1. Pressure Often Leads To Action If you are anything like me, you have come to realize that you might just work better under pressure. No one looks for stress in their lives, but I find that deadlines, even artificial ones, produce the best work. The truth is, little happens without putting yourself out there, trying something new and risking failure. Let me tell you about our trip to Las Vegas to appear on the television show, “Penn & Teller: Fool Us!” If you are unfamiliar with the show, here is the concept in a nutshell: magicians of all types perform a trick for the famous duo, Penn and Teller, in the hopes of stumping them.
2. Make Your Goal A Priority We all have “goals.” Things that we hope to accomplish at some point. Yet most of those will remain out of reach if we don’t make them a priority. I had first been invited to appear on the Penn and Teller show a couple of years ago, but their filming schedule and our availability didn’t coincide. The next season we couldn’t match up either. (They record the entire season in about three weeks’ time and those weeks are always right in my busy season.) Looking ahead to the following year, I decided I would make it my goal to be available for the show and to make a fun and interesting segment for the producers.
As a side note; I will confess that despite the title of the show, I did not set out to fool Penn and Teller. To do that I would need to pick some very obscure bit of magic know-how, likely a card trick. Frankly, I didn’t want to do that. My goal was to be able to use our (my wife and I) appearance to showcase our personalities and our teamwork. In my estimation an illusion or larger presentation that included both of us equally would be better in the long run. Also, the show already has a large amount of card tricks, so a different style would help us stand out. Should we fool Penn & Teller, that would be an amazing bonus. But the appearance itself was the real reward.
3. Putting Yourself Out On A Limb If you don’t risk failure you probably aren’t living up to your potential. As I began to consider routines to perform on the television show that would accomplish my goals, I became aware of a new illusion that was being developed in Las Vegas. It was rather unique, and offered more presentational
possibilities than the typical, “saw a lady in half” trick that seem to have a formula. I really became fixated on this new prop. Therefore, we began the process of having the prop custom made, obtaining the performance rights and once we received it, the countless hours of rehearsals began. Here’s where the stress begins. We were committing ourselves to a performance on national television. But we weren’t doing one of our time and audience tested routines. The kind we could do in our sleep. No, we were planning on doing the newest piece we had. If I were consulting another performer, I would advise against this. Yet, Bobbie and I dove right in, working all hours of the day and night. We hit many stumbling blocks along the way. Most I can’t mention, since magic is best when kept a secret.
I imagine Bobbie’s stress was different from my own. This wasn’t her thing at all. In the beginning she was willing to help me, but overall, she was an innocent bystander, only involved because her nutty husband thrust her into the unnatural world of performing on a national platform that all would see us succeed or fail on. Fortunately, we had a tour of performing arts centers and theatres that allowed us to work the routine several times in front of diverse audiences. They really seemed to like the trick. And the script had really settled in. We had hit a nice stride performing it.
We had a break in our tour dates that allowed us to schedule the television show. Feeling good about everything, we packed up the prop and shipped it to Las Vegas. We had about a week to relax and get ourselves together before our own flight to the Rio Hotel and Casino. 4. Darkest Before the Dawn President William McKinley stated, “In the time of darkest defeat, victory may be nearest.” I believe this is often the case; that moment when you want most to give up or feel that you have hit an insurmountable obstacle is right when you are most likely to have a unique breakthrough. Its that moment when true innovation is exercised. It may require some pain and effort, but perhaps those kinds of contractions must always accompany the birth of something new. In this case, part of why I chose to perform the new illusion was because I had a clear vision of how I wanted to present it. I knew instinctively what I wanted to say and what it would mean to the audience. Bobbie and I collaborated on the script and we had seen it well received by the theatre audience.
Imagine our shock when we decided to watch some of the previous season’s episodes of “Fool Us” and saw another magician doing a completely different illusion but saying almost exactly the same things we had in our script! I mean darn near word for word. Since his performance was a year old, and I had never seen this magician or his trick before, it was an amazing coincidence. Perhaps the reason I had that presentation was that it really was instinctive, so much so that any magician would think to say
similar things. Nevertheless, we couldn’t present it this way now. I was in full panic. I had to scrap everything we had said and rehearsed for months. We had about two days to completely rescript our routine. I stayed up most of the night, rewriting and retooling. The next morning I had a new script. It was exhausting. I handed to Bobbie. She said, “Its not
very good.” I protested, that was not at all what I wanted to hear. But she was right. We spent much of that day trying to make something out of it. I was starting to regret pushing us to do something so new and relatively untested compared to all our other material. But slowly we had at least something new to say, it wasn’t particularly interesting. At least we had something. 6. Miraculous Inspiration The next morning, we headed to the airport to make our way to Penn and Teller and the live audience. As we were about to park the car Bobbie said, “You know what I’d really like to say is, ‘I’ve been watching the show, and the assistants do most of the work and then the magicians take all the credit! What is up with that?’” With that one statement, we suddenly had a new direction. We had a point of view and one that viewers could relate too, mainly because it was honest. Bobbie never wanted to be “the girl in the box” and I never wanted to use an assistant as prop, but rather as a person of interest and a partner in the act. Our plane ride from Dallas to Las Vegas was extremely fruitful and we wrote the script you see on the show all within hours. It was natural, it was us and it highlighted both of us the way I wanted when I first decided to do the show. When we did our rehearsal with the director the next day, he complimented our script and presentation. It all clicked! Watch it here…
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome,” -Arthur Ashe Did we fool Penn and Teller? No. But the victory was in the doing. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful the overall experience was working with the Fool Us team. Everyone involved with the show was extremely caring and professional. Just being with and working with that team was a career highlight for me. It probably would have been much safer to have performed a routine that I’ve done for years and years. Especially when you consider that if we fail, it would be on a very public national platform. Yet, artistically it was exactly that risk that made us stretch ourselves, to work harder and break us out of our own limitations. That only happened because of embracing the pressure rather than avoiding it. If you are still reading this, I hope our story encourages you. If there is a goal you’d like to accomplish but have put it off because it seems so far out of reach, take some action today. Revise that; take massive action today. If you fail, so what? Fail spectacularly! Then start again. In Conclusion, here are my six pieces of advice for dealing with stress.
- Embrace the pressure. You’ll will accomplish more if you have a deadline. Look for ways to saddle and harness the stress than to fight it or hide from it. Make it work for you.
- Make your goal a priority in your life. Schedule time to swing for the fences and try for a homerun. You may not connect on every try, but when you do… it can change your game for the better.
- Knowing that every reward has a risk involved takes away a lot of its power. Sometimes the things that feel the most intimidating will offer the most satisfying reward. Our flight or fight instinct will try to keep you on the safest path, but if your really want to break out, push yourself out of your comfort zone.
- Understand that once you are out of the safety of your comfort zone, you will hit obstacles. Accept that they are necessary and part of the process.
- Your biggest break through will often come when the pressure is the most intense. There is a reason Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Keep working persistently until you hit that inspired moment. You’ll know when it happens.