mistakes

Meant To Be

“Does it ever go wrong?”

People ask me that all the time. They want to know if I’m ever wrong onstage or if something ever backfires. Of all the questions I receive on a daily basis this is one of my favorites.

The answer, of course, is yes.

The more shows I do the more likely I am to have a mishap. Sometimes they’re huge dilemmas that derail my performance: I’ve had props break mid-show, batteries die in my mic pack, left my pants unzipped for the entire show, and more. When something obvious goes awry you have to comment on it, fix it to the best of your ability, and try to move on.

But most of the time they’re tiny mistakes that I deal with in the moment. For me, the little things that go wrong on a nightly basis are a fascinating part of my work. Things happen all the time that are completely unexpected. While I’m doing the show I’m simultaneously thinking ahead and problem-solving. Typically, I invent a new path forward during the show and, if all goes well, the audience is none the wiser.

Once I did a show at a mansion in Beverly Hills. I arrived early to set up, with plenty of time to schmooze with the guests. When the show began, I realized I’d forgotten a very important prop in my car which was parked two blocks away. I’d had so much time on my hands early in the night that I got too comfortable and forgot to do a thorough once-over of my gear. On the spot, I created a brand new ten minute piece that didn’t rely on the forgotten prop. Needless to say, that was an interesting night.

The great thing about my work is that the audience doesn’t know what to expect. What lies ahead is a mystery. If something goes wrong and I’m forced to change direction the audiences thinks that’s where we were meant to be all along. What’s funny is that sometimes the new path I take during a show ends up being even more exciting than the path I originally intended.

The same holds true for my career…

Ten years ago, if you had asked me what I would be doing now, I probably would have pictured a completely different path forward.

I didn’t even know about fringe festivals back then, corporate gigs seemed untouchable, and I was just barely starting to zero in on my work as a mentalist. Honestly, I never even considered moving to Chicago.

Over time, I was open to new options and new directions for my craft. I embraced new opportunities and pursued any work that presented itself. We moved to Chicago on a whim and it ended up being a perfect fit for what I do.

It’s easy to feel like a failure when you end up somewhere you never planned to be. It’s easy to feel like you let yourself down and gave up somewhere along the way. But don’t let yourself fall into that trap.

Maybe you’re choosing the path less travelled or making a sudden switch in careers. Maybe you moved to the big city but decided it wasn’t for you. Or maybe you set out to achieve a goal, got burned out, and now you’re searching for something new. None of that makes you a failure.

Remember: no one knows where you’re going except for you. So wherever you end up is the place you’re meant to be.

When It All Goes Wrong

Something went awry onstage the other night. Horribly, uncomfortably, awkwardly wrong.

There was no way out of it. Nothing I could do could help me cover it or divert the audience’s attention. I just had to die a slow painful death onstage. I was embarrassed and humiliated.

And as I stood sheepishly onstage my mind was racing. Unsure of what to to do or say next, I began sweating profusely. The lights seemed to grow hotter and my heart started beating faster.

I could sense that I was losing the crowd. The momentum I had worked so hard to build was dissipating. The stories and jokes I had used to endear myself to the guests were all for nothing. My failure onstage cancelled everything else out.

And then it hit me. I knew what to do.

I talked about it.

I made a joke. And then another. Then I told an anecdote - a true story - about another time years ago I had experienced a similar fate.

Everyone laughed and we moved on.

Within minutes, the audience was back on my side and all was forgotten. They were laughing and applauding again. I may have lost them for a moment but they were back on board. We were a team once more and the show ended on a high note.

It was a new piece and I was worried about it. I anticipated something going wrong and it did.

It happens. And it’s going to keep happening. But I have to keep trying new things or I’ll never get better. I have to keep doing the things that scare me or I’ll never get where I want to be.

Maybe you have something scary coming up soon, too. Perhaps you have a big audition next week or you’re starting a new job. Maybe you’re about to move across the country or you’ve been really wanting to start a new business. I don’t know what it is - but I can tell you this:

It’s going to be really nerve-wracking. It may be scary or painful or embarrassing or humiliating. You may find success on your first attempt or you might suffer a crushing defeat. And even if it doesn’t go wrong this time, I can promise you that sometime soon it definitely will.

But you have to try. You have to go after it. You have to make the jump and take the risk. Just put yourself out there and, no matter what happens, you’ve already won.

That was the single most embarrassing moment I’ve had onstage in years. But the next day I woke up, made coffee, and got back to work. The sun came up over Lake Michigan and my cats followed me into the office to keep me company. It was just like any other day.

When it all goes wrong, life goes on. I survived and you will, too.