Each month I send a new trick out to you Alexandrites via email or post. I read all the comments and emails on these tricks, and some pretty lively discussions have ensued on discussion boards from them.  Although most have benefited from learning the magic and have progressed, there is a segment of folks who feel these tricks are not quite what they expected, and have expressed dissatisfaction with them.  They’ve told me that they feel “these tricks are too simple.”  My reply is always the same, “Have you mastered it yet?” There’s usually a long pause.

I have a friend who had made millions in direct marketing. Those familiar with the field will know that working off the right mailing list is more than half the battle. He told me that the biggest moneymaker he ever had was a weight-loss product he pitched through the mails. Not surprisingly, he worked from lists of people who had previously bought weight-loss products. The grim reality was that they were probably still overweight and looking for another solution to their problem.

He told me that the most productive mailing list he ever worked off was a list of people who had ordered another weight-loss product within the last week. This meant, of course, that the person hadn’t had time to give the first product a fair trial. Yet, they were already ordering something else to accomplish the same thing.  You can just picture them opening the first product and discovering that, instead of offering a magic solution, it required diet and exercise. So they immediately tossed it aside and ordered the next product that they hoped would provide a miracle with no effort on their part. No doubt, they would then sit by the mailbox in breathless anticipation of how the new miracle product would transform their bodies.

I suspect that many magicians can identify with that anticipation, having sat by their mailbox often enough awaiting the next great magic trick that would transform them into great magicians. They could probably also identify with the disappointment of having to face reality once the trick arrived. Yet, like our overweight friends, this disappointment doesn’t dissuade them from believing that the next trick will be better. Indeed, the next trick will always be better for one simple reason. It doesn’t exist for them yet. No trick that exists can ever measure up to a trick that doesn’t exist. Because as long as it doesn’t exist, each magician can project his own fantasies and unrealistic expectations onto it.

It’s only when the trick arrives that the magician must face the fact that, no matter how great it is, it’s only a trick. It’s only a finite idea, move or insight. To benefit from it, you have to read it, study it, test it and think about it. Finally, you have to put in the effort to transform what’s there into something you can effectively do for people. To bring the trick to life you have to work.  Ironically, the better the trick, the more work it will probably demand. Therefore, the less likely it is to be appreciated by the average magician.  Even if you do put in the work, the trick will only aid you in your quest for great magic. It won’t transform your life. It’s only a trick. When the average magician realizes this, disappointment inevitably sets in. This disappointment is usually expressed as, “I really thought the trick would be better than this.” The feeling being expressed, however, is, “Gee, my life is no different than it was the day before the trick arrived.” A recent magic board post expressing this sort of disappointment with some long-awaited book ended with the poignant comment, “I don’t know what I was expecting.” Am I the only one who detects a sad, lost tone to this statement? The continual hysteria of anticipation for the next trick is, in fact, a way to avoid the hard work of mastering the tricks you already own.

It has become common for magicians to blame their disappointment with each eagerly awaited trick in turn on the trick having been “over-hyped.” But it’s really the magicians themselves who produce ridiculously unrealistic expectations in their own minds for each new trick, book or dvd on the horizon. I don’t think that hype is at all the right word for what is going on here. A producer promoting his product with exaggerated claims is hype. A group of adult men and women working themselves into a fever-pitch over something isn’t hype, it’s hysteria. Alexandrites will talk about checking their mailbox each day in breathless anticipation of receiving the next trick from me. I can sympathize. I recall doing the same thing as a child waiting for the arrival of the next great trick from the Abbott’s Magic Catalog. In fact, magicians awaiting the next magic book or video set most closely resemble children awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus (except that they don’t show quite as much maturity). Indeed, I think that the anticipation itself and the fantasizing they can indulge in while waiting for the next trick is precisely what many magicians have become addicted to. The daydreaming of possibilities, the breathless expectation, the speculating with other magicians who are just as ignorant as they are about what the book may contain and when it will appear is the real high.

If you want to escape the emotional roller coaster of this quick fix syndrome. Don’t buy a new trick or dvd until you have mastered the last one you bought.  To follow this advice, you’ll have to overcome the perpetual fear that you’re missing out on something wonderful that all the other kids have. In fact, the next trick you buy probably won’t be any better than the one you’re now having trouble mastering because you keep daydreaming about the miracle in the trick you haven’t bought yet. If you want to progress in magic, stop agonizing over all the great tricks you don’t own and focus on benefiting from the ones you do.  This will cause you to fall out of the herd.  You’ll have no choice but to decide for yourself what tricks are best. You’ll virtually always be out of step with everyone else in magic. And that’s the best place to be if you want to make serious progress as a magician.

Anything you can do to keep from being sucked into the hive mind that is the magic Internet is a step toward becoming a better magician. On a related note, I’ve often heard magicians respond to a neophyte’s request to recommend a good magic book by saying, “Buy all eight volumes of The Tarbell Course In Magic.” I can’t agree. I would instead advise buying volume one only. After working your way through that, you probably won’t need to be told to buy volume two. All that buying all eight volumes at once will accomplish is to virtually guarantee that you’ll start reading volume two before you’ve finished volume one. You’ll start reading volume three before you’ve finished volume two and on and on.  This will almost guarantee that you’ll never read any one of the volumes from cover to cover.  This would be particularly unfortunate with a series so carefully planned out to be studied in a lesson-by-lesson sequence. So accept the fact that no trick, book or DVD can change your life or even make you a better magician. Only you can do that through hard work.

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