If you’ve attended techsytalk LIVE over the past few years, then you are well acquainted with magician, Max Major. Host of the yearly event tech conference since 2013, Max wraps his uncanny mental abilities in a confident, wry sense of humor, giving the impression that he knows a lot more than he’s telling. He and I sat down together for a few minutes at this year’s techsytalk LIVE in August for a chat…
Deborah – Max, there are a lot of people doing work like you - what makes you unique?
Max - Well, I could tell you the differences between me and other people, but the bottom line is that actually it doesn't matter. I don't think there's such a thing as competition in any industry. Period. Even the most competitive industry. You're a DJ, everybody's a DJ. You're a photographer, well, everybody's got a camera these days. Everybody's a photographer. You're not competing against someone else. Someone isn't hiring you or them, they're choosing to work with you because they have a personal relationship with you and believe in the work you do, so you do good work, and you have your own client base. It has nothing to do with other people.
Deborah - What is it about the work you do that you really love?
Max - People. Yeah. As a mentalist, I'm decoding people, I'm fascinated by people, by what makes us tick, how we make decisions, why we say the things that we say. I'm kind of a student of human nature, and so I get to demonstrate what I've learned onstage in an entertaining way, but I'm still learning every performance, so that keeps it exciting.
Deborah - Where are you moving towards in terms of the development of your work?
Max - I just signed a deal with NBC/Universal for a six month development deal that ends in December… at the end of December, we'll try to sell a national TV show. This process is really exciting; I get to work with really creative people... The first three months are essentially brainstorming and development, and the second three months are actually producing a sizzle, which is like a three minute pilot. So that's the first piece of a national television show or series... which has been a goal of mine since I was a kid. To support a career of public performances, a television show is a platform to gain visibility, because my true passion is live performance.
While the reach of television is incredible, and you have an ability to spread your message wider, live is where it's at. It's what I enjoy the most… it's sort of two pieces to the puzzle, of having a public career. One is live shows and the second component is a national television series. So I still do corporate events, perform at conferences and conventions and meetings all over the country, doing sort of a traditional stage show, after dinner, but also serving as an MC, or doing a hybrid job of both entertainer and MC.
Deborah - Will you continue to do that?
Max - I will. I mean, I'll always be available for hire. The price might change, (laughs) but no, that's something I really enjoy. Events need entertainment. It's the most commonly overlooked aspect of planning a conference or meeting. It's like what budget do we have left over for entertainment, which is the wrong approach, because if your event is boring and not entertaining, it doesn't matter what content you delivered. All people will remember is that they didn't have a good time. People remember the emotion they were left with, with an event, not necessarily what they learned, and the only way to tap into that is entertainment.
Deborah - What's your philosophy about technology, as it relates to the work that you do?
Max – As a business owner, it definitely affects me, you know. Technology gives me a number of tools and advantages your parents didn't have. As entrepreneurs, we have more opportunity in front of us than anyone has ever had in history to do what it is that we love. The internet is a great equalizer - it's not hard to get the word out about what you do. You have a soapbox. Where before you had to buy very expensive advertisements, in traditional print or one of five TV stations that there were at the time, the internet allows everyone to do what it is that they love, and to monetize it and capitalize on your passion. If you are passionate about collecting thumbtacks, and you're really passionate about that, you can make a living curating a community of people who probably share that same interest. We're all weird, and the internet allows us to find people...
Deborah - Find our weird tribe.
Max - Yeah. Seth Godin says, "We're all weird," and I believe it. So yes, as a business owner, technology helps. As a performer, as an entertainer and as a business owner, social media is a game changer, you know. You have this great reach to get your message out and to share content and share what you believe and impact people on a larger scale. And then as a performer, technology is great. New lighting, new projection technology just makes my live shows more engaging.
Deborah - Do you use devices a lot?
Max - I guess I adapt with the times. I used to guess people's email password, and now it's more common, you know, people have their cell phones – now I guess people's passcode for their phone, their pin#, that kind of thing. So yeah, I do things with technology because people carry it on them, but technology isn't the method.
Deborah - It's a tool.
Max - It's just a prop. Yeah, it's like oh, you've got a cell phone? What can I do with that, because I'm going to come up against that.
Deborah – Is there any aspect of your work that is related to something from personal life that's a big influence on it?
Max – Sure… look at stand-up comics – some of the best stand-up comics have the darkest past and personal struggles… Being charismatic is being completely aware of who you are, so you can be energetic and charismatic, you can be soft spoken and charismatic, it's just an awareness of who you are, and an openness about it makes you magnetic… people go, wow that person's so comfortable with you they are. And so, there's a lot of personal stories that come into my show itself, but then also your past shapes who you are as an entertainer. So what you find funny and the things that you study, they're all shaped by circumstance of childhood or whatever it is... Yeah, you can't escape that in any field but especially as an entertainer where you're a storyteller, those stories are relevant but also, it shapes your personality which is front and center, and if it's not authentic, an audience can smell it...
Deborah - Do you see yourself in relationship to your audience in a specific way?
Max - In my new show, I'm their guide. I'm sort of pointing out things that are universal, things that I know about people that you might not have noticed. Yeah. I'm like the best man… Like, we'll get into a little mischief, and somebody said I'm the best, best man. I've never actually been a best man, but I'd make a great best man... the best man for your evening, you know…There's gonna be a few surprises, we're gonna have a little bit of fun, you'll probably have that heartfelt moment that you have at a bachelor party... Yeah, I'm your guide. I think I'm wired as a teacher, in a way, there's a bit of that in everything I do.
Deborah - We all make mistakes. Obviously it informs our growth, our development. Is there one particular mistake that comes to mind, having produced a lesson that's become really important, or some insight?
Max - No, truly. I know some people say, there are no mistakes, only lessons. I wholeheartedly believe that everything that has happened to you in your life has put you in this exact place that you're in right now. Not fate, not any supernatural way, just an effect, cause and effect. I'm here right now sitting at this table with you because of a choice I made ten years ago about where I went to school, which put me on this certain path to eventually meet Liz, and this to happen. It's not fated, it's just those are the facts. And so, no event is really good or bad in and of itself.
We place judgments on things, and so if you're aware of that, and if you're paying attention in your own life, then everything is important, even the smallest little thing, even the thing that seems bad at face value. You know if you looked at your life ten years from now, and you looked back, you would see how everything unfolded, and it would make beautiful, perfect, wonderful sense, like in the rearview mirror. It's always easy to see all the connections… Like anyone else, my gut reaction in the moment to an event that you could perceive as negative, yes, I still get frustrated, but I've worked very hard at removing labels and judgment from my own life, because it's really important, and people are interested in this kind of thing, and developing a healthy mindset.
Look at stoicism. Marcus Aurelius wrote a lot – he was a stoic philosopher. People don't know that about him, but he has a lot of writings about how we perceive events and how we can't control the actions and thoughts of others, we can only control our own thoughts and actions. So we can't control what happens to us, we can only control how we think about it. It's very powerful. Look at stoicism, look at the Tao, look at mindfulness and meditation, it'll change your life, because you'll stop reacting and you'll start observing, and it has a very profound effect on your life, so no, I don't have any regrets or any mistakes.
Deborah - You don't see them as mistakes...
Max – Sure.
Deborah - What's your thought on the connection between science and spirit?
Max - Well it depends on what you mean by spirit. I mean I'm agnostic. I have no stance on religion or God, it's not relevant to my life and how I live my life.
Deborah - I don't think I mean religion or God.
Max - Some people, they hear the word spirituality and they go, oh, your spirit or whatever the supernatural thing is. The true meaning of spirit is your essence. It doesn't have to be anything supernatural... so, consciousness if you want to call it that, being...
Deborah - I guess I'm thinking about that territory.
Max - I'm not a scientist, I only have my own personal experience to speak from, and so, there's certainly an awareness that's above that conversation inside your head. I think we can transcend judgments, we can transcend the ego and that narrative in our head and that kind of thing, and be more present for our own lives and live richer and fuller lives.
So, I'm a born skeptic, I’m agnostic when it comes to religion, I question things at face value. As a magician I've been trained to do that since I was 12 years old, and so the spirit is a very personal thing, and my exploration of spirit has been sort of cracking my preconditioning and trying to become more my true self and shedding those layers of burdens from childhood and everything else that happens to you... I think the closest thing you can get to spirit is probably working on mindfulness and awareness, and working towards living your passion. Those are the two biggest things you can do for your life, and so when your passion and your work are aligned, and you're present for the unfolding of that, that's the point of it all...
Deborah - Would you say you're getting there?
Max - I don't know, I mean it's a lifelong journey. I don't think it's a destination you arrive at, I think it's a practice. So, I'm definitely in a better place just from a mindset standpoint than I was four or five years ago, and it's allowed my career to take off, because I don't put so much pressure on myself. I used to be very attached to outcome, and so it was a win or lose mindset… When you sort of detach from that and attach yourself more to the present moment, you become more attached to the process, and when you're more attached to the process, things will naturally unfold the way that they should. You'll do better work by its very nature, you'll put less pressure on yourself, you'll have less stress...
You actually do better, you actually achieve more by attaching less to goals. I certainly still set goals for myself, but you sort of set your goal and then you let go... And it's not a recipe for apathy, like "Oh, yeah, I'll just put my intention in that direction." No, you still work very hard. You set your intention, you let go of attachment to outcome, and then you bust your ass and put all of your energy in one direction, with the understanding that it's that process, it's the work, that's the point. Not the final product or the outcome. That's transformed my career.