Creative Rebellion Essays: Shakespeare, Standup Paddleboarding and a Learning Mindset

It was an hour before I was to stand up on the massive outdoor stage of the Theatricum Botanicum and I still hadn’t gotten my lines memorized, or “off book” as they say.

All I could think of was that my wife and daughter would be in the audience soon and I was about to choke. Even though I’d spent hours on the day of the performance getting the lines down pat, in the comfort of our home, when I got on stage I realized that one cannot just cram in Iago’s famous soliloquy (“And what’s he then that says I play the villain…?”) in short order. I’d missed a week of rehearsals due to travel and now I was paying the price: I went blank as soon as I stepped on stage.

What to do? One of my teachers, a brilliant instructor named Melora Marshall, said to me, “It takes weeks, if not months, to memorize Shakespeare and even more time to really get it. Just read it from the script. It’s fine. Really.”

So, there I was, stage right, waiting for my cue, with the safety net of my script in hand and I thought about how I got there.

It was my wife, really, who suggested I try the Adult Intensive Shakespeare class. She knew I was doing a lot of podcasts, webinars and speeches and felt this could help. Also, it had the added benefit of giving me more insight to the actor’s world and would help my book and script writing. I signed up for the three-week course that met three times a week and I loved it. We studied everything from Elizabethan dance and fashion to voice training and script analysis to the Alexander Technique. Unfortunately the week I missed was the one that covered stage combat.

It’s been my habit to do things that are challenging. I believe it’s especially important as we progress through life. That’s why I not only took up learning about Shakespeare but stand-up paddleboarding as well.

As the world seems to be more and more challenged, I find that if I focus my mind on the constructive act of creating and learning, my anxieties lessen and my mindset switches from one of passive doom to active problem-solving.

This “learning mindset” has been especially helpful to me when starting out on a new venture, whether it’s business or personal development. It’s a blend of feeling confident that you can do the project you’re taking on while simultaneously being okay with making mistakes along the way and learning from them. It’s the awkward stage of learning that always annoys us — the feeling that we should be better at something right off the bat. But the awkward sensation does pass and it becomes more bearable if your mind is on the current situation, rather than a desired future state.

My friend, Art Carvalho, generously lent me one of his paddleboards and gave me some great tips, like “try not to fall in.” When I first got onto the paddleboard, my desire not to fall off actually made it worse and I found myself falling off quite a bit. Once I accepted that it was going to happen and that I should just be with the moment without judgement, then I found myself quickly making progress. Being in a state of play, rather than worrying about mastery, was the key. This morning, after finally getting my sense of balance, I decided to commit to the practice and I bought a board for myself.

So, back to the Theatricum. Horned owls gently hooted in the California Oaks that surrounded the massive outdoor platform. The summer night air was cool. I stepped on stage and perhaps because I had the monologue in my hand, I was able to give most of the speech from memory, only looking down at the pages a couple of times. My wife and daughter told me afterwards that their hearts were beating out of their chests and that their hands were sweating with concern. But in the moment of performance, I felt calm and resigned to just be in the moment and do what was necessary. At the end of the evening, they were happy for me and I felt that I had pushed through something and relearned the obvious lesson: preparation and practice make perfect. I miscalculated how quickly I could learn the complex language of the Bard. But that’s okay — I wasn’t on Broadway, after all; this was a class. Much like launching an MVP (minimum viable product), you can iterate after it’s gone live.

Sometimes the timing is off — of course now I can rattle off Iago’s soliloquy without thinking about it. A couple of days late but the words are now mine.

We’re all busy people with life constantly getting in the way. I’m currently managing around six major projects as well as consulting. I have a family. A dog. Still, I continue to try to find time to make my “machine” better: meditation, exercise, eating well, sleeping an adequate amount of time, making art and writing. I find that I’m actually more efficient and better at my work, if I allow the time and space to improve myself. Without judgement.

So, find one daily thing to commit to. Learn a language or a musical instrument. Write one line a day. Do one drawing a day. Go for a walk. It takes less time than you think. And you may learn something about yourself along the way.


What I’m reading:

Little Audrey’s Daydream — a lovely children’s book by Audrey Hepburn’s son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, and his wife, Karin. It was Dominique Corbasson’s last illustrations before she passed. The book follows little Audrey as she daydreams of a beautiful future that she indeed came to realize. It’s a story of perseverance (as Audrey grew up during wartime) and the power of visualizing the positive future you want to manifest.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections — by Carl Jung. A memoir by one of the most brilliant minds in analytical psychology. I was taken by his courage to inquire into areas of science that were not considered “proper” for the time (ie psychotherapy), as well as his interest in everything from spirituality to art to quantum physics.

What I’m watching:

Nine Perfect Strangers — Wow, my alma mater, Hulu, did an amazing job on this series. The writing and suspense is amazing but it also has a thread of comedy weaving throughout (primarily between the characters played by Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale). Amazing cast and Michael Shannon is especially compelling in his role as a goofy dad with some dark demons.

Miles Davis, Birth Of The Cool — Miles, in my estimation, mastered and pushed jazz music to new stages as Picasso did in the visual arts. And like Picasso, he was a deeply brilliant but flawed human.

What I’m listening to:

Big Red Machine — An interesting “super group” composed of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dressner of The National.

Gang of Four 77–81 — Really a playlist of the greatest songs of this seminal post-punk band that focused on social and political commentary of the time. Their message is timeless and the music’s urgency feels appropriate for these times.

Here’s a nice rendition of the aforementioned Iago’s soliloquy (done by a talented actress named Anna Fraser):

Please visit my website to sign up for my blog/newsletter as well as downloading the first chapter from my book, The Art of Creative Rebellion.

If you like what you are reading, please order The Art of Creative Rebellion, in stores. On Audiobook and Kindle.

Follow me:

Twitter: @titaniumsky

Instagram: @theartofcreativerebellion



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John S. Couch

John S. Couch

John S. Couch is Vice President, Product Design at Hulu.