making mistakes

Seek Failure

Years ago I did a show at a mansion in Beverly Hills for a big client. It was a huge opportunity so I arrived early, set up, and stayed in the area so I nothing would prevent me from having a good show.

The guests arrived, the host introduced me, and I took the stage. It was off to a great start.

“What was the word you thought of?” I asked as I reached into my pocket for a pen.

And that’s when it hit me: I didn’t have my markers.

I was so nervous about getting caught in traffic or not being able to find the house that I had forgotten to check my props. Experience had taught me to always have an extra marker (in case one dried out), so I always travelled with at least two markers. Problem was both of my brand new permanent markers were in the trunk of my rental car.

A hundred people stared at me as I stammered and fished in my pocket. I took a deep breath, made a joke, and moved on. Fortunately, the audience loved the show - even though for me it had been a complete disaster from the moment I started.

The marker fiasco is one of many moments I’ve had something go wrong onstage. Over the past decade I’ve failed too many times to remember. (That’s not true - I never forget those moments.) When you do as many live shows as I do, things are bound to go wrong eventually.

I once forgot to zip my pants and did an entire show without realizing it. Once, I got in a car accident and was over 2 hours late to a show. (Luckily, the event was running long and everything worked out.) I’ve lost my bags, gotten sick backstage, broken bottles by accident, fallen off the stage, completely bombed in front of a roomful of corporate executives, and more.

The first time things go wrong you want to crawl in a hole and die. It’s a sickening feeling that won’t go away. When you fail or bomb or have a bad show, you can’t stop thinking about it. But, after you’ve failed a few hundred times that feeling changes. You start to realize that failure is necessary. It’s essential. You learn to enjoy it.

It’s taken a long time but now I appreciate failure in a way that I didn’t use to. When things start to go wrong onstage, I try to pause and savor those moments. I’ve learned to love it, because those disastrous moments are how you get better. You mess up, learn from it, and move on.

It may feel like it’s the end of the world, but it isn’t. It’s just a chance to learn and grow. So here’s my suggestion: Seek those moments. Fall flat on your face as often as possible. Take risks and make mistakes whenever possible. Run full speed into failure and embrace it.

You’re going to fail a million times. Things are going to go horribly wrong. But I promise you that everything will be okay. You’re still going to wake up the next day. The sun will be shining and life will go on just like it always has.

Other thoughts:

  • Shout out to Trainman Photography for this week’s photo!

  • Last night was my first performance at Liberty Magic in Pittsburgh. I’ll be here for six weeks, so get your tickets here. See below for a 360 view of the Liberty Magic theater: