Scott Hammell

The Most Important Out Of All..

Imagine two different people doing the same card trick. One person is an amateur, the other, a professional magician.  Imagine that that trick goes wrong. The amateur giggles nervously, apologizes and starts over.  The professional magician, without skipping a beat, continues on with the trick and still manages to fool you.  The reason?  It’s about an idea known among magicians as “Outs”.  

“Outs” are contingency plans for magicians.  When learning or constructing a new trick, a magician will try to determine all the possibilities where things can (and probably will) go wrong in the execution of the trick.  Then, the magician can work out realistic possible solutions for each of these possible outcomes.  Time is often dedicated during practice specifically to these “Outs” so that when and if they ever happen, the transition through the mistake is seamless, and the audience isn’t aware that a mistake occurred.  (That is one of the reasons it can take SO long for a magician to learn a new trick.  The process is, in essence, learning ten variations of the same trick!).

In 2015, I had the pleasure of helping my good friend Mark Correia set his first World Record.  His goal was to wear a fully secured straitjacket for fourteen days straight. Without any breaks. I can tell you, as someone who’s spent a considerable amount of (voluntary!) time in a straitjacket, that this was an ambitious goal. In fact, when I was in high school, I spent one night in my straitjacket on a dare and can say without question that it was an AWFUL experience.  My elbow joints were throbbing, and it was impossible to get comfortable.  I should add here that my night in the straitjacket was done in the winter. Straitjackets are made of thick canvas, so keeping cool was vital. Mark’s World Record attempt was done in the middle of summer so that it didn’t conflict with school time.  I can’t imagine spending 24 hours in a straitjacket, let alone two weeks, in summer, without a break.

Mark was inspired by a desire to raise money for the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. He doesn’t have Parkinson’s Disease, nor do any of his friends or relatives. However, he felt that completion of this creative project was an artistic and compelling way to draw attention to some of the challenges faced by those with Parkinson’s, such as wanting to complete the most basic tasks and not being able to.

The first few days in the straitjacket were uncomfortable for Mark, but exciting. He was covered by every major news network in Canada, and social media took notice. People submitted challenges for Mark to complete without using his hands. Make an omelette! Ride a bike! He did it all!

At about the halfway point, I could tell that he was struggling to keep a smile on his face, and was trying hard to stay comfortable. He had had enough. When the cameras were turned off for the day, I reminded him of an Out that he had forgotten about. He could get out of the jacket at any point. He was, after all, in there voluntarily. Would anyone die? No. Would thousands of dollars still have been raised for The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research? Yes! Was there a ton of exposure for the cause? Yup! Would it still technically be a World Record? Yes, it would. Would people understand? Absolutely.

I believe that Mark was SO focused on his goal that he forgot about his Outs. He forgot that he could simply bow out gracefully.  It was almost like he just needed permission.  So did he use his Out and take the jacket off? No way. Realizing that he could, and he’d still be loved and supported was the permission that he needed.  

Sometimes just knowing that you can quit is enough to keep you going to the end.  The world will keep spinning, people won’t die, and your family and friends will still love you.  

I have seen first hand where student leaders have a tendency of creating overly ambitious goals for themselves. They burn too many resources while forgetting about the most important “Out” of all.  That it’s OK to quit. Remind them. Reinforce it! Sometimes, all they need is permission to quit, and that might be enough to insure that they don’t!