I just had a sudden jolt. In the shower about ten minutes ago (sorry about the image I have just conjured up). I am now literally sitting here with a towel wrapped around me (apologies again) trying to win the battle once more. Every time I feel like I have it nailed it catches me unawares and I feel like I’ve been pushed back to the start again. It’s like in the old days of video games, before save points, which was pretty much the last time I could play a video game guilt free. You would spend hours getting to one point, get just a little farther and then…blam, you’re back to the start. Also if you’ve seen the movie Edge of Tomorrow, like that, but without actually dying. Or Groundhog Day, kind of…but anyway it’s frustrating as hell and this time it’s annoyed the shit out of me. To the point that I can feel the frustration and annoyance within myself. But I need to do the usual and stop beating myself up and get back on the horse. Again.
I am in a constant battle with fear, it’s daily and it’s been going on for years. I’ve analysed it and written about it (usually privately as a cathartic exercise). The fear seems to have stemmed from some sort of perfectionism, I am a perfectionist therefore I am terrified of not being perfect. Which is funny, as anybody who knows me will tell you that I am not even in the same solar system as perfect. If perfect were earth, I would be the equivalent to one of those new planets that they seem to discover every now and then, that are so far away that it would take nineteen lifetimes to get to, even if we did have the technology, which we don’t, and never will. See there I go again, this is what happens when I’m all cross with myself.
The truth is that I’m usually really proud of myself and I am very happy with the person I am, as I think most of us are most of the time. I have made myself get on stage to perform magic, juggling, comedy and some pretty embarrassing stuff back in the early circus school days (ouch, that bed show) and now I provide leadership training.
I have discovered that with the right mindset, we can learn anything. I don’t just mean physical skills, but I truly believe that we can learn to feel comfortable in any situation, with repetition and practice. For example, let’s say you’re an introvert and you start work at a new place, so you feel out of your depth and vulnerable. You don’t know anybody and you don’t even know where the toilets are. It’s a horrible feeling but you get over it because you have to. You know that people start new jobs and that everybody in that building has been through the same thing. After a while you are comfortable. You’ve learned your place, literally.
It’s also the same as driving. Let’s say you see yourself as lacking coordination (for some reason nearly everybody tells me this when I try to teach them magic or juggling) and you start your first driving lesson. You sit there and wonder how it must feel to be able to do all this without thinking. And sure enough, in most cases, in no time at all you are driving around without thinking about it. Again you learn this and you go through the horrible stuff because you are surrounded by other’s who have succeeded. Many of whom cannot at all be described, with the best will in the world, as ‘clever’ in any way.
And it’s the same with performing. Many of those who know me see me as someone who feels comfortable in front of an audience, but this comfort came from years of discomfort and failure. It was my need to perform that overrode the fear. As the need for mobility overrides the fear of your first driving lesson. It’s something that’s just in you. But with my performing career, as with everything I have learned (there’s a pattern here) there were a are a lot less people doing it so I needed to seek out those who were. Again, I thought I had the performing thing sorted (Wrong!) and I thought I was getting a handle on my new challenge of writing (Again wrong). So just as an example, I’ll separate the two challenges I’ve been having. It doesn’t matter if you are not a performer or a writer, it should still make sense.
I have about six magic routines which I regularly perform on stage for large audiences (as opposed to my close-up magic), running for about forty minutes to an hour. A few years ago I realised I had performed these for enough years to feel very comfortable. I was doing tried and tested routines, usually tried and tested by magicians for years before I was even born. I began to feel that I was lacking creativity. When learning to be a performer, I felt very creative as, although the tricks were as old as the hills, I was creating my stage persona. I was working on the performance of the tricks and finding my voice.
However, after years of this I was in the dreaded comfort zone. I was still enjoying the stage time, in front of an audience as I tend to improvise a lot, which is always enjoyable to me. However, in my rehearsal, or lack of, the challenge required to get into any kind of flow (see the flow blog) was missing. In my day-to-day life I had a creative void. I realised that it was time I began devising my own routines, or learn some that would challenge me. The goal is always to become unconsciously competent at the trick, but after years there is always the danger of becoming a performer who phones it in, just getting through the material with not much thought, dead behind the eyes.
But the problem is, as a paid professional, where do you try out new material? Comedy nights have open spots but there isn’t really anywhere for a magician to do this. So I came up with the idea of hosting my own magic show in Sheffield. This gave me a space to explore again and it worked very well and my creative box was being ticked, so to speak. I was terrified of course. All was going well and after a couple of years I had another couple of hours worth of material. The thing is that after a bit of a rubbish couple of years in my personal life (you want to know now, don’t you?), the show stopped and a few months ago I realised that the routines of which I was so proud had been pretty much forgotten. About ten of them. Which is a lot of time spent. So I had one of those jolts (like the shower one) and organised another show, after two years off, which was lovely. I was terrified, but I had been here before and with the right amount of support and massaging of ego, I have started this journey again. Phew. The key here is that although I was really scared, I had been here before, and failed before in this arena. So in the back of my mind I knew that if things went wrong, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Steve Faulkner. Magic Show.
Performing one of my old ‘new’ routines. Terrified.
This, for me, is the difficult one. Though privately I have written for a long time, over the past few years I have really felt the itch to write publicly. Luckily, blogging provides a perfect platform for such things. I have no need to write for a living, I just want to do it. I feel the the same as I did when I started learning magic or juggling; though they became occupations, this wasn’t the initial goal. I got another one of those jolts again (I have an inkling that this one was also in the shower) and I wrote my eBook Go Do (go on, have a look) and, though not a masterpiece in any way, I got some great feedback. people read it and liked it. Yay. I then went on to write a couple of blogs and the fear would set in. And then all of a sudden blam!, jolt, a year of no writing had passed. Damn! I would procrastinate for a while and start again. It would get a bit easier and then again, months would pass.
So I began looking into what was stopping me. And again it was fear of imperfection. I knew I had to learn it and I knew that I was improving but I wasn’t there yet, so I dropped back to my comfort zone. With writing, this is something at which I am improving improving, but it’s moments like today, in the shower when I realise I’m not there yet.
So I’m standing in the shower thinking about writing, and I heard my inner voice making the excuses again. I could write but I really need to work on my latest talk, work on my magic, tidy the house, walk the dog, read game of thrones, watch game of thrones blah blah blah. But this time I caught that voice and felt it, just for an instant. This is what caused the jolt. I heard the real thoughts under all of the bullshit, as exposed as I was (sorry) in the shower. The truth.
I don’t want to write because I am scared. I am scared that people will know I’m not perfect, I’m not talented and I’m not in control at all times. I’m scared that sometimes I will write something that people won’t like, that only makes sense to me and that sound like the ramblings of a madman.
And this is what I really need to conquer. I everything. I really need to get to a place where I write regularly, without obsessing over quality. It’s a trust. A trust in myself and a trust in the learning process. I’m reminded of my hundreds of shows in my early days of street performing in Covent Garden, dying on my arse again and again with the odd success that became more and more consistent over the years. Or my first ever stage show on a cruise ship, I asked if I could leave my props on the ship as I was booked to come back on a couple of weeks later, “not anymore you’re not!” Cringe!! I have to remind myself that it’s the only way to learn anything. Just move forward and learn.
So I really am going to try and break this obsession with perfection. The only way I see of doing this, in everything I do, is to put things out there of which I am proud, and hope that a few people come along for the ride. I’m pretty sure that the ride will get better and better. In my experience, anything does with practice. I’ve discussed this with a lot of people and guess what? Many of them feel the same way. They have their own fears. Like starting a band, learning an instrument, doing stand-up comedy, going to a fitness class, going running, telling a joke, asking a member of the opposite sex out on a date, going to a new restaurant the list goes on and mostly, no matter the size of the decision, the one thing that is hiding in their somewhere is fear. A niggling fear of getting it wrong, stepping into the unknown, looking or feeling a bit silly or vulnerable, even ordering something off of the menu that isn’t as good what your friend will get (yep, that’s another one of mine).
I’m beginning to think that eradication of this fear may well be the key to creativity, learning and even happiness. We’ll see how we get on.
Thanks for reading my blog, it means a lot to me. Please comment, but be nice…oh god there I go again.
Steve Faulkner is a speaker, leadership trainer, presenter and award winning professional magician. Check out his magic site for that side of things and get in touch if you would like him to come and speak or perform magic for you.