Posted on Thursday, July 23rd, 2020
It was April 2018. I had been rehearsing for months and in my haste to try and jump to the top of the industry, I had decided to premiere my full evening show of magic, mind-reading and storytelling in London’s West End. Ambitious much?
But in the days leading up to the show, a number of things had conspired against me. Mostly just bad luck. One of my wife’s relatives had died. (My wife was part of my team). The family had been shaken and in an ideal world, it simply wasn’t the time for fun.
But part of being a professional at anything is going and doing it whether you feel like it or not. So that’s exactly what I tried to do. And the curtains opened on what, to this day, is still the worst gig of my life. And I hope it stays that way.
Almost everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Even if I tried to do a worse show on purpose, I don’t think I could. And there were some very influential people in the crowd. I lost at leat 2 private bookings on account of that terrible performance.
A couple of hours later, the events of the evening culminated in an epic fail of a finale and me sitting on the floor in the corridor back stage with my head in my hands while my phone buzzed with angry messages from Facebook telling me – and the world – how shit I had been.
It wasn’t just failure. It was the worst kind of failure: public failure.
While, from your current vantage point in that moment, it may look like things couldn’t really be any worse, it’s almost never one hundred percent bad. There are good narratives going on at the same time, even though you won’t be able to see them, and even though the situation looks hopeless overall.
I think it’s wise to realise that you don’t have all the information to know just how bad or how good it’s going. Whatever you think is going on in the minds of your audience, or customers – or even your date, is all just your projection. I didn’t know what they were actually thinking. Ironically. (It was a mind reading show).
It’s sort of the way of things that when you do a theatre show, you really don’t know who came. You don’t know who’s out there. And I knew from Facebook that there were at least a few people who I had infuriated to such a degree that they’d taken to the Internet in an attempt to ruin me.
Some people were very supportive – even impressed. Perhaps not by what they had seen, but by the promise of what it could be and simply by the balls I had to get up and do it. Of course in the entertainment industry, getting up and doing the thing is a minimum criteria for being a contender, but it scares the shit out of many a would be performer, serving as an insurmountable barrier between them and their dream.
There are two kinds of people, I think, when faced with an utterly disastrous outcome. Most people see only the failure. But there are some who see the potential. Courage will be noticed by those who notice that sort of thing.
And actually, despite losing two paid gigs on account of a poor performance, I also met people that night who have become friends and mentors to this day. So, of course I wish it had gone better, but I’m glad I did it either way because it has actually lead to some really good things.
Maybe there was an element of bad luck involved but that cannot be an excuse. Luck always plays a part in life whether we are comfortable accepting that or not. And in order to do a consistently good job of anything, we need to have strategies for controlling that bad luck when it happens.
When things go wrong, it pays huge dividends in the future to ask why? We must also accept that whatever went wrong was our fault. It can be a huge dent to your ego, but in order to reach a state of competence in which you can confidently handle whatever happens, it’s an essential part of the process.
It can be tough not to take failure personally – especially when you fail at something you love. But there was actually nothing personal about it. And the people who were complaining weren’t attacking me personally. They’re annoyed about what happened. They had been promised an experience and in that instance, I had not been able to deliver what I’d promised.
If you learn from it, failure is temporary. It need not be a direction to give up on the goal.
The weekend after that performance I signed up for the Edinburgh Fringe and a twelve night run. Of course between April and August, I completely stripped the show back, took on board all the criticism (as hard as that was) and put it all back together as a less ambitious and ultimately more entertaining and audience pleasing show.
And in Edinburgh, not only did it sell out 5 nights running, it also was one of the best selling shows at the venue that year.
In order to be the best at anything, you must first be prepared to be terrible at it. And failure IS sometimes a necessary stepping stone to success.
I am not a day trader. I generally hold positions for between a few weeks and several years and any opinions I share have this sort of time scale in mind.
Nothing on this blog should be considered to be anything more than entertainment. It is certainly not to be considered to be financial advice.