Move On

Fact: The more you put yourself out there, the more criticism you will receive.

Some of that criticism will be useful. It will be helpful and needed. It will make you think and make you work harder. It will make you better.

But the other criticism? That will be nothing but negativity. It will be from people who don’t get what you’re doing and make no attempts to try. Call them haters, naysayers, your parents, whatever. They will knock you down because they can and nothing you do will ever please them.

Not all criticism is useful. I’ve had bad reviews, poor feedback, and negative comments that bothered me for days.  I didn’t learn anything from them. They didn’t help me improve my craft. They didn’t inspire me to better myself. If anything, they just made me feel horrible.

Once I was even greeted by a reviewer before the show who was very clearly not excited to be attending.

“I hate magic shows,” they told me.

I was on edge for the entire performance, worried they were going to give me a horrible review. Luckily they were kind with the write-up, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

One reviewer wrote that “Mark Toland is at the top of his game” and my show is a “MUST SEE” only to give me 4 out of 5 stars. It was good to know that when I’m at my best, it’s still only an 80%.

Honestly, I don’t care about the reviews. It’s nice to have a pull-quote or an award or a five star rating to add to the poster, but that’s not why I’m onstage.

I’m doing a show for other people. It’s entertainment. I want people to be completely enthralled for my entire performance. I don’t want them looking at their watch or texting their friends. I don’t want them coughing or shifting in their seats. I want their undivided attention so I can transport them somewhere else for an hour.

That’s not to say that a below-average review doesn’t affect me. It absolutely does! But I’ve learned how to deal with criticism so I can move forward and keep progressing in my career.

Negative feedback is expected and uncontrollable. The more you put yourself out there, the more you forge your own path; the more criticism you should expect to receive.

If you’re doing it right then you’re going to stir the pot. You’re going to provoke a wide range of reactions. The best thing you can do is to not respond.

No matter what happens, don’t acknowledge your criticism. Don’t complain, don’t argue, don’t fight fire with fire. There’s no need to go on a tweetstorm or write a long rant on your fan page. That looks petty and unprofessional.

I’ve faced more rejections than I can remember, been turned down on more projects than I can name. For every gig I’m booked for, another 20 events go in a different direction. But I refuse to let those failures keep me from succeeding.

Ignore the criticism. Shake it off or find someone you can vent to in private. Then move on and get back to work.


Listen to your audience. They’ll show you the way.

Are they laughing or cringing? Are they invested or distracted? If you can’t tell the difference just listen and they’ll let you know.

Listen to the critics. They’ll say what no one else will.

Savor the positive and learn from the negative. Don’t be defensive and don’t make excuses. This is how you get better.

Listen to the masses. Read the comments and respond in kind.

Sometimes it takes a small remark to help you make a big discovery. Sometimes you need a little reminder that you’re going in the right direction.

Listen to the experts. The answers are there for your taking.

They already made those mistake so you can make new ones. They already forged the path to make it a little easier for you.

Listen to yourself. Be honest, be open, be positive.

You’ll find out what’s best for you. You just have to be willing to listen.

In With The Good

One of my cats got spooked this week and flew off the couch like a bat out of hell. He bounded over the coffee table, scattering everything he touched onto the floor. A giant splatter of coffee left a caffeine rorshach test on the wall and my favorite coffee mug lay shattered on the wood floor.

It was a mug from the first marathon I ran in 2014. Each morning I took a sip of coffee from that mug and it reminded me of all the hard work I had put in to finish that race. It reminded me that anything is possible with focus and determination. And I liked the colors and the shape and the feel of that mug. It was just perfect.

At first I was dejected and sadly swept up the pieces. I threw it down the chute and searched online for a replacement. But that mug isn’t available any more. It’s gone for good.

The thing is, I have a lot of mugs - maybe too many. The cabinet is completely full. Well, at least it was. But now there’s space for one more. 

For over a year I’ve stopped buying cool mugs because the cabinet was too full. I didn’t have the space. So I didn’t get that awesome mug in London or Mt. Zion or New York City. I couldn’t justify it.

But now that my favorite mug is gone, I have space for another. I can finally update the cabinet with something new. I’m going to make the most out of a bad situation.

Part of being a self-employed artist is learning to turn something bad into something good. In fact, dealing with negativity is a good skill to have no matter what you do.

I was thinking about that a lot lately, so I spent the last few days reaching out to some friends and asking them a simple question:

What do you do to turn a negative into a positive?

Here are some of the answers...

When things that are beyond my control make me upset I try to let them go. I can only control my reaction in that scenario so I try to stay clam and not freak out. If I sink into those feelings I always end up feeling worse than if I just let go.
I consider that there might be something going on that I don’t know about. Maybe a person is having a bad day or has something else on their mind and that’s why they were rude to me. I assume the best whenever possible.
I try to turn my whole attitude positive to attack a negative. I’ll try to find anything positive about it, and use it to break down my feelings about the negative. I tend to the able to approach and tackle the problem without making it too personal.
Often ‘the negative’ you experience will not be readily overcome in the moment. The negative will only transition into a positive after thoughtfully examining the factors that created the negative situation. Sometimes that’s why life is the best teacher and helps us learn from our mistakes.
I focus on learning or growth opportunities from whatever that negative may be. There are two quotes I like that come to mind... 1) Success is a series of corrected mistakes. 2) The secret of happiness is not ‘being great’, the secret is ‘growth’. So whatever I can do to use this negative to improve myself is what I shoot for.
It sounds cliché but I view it as a learning experience and try to pick something out of it that I can improve upon.
I usually talk to my wife about everything and she always helps me see the positive angle in situations. Talking always helps. It’s hard for me to rely on my own strengths to get through a negative situation, but I try and surround myself with positive people. That positive energy motivates me to get through negative moments.
Usually I think about how the negative thing isn’t that bad and start brainstorming ways to fix it. Or accept it, if it can’t be fixed. My first reaction is usually emotional and I accept that the emotional reaction is natural and necessary. I process the emotion and then move on to doing something about it. Along the way, I pick up new skills or knowledge so that by the time I’m done, I feel that I’ve accomplished something and know that if I can handle that thing again if it comes up.
I first start by acknowledging the negative thought without judging it. I then try to take a look at where it comes from in my life. And than I practice being gentle with myself. I create a positive reframe that my heart finds true. Reframing with gentleness and authenticity. And breathing.

It became very clear as I was reading these answers this week that there's no single, perfect method for dealing with negativity. But all of my friends had a personal anecdote or experience that they reflected on and took time to share with me. It happens to everyone.

The truth is, when you choose to put yourself out there at all you are inviting criticism. You’re taking a risk that someone will troll you or leave you a bad review or tell you it can’t be done. Ironically, a lot of negativity comes from trying to bring a little positivity into the world.

So you learn to deal with the bullsh*t by turning it into something else. You take criticism and let it motivate you, you turn the trolls into lifelong fans, you erase that bad review with a hundred glowing ones. Out with the bad and in with the good.

This week I dug out some old emails and show reviews from years ago. They were from high-strung clients and know-it-all critics. Even looking back, I still feel like the criticism was unjustified. It felt petty and malicious, like the comments were full of spite and completely unhelpful.

Reading through them stirred up a lot of old feelings. I remember being unable to sleep when I got my first bad show review. I recall nervously pacing my hotel room when a client personally attacked me via email over a misunderstanding. It was rough.

But I also remember learning from those experiences and realizing that I didn’t have to put up with those people ever again. I learned I could say no to things that didn’t make me happy or caused me stress. I learned that nothing is ever that big of a deal, that bad things will happen but life goes on. I learned how to turn a negative into a positive.

And so, I printed out those e-mails and turned them into some redacted poetry. Now those negative words are mine. The mean comments have been repurposed into something good. I deleted the original emails and made room for these poems instead.

Time to find a new mug.