Ego Makes You Worse At Magic

I do magic tricks.

My particular preferred form of magic trick are execution based, sleight-light card tricks with minimal prep. I like being able to take a random deck of cards and make it do something, like I can show you a puzzle that was hiding inside the box in a way that you didn’t know.

Part of the reason I like these tricks is because it doesn’t require anyone to question whether or not I can do sleight of hand. I can, but when you tell people that you can do sleight of hand, it makes all sorts of things you can do harder to trust. Suddenly you’re not doing a feat of memory, ‘maybe you just swapped a deck’ or ‘maybe there’s a card up your sleeve.’ It’s kind of interesting the way people react to that kind of trick, which is frustrating, because I do these tricks for reactions.

The biggest source of failure then, in my tricks, in my experience, is not failures of execution, but failures of ego. If a magician shows you the same trick a second time, and if they’re any good, they are not going to show you the same trick the same way. They’re going to be using a different technique to get the same effect. And that way, you’re going to be looking for ‘the’ trick, and never find what it is, because you’re seeing three tricks that look the same.

And if you don’t do this, if you just show someone the trick a second time because you want them to be more impressed the second time, if you need the reactions to be better, because you deserve a better reaction, you’re going to lose control over their attention. That’s what magic is – it’s a way of controlling the audience’s attention. They focus on one thing so they don’t focus on the other.

What has been an absolute beating for me has been showing magic tricks to little kids. Because nothing will do damage to your ego quite like showing a trick to people who are both rude enough to reach out and grab the cards out of your hand, and easily distracted enough that you can’t even show them two or three misdirections without them just losing it entirely.

I have twice shown my niblings a trick a second time because ‘they missed it.’ Because I didn’t think the reaction I got was good enough I mean, c’mon, they clearly didn’t get it.

And in doing it, I wasted a trick.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that trick again, or even all sorts of things built on that trick, at least for them. Which is a shame, because I was trying to make it a special trick just for them. What happened to me, what I lost, was the reaction I got, tainted because I couldn’t have the patience to accept it, in the name of getting a reaction I wanted. A reaction I deserved.

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