thursday thougths

The Secret To Success

Here’s a thought:

There’s one simple secret that will make you successful at what you want to do in life. It’s not even really a secret, though, because I guarantee you already know it.

I’ve spent years reading books, taking classes, watching tutorials, listening to lectures, and more, hoping to hear the magic formula that would take me to the next level. I was convinced that someone would eventually say the correct combination of words that would give me the knowledge to be truly great at something.

I’ll save you some time: the answer is already in front of you. You can stop searching for it because I’m going to tell you what it is.

The secret to success is simple (at least in theory):

Find the thing you enjoy doing most, then do it as much as possible. After that, do it a lot more.

That’s it. It sounds simple, right? Almost too simple even. But it’s true - the way to be truly great at something is to do it as much as you possibly can.

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but there are no shortcuts. You can’t cheat your way to being the best at what you do. You have to work at it nonstop - and then some.

I don’t think we (I’ll include myself here) like to hear advice like this. We want a magic pill or a secret elixir that will catapult us to the next level of proficiency. So we devour self-help books and TED Talks in hopes of gaining wisdom that will keep us from needing to truly work towards mastery in our given field.

The truth is: there is no Secret formula, there is no four-hour-work-week-quick-path-to-success. You’ve known the answer all along, now you just need to put in the work.

For me it’s stage time. I try to get onstage as much as possible. I do a hundred full-length 60-75 minute shows every year. Plus, I do unannounced open mics, cabaret spots, hosting gigs, and storytelling events around Chicago in between.

I love studying my favorite authors and learning about their writing process. Some people write by hand, others prefer a computer. Some write in the morning, others in the evening. It varies, depending on the individual - but all of them have this in common: they try to write every single day and reach a certain word count.

I’m also a part-time, non-elite runner. I enjoy logging miles along Lake Michigan in the summer and I’d love to be faster. When I read about elite runners I notice that the amount of miles they log is insane. They have to spend more time on their feet so they can run further and faster. Hard for someone like me - a self-employed artist - but I do the best I can to commit to runs as often as possible and gradually add mileage throughout the year.

No matter your interest, if you want to be great you need to spend as much time working on it as possible. You don’t need any more self-help books or online tutorials, just 20-30 years of hard work.

Other Thoughts:

  • The New York Times says human contact is becoming a luxury good so I guess that means I provide a luxury service now.

  • Some people asked about the typewriter in my recent photos. It’s an Olivetti Lettera 32, used by famous writers including Cormac McCarthy, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, and more. I’ll write more on it in a future post.

  • You have one chance left to see MIND READER in Chicago, then it’s off to Pittsburgh. All upcoming shows can be found here.

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.