How I Improved Through Networking
The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work. Marinate on that for a minute.
— Robert Kiyosaki
When I was in my teens, I attended Tannen’s Magic Camp in Bryn Mawr, PA.
The “camp” was really more of a week-long college seminar for teenage magicians from all around the world.
Our “counselors” were some of the biggest names in magic, including Michael Carbonaro (From TrueTV’s The Carbonaro Effect and the Magic Clerk from The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno), Steve Cohan (known as “The Millionaire’s Magician,” who regularly performs for sold-out crowds at New York’s historic Waldorf-Astoria hotel), and Derek Hughes (finalist on America’s Got Talent). Criss Angle and David Copperfield were also known to stop by, and David Blaine was himself a former “camper.”
Every year Tannen’s Camp would hold a competition for the campers. The categories were stage and close-up, and each category was broken into two age groups, junior and senior.
The first round of the competition, held on the first full day of camp, was open to anyone who wanted to sign up. Four finalists in each category were chosen, and they would compete on the last day of camp for awards.
As an enthusiastic teen, I would sign up every year for the competition. It was an amazing experience to perform a magic act I had worked so hard on in front of the entire camp, but it was also very daunting.
The teens I would compete against weren’t just better than me; they were years ahead of me, even if we were the same age.
The result was the same every year: I performed my very best, but it was never enough to move onto the next round. The other campers were just too good for me.
It’s tough to spend a whole year perfecting seven minutes of magic tricks, only to lose.
So, every year at Tannen’s Camp, I would spend the rest of the week learning new things and making friends with the same kids I had competed against.
I would get advice on my act from other campers and councilors and would perform it dozens of more times for small groups to get it just right.
Every year, although I wouldn’t walk away with a trophy, I would leave with way more knowledge than when I arrived.
However good I thought I was at magic during the other 51 weeks of the year, this week at Tannen’s Camp reminded me that I had a long way to go.
I could have let that discourage me, since all of the hard work I was putting in didn’t even elevate me to the level of my peers. But instead I chose to use this week as an opportunity to improve.
The power of networking
The connections I made at Tannen’s Camp would prove to be invaluable. For the rest of the year, I would bounce ideas off my friends via text and phone calls.
I received valuable feedback from both my friends and the councilors, who were very well-established magicians.
If I never went to Tannen’s Camp --- if I just sat at home and read books and practiced on my own --- I still would have gotten better at magic, but no where near as good as I am from having gone to camp.
The reason for this isn’t the information that I learned (it’s mostly all the same as what I could have read in books for a fraction of the cost), it’s the connections that I made.
Looking back, I was not nearly as creative as I am today. In fact, I was guilty of the thing that I am so against today: performing tricks straight out of magic books without putting any personal traits into it.
Sure, I performed the classics of magic that were, for lack of a better phrase, public domain for magicians to use. But no aspects of my personality shone through the performance.
My friends that I competed against at Tannen’s Camp were so much better than me not for their tricks, but because they had made seven minute acts that were completely original.
Even if the tricks themselves weren’t original, they crafted routines around those tricks that were authentic, unique, and themselves.
Watching this in action was the most important lesson I received from Tannen’s Camp.
At the time, I couldn’t put into words what exactly I was learning, and everyone who I asked would give me a slightly different answer.
But the lesson that I now realize I was learning was to make my magic act an extension of who I am, not of someone else.
Networking with other creatives is what taught me this. Any sort of success I have or will ever have in magic is thanks to the network of magicians and creatives I have had the grace to be in over the years.
If it wasn’t for the network of creatives I have in my life, I would be much less of an artist.
I believe that anyone who wants to become creative --- whether it be to improve their art or improve their business careers --- should have a network of creatives in their lives.
This will keep ideas fresh and provide much-needed inspiration when ideas seem to be miles away. Without a network, your creativity will live in a vacuum and will not be able to grow and flourish.
After I began networking as a teenager, I saw improvements in my magic act.
My seven minute sets that kept losing at Tannen’s Camp gradually improved over practice sessions, private shows, and brainstorming with my creative friends.
Every year that I went back to Tannen’s Camp, I realized I had inched closer to the level of creativity that I was surrounded with. Finally, during my last year as a camper, I won second place.
Just as networking helped me to become a better artist, it can help everyone become more creative. I don’t think I need to go into the details about why networking is so important.
There’s a reason why business networking events are so popular! But they only work if we have the courage to seek them out.