In this interview, Simon Mandal reveals the importance of learning secondary skills, his extensive list of recommended books, and so much more!
Before reading, check out part 1 here!
How has failure helped you later in life? Can you share any specific lessons you have learned?
People often think of failure as being something that should be avoided, or something that happens to you until you "make it". The truth is that "successful" people are BOTH succeeding AND failing more than those around them. While the goal is always to succeed, it's important to realize that failure is a part of success. For example - let's pretend you contact 1,000 NY Times Best Selling Authors to be interviewed for this site. 900 don't get back to you. 90 play phone tag with you and nothing ever happens. 10 of them agree to an interview. 1 of them is someone super high profile who tells you a bit of advice that changes your life, and the lives of your readers. Did you fail? No way - you definitely succeeded. But your day to day experience in getting there may have felt like "failure" if you let it get to you. Or if you took your eyes off the prize. You should be willing to climb Mount Everest to get what you want. It's your life, and you are in charge of it.
"Failure" is only failure if it stops you. If it doesn't, it's feedback to learn from.
Most people fear rejection. If you are doing what you need to do to get where you really want to go, you should be rejected so frequently that you feel nothing when it happens.
On a more personal note, there was an event that I viewed as a failure that really drove me to succeed. I went to a very prestigious college acting program right out of school. I worked like crazy on the core stuff - acting, voice, etc. but I blew off the classes that felt like a waste of time. The school was extremely competitive, and I ended up being cut from the program. This wasn't a question of talent - it was a question of discipline and consistency.
When I got a second shot at an equally prestigious program. I worked like an animal there, and graduated with flying colors. I never forgot that my dreams can be taken away from me if I don't work hard enough. This is not a dress rehearsal.
What is some of the best advice you ever received? Some of the worst?
Best advice - You can be an expert in almost any field by studying it 3 hours a day for 5 years with a ton of focus. I have no idea where I heard that, but it is true.
What you do is important, but it's also important who you do it for.
Read a ton of books in business, self development, and the specific business you are in.
Worst - "you need something to fall back on." This advice is frequently given with good intentions, but is incredibly counter-productive, and often factually inaccurate. Succeeding in a competitive field requires 100% focus and dedication. If you are doing it right, you shouldn't have time or energy for other pursuits. Also - building a dream is much harder than working for someone else. You won't push through those hard growing years if you have an easier road right there waiting for you.
Better advice would be - learn secondary skills that are useful BOTH in making your dream happen, AND in other potential careers. A great example is marketing. Almost everyone in every career should learn marketing. You can use it to promote your dream to clients, and people who can help you get what you want. If you decide what you originally wanted isn't what you want any more, you can find other jobs where marketing is a valuable skill. Other skills that are useful to what you want to do / what you might want to do in the future are: sales.
How did you overcome your panic attacks? Also, why did you continue to pursue performing if you suffered from them?
I haven't had a panic attack in almost two decades. I went to therapy when I was getting them, which I would recommend to anyone struggling with any mental health issue. I never really got nervous before shows, so it was pretty hard to figure out what was going on. Looking back on it, it's pretty obvious. Back then I was doing the performing equivalent of trying to work a 120 hour a work week office job.
Back then all I cared about was getting good - I was doing two to three TIMES as many shows a week as they do on Broadway. I thought I was paying my dues, but what I was really doing was running myself into the ground. Toughing it out is the wrong way to get good. If you are a young person in ANY business, the fastest way to get good at what you are doing is intensive study and deep thought. Work ON your business more than you work IN your business (and/or art).
Luckily, once I figured out the show portion, I started getting calls for more important performances, and became a lot more selective. I only want to be where my show is solving big problems for people. I want to bring joy to a lot of people all at once, not over the course of 20 shows. I eventually found myself doing national level events for the biggest companies in the world, and gradually got in a position where I was making much more money doing a hand full of big shows a month than I had been doing 15 or 20 shows a week.
Being selective had as much to do with the trajectory of my career as anything else. Always ask yourself - do I want 100 more opportunities like this? If the answer is yes, say yes. If it's no, say no.
I haven't had a panic attack since the early 2,000s. If anyone reading this is having trouble with them, see a therapist. It takes courage and wisdom to ask for help, and you are worth it. That goes for anything that you are going through. Things that help me have a zen attitude towards life are meditating, eating really healthy, and working out every day.
Which books have been the most influential on your life?
For anyone looking to do something creative (or be more creative). The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and The War of Art by Stephen Presfield are both absolutely life changing. Steal Like an Artist is great.
The Willpower Instinct is fantastic, and will really help anyone who reads it understand themselves and how to steer themselves better.
Tim Ferriss books, especially Tools of Titans
Secrets of the Millionaire Mind
Book Yourself Solid
The Magic of Thinking Big
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Why do we Sleep?
Getting Things Done
Spark: The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain
I read a lot of books on nutrition
How Not to Die
The One Thing
The Art of Learning
I read a ton of books on negotiating:
Never Split The Difference
I like a lot of philosophy
This is It
Tao Te Ching - the Steven Mitchell translation is the best in my opinion
The Essays of David Hume
Born Standing Up (Steve Martin got panic attacks in his early days of performing too)
The E Myth Revisited
The Power of Less.
A User's Guide to the Brain.
Talent is Overrated.
I don't read a lot of fiction, but when I do I love to read fiction by people who are both entertaining and wise, like Kurt Vonnegut, JD Salinger, and Dostoyevski. I read a ton of books specific to my performing style, on magic / comedy / etc. They wouldn't really be of general interest, but any magicians reading this are welcome to email me.
Who taught you all of these crucial lessons besides the mentors you mentioned?
I don't have all the answers, but I've learned a lot by reading like crazy, and writing. I write at least 3 pages a day, handwritten. Sometimes its total drivel, and sometimes it's full of insights, or creative ideas. The point is just to do it. I picked that up from the book The Artist's Way, which I highly recommend. I've gotten a lot of ideas by brainstorming with friends. I've been very lucky with friends, and I keep in touch with some pretty brilliant people, ranging from famous artists to top level people at Fortune 500 companies, to people who think about the world very deeply.
Seeing as your career is so focused on in-person entertainment, how have you been affected because of COVID-19?
It has been a total change to everything. All of my live events were cancelled. I've been doing some virtual interactive performances via zoom. I have a little broadcasting area in my house now, and I learned a bunch of TV production stuff to make the shows translate well to the medium. I miss live crowds! When things are going just right with 200 or 500 people, and everyone is so happy, relaxed, and energized because of a bunch of jokes you wrote in your living room, it's one of the greatest feelings in the world. I've been doing creative projects to keep life fun. Right now I'm writing a punk rock musical about a bunch of 8 year olds who stop a martian invasion.
What is some advice you can give to an aspiring high school entrepreneur?
Successful people are not perfect, and YOU don't have to be to be successful. Almost everyone who is crushing it in almost every endeavor is a normal person who worked really hard to be great in a few key areas. There are outliers, but hard work will outperform natural talent 99 times out of 100.
Pick a few key areas where you are going to be an expert, and go deep and wide with your knowledge of them. There are plenty of people who know a lot about a little. But learning a lot about something requires a ton of time. Having a unique set of skills is not hard, because the barrier to entry is so high.
Be good to yourself. Be good to other people. Spend time with smart positive people and read what they read. Have an unlimited budget for books - they will pay for themselves. Have a mindset of abundance ,and good will. Don't waste time on things you don't care about. Treat everything as an experiment. Be grateful. Have fun!
• Simon Mandal's LinkedIn