Whelp, 2022 is almost over. Did you make the most of it? Here are my final thoughts and lessons from the year:
1. Enjoy Snickers bars
I once heard a story about someone who ate exactly one chocolate covered almond every day because he wanted to savor it. That sounds crazy, but at the same time, I’m positive that he enjoys his chocolate covered almonds more than you do.
Every day on my Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek, I had a single Snickers bar, and sometimes just half if I split it with my guide, Tilak. I cherished that Snickers bar.
We don’t need much to be happy. We just need to enjoy the things we do have. And constantly experiencing scarcity–like on the EBC trek–made me more conscious of what I did have. It checks your ego when you need to conserve toilet paper because you might not have any until the next village.
Of course, it is the heart of mindfulness to be able to experience this kind of gratitude every day. But sometimes you have to break the script. Going off the grid makes it far easier to appreciate your friends once you talk to them again, or truly enjoy indoor plumbing.
2. There’s always an afterglow
Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of endurance training, from long hikes to marathons to a Half Iron Man. And despite barely finishing my first marathon or throwing up four times during my Half Iron Man, I look back at each experience with immense pride because I didn’t quit. Similarly, during EBC, I struggled immensely. We didn’t have heat in the tea houses we slept in, which meant I spent each night in the freezing cold. I was alone except for my guide. And above 16,000 feet, I struggled to breathe.
One night, when I was shivering and lonely and exhausted I thought “what the hell am I doing with my life?” But then I realized that sometimes, it's during the moments when you question yourself the most that you just might be doing something right. Because if you’re coasting through life, you don’t have peaks and valleys. If you don’t take risks, if you don’t make yourself vulnerable, then while shielding yourself from life’s lows, you’re also eliminating the highs.
Yes, parts of the trek sucked. But the other parts were spectacular. I saw mountains that were twice as high as anything I’d seen before. I experienced an altitude (18,200 feet) that just a handful of humans ever have. I saw Everest Base Camp, the place where so many heroes began legendary journeys. I walked the same path as them, ate at the same tea houses. It was magical.
Sure, I was in mental and physical pain. But now I have an afterglow. Now I know I did it. Brené Brown wrote that “the brokenhearted are the bravest among us. They dared to love.” And Alex Banayan says that the opposite of success isn’t failure. The opposite of success is not trying.
There’s no reason to beat yourself up if the hard task doesn’t go your way. The point is that you did it in the first place.
It’s tough, of course, to remember this in the moment. When you’re dehydrated, or you have blisters, or you can’t stand to do another rehearsal. But every single time you don’t quit, you’re giving yourself a data point. You create a memory that will inspire you next time you’re stuck. Choosing to endure a hard experience will always give you afterglow, even if you can’t immediately feel it.
3. Empty the tank
It's inherently satisfying to give all of yourself to something. For example, time flies when I’m on stage because it requires total concentration. I get very tired after an hour-long show because it’s mentally demanding. Sixty minutes of non-stop, high-stakes, high concentration.
Likewise, my friend Joey and I always agree that we’ll watch any sport where people are trying their absolute hardest, usually a playoff or championship game. The World Cup final would’ve been a great game in the group stage, but it was a classic because it was the final.
We glamorize “emptying the tank” whether we realize it or not. Ever bragged about an all-nighter? Ever admired a long-distance athlete? It’s inherently interesting to watch someone give everything they have to a situation.
It’s part of why Everest is so appealing–it is the ultimate height you can reach. Above 26,000 feet, you’re literally in the “death zone,” where your body is dying, cell by cell. How could that not be interesting?
We don’t need to climb Everest. But we do need to try our hardest so that at the end of our lives, we’ll know that we gave something to the world. Seneca said that “Many times an old man has no evidence besides his age to prove he has lived a long time.” Let’s avoid a mid-life crisis while we have the chance and actively make sure we’re emptying our own tanks.
If you need inspiration, check out this Alex Edelman interview. I love how earnestly he defends that actually, it is cool to care. It is cool to give a shit about what you do. Unless it’s your taxes, if you don’t care about what you’re doing, do something else.
4. Don’t follow your dream, create it
I’ve been told a million times over the last four months how cool it is that I’m “following my passion,” whether that was the choice to travel for four months or become a professional magician. But I’m not “following” anything–my passion isn’t some random thing “out there” that I’m chasing. I just know what I like, and I’m creating a life around it, step by step, mistake by mistake.
I hope that’s consolation if you don’t know what you want. I know a lot of people who have certain jobs simply because they need one. That’s totally fine. But don’t kid yourself into saying you can’t do what you want because you don’t know what you want. Life is a process of constant discovery, and as long as you’re actively engaging in your interests, you’re doing ok.
I don’t know if I’ll still be doing magic in ten years. I probably will, but a lot could change between now and then. All I know is that I’m committed to building a life and a lifestyle that allows me to do meaningful work, have exciting experiences, and spend time with people I love. If you work backward from those priorities, you can certainly have the life you want.
And if you’re worried about fixing things “immediately,” may I direct you to lesson number five…
5. Leaky faucet
Ed Sheeran once said that writing songs was like turning on an old, leaky faucet. At first it’s just gross water that drips out. Then it starts to sputter. And eventually, with enough time, clean water gushes out. Every endeavor is a leaky faucet. It took me over a month to start to really enjoy my trip. It would sometimes take a few days to get a grasp on a new city. Each magic trick takes dozens of iterations before it starts to feel right.
This is a lesson to give yourself a break. Every time I work on a new script for a trick, and I mean every time, it’s absolute garbage for the first hour (and often much longer). It’s only through constant repetition, smoothing it out, saying it dozens of times, that it starts to take shape. That’s just the reality of the process.
Meaningful projects, from trips, to jobs, to relationships, to magic tricks, take time. The key to success isn’t a flashy highlight reel or a get-rich-quick scheme. It is the genuine patience to fail and succeed and treat them both the same way.
It’s been my absolute pleasure to share this blog with you every week. I’m proud that I’ve published 40 posts this year, and I’m excited for 2023.
As many of you know, I’m moving to New York City in two weeks, so I’m taking time off the blog so I can actually live a life worth writing about. I’ll return with regular posts on February 3rd.
In the meantime, I’m going back on stage on January 21st in the city, and you can get tickets here.
Thank you, truly, for your support. Happy New Year.
(and get tickets to An Evening of Magic!)