It was 1955 and Disneyland had just opened in Anaheim, California when a ten-year-old boy walked in and asked for a job. Labor laws were loose back then and the boy managed to land a position selling guidebooks to visitors for $0.50 a piece.
Within a year, he had transitioned to Disney’s magic shop where he learned tricks from the older employees. He experimented with jokes and tried out simple magic routines on the visitors. Soon, he discovered that what he loved was not performing magic, but performing in general. The young boy set his sights on becoming a comedian.
Once he entered high school, he started performing in small clubs around Los Angeles. The crowds were small and his act was short. He was rarely on stage for more than five minutes. In one case, he literally delivered his standup routine to an empty club.
It wasn’t glamorous work, but there was no doubt he was getting better. His first magic routines would only last one or two minutes. By high school his material had expanded to include a five minute skit and then a ten minute show. At the age of 19, he was performing weekly at clubs for twenty minutes at a time. Of course, he had to read three poems during the act just to make the routine long enough, but still. He was improving.
He spent another decade experimenting, adjusting, and practicing his act. He took a job as a television writer and, gradually, he was able to land his own appearances on television shows. By the mid-1970s, he had worked his way into being a regular guest on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live.
After nearly 15 years of work, he broke through to wild success. He toured 60 cities in 63 days. Then 72 cities in 80 days. Then 85 cities in 90 days. 18,695 people attended one show in Ohio. 45,000 tickets were sold for his 3-day show in New York. He catapulted to the top of his genre and became one of the most important comedians of his time.
His name was Steve Martin.
How to Stay Motivated
I recently finished Steve Martin’s wonderful autobiography, Born Standing Up.
Comedy is not for the faint of heart. It is hard to imagine a situation that would strike fear into the hearts of more people than failing to get a single laugh on stage. And yet, Martin worked at it for 18 years. In his words, “10 years spent learning, 4 years spent refining, and 4 years spent in wild success.” His story offers a fascinating perspective on motivation, perseverance, and consistency.
Why do we stay motivated to reach some goals, but not others? Why do we say we want something, but give up on it after a few days? What is the difference between the areas where we naturally stay motivated and those where we give up?
Scientists have been studying motivation for decades. While there is still much to learn, one of the most consistent findings is that perhaps the best way to stay motivated is to work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”