Years ago, in the middle of my comedy career, I was in New York City, driving a rental car that kept breaking down. It was ninety-eight degrees, the air conditioning didn’t work, and sweat was pouring from my body. To make matters worse, I was in the world’s biggest traffic jam and I was already forty-five minutes late for a very important audition.
I started to feel this snowball of negative emotions building up. I said to myself out loud, “What else could possibly go wrong?” I soon realized that was the wrong question to ask. Whenever you ask a question like that the universe has its own way of answering you.
I drove up to the tollbooth with beads of sweat running down my face. I tried really hard to control my emotions. I reached into my pocket to pay the toll – and realized that I had left my money at home. I sat there in total amazement at the series of events that were keeping me from my destination.
I started to take it personally. I actually believed that life was out to get me that day – and it was succeeding. For a moment I was in a daze. I was unaware of the cars beeping and people cursing at me. The guy in the tollbooth finally asked, “Can I help you?” I don’t know what possessed me to say this, but my reply was, “Yeah, I’ll have a couple of burgers, two fries, a coke, and get something for yourself there Sparky!” Apparently he was new to this country and he didn’t understand my brand of humor. “I’m sorry” he said in an foreign accent, “but we don’t have food here!” “Well,” I replied nervously, “then you better get some because you’re holding up traffic!” As I said this I noticed he was starting to laugh. And much to my surprise, so was I. The long line of drivers behind me, however, did not join in the laughter. There were horns honking and people cursing, “Come on, we gotta get moving!” “What the hell is the problem up there?” Then my new found friend stuck his head out from the tollbooth, motioned to the line of cars, and said, “Sorry we ran out of food. Try the next booth!”
By then we were hysterical over the absurdity of the situation. We were high-fiving each other and the coolest thing is that he let me go without paying. He said, “Thank you my friend. I am new to this country and this is my second day on the job. I really needed to laugh today!” I looked at him and said, “Believe me, so did I!” We shook hands, wished each other a great day, and I drove away from that tollbooth in a totally different mood.
As a result, I was able to plant positive thoughts in my head and think of constructive ways to deal with the important audition I had coming up. Guess what? I had a great audition! It’s a good thing I did, because it led to the most important break in my career. That’s how I got my Show Time television special, which paved the way to many other opportunities.
Think about this. What would have happened if I had gone to the audition in the mood that I was in before the tollbooth incident? I wouldn’t have had a chance. Not in the mood I was in. In fact, I almost turned the car around to go home. Believe me, I tried everything to control the situation. After all, I read all of the books on positive thinking and positive affirmations. I thought I was an expert. I found out that day that positive thinking and reciting positive affirmations doesn’t always work; because there are times when you are in such an overwhelming negative emotional state that your brain isn’t going to buy the fact that everything is okay.
I mean, there I was, sitting behind the wheel of a stalling car without air conditioning, sweating in ninety-eight degrees, stuck in the world’s biggest traffic jam, and late for my audition – reciting affirmations out loud over and over. “Everything is going as planned. I am in control of this situation. I am the radiating center of love and peace.” Just then someone beeped their horn and I motioned to him with my fist and shouted, “Pick a number pal!” Not only was I frustrated and angry, because of my ordeal; I also felt totally inadequate, because I couldn’t think positively and get control of my emotions.
When I started to laugh, however, I was able to think positively and visualize how I wanted my audition to go. Do you know why? When you start laughing at a stressful or highly emotional situation your brain is no longer concentrating on that negative thought. In fact, your brain is now somewhere else laughing at something ridiculous that you just did. Even if your brain goes back to the negative thought, it won’t be as overpowering as it was before, because you have stopped the snowball effect. You have calmed down your nervous system to the point where you can think positively and take control.
That’s the first time in my life I realized how important it was to be in control of my emotions and how laughter helped me take control.
You never know when opportunity is going to knock, and when it does, you have to be prepared. I can’t tell you how many opportunities I’ve blown in my life, because I couldn’t control my emotions. I can’t tell you how many bridges I burned, because I made decisions when I was in an unhealthy state of mind.
It doesn’t matter what you call it. You can call it karma, payback, or the laws of cause and effect. It doesn’t matter. The fact is, the choices you make will determine the actions you take. The actions you take will determine who you are and where you go. This holds true on any level of your life, in all your personal and professional relationships.