Friends 2 – The One Where John Realised it’s Worth the Effort

Unique Mix

A pack has 52 different cards. Once shuffled, no pack of cards will be in that particular order ever again. This is just statistics. The number of possible combinations of 52 cards is 52!, or 52 factorial, ie, 52 x 51 x 50 x 49… all the way down to one. The result is 8 with 67 zeroes after it! 

You have a unique combination of encounters and relationships in your life, richer if it contains a mix of comfort and challenge. Be aware of this and intentional about it.

Different Strokes and Different Folks

We gain when we do not restrict our friendships to those who are like us and to those with whom we agree. Mixing with people who are different is very good for us, it helps us to grow and widens our vision. 

I used to visit an old chap with learning difficulties. He was utterly unlike me. His flat was squalor, he spent most of his time playing video games and I was always wondering what I might catch from his coffee cups. But we became firm friends and he kept me from assuming everyone in the world was like me. I was very sad when he died a few years ago and I was privileged to give a eulogy at his funeral.

Don’t just have friends that agree with you, otherwise you will be missing out on fascinating discussions. Through limited behind-the-scenes glimpses, I have realised that many politicians are excellent at this. They can be on opposing parties and vehemently disagree but yet respect each other and enjoy a drink in the bar after the debate.

Levelling With You 

There are different levels of friendship. Even Jesus had three very close disciples (Peter, James and John), a slighter larger group of 12 who were close, then a wider group of 72.  It’s not a bad pattern. We need those with whom we can bare our souls, those with whom we can share everyday life stuff and then those who are business or social connections, only getting to see part of our lives.

Bank on it

Nurture your friendships. Don’t take them for granted, they will be in danger of slipping away. This is particularly true if you move to different parts of the country or different parts of the world. 

Stephen Covey, in “Seven Habits or Highly Effective People”  talks about “emotional bank accounts”. This is such a useful concept. 

When we meet anyone we unconsciously open an emotional bank account with them. From then on we are either depositing or withdrawing. Every time we have a positive interaction with that person, every time we do something for them, spend time with them, ask how they are, listen to their story, give them a gift we are making deposits.

Every time we annoy them, take advantage of them, take them for granted, ignore them or hurt them then we are withdrawing from the account. 

When we need a favour or forgiveness from them, their response will depend on the balance in the account. Think about it, the people who are most likely to forgive you are the ones to whom you have given the most. 

Friends Reunite

How much time have spent with the friends that you want to nurture? Not enough? Then send them a card. Fix up to have lunch with them. Make a phone call, send a text. It’s not rocket science but it can make a huge difference. 

Show your friends that you value them, cultivate the friendships and both you and they will be all the richer for it.

Friends 1 – The One Where an Introvert Learns to Make Friends

A Card Needs a Pack

As a solo performer and an introvert, my natural tendency was always to keep myself to myself, to strive for self-sufficiency. 

However, because I am married to an extrovert, and through observation and reflection, I now recognise that having a network of friends is essential to a healthy and fulfilling life. For my wife making and spending time with friends is part of her autopilot.

However, I have to be intentional about it and overcome my natural tendency to isolation.

Open Hearts, Helping in Spades

Friendship and community are essential for good mental health. Loneliness is a huge contributing factor to so many mental health problems. Having friends can have a preventative effect. Firstly, loneliness is less likely to be a contributing factor and, secondly, friends may well spot that something is going wrong for you and seek to offer support. We are stronger together.

Having friends is also great fun! Not only can friends support you in the tough times, you can also mess around together, play together, learn new things together, share life’s journey.


When we are thrown together with other children at school we naturally gravitate to those who are a bit like us and most people form some sort of friendships which can last for years. If we change schools we may well assess the type of friends that we had at the last school and decide that we want a different type of friend from now on. This especially happens when people go off to university or college; they realise that they have a completely blank slate and they are free to re-invent themselves if they wish. Not everyone does, but many do.

I have come to points in my life when I have realised that I have not had the mix of friends that I would have chosen. In some ways this has been very good for me, more on that in another post, but in other ways I realised that I was missing out. So I decided to learn how to make and nurture the types of friendships that I wanted and needed. 

The King of Clubs

I have always been a sucker for organised activities, structured socialising, clubs and societies. I was like that as a child, at university and I am still like that now. This is one of the reasons that I love The Magic Circle, Toastmasters and the Professional Speaking Association. I have found that I can make excellent surface level friendships and connections in these environments. Some of them develop into slightly deeper friendships. I have definitely found that you can meet some very interesting people.

Diamond Dale

A few years ago I read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. For years I had avoided it because the title sounded manipulative. However, I actually found it to be an excellent book. My conversation skills were revolutionised as a result and I now find it much easier to talk to complete strangers that I meet at work, at networking events and in social situations. 

If I could boil down what I learned through reading that book it would come down to: assume the best of people, smile a lot, listen sincerely and ask people about themselves more than you talk about yourself.

Take it from an introvert – the friendship experiment is definitely worth it!

Environment Friendly?

Colleague or Competitor?

In effect, your working environment is either your supportive colleague or your corrosive competitor. It will either be making your more effective or less effective.

Is it useful? Is it beautiful?

Utility and energising stimulation are two features that I want in my working environment.

A Place for Everything

Where do you work? If you are anything like me, not just in one place.

As a freelancer I do my admin and creative work in a variety of places. Different places for different modes of work.

I normally go to the library to write. It is a beautiful environment that puts me in the right frame of mind.

Admin is either at home or on the road.

That’s the Way, Uh Huh, Uh Huh, I Like It

In my home office I have stripped the tech and wires back to the bare minimum, easier these days with smaller devices, wireless technology and less need for printing. My desk has a variety of ornaments and memorabilia to give me pleasant thoughts.

I have props set up on a side table so that I can do ad-hoc rehearsing, and a guitar on a stand next to my desk for occasional solo blues jams.

And then my vinyl turntable and CD player. Sometimes it feels good to go old-school!

Three Cheers for the Right Gear

I am increasingly working on the train and in my car (parked!) Having the right executive backpack – an eBag – has made this so much easier. It cost more than I would normally spend on a rucksack, but the last year of use has more than justified the expense. 

Likewise, swapping my old PC laptop for a MacBook Pro paid for itself many times over within months. I did the maths on this in another post.

Boost and Inspire

However, investing in the right stuff isn’t all expensive. 

Aim for gear that makes your work easier plus pictures, ornaments and music that encourage and feed your creativity. 

My best purchase of the last year was a whiteboard. I originally bought it for a particular magic trick, but have since started using it all time for personal brainstorming sessions. It is great for mapping out ideas, changing them round, preparing speeches and articles. Once I have mapped something out I will often store a picture of it in Evernote so that I have it for future reference.  

You’re Fired!

Think about your working environment – is it working for you or against you?

If you are in any way creative – writing, presenting, giving speeches, performing – then you need to feed your mind and spirit in order to have the resources you need. Stuff in equals stuff out.

If you find your old office design is actually your competitor, sack it and get another one. 

You are worth it.

Resting – Which Face?

Recently I have been learning to turn my frown upside-down.

Face Look Messenger

I recently undertook some voice coaching from the excellent Fiona Brennan-Scott of Bespoken. As part of my final evaluation she came to watch me deliver a talk at Dorchester Abbey

Part of her feedback was fascinating. She said that when the host was interacting with me, my face lit up and I was animated, warm and engaging. However, when the spotlight was off me she said my face became very serious, knitted eyebrows and slight downturn at the corners of my mouth. Not quite resting b***ch face, but getting there.

Eye Movie

A week before that I had attended a performance workshop at The Magic Circle. This was after an intensive weekend of performing shows, so I was feeing tired. As part of the workshop they threw us on stage and filmed us doing a minute-long improvised talk about ourselves. 

This time I got the comment that I was smiling with my mouth but not with my eyes.

Face Time

Something was clearly going on here. I thought I was feeling fine in myself, but my face was communicating a slightly off-putting seriousness when in “neutral”.

I decided to try retraining my resting face. I figured that we require muscle effort to do everything we do, whether conscious or unconscious. Over the years my facial muscles had obviously got into the habit of projecting a resting sombre face. Perhaps I could retrain them?

I started on my morning dog walk when no-one was looking! Consciously lifting my eyebrows to remove the knit between them and consciously slightly turning up my mouth at the edges. Not a big grin, more a slight smile of contentment. I didn’t want to look crazy, just serene!

At first my eyebrows got very tired but, after a few days, they started to get used to it.

Outlook Expressed

The early results of this have been quite extraordinary.

Firstly, feedback on my talks has improved.

Secondly, whereas people in the street used to step out of my way and say, “Sorry, sir,” they are now more likely to smile and say, “Hello.”

And, thirdly, my attitude to people around me has changed. It has been elevated.

Before, my default unconscious position was to view everyone around me as competitors, I was constantly measuring myself against everyone I met or saw. However, my new resting face has lifted my mood and I now find myself viewing people around me as fellow travellers through the world. Rather than being drained by a crowd, I am now finding that I can be energised by it.

My more positive resting face has produced in me a more positive general outlook.

Give yourself some resting space to think about your resting face 🙂

Chunking – Be Ready for Anything

It’s getting chunky in here.

One of the most valuable techniques for a performer is “chunking”. 


I got the term chunking last year from the excellent speaker Lee Jackson at a Professional Speaking Association event, but I have long thought of my own magic and circus shows as being made up of modules. Stand up comedians talk about “bits”. They are all effectively the same thing. A show is broken down into discrete units which can be added, dropped, rearranged, re-worked or replaced as necessary.

The benefit of this approach is huge. 

Show Ready it Doesn’t Hurt

I have a few template shows in my mind. However, for most of my shows I don’t see the venue until I turn up 30 minutes before the event starts. Sometimes I discover that there is an unconventional room layout, or that the age group of the audience is not what I was expecting, or I have to do a show of a different length because I suddenly find that they have booked an additional entertainer without telling me. It is important to be able to react and adapt in the moment without pain. A modular approach enables me to shorten or lengthen my show at will, I can change the age targeting in an instant, I can add or drop elements to suit the venue. 

Providing you have enough modules in your toolkit to start with then you are pretty much ready for anything.

This chunking approach works wonders outside of magic and show business as well. 

Ready for Battle

The military say that it is in the heat of the battle that the training kicks in. In other words, they have rehearsed responses to many different scenarios. These responses become second-nature reactions to certain circumstances. They have learned modules, chunks, “bits”. You can do the same in your work and personal life. 

Tool Up

Consider learning techniques that will apply in multiple situations. 

To take a mundane example, learning to change a car tyre. You never know when it will come in handy, but you will grateful that you learned it if you ever need it. Or learning how to read a balance sheet. Or getting to inbox zero in your email. 

Rehearse and develop protocols to be followed in certain situations. Why do we have fire drills? So that everyone knows what to do if there is a fire. 

You can develop your own protocols for non-emergency situations. To go back to the inbox zero example, how do you react when a new email comes in? If you have an established protocol you can ensure that it is dealt with appropriately, efficiently and at the right time.

The more of these techniques that you can add to your personal and corporate toolbox, the more you will be equipped to react in a wide variety of situations.

So, let’s get chunky!

Sleep is a Weapon

Jason Bourne’s French fellow assassin advised him: “Sleep is a weapon.” 

As a performing magician I have a duty to my clients to turn up looking suitably showbiz, ie, energetic and not ill, and to perform with skill and attention to detail so that the show goes seamlessly and is carried off without apparent effort. 

None of this is possible if you are exhausted. I get ill, concentration is lacking and I am not able to display the requisite energy to make the performance sparkle.
What is true for the magician is, as is so often the case, true for everyone.

Snore Thing

Sleep is a priority. We need to recognise that and act on it. Maybe we have to re-jig our lives and our routines, but the rewards more than outweigh the effort. 

Skimping on sleep really is a false economy, tempting though it is.

It has recently been show that 17 hours without sleep leaves you with the same degree of mental impairment as being over the legal alcohol limit for driving. You would never dream of arriving at work drunk, so why is it ever a badge of honour to work through the night before showing up? 

I realise that some people suffer from chronic insomnia. In these cases, seek professional help.

However, most of us are not chronic insomniacs, we just need to sleep a bit better and a bit more.

As well as Counting Sheep

Firstly, recognise sleep’s importance and prioritise it. 

Decide to go to bed a bit earlier. Re-engineer your bedtime routine. It is hard to go to sleep if your mind is worrying about stuff, so don’t do stuff that could make you worried just before bed. 

I stopped looking at TV news and news sites last thing. There is nothing I can do about the news in bed except worry about it. Similarly with emails. Give yourself an hour off from email before bedtime, let your mind switch off. 

I read a novel before sleeping, it clicks my mind into another time and place.

There is a lot of talk about “sleep hygiene”: should or shouldn’t you have your smartphone or other device by your bed? I am divided on this. I use the Sleep Cycle app as an alarm clock. It listens to my movements in bed and wakes me up gently when it senses that I am in light sleep so that I wake up feeling refreshed and not groggy. I really like it. 

Also, I read my bedtime novel on my iPad, propped up on my bedside table. I don’t have to hold it, I can keep my head on the pillow. If I fall asleep while reading, which I often do, then it just turns itself off.

It depends on your self-discipline. If you are too tempted to check emails, news sites or social media, leave devices outside the room and get a battery alarm clock instead.

…my best thought, by day or by night

Lastly, the podcast ”Feel Better, Love More” highlighted that how you are awake affects how you sleep. They described four elements of light, food, movement and stress.

  • 10 minutes of bright daylight every day can make all the difference. Go outside mid-morning for at least 10 minutes. It will help to set a healthy Circadian rhythm.
  • Eat well. It helps everything. Don’t drink caffeine too much or too late in the day. You may think that alcohol helps you to sleep. It may help you to get to sleep more quickly, but the quality of sleep will not be as good.
  • Make sure you are getting sufficient exercise.
  • Stress plays a big part. A daily practice of meditation, prayer, reflection and/ or mindfulness can really help us to be on a more even mental keel, helping us to sleep better.

Sleep well!

Car vs Train

I used to drive nearly everywhere. Two years ago my annual mileage was, according to my MOT certificates, 25,000 miles.  I have now halved that.

The reason is that I have decided not to use my car unless I really have to. 

If I am performing family shows then I need to take the car because of the number of props involved. However, for pretty much everything else I have started to use public transport wherever possible.

I live in Oxford. On average, I travel to London a couple of times per week for meetings at The Magic Circle or for the charity that I work for, ZANE. A few years ago I would always drive in, park in Westfield and then get the tube. I also have local meetings and errands to run. Again, my default position was always to take the car.

However, I have now switched to using public transport – buses and trains – wherever possible.

Apart from the green benefits, I also worked out two hourly rates. First was the hourly rate for my time (see my previous blog post) which worked out at £28/ hour. The next was the hourly rate for my car. 

Car Pay Day, um…

My car computer helpfully provides an average speed (about 35 mph) and an average miles per gallon (about 40 mpg). Using these, plus estimates for depreciation, servicing, etc I worked out the hourly rate for driving my car. It came out at £15 per hour, which was quite a shock! It actually tallies with the Inland Revenue business mileage rate of 45p/mile (35mph x 45p/mile = £15.75 per hour). 

That meant that the 3 hours driving to London and back was costing me £45. And that didn’t include my time. Time driving is time you can’t be working so the calculation became:

My time on the journey: 3 hours, £28 x 3 = £84
Car driving cost: £15 x 3 = £45
Parking = £15
Total = £84 + £45 + £15 = £144

So I looked at the train. 

The Train Gain

With a Network Railcard (£30/ year – bargain, it gives 1/3 off off-peak fares after 10am) an off-peak day return Oxford to London is currently about £18. And you can work on the train – I can probably get a total of 2 hour’s work done during the journey, plus have a nap. So, doing the calculation for the train:

My time on the journey: 4 hours, £28 x 4 = £112
Work time on journey, so redeeming time: 2 hours, £28 x 2 = -£56
Cost of ticket = £18
Total = £112 – £56 + £18 = £74

Do the Math

So that’s £74 by train versus £144 by car. That’s £70 difference, plus it’s less tiring and better for the environment. 

Obviously your situation will be different, but it’s worth doing the sums for your situation.

It’s a no-brainer – become a trainer!

What is Your True Hourly Rate?

Watch Your Hourly Rate

An incredibly useful concept that I picked up some time ago from a Michael Hyatt podcast is that of an effective hourly rate. Basically, identify a realistic target annual turnover, ie, your salary plus business expenses. Then divide by the number of hours you can/ want to work in a year. 

Some Sums

My target turnover was £45K p.a. As a magician, my expenses are fairly low, mainly travel, advertising and a few packs of cards.

I don’t want to work more than 35 hours each week and I reckon on 45 working weeks each year – a fairly generous holiday allowance plus a built-in safety factor – I am fully self-employed so can’t guarantee work every week. That gives a total of 1575 working hours in the year. £45K divided by 1575 results in £28/ hour. 

At first I was shocked at how high it was. But it did serve to focus my mind on how I was using my time. In particular it made me more intentional in the following areas: my charging structure, my travel choices and my choice of leisure time. I will cover travel choices in a later post.

Charging Structure

If you are freelance then you will probably be charging an hourly, per-job or day rate to your clients. Lawyers are famous for their “billable” hours, but you can’t really do this if you are a magician! 

However, you do have to recoup the cost of your time spent on promotion, processing bookings and admin. Using your hourly rate and a realistic assessment of how long each job will take, including preparation, travel and follow-up, you can then work out how much it is really costing you.

This will give you a minimum that you need to make from from that job. 

However, I should note that is not necessarily what you should charge the client – you may well need to charge more. 

You have to factor in the going rate for your industry. Magicians hate it when other magicians undercut the market and start a race to the bottom in terms of fees. It devalues everyone’s offering and does no-one any favours in the long-term. You need to maintain both the public’s perceived value of what you offer as well as good relations with others in your industry.

Intentional Recreation

Your time is a zero-sum game. There are only 24 hours in a day, only 168 hours in a week.  Saying yes to one thing always means saying no to something else, even if it is rest, recreation or time with friends or family.

You need a healthy balance between working, recreation and time with those you love. 
Working out your hourly rate will give you an appreciation of what your time is worth in financial terms. But this in no way means that you should seek to max out your working hours in order to maximise your income. That is not sustainable and is not good for you or for those around you. 

However, it should make us think about what we choose to do with our recreation time. Sometimes we just need to slob out in front of junk TV  or our Facebook feed, but put strict boundaries on those. I would encourage you to seek leisure activities that feed your mind, body and creativity. Think theatre, reading, cooking, exercise, sleep(!)…

It’s time to value your time.

Credibility Part 3 – with Yourself

I’m starting with the man in the mirror…

The first post in this trilogy was about being credible online, the next in person. This post is about having credibility in your own eyes. Do you believe in yourself and value yourself?

Respect Yourself

Are you building up your own self-belief or eroding it? This can be done in the way that we choose to dress, the hobbies that we allow ourselves, our choice of food how much trouble we take over ourselves. L’Oreal’s “Because I’m worth it” campaign might be slightly clichéd now but it makes an important point. 

As the Kane Gang sang (a cover version, I believe) in the ‘80s, “If you don’t respect yourself ain’t no-one gonna respect you…” 

Finding Your Threads

I knew exactly what I wanted to wear when  I was at university and it reflected who I was. It was slightly ridiculous but, hey, who cares? 

Then I lost that fashion (or anti-fashion) self-confidence for about 20 years! It was not until my mid-40’s that I discovered a new style that I felt reflected my character, both who I am now and who I am aiming to be. As they say, “Dress for the success that you wish to see.” It took me far too long to get to that point but I have been making much better progress in life and work since I did.

Environmental Change

Think about your work environment – is it working for you or against you?

I work from home so I have ultimate control over this. Make sure that you have pictures, ornaments, music that encourage and feed your creativity and productivity. 

As a magician I find that I have to props strategically placed around my office, my house and my car so that I am reminded to do a few minutes practice throughout each day. I have set up the environment to make this easy for me. Do the same with your working environment. 

If you are in any way creative – writing, presenting, giving speeches, performing – then you need to feed your mind and spirit in order to have the resources you need. Stuff in equals stuff out.

Make a Date

I read “The Artist’s Way” years ago. There are several great concepts in that book, but the one that springs to mind here is the Artist’s Date. Give yourself a date with yourself regularly when you go out an do something that you love, that feeds your soul. The more that you do it, the more that you will realise that you are worth it, the more it will build your credibility with yourself.

Believe in yourself. Nurture yourself.

Because you’re worth it.

Credibility Part 2 – In Person

First Impressions

Part 1 was about establishing credibility online. How about establishing and maintaining credibility in person?

It starts as soon as someone sees you. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unless you are wearing a very convincing disguise! 

Do you immediately appear highly competent, suitable to their needs and approachable?

Always On

You never know when or where these contacts are going to happen so, in a sense, you are always in “advertising” mode. I know, as a magician, that before during and after a show people in the audience may be assessing whether I might be suitable for their own party or event.

90% is Just Showing Up

It starts when you arrive. At a children’s party I turn up 30 minutes before my start time. I am in my smart costume, such that I could be none other than a magician. I have had a cup of tea and nap in the car so I am refreshed, relaxed and in control. As a result the client visibly relaxes because they no longer have to worry about me not turning up. 

I think it was Woody Allen who once said, “90% is just showing up.” So true.

Within seconds of arriving, I do a trick for the birthday child. It’s a quick, impactful trick which makes the child feel like they are magic. The child gives a huge smile and the parent further relaxes, again thinking that they have made an excellent choice of magician. 

I also establish credibility with the guests. I do the same magic trick for all the kids as they arrive. They then believe that magic happens when I am with them. 

Arriving early gives me plenty of time to discuss where the hosts would like the show, to make any suggestions about room layout and to work out in my own head what will and won’t work in the space. I go back to my car and bring in only what is necessary for that particular show. The client sees me setting up very calmly with the minimum of fuss and no clutter. It sounds simple, but it has actually taken years to hone this process and I am still refining it.

Next I put on my head mic, even with small audiences. This allows greater dramatic vocal  range, but also makes me look more in charge and professional.

I then deliver a stunning children’s party, the like of which they have never seen before because it is all my own and has, again, taken years to hone. By this time the host is swelling with pride at having made such a good choice. The other parents  are now having my credibility established in their minds. If there is opportunity I will also perform some close-up magic for the grown-ups during the tea break, allowing me to cross-promote my close-up magic for adults. 

Tweak to Succeed

As with magic, as with all work and life. Face-to-face contact is important wherever it happens.

Strive to create a good impression of both yourself and your business with everyone you meet.

Think about all the stages of your face-to-face interactions with people. Can you tweak them to build your credibility?