life lessons

Show Notes #2,347

Got in a fight with the audience tonight.

Not a literal fight. Just a push-and-pull-back-and-forth-all-out-brawl for control of the room.

The crowd was split into sections - like cliques in a high school cafeteria.

There were the drunks. Unruly and loud, unfocused and proud. You just ignore the drunks.

There were the coworkers. A tight-knit group, out for their first work event together. It takes effort but with a little finesse the coworkers can be pulled apart for an hour or so.

The couples were there, on first or second dates, resting their high hopes for a good night out squarely on my shoulders.

And how could I forget the newbies? The noobs have never been to the theater before. They don’t know they’re supposed to turn their phones off. They don’t know when to be quiet and when to react. They don’t know how to behave, so you have to teach them.

Things happened tonight that have never happened before. I have a Plan A, B, and C for the most likely scenarios but I’m pretty sure we made it to X, Y, and Z before coming back to the beginning. As Murphy said, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” - I just didn’t realize he was specifically talking about tonight.

I guess things didn’t go wrong - they were just different. When you get in a fight with the audience you have to pull out all the stops.

You duck. You weave. You dance around the ring, slowly closing in on the ultimate goal. You keep the drunks at arm’s length while simultaneously connecting with the newbies. You split up the coworkers and smile at the couples.

A well-crafted joke is a punch to the gut; a dramatic moment hits them like an uppercut. It’s an unending barrage of every trick in the book, but you still have to act as if everything is going according to plan.

And maybe it was. After all, by the time it was all over I was still standing.

And so was everyone else. A room of strangers, briefly unified in applause and mystery.

Got in a fight with the audience tonight. Went the distance and I won.

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I went skydiving this week. For real.

I jumped out of a plane at 13,500 feet with a guy named Adam who I’d never met until the day of the jump. We fell for 60 seconds at around 120 mph before he pulled the chute and we floated back down to the drop zone at Skydive Chicago.

It was unlike anything I’ve done before and I’ll definitely be doing it again.

The whole morning everyone kept asking me if I was nervous. They wanted to know if I was freaking out or going to be sick.

The truth is, I wasn’t.

I really hadn’t had much time to think about it. I’ve been so busy with my summer tour and my weekly show that I hadn’t had a moment to get nervous.

So when it came to the big day I was just excited. I signed the waiver, got suited up, and next thing I knew we were jumping out of a plane.

Piece of cake.

Those questions reminded me of when I moved to Los Angeles after I finished college.

Back then, I was on a quest to go to Hollywood and follow my dreams. So the second I finished school I packed my bags and headed west. I left my wonderful girlfriend (now wife!) crying in a parking lot and my gorgeous mustang convertible behind, all so I could pursue my passion.

All I had with me was a suitcase of clothes, my computer, my props, and 500 bucks. That was it.

Everyone I talked to had a version of the same question:

When did you know you were ready to move to LA?

My answer was always the same: I was never ready.

At the time, my show wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have enough money or a good plan for when I got to SoCal. I was completely alone. But I knew I had to move or else I might never go at all.

Moving right away meant that before I could get nervous I was already there. I was immediately immersed in a new city with new adventures, so I put my head down and got to work. The next thing I knew, I was taking the bus to gigs in all corners of LA. I found an agent, booked a commercial, and started to build momentum.

I still approach things this way. I dive into something and figure it out as I go.

Sometimes I do shows for several thousand people. It’s a huge responsibility to entertain such a big audience, but I don’t think about it. Instead I do my sound check and preparations like any other show, then head to the dressing room. Next thing I know, I’m being introduced and running onstage. There’s no time to be nervous.

Sometimes it’s better not to overthink things and just do it. Go see a movie without reading the reviews. Take a trip without planning it out. Venture out into your city and find something new.

You’ll never be fully prepared for anything. You can sit around and plan all you want. But at some point you’ll have to just go for it. You’ll have to make your move, take a chance, and jump!

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You Have Time

I remember a friend telling me how he called up a well-known, established performer once and asked for advice. He explained to the seasoned pro that he had no idea how to go full-time and just wanted some general guidance.

“I was thinking you might be able to point me in the right direction…” he told the veteran. The full-time-for-30-years-nothing-to-be-worried-about-and-definitely-no-need-to-be-overly-protective-of-his-place-in-the-industry older performer replied, “I had to figure it out for myself! You should, too.” and hung up the phone. 

I’ll never forget that story.

Occasionally, I’ll receive an email from younger performers wanting my advice on how to turn their love of magic into a part-time or full-time job. I always - ALWAYS - respond with an in-depth, thoughtful answer about my journey, my thoughts on this career, and any other help I can give. 

There’s no sense in being secretive about how I’ve done it - they’re going to get the answers from me or they’ll get them from someone else. In the end, they’ll either remember me as the guy who was generous with his knowledge or the arrogant jerk who wouldn’t give them the time of day. The way I see it is the more help you spread around the more it comes back to help you.

I’ve never sought out help - possibly to my own detriment. I forged my own path in search of a career that I envisioned as a youngster, without any knowledge of how to get there or what it took to succeed. Early on I would pretend to be more successful than I was, hoping I might attract a mentor in the process. But it had the opposite effect - by posturing and positioning myself as successful, the people who might have been able to help me probably thought I didn’t need their help.

That’s my fault. I didn’t know better.

There’s no road map for success as a solo-preneur. There’s no formula for “making it” as an entertainer. So whenever I get one of those e-mails I try to imagine a young Mark Toland on the other side of the screen, nervously typing a few questions for a performer he looks up to, and hoping that this performer might be able to “point him in the right direction.”

I got one of those e-mails just a few weeks ago.

In a nutshell, the sender expressed frustration at not making as much progress in the craft as they had hoped they might have by now. They mentioned numerous performers they’d seen on social media and TV, and wondered how they could possibly achieve the same level of success.

I wrote back some general assistance, some book recommendations, and other ideas. But I also asked a question of my own: “Do you mind if I ask you how old you are?”

A day later, they responded. This young performer, ambitious and talented, in search of more success, told me they were only 22 years old.

I was startled that a performer fresh out of college could possibly think they were far behind. To me, they were just getting started. And, they were far ahead of me when I was their age. They were already asking the right questions, already hard at work building a brand, and already working towards a definite goal.

This is the problem with life in 2018. Social media forces us to constantly compare ourselves to others. Problem is, we’re comparing our entire selves to the carefully curated online image of someone else. It’s ridiculously easy to get depressed by the wild success of people our age when all we see is a string of their greatest accomplishments accompanied by a perfectly matching Instagram filter.

I thought the idea of “feeling behind” was my thing. I turned 30 and panicked. Nothing was how I’d pictured it, everything was different than I expected. The shows I was doing weren’t even on my radar when I was 22.

When I hit 30 I went into a tailspin, unsure of what I wanted out of all of this. It wasn’t my first existential crisis, but it was definitely the worst. I’m not sure I’ve come out of it yet.

I’ve had to learn to stop comparing myself to others. I deleted social media apps from my phone and limited my time on those platforms. I started doing creative projects like writing and video production just because they made me happy.

And, I had to reassess my relationship with my chosen profession. Most of the time it’s not what I wanted at all. But sometimes it can be really great. It wasn’t always that way, but that’s how it’s been lately.

So I hold onto those high moments - I bottle them up and keep them in a special notebook on my shelf. When I’m worried that I’m not where I want to be I look back through my notes and remember the standing ovation from 6,500 people last summer or the time I wore a listening device during my show so a deaf woman could hear me and she told me afterwards that I “really cheered her up”.

It’s funny what success means to you when you stop living by someone else’s definition.

It took me a while to figure out a response to this young performer but you can read below what I wrote.  It helped me to write it and I really hope it helped him, too:

You’re only 22! Wow, you’re doing so great. The things you’re working on now are things I only just started figuring out in recent years.

Here’s what I wish I’d known at your age:

Don’t worry about other people. Don’t worry about where you are or where you want to be. You can’t control it and you can’t force it. Just keep working hard - you’re already on the right track and I’m sure you’ll be where you want to be in no time.

Just hear me out - there’s no one way to do this. Some people do it when they’re 15, others when they’re 50. Some people get started late and others fizzle out early on. If you really want to do it, just stick with it, work hard, and don’t give up.

You have time!

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