What This Magician Can Teach You About Creativity, Drive, and Success

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Finding success requires more than just a little magic.


5 min read


When I ask Justin Willman how he got started in magic, he tells me it all began at 12 years old after borrowing money from a bookie. When he didn’t pay it back on time, the guy broke both of his arms and sent him to the hospital. 

One thing is for certain: Willman is an entertainer.

The real story, it turns out, is slightly less dramatic. When he was 12, Willman attempted riding his bike while wearing roller blades. The bright idea did result in two broken arms. His doctor suggested he practice card tricks to help get the dexterity in his hands back. It worked, and by the time the casts were removed, the seed was planted and Willman knew he wanted to be a magician.

Since moving to Los Angeles in 2002, Willman has been busy pursuing a career in entertainment fulltime. He’s been a regular guest on The Tonight Show, Ellen, and Conan. He landed a special on Comedy Network called Sleight of Mouth and hosted the Food Network show Cupcake Wars. His online videos have logged more than a 100 million views.

You might also recognize Willman as the star of Magic for Humans on Netflix. With the second season of the show dropping on Netflix today, we caught up with Willman to talk about what drives his creativity, how he views entrepreneurship, and how he defines success. What follows has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Related: 3 Ways to Unleash Your Creativity

What’s the craziest magic trick you ever pulled off? What happened?
Willman:
On season one of my show we convinced a guy he was invisible. That was a lot of fun to do. And then after it aired, that clip went viral and people started doing it at home and the thing took on a life of its own, which was really cool.

Being a magician and entertainer requires creativity. How do you channel it—especially on a regular basis?
Willman:
I wished I could channel creativity on a regular basis, but it doesn’t always work that way for me, so I have to chase it a lot of the time. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas; they can come from anywhere. Just because you don’t feel creative one day doesn’t mean you don’t have to work, it’s just not as fun on those days. But you always have to put in the time.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
Willman:
Someone who looks at work not as means to an end, but as the end itself. If you decide to follow a dream or an idea, there will be a lot of hard work involved so you have to be passionate about it. There are no rules when it comes to following your dreams, but there is a lot of hard work.

Related: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway: 4 Ways to Boost Your Confidence

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned that you wish you knew earlier?
Willman:
I wish I knew that “no man is an island” when I was younger. I might have heard that phrase back then, but it didn’t really register until recently. When I was younger, I had a very competitive approach to work. Now I know that’s not how things work. Growing up, I would watch these magic specials and you didn’t really know just how many people it takes to develop and pull off something truly amazing. Working on Magic for Humans really opened my eyes to that.

Besides the show, what are you passionate about right now?
Willman: My wife and I just finished shooting a Drunk History spoof for our son’s first birthday, telling the story of the day he was born, and how I almost missed it. We’ll put it online later this month. We did a Drunk History spoof a few years ago for our wedding that went stupid viral. Perhaps the internet will enjoy this one as well. Not doing another one anytime soon, my liver can’t handle it.

How do you define success? Have you achieved it?
Willman:
The definition of success is always evolving for me, so it’s hard to say. I get to do something that inspires me and makes me happy for a living, so that in and of itself is success. I know I’m lucky to have that. But I hope I’m not done yet, I still have so much more to learn and create both professionally and personally. Ask me again when my kid is 18.

Related: How to Succeed in 2020

Between the magic, the TV shows, the live shows, etc., is where you are right now where you expected to be all along, professionally?
Willman:
No. I thought I’d be doing cruise ships or in prison by 40. I still have time.



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