Thursday Thoughts

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.



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Finish The Damn Thing!

At a show last weekend someone came up to me and said “Hey, are you still writing your Thursday Thoughts?”

I assured them I still was and that I post them regularly on my website. Turns out, he used to see them weekly on Facebook and wasn’t seeing them anymore.

As a result of my push to get off of social media and limit my screen time, it appears that FB has punished me with limited visibility. It seems stupid that an app designed to connect us all controls how connected we can be.

So yes, I’m still writing Thursday Thoughts. And yes, I’ll keep sharing them on social media. But if you want to make sure you never miss a post I set up a mailing list so you can get these essays delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday.

Only join the list if you want to keep up with my blog. (If you’re looking for updates about my upcoming TV projects or tour dates, join the list at the bottom of my website.)

I’m going to be shifting my approach to Thursday Thoughts over the next several months. I want to share helpful, digestible content that is useful to you - along with my existing personal essays about life on the road. And I want to make sure you see it, so do me a favor and click the button below to sign up:


I’ve been thinking lately about finishing projects.

I just ordered a new mattress and it sat in a warehouse for a week until I called to follow up. Then, out of the blue, the company did a same-day delivery. An otherwise perfect shopping experience was clouded by an unorganized, slow shipping process.

If you’re going to do something, then go all the way. Finish the damn thing!

Promise something and deliver. Simple as that.

If I hadn’t called I’m pretty sure the mattress would still be on a truck somewhere. It’s almost like the company worked really hard to get my business then stopped providing good customer service once I was a customer.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

You should work hard to get a customer, then work even harder once they’ve trusted you with their business. Customer service should be for the entire transaction - not just for the start of things.

This got me thinking about some of my own personal projects…

For instance, I’ve written a few TV episodes and a couple years ago I tried to get them picked up. I had a dozen meetings with agents, then with production companies, then with networks. The process dragged on for a year and amounted to nothing. So I thought to myself: “Why don’t I just make this myself?”

So I started rewriting it for a more run-and-gun, guerrilla style shoot. Then I started planning and preparing. And now…I’m just sitting on it.

Why? I don’t know.

Maybe because it’s easier to keep thinking about the thing instead of actually following through. If I keep brainstorming then it’s like I’m tricking myself into working on it, without having to face criticism, failure, or even a successful reception.

Maybe it’s because I know I’m good at one thing but not another. And it’s easier to put it off than embrace being an amateur.

Or, maybe I’m just a quitter. It's easy to get discouraged after you spend so long trying to accomplish something.

I think all of those might be true. But I don’t want an idea - good or bad- to be left undone. So I’m gonna finish the damn thing. I’m gonna make it happen. I’ve done everything else, so I need to see it through to the end.

Otherwise, the idea might as well be rolling around on a truck somewhere with no expected delivery date.


Here’s something you should try:

This year, I’ve been writing to people that inspire me. I’ve written to authors, designers, friends, actors, etc. I’ve written to people overseas and down the block. Anytime I say to myself “Wow, this person is fascinating!” I make a mental note to let them know I feel that way.

When I say write, I don’t mean social media. I mean actually writing a letter.

I prefer my typewriter, if possible. If I can’t find a mailing address then I write a brief e-mail.

I usually just say a few things about how the person has inspired me, how I found their work, and what it means to me.

The return rate is amazing. Every single person has gotten back to me. Sometimes it’s a quick sentence or two, but typically it’s a much longer response.

I love sending something meaningful off and wondering if I’ll get anything back. When it does arrive, there’s a magical, mysterious quality to it.

It means that somewhere in the world, this person that inspired me felt compelled to write back. They had to sit down and actively think about their response instead of clicking “like” on a screen. They had to actually take the time to respond.

It’s incredible.


Here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Power of Moments - As a person who creates memorable moments for a living, I find this book fascinating. But it’s useful for anyone looking to create meaningful moments in their everyday life.

Educated - I can’t believe it took me so long to start reading this. It’s unbelievably good.

The Coddling of the American Mind - Really enjoying this and perfectly suited to our current political climate.

If you’re on Spotify here are some summer vibes for you:

Finally, you have two chances left to see MIND READER at the Chicago Magic Lounge. We’ve been packed every Wednesday since March so don’t miss your chance to see it!

After that, I’m off to Pittsburgh to perform at Liberty Magic for six weeks. All dates, showtimes, and ticket info can be found here.



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Note To Self

Hey!

It’s me. Any by “me” I mean “you”.

I’m like 10 years older than you are when you’re reading this but WOW we’ve been through so much together. I just thought that maybe I could save you some trouble and catch you up to speed. There’s so much I know now and just figured you should know it, too.

First, you’re gonna get there. It’s going to happen. I can’t tell you when - NO SPOILERS - but just you wait. Stay patient and you’ll get there.

While we’re at it - you don’t have to go down any path but your own. Do whatever makes you happy, even if you don’t think any of it fits together. Turns out the thing that makes it fit together is because it’s all part of you.

When it comes to the things that really matter, don’t be cheap. Put your money where your mouth is. Invest in yourself every chance you get.

Also, here’s a few pieces of obvious advice:

If you think about someone, let them know.

If someone does something nice for you, send them a handwritten note. (You’re going to buy a typewriter in your 30’s and start typing those notes. It’s a long story…)

If someone inspires you, reach out. If someone reaches out to you, go above and beyond.

If something goes wrong, take responsibility. And, if something goes well, be sure to credit the people who made it happen.

Look around right now and take it all in. You’ll never be exactly who you are at this very moment, so make it count.

There’s going to be loss and pain and heartbreak and disappointment. People you love are going to let you down and strangers are going to make your day.

Life is one complex, beautiful, gut wrenching thing - but don’t shy away from it. Get in there and experience every ounce of it. Don’t look away and always keep coming back for more.

Waiting behind every “no” is a big, fat “YES”. Every devastating experience will yield more happiness than you could possibly imagine. But you can’t have one without the other.

I’ve said too much. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s all going to be fine.

Oh, one last thing. Your keys fell behind the desk and got pinned against the wall. Don’t forget I told you that. It’ll save you a couple hours of searching and keep you from losing your shit.

See you soon.

— MT


Photo: Trainman Photography



Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining my "Thursday Thoughts" mailing list. It's the best way to make sure you never miss a post. No spam, just a new thought shared with you every Thursday. Click here to sign up.