The Magic in Failure

I went to a magic show last night at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles.

It was…yes, magical.

We got to see lots of shows and I even got to go onstage and help out the main magician for a trick. He was more of a Vegas style big trick magician and less, like, quick slight-of-hand-centric. This meant, in part, that there was some time to kill between his set ups of new tricks. So he had another act come and do some impressive juggling and ball throwing.

After his first opening bit, the magician said that it had been 19 years since he had performed at The Magic Castle (basically the Olympics for magicians). And he brought back the same friend he had with him 19 years before to help him out and entertain between his tricks. This was the juggling dude.

Juggle dude came out hot and fast. He was good, moved around, and did a bunch of impressive feats. But then at one point, he dropped one of the items he was juggling. Impressively, he was able to keep juggling the other two and quickly pick back up the third and resume as if nothing had happened. He changed the items and amounts he was juggling several times throughout the act.

He was extremely impressive, but not flawless.

In fact, at one point he was trying to blow a ping pong ball on his face and catch it with the bridge of his nose and eyebrows. He did it a few times and even sort of paused and mouthed “come on” before he finally nailed it. Because everything magic-oriented is so showy, it’s hard to know if his failures were part of the show. But what I realized was, I didn’t even care. Nor did anyone else there, really.

The man sat before a paying audience with a lot of pressure to be perfect. And nobody seemed to care when he screwed up a little. Part of me did wonder if he had been actively practicing in the past 19 years. But that was mostly because I expected perfection because I think we all do just out of habit.

What happened when I didn’t get it, though, was that I didn’t care. I didn’t feel slighted. In fact, I enjoyed sort of seeing him fail and try again. I enjoyed seeing him keep his spirits up and keep doing it until he got it. There was so much he already nailed that it didn’t matter to me that there were a few moments of imperfection. It made him human and almost more impressive that he was willing to fail in front of everyone onstage and keep going.

And, perhaps most interestingly, he was still interesting and entertaining even with the flubs.

That was the main takeaway for me from the event. I pressure myself regularly to be perfect, especially when onstage. I think that if I’m not absolutely polished, people will discover me for being some sort of fraud. The funny part is, I’ve screwed up before plenty of times on stage and in front of audiences. And I’m sure I will continue to. But seeing someone else do it reminded me how little I, as an audience member, actually care. I like seeing hints of behind-the-scenes as long as I still trust this person can get us all through it and remain entertaining.

If he had flubbed big time, it might have felt awkward. That’s when the audience starts to wonder if they can trust you to continue to entertain them. But they were just small things that happened occasionally. They were fixed instantly but not without self-awareness and a hint of happy humility.

The flaws were beautiful.

And, dare I say it… magical.

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