorts but what I thought was going to be a full-time gig ended up being only a fill-in, part-time gig. After a year of being on-call and seizing every opportunity, I decided I didn’t really like a) performing outdoors and b) performing for children/families. I decided I would stop doing both of those things moving forward, so when Disney called to offer me the full-time position I thought they’d given me a year before I turned down the offer and moved back to Chicago a month later.

Disney: “Do you want to go on full-time at the BoardWalk next year?”
Me: “No, I don’t think it’s for me…but I know someone who would do a great job for you.”

I haven’t done a single gig for children/families since then and only a handful of outdoor gigs - but always on my terms. It was life-changing.

“No, but…” are real-life magic words. They get you out of things you don’t want to do. They keep you sane. They help you make decisions that will benefit you long-term.

The key is to give an emphatic “no”, then follow it up with a “but…” where you offer a detailed explanation or offer to help in some other capacity.

I get random calls all the time. People want to pay me less than I’m worth. People want me to work for free or for (oh-fuck-off) exposure. People (usually friend or family) want a favor and expect it of me.

I respond with a “No, but…” and explain my rate or my schedule or my value or why I can’t just fly across the country for a freebie. Then, I put them in touch with a friend who can do it or help them brainstorm some other options. I do about a hundred shows a year and I probably turn down about twice as many. Not every gig is for me and realizing which ones are has made all the difference. The truth is, my best opportunities have come from saying “no” to things, not from saying “yes”.

I’ve been slowly eliminating things I don’t want to do from my life the past few years and I’m nearly there. 2020 is about to be the year of saying “no” to as much as possible.

This isn’t advice only for performers. “No, but…” (or perhaps “No, because…”) works in any situation.

Your friends want you to go out for a late night bar crawl, even though they know you’re training for a half marathon? (“No, because I have to wake up early…”)

People keep taking advantage of your expertise but refusing to pay you? (“No, because I have bills to pay and can’t keep offering my services for free.”)

People want you to do a thing you don’t want to do at a certain time at a stupid place? (“No, but maybe next time.” while you’re actually thinking “No, because it doesn’t make me happy.”)

The irony of preaching “No, but…” in the city of “Yes, and…” is not lost on me. But I stand by it. Saying “no” to things you don’t want to do is the secret to having time for the things you want to be doing.


Other Thoughts:

  • Warren Buffett seems to agree with me.

  • I’ve been enjoying this lately. You probably will, too.

  • Have you joined my Thursday Thoughts mailing list? I won’t be on social media much longer so sign up so you’ll never miss a post.

  • The banner photo is from my appearance last month on Pittsburgh Today Live. Watch it here:

Transaction

In the past week alone I’ve had to ask three people to put their phones away during my show. And that’s just the past seven days. This is an all too common occurrence at my performances but people should know better.

First of all, it’s simple theatre etiquette. When you see a show you’re supposed to arrive early, silence your phones, and be respectful of the performer. Common. Freakin’. Sense.

Plus, there’s a big announcement at the beginning that strictly prohibits photos and videos during the performance. It’s not a voiceover recording - it’s a human person that literally says “There are no photos or videos allowed during the show, so please take a moment to silence and put away all electronic devices.”

But somehow, people still feel the need to take out their phones and try to record a part of my show. It’s usually when their boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife is onstage. I see them reach into their pocket or purse and can sense that they’re about to start filming my act. Some of them try to be secretive (which means they know they aren’t supposed to be filming!) and others just hold it up in front of their face without even trying to hide it.

I’m not polite about it. I don’t say “Oh, excuse me - hahaha - if you don’t mind, would you please put your phone away!” No way. I make it weird.

I stop everything I’m doing and put all attention on the person. I say “Put your phone away. No videos or photos. Didn’t you hear the announcement earlier?”

Then I wait. I watch in silence as the audience member has to turn it off in front of everyone and put the phone down.

Then I usually tack something on like “Isn’t it enough to be here right now? This is for us! Can’t we just enjoy this together?” and let it linger in the awkward silence I’ve created.

I don’t think people expect me to confront them, let alone to create such an uncomfortable energy in the theater. But I love it. I have no problem leaning into that strange feeling and forcing people to reckon with their actions.

I know some performers who encourage people to take photos/videos during the show and share them far and wide. “Don’t forget to tag me!” they say, forgetting that the immediacy of live theatre is better than any post, hashtag, blurry photo, or shaky video could ever be.

Maybe those performers are better self-promoters than me, but all I care about is my show. I’m only interested in what’s happening in this space right now, with the audience that came to see me on any given evening. I’m not asking you to leave a like, subscribe, buy my merch, or more - I’m just asking you to hold up your end of the deal.

You come to my show to make a simple transaction. You pay your hard earned money for a ticket and give me your time and attention, and I’ll give you a night you’ll always remember. Those are the terms of our arrangement and I will always uphold them.

You deserve the show you came to see and if that means making it weird or eliminating distractions as I see fit, then so be it. But I’m not here to mess around - I’m here to hold up my half of the bargain.

What about you?



Other Thoughts:

  • I’m deleting all social media soon. If you want to keep up with this blog, join my Thursday Thoughts Mailing List.

  • I’m in my final week of shows at Liberty Magic in Pittsburgh. Only five shows to go and there’s just a handful of tickets remaining.

  • I did some mind reading on the radio in Pittsburgh last week. Check out a live performance here: