mark toland thursday thoughts


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:

Magic Words That Really Work

As a performer I use certain words and phrases to get people to cooperate and make me look good onstage. When used correctly these words work wonders.

The best part? You can use most of these special phrases in your everyday life to be a better conversationalist, remember people’s names, and put people at ease.

They may not be as cool as “wingardium leviosa” but these are real-life magic words that really work.

"Good To See You": Use this phrase every time you greet someone. If it’s the first time you’ve met them they’ll think you’re just being nice. Or, if you’ve met them before they’ll be convinced you remember them…even if you completely forgot! 

"Remind Me Of Your Name": This is my go-to phrase anytime I forget someone’s name. By asking someone to remind you they’ll wonder if they weren’t memorable enough the first time you were introduced, or maybe they just never told you their name in the first place! You’re subtlety placing the blame on them, without making them feel bad. Sneaky, huh?

"Yes, and…": I was having a conversation recently and the other person said “Not only that but…” in response to a point I made. Even though they were being positive about what I had told them, I couldn’t stop thinking about the negative words they had used like “not” and “but”. Instead, try saying “Yes, and…” to build on someone’s thoughts in a positive manner. It will make them feel good about their ideas and they’ll be more likely to agree with you, too. (Plus, if you ever move to Chicago you’ll fit right in.)

"Tell Me More": When you’re having a conversation, pay attention for the best moment to ask the other person to “tell you more”. By doing so, you’re searching for the conversation they want to be having. You really have to pay attention to use this phrase, which means you’ll get bonus points for actually being a great listener. When used correctly, “tell me more” will lead to some of the most fascinating conversations you’ve ever had.

"No Worse Than Me": Sometimes I need to have volunteers help with a strange task during the show, such as shuffling cards or drawing a picture. Usually people are a little hesitant, saying something like “Oh, I’m a terrible artist!” or something similar. I quickly say “Don’t worry, you’re no worse than me!” to put them at ease. For a split second, it makes us equals and takes the pressure off. I’ve just started using this one in the past month but it really works!

So there you go…some new magic words to go along with “please” and “thank you”. Try them out and let me know if they work for you!

Other Thoughts:

  • I’m headlining at the Chicago Magic Lounge next weekend, September 19-22. Get tickets here.

  • Never miss a post! Click the button above or go here to Join The Mystery!

  • Within the past week I had one of the worst shows of my life and one of the best in the same 24 hour span. I’ll write about it in greater detail for a future Thursday Thoughts post, but it just goes to show that there are always new things to learn, you can always get better, and nothing is ever that big of a deal.

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: