mark toland

In The Moment

The best part about what I do is that it requires me to be fully in the moment. Since my act involves audience participation I have to be engaged and present for each and every show.

I work hard to remember people’s names and pay attention for little moments that may occur during my performance. Sometimes people spill a drink or call out a funny joke. Sometimes they say something silly or can’t follow simple instructions. Being in the moment allows me to comment on those situations and often those tiny ad-libs become the most memorable part of the show.

I’m acutely aware of how many people in the world are NOT living in the moment. I go through the checkout line at the store and the cashier doesn’t even look me in the eye. People run into me on the sidewalk because they can’t look up from their phone. Everyone is distracted; thinking about something else, doing two things at once, planning for the next thing.

I feel alive when I’m doing my show because I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings. I can hear who’s laughing the hardest and can see when someone isn’t enjoying it. And I choose to comment on those things to bring people closer together. I want them to think to themselves, “Wow, this is special. This is new and different…and only for us!”

I was talking about this to another performer recently and commented on how hard I work just to remember people’s names, let alone other details about them and special moments in the room.

He said, “Oh, I never bother to remember their names. It’s too much work. The second they say their name I’ve already forgotten it.”

TOO MUCH WORK? You have an opportunity to make people happy and give them a feeling of joy and amazement and you say it’s “too much work”? Unbelievable.

To me that performer’s outlook seems to mirror our daily lives. Most of the time we’re just a number in line at the DMV or the randomly selected person who gets an extra screening when going through TSA. Those moments aren’t personal. Our whole life is becoming an endless string of absentminded baristas, lazy store clerks, and unhelpful receptionists. No one is willing to do the work to be present for one another.

The job of a performer is a true gift to the world. We get to connect with people in a way that they so desperately yearn for. They want to be seen and heard and feel like they were truly part of something. You can’t do the same show you always do because the audience will see right through it. You can’t phone it in and not show up. You have to be in the moment.

I don’t care how amazing the new iPhone is. I don’t care what latest gadget is on your wrist or turning on your lights. I don’t care what’s happening on Twitter or Instagram. Those things are poor substitutes for living in the here and now. But, as we continue to settle for mediocre customer service and distracted friends and coworkers, we’ve forgotten how amazing it feels to really be part of something in the present.

Being present is an incredible feeling, but you have to put your phone down and look around. You have to really see what’s going on. That’s why I love what I do and try to be onstage as often as possible. And I’ve been taking that feeling offstage and trying to make the most out of every moment of my everyday life, too.

Those texts can wait. The e-mails aren't your biggest priority. I promise you. Put your phone on silent and pay attention to what’s happening in front of you. All that matters is this moment right here and right now…and I’m fully immersed in it.

Are you?

Other Thoughts:

  • This past Saturday I woke up at 3am to watch Eliud Kipchoge run a marathon in under 2 hours. Tears were streaming down my face when he finished the race. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen so if you haven’t seen the last kilometer yet check it out here.

  • What I’m Reading Right Now: “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson.

  • Check out this week’s video below…and be sure to subscribe for more!


This week I went to a fall festival here in Chicago that had a long list of features, including calling itself an “instagrammable experience”.

I naively assumed that was one of many aspects of the event; that there would be tons of activities and a few picturesque locations around the grounds for photo-ops.


Turns out, being “instagrammable” was the whole point. Every square inch of the property was covered in autumn-themed set-ups, ready for the “perfect” photo. Wannabe influencers were everywhere we looked, phones at the ready, in search of more likes and more engagement. The whole goal of the place was to create content for their social media feeds. It was depressing.

There was no “experience”. Sure, there were drinks and games and a small corn maze, but even those activities were designed for the gram. The entire event was built on the illusion of fun.

“Step right up! Step right up! For the small price of $20 you can take these photos here and film this animatronic skeleton here! Show your friends how much fun you’re having!”

To me, a truly “instagrammable experience” wouldn’t have to advertise as such. It would just be so memorable that you couldn’t help but feel the desire to share it with others. But these new “museums” and “exhibits” built for the very purpose of sharing are incredibly dumb.

I know I sound like an old man screaming at the neighbor kids to get off my lawn, but I don’t care. I guess I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want to share everything I do with the whole world. In fact, it’s more fun to go to something and not tell anyone. Whenever someone says to me “It was incredible…you had to be there!” it makes me way more envious than a photo in your grid ever could.

The truly depressing part of these events is the absolute misery that the viewer can’t see just out of frame. Before or after any beautiful photo you see on Instagram is a shouting match between boyfriend and girlfriend to make sure the pose and composition for the photo is just right. Or, the long line of people impatiently waiting for their turn to get the exact same pose. These people aren’t living in the moment, they’re just in search of the next photo. Then another, and another.

The people on your phone that look like they’re living their best life are not. They’re on their phone more than you are. It’s pitiful.

Over the summer I did a Q&A after my show with VIP members of the audiences. It was always full of interesting questions but one of my favorites was “What do you hope to be doing in five or ten years?”

If you had asked me that a decade ago I might have climbed onto the nearest table and loudly proclaimed my mission to change the world with my art, my ambition for fame, and my goals for success. But not any more.

Sure, I’m still ambitious and working hard on my career. But I’m also really content where I am right now. So I’m not looking ten or even five years ahead at the moment. I’m just…here.

I’m perfectly content with my early run and morning cup of coffee. I’m happy to be writing this post next to my wife and two cats. There’s a breeze coming in the window and I can hear the low roar of the city traffic down below. It’s exactly where I want to be and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I don’t need to snap a photo to remember this moment because I’m fully here living it right now. Try as hard as they might, an “instagrammable experience” will never compare with being fully present and doing something you enjoy with the people you love the most.

Now get off my lawn, I have more work to do.

Other Thoughts:

  • While working on this week’s post I came across this article about similar “experiences” in NYC.

  • Use code “VIPACCESS” for 15% off tickets to tomorrow night’s Magic Penthouse extravaganza in Chicago.

  • I’m dropping another new video on Monday - subscribe to my YouTube Channel so you don’t miss it.

  • For now, here’s this week’s video:

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.)


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: