Becoming a Magician

“One of my heuristics for growth is to seek out the magicians, and find the magic. Often without noticing, your progress in aspects of life or all of it unconsciously becomes linear. You made a certain amount of money last year, so you aim to make some ‘reasonable’ proportion more this year. But you are largely using the same tools to get 2x as you used to get x, and so you end up with diminishing marginal returns as you wring the remaining juice out of the initial strategy. The ‘describe the version of you that seems impossible right now’ trick I described above is largely an attempt to bypass that part of my brain that dismisses the work of magicians as crazy and starts allowing it to make the necessary shifts required to become the kind of magician I am envisioning.

The way to extraordinary growth and changes often involves a fundamental ontological or ‘lens’ shift in how you see the world. Magicians are wearing not just better, but fundamentally differently shaped lenses to the rest of us. And regardless of your skills and experience, it is likely that you are a magician to someone else. As someone who has a well-defined felt sense of how various foods affects their body, and can cook simple, healthy food well, I can seem like a magician to someone lacking a similar mental framework who ricochets between spartan self-denial and uncontrollable junk binges.

Meeting magicians is the first step to becoming one – when you are attempting to learn implicit knowledge that by definition you don’t understand, it is important to have a bunch of examples in front of you to feed your brain’s pattern-recognition systems. This will start to change your worldview without the controlling ‘you’ explicitly approving or denying every new belief or framework. Magicians or their work often seem to have a subconscious glow that I am drawn to, particularly if they use a type of magic that I recognise is on my critical path and thus something I’m currently seeking. Concrete steps I take to find them include asking my most interesting friends to introduce me to their most interesting friends, going down similar rabbit holes with the bibliographies of books that excite me, and generally living in ‘explore’ mode at various points in life, while recognising that not every avenue will lead to a jackpot.”

-“Becoming a magician.” Autotranslucence. March 30, 2018.

I liked this blog piece a lot. It’s kind of a description of the destination of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

Pathways of Success

You’re obviously a very capable, smart person: would the Aella story would have landed in the same spot if you had a different start in life? If you hadn’t worked in a factory say, or if your family had been different? Would you be a Y Combinator founder right now instead? Nothing against the current line of work, but I often ask myself the counterfactual of where I’d be if matters were otherwise.

It’s unlikely. Part of the reason I’ve been so successful is that I accidentally ended up in something smart, young women don’t end up in, which is sex work. Most people with some level of competence end up in college, and I didn’t for various reasons. That put me already into a minority….you mentioned earlier that you yourself stand at the desolate intersection of a Venn diagram of two different worlds. That has propelled me at a greater level of success than would have otherwise happened.

I really tried to go to college. Because I was very much stuck in the standard this is what success looks like. I had very, very small world view of what was possible for me. And when I didn’t get to go to college, I cried. I was really sad: “well I guess minimum wage jobs are forever.” That’s what my world was.

I think sex work really helped broaden that; it taught me kind of by accident that you can have success in life through very different ways. If you take risks, if you do the thing that other people don’t typically do, but you do it very seriously and you do it very well, then that in itself earns some sort of respect or validation or the skills translate to other things. And I would never have been able to predict that beforehand.”

-Antonio Garcia Martinez, “Wherein I pay Aella for sex, and we just chat instead*ThePullRequest.com. January 18, 2022

That last paragraph is on point. It’s one thing to be the best. It’s another thing to be the only. And the path to both can be helpfully thought of as a manifestation of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

Helsinki Bus Station Theory

“…the secret to a creatively fulfilling career lies in understanding the operations of Helsinki’s main bus station…There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. “Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction…Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work…[but because it is nascent it will be similar to someone else’s body of work, and you’ll be tempted to go back to the main station and set out in a new direction. Three years later, it happens again.]…’This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.’ What’s the answer? ‘It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.'”

—Oliver Burkeman, “This column will change your life: Helsinki Bus Station Theory.” The Guardian. September 23, 2013.