Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
When I was in school, I spent a lot of time listening to Steve Martin.
I mean, who could ignore this guy? He comes on stage wearing a three-piece all white suit and immediately jumps into his stand up act. He was incredibly funny, but he was good at other things, too. Juggling. Making balloon animals. Playing the banjo.
Before I even knew his name, I was laughing at his material on The Smothers Brothers show, Sonny and Cher, and Laugh In.
It was when I saw him on Saturday Night Live that he became a fixture in my youth.
What made Steve so good?
My teenage life was hard.
It wasn’t hard because I was poor. We had money. My parents loved me. I had everything I could ever want.
But I didn’t have great social skills.
It was clearly my own fault. I trace it back to sixth grade. I was awkward and full of energy. I took it into the classroom and this twit of a teacher decided to make an example of me in front of the whole class — on my first day at a new school.
Talk about a traumatic experience.
I misinterpreted it horribly. It put chains on me that nothing else ever did. If you want to know more about it, here’s a letter I wrote to myself about it.
Laughter was a welcome release from all that pressure.
I think that is why Steve succeeded the way he did as a standup comic. His act was absurd, offbeat, and silly. It was fun to watch. But most of all it was a refreshing alternative to the heavy issues of the 1970s — the Vietnam war, the fight for women’s rights, the Kent State shootings, and the Energy Crisis, to name a few.
Life wasn’t perfect.
We all need an escape.
We all need a safe space to laugh at ourselves because often we take ourselves way too seriously.
Steve gave us that, and he did it with all the talent he could muster. He practiced a lot. He did show after show, testing material to see what made people laugh and what didn’t. He poked fun at his own profession, and at himself.
That commitment paid off handsomely.
It’s not the answer we want to hear
When Steve spoke with Charlie Rose on his show, Charlie asked what his secret for success was.
Steve replied, “I just tell people be so good they can’t ignore you. They want to know how to get an agent, or how to write a script. They overlook this advice because that’s not what they want to hear. When you’re good, people will come to you. It’s a lot better than going to cocktail parties.”
That takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? Creative people don’t like marketing as much as they love doing the work. And sure, you have to get noticed. But wouldn’t it be better to be good and have people talk about you?
If enough people do, someone with an opportunity will come looking for you.
Steve got people talking so much he had to start doing his act in stadiums. He became as popular as a rock star. Not many comedians have pulled that off.
Whatever you do, do your best. Pour your whole self into it. Focus on your strengths. Then people will be eager to help you do the things you’re not so good at, or don’t have time for.
Now let’s break this down so you can build your own brand of “good.”
Seven ways you can draw all the attention you want
Before we dive in too deep, remember this.
It’s not about you.
It’s about them.
When you show up to entertain people, inform them, or improve their day, they’ll love you more if you love them first.
They’re coming by choice. And there are a lot of choices people have to spend their time on. You attract people by giving them something more valuable to them than their time.
Okay, now let’s dive in!
Stand out so people see you.
When Steve was doing his routine in stadiums, he started wearing the three piece white suit so people could see him on the dark stage.
White suits were also a big contrast to the dark business suits men typically wore.
And then there were the props:
- The arrow through the head
- The bunny ears
- Balloon animals
- The banjo, which Steve played to perfection
- Stuffed cats to juggle
Those are just the ones I remember.
We all have clothes we prefer. What are yours? Wear them in pictures. Wear them when you give speeches or do videos. Make them part of your trademark.
You don’t have to light yourself on fire to stand out. But you do have to be a bit audacious. What can you do to sit on the edge of the box when everyone else is standing inside?
Talk about what people are already thinking about.
Steve studied philosophy in college.
He was so entranced by it he almost became a professor.
Once he started examining the questions philosophy raises, he saw he could carry them to the absolutely absurd. He even did a treatise on how standup comedy would work without punchlines.
It’s a good thing he didn’t abandon punchlines in his act.
I enjoyed Steve’s act so much I could repeat much of it verbatim — and with the same inflections.
His words resonated with me because he was making me laugh about the things I was already thinking about. Esoteric information might be interesting, but it’s hard to find a crowd to chat about it. Talk about what people care about now, and people will notice.
And they’ll start talking about you with their friends.
Let your sense of humor shine.
You don’t have to be a standup comedian to be funny.
Life is funny.
You have a big appointment to go to. You absolutely, positively can’t be late. You get in the car to drive there and you get stuck behind someone who is driving twenty miles per hour slower than the posted speed limit.
What’s worse is you can’t pass them for another ten miles.
So you gripe and complain. You tell yourself the driver of that car has got to be the stupidest person in the universe. You pound the steering wheel as they slow down for the curves. The nerve!
You forget they can’t hear a word you say.
If you tailgate them, and they look up into their rearview mirror, they could have the same conversation with themselves about you.
What an idiot! Why on earth is that twit riding my bumper? Is he trying to kiss it?
Neither of you will get there any sooner. You’ll probably never meet. And in an hour, you’ll forget it ever happened.
How silly is that?
Point out the insane things we think are smart.
Some will laugh.
Some will listen.
And some will change their lives.
Make sure you laugh at yourself, too. We love people we can admire, so long as they don’t love themselves so much it’s sickening.
Dare to fail.
That bold move may not work.
Safe moves don’t always get you what you want.
There is no crystal ball that is always right. You’re gonna have to step out there and get your feet wet. The water might soak through your shoes and into your socks and stay that way all day. You’ll never know until you do it.
It might just succeed, too.
It might open a door that you didn’t even know was there.
Either way, you have to put yourself out there to move forward.
Many of us are afraid to fail. I remember from my earliest school days that success is rewarded. You get stars on the board. The teacher might draw a smiley face on your paper.
If you fail, your papers were marked with red ink. You might have to stay after school and do extra work. And you didn’t get any stars, not even one for participating.
That’s why failure used to bother me. I worked really hard to avoid it. I didn’t take any unnecessary risks for fear I’d be embarrassed.
Consequently, I never learned what was possible as long as I held that mindset.
Once I left school, I found the freedom to fail — and recover. And learn from those failures. No grades. No teachers trying to coerce me to follow the rules.
You can be that free, too.
Zig Ziglar summed it up best. “Failure is an event, not a person. Yesterday ended last night. Today is a new day and it’s yours.”
Now go fail like a winner.
Be amazing at something.
It’s not enough to follow a trend and hope to ride the wave.
Pick something you love. Get really good at it. Then find a way to offer it to people so you can get paid.
If you don’t need to get paid, be the best free source out there.
You can’t be great at everything. And that’s okay. Why be known as average at a lot when you can be amazing at one thing?
If it’s useful, you can probably do it the rest of your life.
If it falls out of favor, just get really good at something else. Chances are there is something closely related to what you’re good at that you can master just as well.
Now let’s talk about practice. It’s not enough to do the same thing over and over. Stretch yourself. Up the ante a bit each time. Test one thing that will add magic to your craft.
You may stumble on the way, but in the end, your pool of talent will be deeper and more valuable.
Use your talent to show people a better way.
Comedians make us laugh about the crazy things in our lives.
When we laugh, we listen.
You’ll be more open to change when you feel good than you will if someone tells you you’re wrong.
Stories are a great way of indirectly pointing out something that’s worth thinking about. It breaks through the walls our pain sets up to protect us from dealing with something that will bring more pain. That’s human nature. And as humans, it’s up to us to decide if our natures are serving us or betraying us.
If you want to open people’s minds, entertain them first.
Perform where people will be watching.
I remember someone saying that if you put up a website and you don’t tell anyone, it’s like putting up a billboard in a basement.
Your talent can’t serve anyone if they don’t know about it.
When you take the stage to serve people, you do better work. When it’s all about you, sooner or later the mask will fall off.
Treat people well and they’ll continue to help you live well.
Work hard on your craft so others can grow. Whether you entertain, teach, or freelance, the money is in the service. They’re more likely to come your way when you’re digging deep, working hard, and offering your absolute best.
So don’t keep your talent locked up in an empty venue.
Following your passion isn’t enough.
Apply your talent is much better advice.
If you just want to have fun, do whatever you want. If you want to make money, apply your talent where people will happily pay for it. Sure, that will take work, but you can get there one small bet at a time.
I’m betting you want to.
Today is a great day to begin (or continue).