A Year of Stories – “The Power of Kindness”
The beginning of the fall semester is the busiest time of year for college campus entertainers. Many years ago I was kicking off the tour with a huge orientation show at a university within driving distance of my mom and little sister, so they decided to come see it. It was the first time Emma, who is 10 years younger than me, would get to see me give a professional show.
When I arrived at the venue on campus, the first thing I noticed was that the room had been set up with about 50 round tables. This is a huge danger sign to an entertainer.
Round tables are great for encouraging conversation, and as such they are a good choice for most orientation events. But they are a poor choice for any type of live show, because it puts half of the audience with their backs to the stage, and, as just mentioned, it encourages talking rather than listening.The first act was a rather well known comedian on the college circuit. I watched him struggle for 40 minutes with a crowd that was only half-paying attention. He limped off stage and I prepared for death-by-audience.
As I hit the stage I saw that my mom and sister were sitting dead center, right in my sight line. I don’t mind when friends or family come to shows, but I usually prefer that they sit further back or off to the side, for the following reason.
People often misunderstand the mindset of an entertainer. I am asked,
“How do you get up there in front of strangers? Aren’t you nervous? Aren’t you afraid you’ll be judged?”
By strangers? Not at all! That’s the easiest audience – a group of people that you’ve never met, and will never see again. I’m not afraid of their judgment at all.
Friends and family, however, make me nervous. If I don’t have a great show I still have to face them afterwards while they desperately (and awkwardly) try to tell me that it’s all in my head – as if I’m so oblivious to my own performances that I don’t know when I fail.
I felt especially pressured because I wanted to have a great show for my little sister. My mom had seen me lots of times on big stages with huge audiences. She’d seen the best I was capable of. My sister only had stories, photos, and videos. This was my chance to show her how cool big brother is!
The show wasn’t a disaster, but it was what we call a “soft show.” People laughed and clapped, and then went on with their lives. I struggled with an audience that was only half paying attention, and instead of rising to that challenge and earning their respect – a skill that I’ve since developed – I let it and the pressure from having family in the audience get to my head.
Typically after a show there’s a group of 10-30 people that stick around to shake my hand, take a photo, ask for an autograph, or see some more magic. Only one student came up after this show.
She said, “Ignore them. All these people are jerks. They weren’t paying attention, and if they were, they would have seen that you are awesome. I thought you were so funny, and so amazing. Thank you.”
I don’t think that girl had any idea how much those words meant to me, and she probably wouldn’t believe that years later I am still carrying them around. In my moment of defeat, a complete stranger’s kindness became a beacon of hope, and a source of strength.
Never underestimate the power of kindness. There will be times when you feel like you have nothing of value to offer the world. In those moments remember that you can always offer kindness.
You will need to give help and receive help to be successful in this world. Do both with kindness.
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Connect with Brian!
- A Year of Stories: “Faking Confidence” July 24, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Professional Courtesy” July 17, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Be Patient” July 10, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Just Ask” a.k.a. How I Got Sponsored July 3, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Meeting Kristen Schaal” June 26, 2016