How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Should You Show Off MORE?

How to overcome fear of showing others your writing, performing or visual art

I was in Trader Joe’s early this morning. Perhaps to pump-up half-asleep workers, the muzak was playing Shake it Up Baby. One clerk was singing along and shaking her hips, no doubt stretching the corporation’s rule about hip movement.

I said, “You’re pretty good. Does TJ’s ever have talent shows. You’d rock!” She lit up and said, “Wow, that’s a great idea!” Whether clerk or CEO, when you scratch someone’s surface, you may well find a ham.

Many hams avoid getting burned, not with aluminum foil, but by keeping their creative expressions private. Perhaps one of these might make you more comfortable making your creative efforts more public.

Antidotes to burned ham

  • Pick something you’re less likely to fail at. Unless you’re quite talented, becoming a creditable musician or painter could take decades. There are quicker paths to hamdom. How about reading your haikus at a poetry slam? Learning abstract painting? Creating a three-minute comedy routine for an open-mic night? Writing a 10-minute play that your friends perform at your place?
  • Use shortcuts. Every field has its own. Even something as Herculean-seeming as writing the great American novel, play, or screenplay can be reduced to a formula that while simple, has been the basis of countless award winners. It has its roots in Aristotle’s Poetics. Make the main character similar to you and place him or her in a setting you know well, for example, growing up in New York City’s Little Poland as the daughter of a butcher (perfect for a ham.) Start with the character in a normal setting—for example, arguing with her father about whether to have given that poor customer an extra kielbasa. Then some inciting event happens: winning the lottery, a kidnapping, falling in love with someone from a different background, whatever. That jolts the character into action. With a sidekick, s/he faces a series of rising challenges perpetrated by The Antagonist, each of which s/he meets with ever greater cleverness and pluck. We see our hero grow with each challenge. Then an unexpected but plausible twist leads to the antagonist presenting a seemingly insurmountable problem—for example, being threatened to be exposed for a terrible crime she committed earlier if she doesn’t break up with her love. If it’s a comedy, our hero meets the challenge and everyone lives happily ever after. If it’s a drama, her body parts are literally or figuratively strewn. Or my favorite, the bittersweet ending—For example, the butcher dies and the movie ends with the grandson giving up admission to Harvard to take over the business...and turn it into a vegan store.
  • Practice. Yes, to be a decent pianist, you have to be gifted or practice ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Fortunately, there are many easier paths to hamdom. For example, magic books contain many illusions that can be mastered--including suggested patter--within a couple of hours. Even without much gabbing, you can amaze simply. For example, a mouth coil is a 25-foot chain of multi-colored thin tissue paper rolled into a 1” coil. Here’s one of the many illusions you can do with it. Try it with a friend, at a bar, or at an open mic night. You have two pieces of tissue paper. You give a volunteer one and you keep one. The secret is that, using double-stick tape, you’ve attached a mouth coil to the underside of yours. You then ask the volunteer to do what you do: You stuff the tissue in your mouth and he does too. Then you ask him to remove his—It will, of course, be a wet bolus. You, on the other hand, slowly pull out the 25 feet of multi-colored paper chain and only then blow out the bolus. People will be amazed, yet you can learn that in an hour. Where to get mouth coils? These are supposed to be the best, yet they’re only $15 a dozen.
  • Realize you can survive the worst. Let’s say your can’t-fail magic trick fails.You can survive, especially if you laugh at the screw-up. Many of Johnny Carson’s jokes bombed but his “oh, well’ reaction endeared him and enriched him more than if the joke had worked.

Even many highly successful people admit they get great pleasure from showing others their creative expressions. Might you want to try it? Care to see what happened when I did? I invited friends to my house to watch me do this.  (Yes, this took practice.)

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Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on Of his seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. Marty Nemko's  bio is on Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 

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