In the performance world, when someone is asked how they feel before a show and they reply “nervous” it is common practice, almost a credo for people to reply “that’s good”. It is ‘good’ to be feeling nervous because then you are less likely to ‘fuck it up’ (as they say).
Now this seems contrary to all the human natures of encouragement and reassurance. Usually a nurturer would want to convince someone not to feel nervous and convince them that they are the best. This is not necersarily the best credo to have, and I think show-business has it best when they realize that when you’re too cocky… you fuck up – (as they say).
I finished high-school with ridiculously high grades in English. The kind of grades you get called onto the stage in assembly and are awarded a certificate in front of the whole school for. I barely opened an English book or read the novels, I was too busy writing letters to friends daydreaming about crushes or running off to the beach to surf. I got these grades by pure wit, pen-trickery and dumb-luck. Was I cocky about my abilities? Of course I was. Was I lazy? Of course I was.
Fast forward one gap-year to my first year in University. I enrolled in the English Literature course alongside my Film and Media subjects, obviously. *arrogant eye roll* I needed easy extra credit. Did I do any work? No. I cruised through that subject expecting the same level of result as I had managed in high school. I bunked lectures, deeming them ‘obvious’ and skim read the books.
What happened? I failed English Literature, by one percent, 49% in my face – first Semester of first year. The only subject I failed was the one I had taken as the most certain to pass.
Here’s where the magic happened though.
I then sat up. With a fresh hand print across my face from the metaphorical wake-up slap this had given me and went on to excel in all my subjects for the rest of University. I had to prove that I wasn’t an idiot. How dare I allow myself to fail such a simple course? You can bet that it never happened again. What had happened because I’d been too cocky? I’d fucked up (as they say).
The irony is, that had this not happened – I probably would have cruised through all of University with average grades, never really trying. Never really challenging myself, with nothing to prove. Sometimes we need to fall, to fail to feel that slap of humiliation to stand back up – more defiantly having “learned from our mistakes”.
I know many comedian friends will tell me that the performance immediately after one where they’d “died” they inevitably “kill”… and conversely, after an epic performance where they killed, they have to be careful because often the following one is a bit of a death.
A year and a half ago, I was feeling untouchable. Reckless and untouchable. I had survived a devastating break-up, it was the heat of summer, I had partied my cares away and the world couldn’t touch me. (I say this with the beauty of hindsight.) Of course, one thing lead to another and the world not only touched me, it caught me and put me in jail. Driving home from sunset cocktails can get you arrested for drunk driving. It doesn’t take much to be over the legal limit.
The day after I got arrested was one of the lowest days of my life. I can remember feeling the most intense feeling of dread and regret I have ever experienced. I finally understood that saying ‘one bad decision can ruin your life’ because I honestly felt like I had ruined my entire life. Now, the jury is (literally) still out on that verdict as I am still appearing in court, 18 months later, whilst we battle this out (completely honestly, with no bribery involved – might I add.)
But part of me feels like that was simultaneously one of the best things that could have happened to me. Much like the failed subject in University, this ‘failure’ slapped me across the face to never let something like this happen again. I never want to feel that scared, panicked, helpless or full of regret. I run out of adjectives to explain how I felt, nothing accurately conveys it. I just remember feeling like I might never be happy ever again.
However, I don’t know what that experience saved me from down the line. It could have been a lot worse. I stopped drinking for months after that, quit smoking altogether and completely rethought my reckless behavior. I put my life back on track, stopped partying and running away from myself and became focused, found a career path and happiness. They say people have to hit rock bottom before they can realize they need to change. (Well I think they say that for addicts… but, addicts are people too.)
The same goes for those devastating relationship break-ups we never think we’ll survive. I know I look back on mine now, with not a stitch of longing. If it wasn’t for that break-up I wouldn’t have been alone long enough to find stand-up comedy. Without that break-up I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now… and without that break-up I wouldn’t be bulimic. Just kidding, just kidding I’m not happy.
The point is: We all have battles, we all have failures. We all have those moments where we sit down and think, “I am never going to get over this”… the irony is, that those are the moments that will lead to our eventual true happiness. That slap us awake hard enough to re-group, re-focus and try harder. So what ever you’re going through now, know that eventually it will make you better, happier. You might even look back at this devastating moment, whatever it is, and think “Thank God that happened, who knows what might have happened otherwise.”
I know I do.
And I was obviously kidding by the way (It’s my right as a comedian), I am happy. Very happy. Just not cocky about it, coz I don’t want to fuck it up… (as they say).
*high five! – missed… fail… bleak… awkward… second try: EPIC HIGH FIVE*
What about you? Have you had any moments that you felt were failures that have swung around to be the best things that could have ever happened to you?