Updated: May 14, 2021
When you use the term ‘doing a Houdini’ you don’t have to explain. It's synonymous with escape. Only the most thrilling performers become a verb. Houdini, was perhaps the best known escape artist ever. The etymology of escape is a union of out and cloak. Sometimes magic happens behind the cloak. Other times by sleight of hand or some drama to create distraction and ….
The brilliance of Houdini was in his skills and his appetite to push his own limits. People would come to his shows to be held in rapt attention as he appeared to risk life and limb.
His audience watched him be chained. They gasped as he was suspended, entered the tank, cage, jail and entranced as he wriggled to escape. They were enraptured, invested, present with him in every moment until he was free again: willing him to escape, to survive.
During his entrapment they unconsciously entered their own fear and anxiety, their desire to breakthrough their own limits, feeling and feeding off the collective tension they were unconsciously co-creating, vicariously meeting their death and transcending it, as he emerged, much to their relief, liberated once more. Houdini kept pushing the boundaries. Needing to do bigger acts, take greater risks.
Pushing our limits is how we grow. What Houdini did of course was inconceivable for most mortals. It wasn’t normal to want to continuously endanger your life. It wasn’t normal but it was mesmerising. His fans loved it and kept coming back. The audiences kept getting bigger. He was the highest paid performer in the US for a time. They loved the vicarious thrill. They came alive in his drama. Exultant in his success. And we all love a good drama. And, we all love a hairy escape. Do you have any Houdini behaviours in your life? What do you push to its limits in your work, your relationships, your health, your physical body? What do you test to see if you can make it through to the other side.
Do you fight with your lover/partner to test their love? Do you leave your projects to the last possible minute before you get started? Do you leverage your investments to the last dollar? Do you do your taxes long before the deadline? Do you pay your bills on/after or before their due date? Do you give yourself time daily for your self-care, exercise, to eat good food? Do you squeeze in just one more thing to your day, to your holiday?
Do you give your all to your yoga practice, gym workout or run? Do you give yourself plenty of time to relax, for self-care, for a date, for sleep? Do you over commit to overwhelm? Creatives in particular are actually trained to work this way. They live by deadlines. How many all nighters are pulled in the name of great creative work and how many stories of deadlines barely met — the ink barely dry before the client sees it, watching the file upload. It's a recipe for adrenal fatigue, self-doubt, burnout and never feeling the joy of your work or worthy of the bounty it brings. What made Houdini the master he was, was what the audience never saw. Behind every great show is planning, rehearsal, review, refinement, practice and more practice so the illusion is perfect. He could focus on being the shining star because he had the technical skills down to the finest of details. Mastery makes it look easy from your local barista, CEO, Creative Director, photographer, writer, accountant. The audience never saw the practice or precision of his process that ensured he escaped every time. The tension was created and planned, the gasps of the audience and their anxiety was built in and built upon for maximum sensation. Showmanship is vital in every show. It is the magnetism of every great brand.
He was a master and the audience were putty in his hands. As the master your job is to show up and be all in so it look like you are just ad libbing. When you fully show up you are presence. You hold the space for your audience's experience, for their breakthrough and transformation. Anything less and you are Houdiniesque. You might look and sound the part but you don't feel it to yourself and your clients, team or boss can feel that too.
We can all spot a fake at 100 paces.
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