It will get worse (and that is good)

Chloe Radcliffe. Credit: Andrew Levy

In most ways, I'm quintessentially American: loud, emotional, don't know how much a "quid" is and not about to look it up. But there is one incredibly British element of my personality: I believe that in periods of great success and happiness, there is enormous value in reminding yourself that life will get bad again.

A career in comedy - really, anything in the entertainment industry - is a roller coaster on which the only guarantee is that there WILL be more ups and there WILL be more downs. When, how many, how long, and does the long arc bend toward success or flop... I can't help you with any of those questions. But any "up" is not your last up, and any "down" is not your last down - that you can rely on. (I suspect this is true of any entrepreneurial path; I bet there are some self-employed actuaries who experience the same relentless ups and downs as comedians, just with less sex and more calculators. (Though probably the same amount of cocaine.))

And look, when you're having a rough one, you can turn to friends, or corny posters, or inspirational Edinburgh shows to remind you that it'll get better. The sun will shine again, yada yada. Anyone can give you that. I'm here to be the other side:

When you are in an upswing, just know with 100% certainty that there will be another down. Whatever good position you're in right now will return to normal, unremarkable, maybe even weak. You'll feel defeated and rejected and glum and ugly once more.

Bleak? Ruthless? No: freeing.

To me, remembering in the good times that there will be bad again helps me actually enjoy how special a win feels. It keeps the delusional ego (required for a career in comedy) in check: I love feeling like a king, but I also relish in the knock across the head that says "you're still one of us".

But most importantly, to me, knowing that a successful moment will expire takes away the fear of failure. Today doesn't have to be the first day of the rest of my life. I don't have to be perfect, I don't have to desperately avoid blunders if I already know they are guaranteed. I revel in knowing that there is ZERO pressure to keep this winning streak going forever, because it's literally impossible!

Basically, I'm talking to the anxious side of my brain, the part that's constantly running the worst case scenario, and telling it, "You're right! The bad thing WILL happen!". Which immediately shuts off the panic, because my anxious brain gets to feel justified and superior and then it shuts the fuck up. And when I stop focusing on preventing any errors, I relax and naturally focus more on where my positive momentum is. (Which I guess is using British realism to hack my way into American productivity.)

Celebrate the wins, for sure - I think we Americans have you cornered on happiness. But I admire the British ability to temper expectations, and I think with our powers combined, we might just land on a healthy outlook for a long, steady comedy career. So chin up, kid: it won't all be okay. And that's more than okay.

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Lee Mack

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