Crack open your identity

David Chapman has an excellent and evocative framework for understanding the complex mess society is currently in and how we might get ourselves out of it. It starts by mapping Robert Kegan’s stages of adult development onto the development of society and then delving into the specifics of how society is progressing and why we are collectively stuck at the places we are stuck at.

To atrociously oversimplify, agents (read: humans, communities, civilisations) go through a few distinct stages, and the last three (of Kegan’s five) roughly correspond to a premodern or tribal stage, a modern or systematic stage, and a metamodern or metasystematic stage. Between each is not an orderly linear progression, but an abrupt, incoherent, and traumatic fracturing of the previous belief system in order to make way for the new one, which generally contains the old one, but not vice versa. (Check out Thomas Kuhn’s excellent ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ if you want to be nosy about how this works specifically within the domain of scientific research.) Central to David’s thesis is the idea that in order to sustain a certain level of development, a society must contain a sufficient number of sufficiently developed people, and that because the current education system doesn’t facilitate certain shifts, we must be creative in developing our own. Venkat Rao of Ribbonfarm identifies this pattern on a more micro-iterative level, and prescribes an accelerating loop of existential crises and recovery to maximise personal growth.

I’m very pro the existential crisis as a vehicle for growth. I am, in fact, a little wary of people who purport to never having had any, seeing them as either sleepily naive or somewhat psychopathic. What ‘I’ve never had an existential crisis,’ (truthfully spoken and not just an attempt to save face) tells me, is that the speaker has held the same identity for a looooong time.

The pace at which your identity shifts is largely a function of how much novelty you throw at it, plus how much your environment constrains or enables rapid changes. This is why self-help gurus recommend moving as a means of changing yourself – in a new city, no one knows you as a vegan, or too loud and bossy, or as a non-technical manager, and you can rapidly evolve a new set of identity signifiers that build out a completely different social persona.

But building a new persona isn’t super helpful unless you’ve previously uncovered a new toolbox for making such changes. And unfortunately, the things we perhaps most -should- change are the things we most strongly cling to, and which are most fundamentally embedded into our sense of who we are. This is why, while shifting to a new city -can- improve your life, it can also easily allow the initial changes to melt back into your previous habitus because they aren’t fundamentally that different.

When I was in university, I had consistent trouble with a guy. Let’s call him Ludovico. This one dude managed to break my heart four times over about seven years, in largely similar ways, which is now, and was even at the time, an impressive length of time for me to be falling for the same dumb shit repeatedly. He had an intoxicatingly charismatic way of drawing me in to a pattern of beliefs that were delusional but just coherent enough to mimic something real, and during The First Time He Broke My Heart, the fallout from believing what he persuaded me to believe particularly troubled me.

Once I woke up from the fog of crying and angry journal entries and calmly tried to look at what had actually happened, the weirdest thing was not that he had disappeared for two weeks to Hong Kong or Singapore or something (and didn’t tell me before, after or during where he was or why he wouldn’t contact me). It was that when he said things like ‘most people aren’t intelligent enough to vote and we shouldn’t let them,’ and ‘it’s perfectly moral for me to steal from companies as long as no one finds out that I’m doing it,’ I found myself falling into agreement with him. Post-heartbreak me looked at what had happened, what I ended up believing via him and was chilled – how weak and jumbled-up was my belief system if I could let my love-drunk self determine what I considered right and wrong?

I realised I didn’t have a functional belief system and set out to fix that. Luckily, was rapidly rising as the smartest place on the internet and I had just graduated university straight into the first of many quarter-life crises – so I had plenty of time on my hands. I inhaled the basic tenets of internet rationality from the source, and gobbled up utilitarianism and later, Effective Altruism as well. I enrolled in a postgraduate degree in a social science that actually has a unifying scientific paradigm (economics).

(I became heaps fun at parties.)

A sense of calmness descended on me with the knowledge that all of my existential questions could have One Right Answer if I just spent enough time figuring it out, and I collected a whole set of overly intellectual friends and internet mentors (read: bloggers) whose minds worked similarly. I really couldn’t see how anyone could read the core arguments of EA and not end up as an effective altruist.

Throughout this period my goal-setting process became more and more codified. A few years in there was a brief attempt to mathematise my personal utility function so I could work out the optimal amount of time to spend on pleasure versus useful projects. You may laugh, but I truly believed the best thing to do was to work to minimise suffering, and the idea of not directing all of my agency towards that filled me with immobilising guilt.

Developing a guilt complex is practically an Olympic sport in Effective Altruism. Sure, there are plenty who don’t succumb, but they often happen to be the ones who are winning at the status games and thus get all the right hits of dopamine for their monkey mind to continue playing. Garden-variety EAs, particularly women, can and often do become paralysed by the idea that they aren’t doing enough. I’m sure other ideologies have their own emotional hazards.

Around the time of my pseudo-spiritual conversion to rationality I was staying with a new friend in another city. We were talking about Reason and Intuition, those two big capitalised ideas that shape so much of our understanding of human thought in the Western world. I was arguing, at the time, that Intuition had nothing to offer that Reason didn’t already have, and moreover, that Reason, by design, was much more easily checked and debugged and was thus in every way superior as a way of making decisions. My friend, older than me and having gone through this breathlessly eager stage of development already, gave me many reasonable arguments for the use of Intuition that I was, sadly, not quite ready to hear at the time. But one of the things he said struck me as exciting then, and, like a good wine or cheese, has only become more complex and interesting as it has ripened over the years in my mind.

He described every trait, whether in personality or thought or something else, as sitting somewhere along a spectrum. Sometimes the spectrum is obvious (Left/Right; Reason/Intuition) and sometimes it’s unclear. But he said that for all the traits present in his mind and sense of self, the most fruitful growth had come from a process of nudging or bouncing to the other side of the spectrum and exploring and developing the skills that lie there. So as a reasonable scientific thinker, he jumped headfirst into mysticism and spirituality, and developed as much as possible the capacities involved. Where he lay on any given spectrum at any given moment was pretty irrelevant; the important thing was that with every (often tumultuous) shift, he was both stretching and balancing his psyche and at the same time releasing it from the grips of a predefined ‘identity’. The idea that I should investigate ideas on the very basis that my kneejerk reaction is to reject them was, at the time, both ridiculous and inspiring.

It becomes odd to call yourself a progressive or a libertarian when you can go to both progressive and libertarian parties, make arguments that are respected alongside the political canon, and have people mistake you for one of them. In the same vein, emotional intelligence is no longer a frightening thing for you, the mathsy/science person, if you’ve spent a bunch of time developing your ability to feel emotions, express them, and read them in others. This isn’t just a straightforward ‘work on your weaknesses’ recommendation, but a counterintuitive ‘invert your strengths’ – allowing you to expand the range of situations and environments you can comfortably thrive in.

Every attempt at maximisation along some measure is a trade-off of the resilience of diversity for the firepower of exploiting a particular niche. Lots of elements of Western society encourage this hyper-specialisation, but at the cost of undermining our ability to adapt when circumstances change. Preemptively stretching those unused adaptations is not only useful as a warm-up for environmental shocks, but also as a way of rocking your identity out of the calcified grip of systematic labeling. When you wriggle a nail that’s stuck in a hole, it doesn’t just move to the polar opposite of where it was originally. It also loosens its stuckness in the hole more generally, and each shift keeps loosening until one day the nail pops out into a whole new context not defined by the wood it was previously embedded in.

My counterbalancing ricochet was, over the course of a few years, into fiction, art, spirituality and beauty. I soon realised that as much as I intellectually believed in what EA stood for and the powerful claims the rationality community was making, it was making me sad, sick and a bit elitist. For a while, I ran headfirst into the other direction – spending my time based on how much pleasure it would give me, or how much beauty it would create; learning ballet, learning how to appreciate the nuances of poetry and fiction and making new friends who happened to find rationality lifeless and boring. Forcing myself (at least initially) into these microcultures and honestly appreciating them allowed me to loosen the hold the serious utilitarian worldviews had on me, and then slowly incorporate them back in as only some of the elements in an increasingly complex dance in my mind.

That process isn’t done yet, but the seeds are already bearing fruit. I’m able to return to ‘world-saving’ projects with a much better eye for how they will fit into the world (versus how fanciful they are). I’m a lot less susceptible to making decisions by spreadsheet that make me miserable, and in the process the version of me that decides what projects to get involved in has gained a lot of the trust of the spontaneous, social monkey-me who actually has to carry the work out. I like to think I’m now less of an asshole to people who think differently to me, and I’m definitely no longer afraid of getting stopped by Jehovah’s witnesses or people on the street collecting for charities that are less cost-effective than the Against Malaria Foundation (spoiler alert: all of them).

I should point out that this doesn’t mean I regret spending time as a hardcore utilitarian. I think for some fundamental traits and belief systems, trying out both extremes leads to a more nuanced centre of balance than never veering too far from the middle. Like a handbalancer, the skill is not in staying still, but in having the strength to hold unbalanced positions, survive them, and then from within them, return to balance. Going off balance (and falling down occasionally) is a necessary part of the process. It also helps you recognise how malleable, contingent and emergent belief systems can be and then eventually, when you’re ready, helps you fall out of them completely.

Kill your darlings, and not just the peripheral darlings that haven’t yet made it into the core of your being. If you want to expand your sense of who you are, and what you’re capable of, expand your capacity towards the opposite extremes you’re uncomfortable at, like ideological exposure therapy, until you no longer need to retreat to the comfortable side.


On flinching

It’s the feeling that makes you want to stay under the covers. You feel an overwhelming urge to dive into something engrossing; to consume, not to be satiated, but so you don’t have to dwell in the alternative. I feel it as a bodily sensation – a painful twisting in my chest, a slight tingling all over like there would be an itch to scratch if any of it would just coalesce into something stronger.

This is impulsivity – the feeling of impulse – from the inside.

Once, on a melancholy but restless day, I got dressed, left the house, took a train to the city and wandered around until I found a place where I could play Dance Dance Revolution by myself as a last-ditch attempt to scratch the itch that was craving sugar, junk food or the physical experience of adrenaline. Something. It was a ravenous itch in my mind and I refused to give in to the obvious things. Keeping my promise to myself on a month-long restricted diet by hunting down a DDR machine would have looked crazy to outsiders but luckily nobody asked.

When it’s focused it feels like craving. When it’s diffuse it feels like restlessness. And when it’s dull it feels like ennui; the hollow slump of existential dread.

Rather than Carroll’s ‘ten impossible things before breakfast’, I aim for ‘ten existential crises before noon’. I’ve always looked at the ‘adults’ around me and noticed they seem dead; I now suspect that it comes from being on the other side of this desire/restlessness/existential dread combo. Inside of it, facing it, you can look crazy – like my friend who wails and lashes out for no concrete reason and whose eyes will pull tears from the ether with no catalyst at all. Staring at it properly, for me anyway, takes work, courage, and a bit of recklessness.

You can’t be a ‘reliable member of society’ while you’re engaging with it. It doesn’t care how many emails you need to send or how many pomodoros you need to do to feel like you’ve earned your place in the status hierarchy. On the easy side, this thing sparks passion, creativity and skin-to-skin contact with life, while letting you feel in your bones that it’s ok that there’s no triumphant final meaning or collectively agreed-upon purpose. I feel intensely in my body when I dance with it, and intensely present and alive. Maybe it is just presence. It feels childlike and natural and wonderful.

The flip side is the bad side. And I’m going to call it bad despite spiritual exhortations to recognise all experiences as perfect – because at the stage I’m at, goddamn, it still feels shitty.

You could cry, or scream, or punch things until you couldn’t breathe, but why? There’s no justification, nothing that will make you feel less ridiculous for feeling ‘upset’ while living in your beautiful house with your beautiful friends in one of the liveliest cities on the planet. It doesn’t even feel possible to cry. But it feels easy to flinch.

Remember ‘the floor is lava’? This feeling is exactly like the prick of anxiety you feel when you realise you’re about to fall on the floor, coupled with the flood of relief the second you jump up onto the couch or the chair. It’s the same feeling, right down to how made up it is. This unsettledness comes from investing in the game as completely real, in life as ‘completely real’. For me, the novice Buddhist, it makes no more intellectual sense to identify the things making me dissatisfied as ‘real’ as it would to feel pain if someone hit my avatar in a videogame – possible, yes, but ultimately absurd. But as the novice, I am yet to build the practical skills required to openly and lovingly engage with the game while knowing that it isn’t real. Right now I’m just in the ring getting hit, and knowing that it’s my lack of skill getting me hurt doesn’t make the blows any softer; if anything it makes them cruel.

Standing at this faultline between being present to the restlessness and flinching away from it into mental addictions, I’ve finally discovered an encompassing sense of empathy for those who switch off for years of their life. The married couple who spend two decades of their marriage asleep to each other. The corporate executive who is numb to his body and his sense of meaning. The video gamer who has no relationship to his physical reality and the community outside his monitor. It feels like a real place I could be, a precipice I could fall over. On days like yesterday, it feels like it would take bucketloads more actual courage than I had in that moment to stay present to my reality and not pacify myself like I did, with online shopping and Twitter.

Pacifiers can be anything; the same person (read: me) can use Twitter as an enlightening and empowering way to connect with public intellectuals they admire, and a self-soothing distracting plaything they keep wolfing down to dull the sound of their soul screaming.

‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill…’ Yeah, yeah, yeah. There are more and less addictive substances and activities, and it would probably be harder to flinch away from yourself in ascetic poverty than in the middle of a decadent civilisation but that’s not my point today. Another time I can talk about the acceleration of addictiveness, and how our internet-saturated lives have become laced with emotional and attentional landmines, but from the inside the scale of the temptation is irrelevant – the fact that we can be tempted easily at all is what matters. People will replace their pacifiers with whatever they can find to get their fix.

Dealing with this isn’t easy, and I have no elegant answers here. There’s an entire philosophical and spiritual system that’s been focused on the problem for millenia but it still demands you put in the right work with the right teacher for a loooong time. And so much ‘habit’ advice ignores this underlying phenomenon; the self-help guru whose advice leads to you quitting smoking thinks he has won but he doesn’t see the way you’ve replaced smoking with Netflix and shrinking from confrontational conversations. A millionaire and an overweight alcoholic can be just as existentially fucked up, but nobody’s giving the millionaire any sympathy.

It seems like the missing element here is something like courage, but not the social kind of courage that lets you stand up to a bully. Or maybe it is, but inside the society of your own mind. It does seem harder to be present when experience is shitty when you are worried about making a social faux-pas and making rent this month. Maybe ‘paying attention to the existential dread’ sits high up on Maslow’s hierarchy, and maybe that’s why it feels easy to fall away from that when life has stacked responsibilities and demands and complications in your lap.

In a conversation with a historically-minded friend, he mentioned that within his theory of history, most of the sweeping, fundamental changes came from people in positions of privilege, precisely because they (and only they) had enough spare energy and resources to actually focus on the messy work of shaping the world to their desires. I suspect the same is true for mindfulness, except that the hopeful mindful person needs less money and influence than the hopeful world-changer. ‘Breathing space’, the privilege of not having to worry so much about money, or being alone, or systemic racism, seems to be synonymous with the freedom or power to attempt to actually be alive in this mindful sense.

TLDR: be privileged, or else be a lifeless drone? How depressing. And I don’t think that’s the case. I suspect people with difficult lives can be courageous in the way that being mindful while suffering demands, but that it perhaps requires a precarious constant rebalancing of the things that drain emotional energy to expand constantly moving pockets of breathing space and wriggle out as much life slack as you can muster. I honestly have no idea, and I admire the people who push back to create these pockets for themselves.

I have no good advice for dealing with this phenomenon other than to notice it, practice leaning towards it, and find some damn good mentors. And recognise that even being able to spend precious minutes of your life grappling with the feeling of restlessness that comes along with existential crises is an exquisite kind of privilege and you might not always have the breathing space for it. I oscillate between wanting to ride these currents and quell them; I suspect the answer I choose will dictate whether I end up as an artist or an engineer. At its fullest this feeling seems like it has the seeds of enlightenment in it, so at least it’s a seductive abyss.

…and then sometimes I wake up well-rested and wonder whether existential crises are just a symptom of sleep deprivation, and human philosophy is just something else we made up to soothe our animal selves when everything hurts.

Becoming a magician

When I was a teenager I often used fantasy as a vehicle for escapism. Some people, when they fantasise, think about sex or dragons or wildly unlikely events like winning the lottery. I fantasised about things like having a family of twelve children, designing my own octagonal house and being an adult artist who lived with her friends. The last one morphed one day into a detailed imagining of myself as an adult, in a way that seemed incomprehensibly beautiful and liberated to fourteen year old me. Things like living with friends I cared about, having multiple partners who cared about each other, riding my bike everywhere, and making a living as an artist seemed as unattainable as slaying dragons might’ve for teenage boys. The description was about five or six handwritten pages long, and at the time, it was a manifestation of desperate longing to be somewhere other than where I was, someone who felt free and cared for. At the time I saw that description as basically an impossibility; my life could never be so amazing in reality.

Fast forward about seven or ten years and I rediscovered the description when I was moving old notebooks and journals from one dusty storage spot to another. As I read through it, I discovered that 90% of the statements I had made in that description were true (or true in spirit). While I didn’t technically live with my partner, he stayed over most days and was close friends with all of my housemates. At the time I was throwing weekly dinner parties where friends would invite random newcomers to attend and I never knew how many people were coming until we actually sat down to eat. Some statements were true down to the suburb I lived in. As I read through the piece with the eyes of 24-year-old me, I felt that it captured with extreme precision the way my life was at that moment. I should point out that after I wrote it, I didn’t ever look back on it. I basically wrote it and then stuffed the notebook in a drawer somewhere and forgot about it. It was incredible to me, despite all the changes that had happened in my life since when I wrote the passage, that I had basically become the person whose life I had dreamed of living as a teenager.

That’s pretty fucking cool.

But what I realised was that while that vision had been compelling up until that point (24 or 25), in the literal sense of having compelled me forward through life, my fantasies had changed and expanded in the intervening time. If I read that description at 24 as something to aim towards I would have felt bored. Feeling free, loved, cared for, and able to express myself artistically? Sure, that was great. But I felt then (and feel now) that that is a solid baseline for my current adult life – that I would in fact find it surprising if I went for longer than, say, three months without any one of those needs being met. So the challenge now is to write a new version of this fantasy that describes the version of myself that currently feels impossible, and then simply orient myself towards that until it becomes true.

Not only is any sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic; any sufficiently advanced technologist seems like a magician. In order to write the new version of this life description, I need to imagine a version of myself who, by definition, I cannot understand. If I understood her she wouldn’t be magical.

For several years I competed in bodypainting at the highest level of competition in the world. Every year I would fly to Austria and compete in the World Championships and by the latter years I would consistently rank in the top four or five. This wasn’t unusual; I was aiming for first place and never got it, but most of the time I understood pretty concretely what a first place piece would look like. It felt like incremental improvements from where I was at that point; faster painting, more detailed realism; a competent assistant, some element of luck in how my presentation was perceived by the judges and how everyone else performed that year. I knew the styles, strengths and weaknesses of the other people who consistently ranked in the top ten pretty intimately; I often predicted accurately whether they would move up or down in the rankings each year. You could say that my model of ‘how to succeed at a bodypainting competition’ was technically sufficient, and the thing I needed to work on was merely fine-tuning all the pieces until I ranked higher than everyone else one year.

And then came Sanatan Dinda. An Indian visual artist from Kolkata, he didn’t even make the finals the first year he competed, and the next year he placed second with a style that broke half a dozen of the implicit rules of ‘good artwork’ at the competition. He used a monochromatic or even black and white palette. His pieces weren’t flashy, sparkly, or even very ‘pretty’ in a standard sense. He left vast parts covered in brown, or muddy purple, or some other unappealing background colour. But yet the third year he came he won the entire competition by something like ten percent of the total awarded points over the next artist in second place.

His first piece brought people to tears. It was brutal and glorious and technical perfection, but not just that. There was some sort of soul in it that suddenly made all the other bodypaint works seem lacking. His second piece did something similar. I didn’t win that year (obviously; he did) but I didn’t even mind because I was so glad that work like his existed and that the World Bodypainting Festival had, in some way, helped facilitate that art existing.

The thing that confused me though was this – I could not work out how he did it. Like, I had zero mental model of how he created that piece in the same timeframe we all had; how he came up with it, designed it, practiced it. Even though he placed first and I placed fifth and logically we both existed on a scale of ‘competence at bodypainting’ it seemed like the skills required were completely different. You could not simply scale up my abilities and get Sanatan’s. You would have had to step back and build something completely different altogether. When I speak to Sanatan (I haven’t picked his brain relentlessly, but I have asked him a bunch of questions when I’ve had the chance) I don’t get any closer to a mental model that would allow me to paint like that. It seems to require completely different mental inputs entirely.

The feeling I get, as a very good bodypainter looking at Sanatan’s work, is that I am looking at magic. And that, in fact, is my definition of magic – competence so much more advanced than yours with such alien mental models that you cannot predict the outcomes of the model at all. If you asked me to imitate the work of any of the top 20 bodypainters, I could give you a fair imitation, given enough time and access to reference images. With his work I have no idea.

And yet, ten years ago when I encountered the website of the World Bodypainting Festival, as not-yet-a-bodypainter, literally every image on the website was in that category for me. I look at those pieces now and could replicate any of them, but at the time they seemed incredibly complex, technical and inscrutable – I couldn’t break down what steps the artist might have taken or why. I just saw them as unattainable.

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.

Trying to envision magicians feels less clear, at least for me. My vision is likely to stem from a combination of a bunch of people or concepts I’ve encountered, so the same strategy applies as for finding magicians (giving my brain a lot of examples to work with). Questions I like to ask myself include:

  • ‘What is the most capable version of me that I can imagine?’
  • ‘What would I be like/spend my time doing if all my current major problems had been solved?’
  • ‘What are the things I say I value but don’t act as if I value, and what would my life feel like on inside if I actually acted as if I valued those things?’
  • ‘What am I afraid of doing, and what would my life be like if I wasn’t afraid of doing those things?’.


I think an important part of imagining this version of yourself is forgetting it.


You can’t keep your gaze tightly fixed on the outcome you want because it will lock your mind onto the strategies you currently have for meeting them, which by definition probably don’t work (otherwise you would have succeeded already and you wouldn’t need to use the strategy).


You can tell for yourself whether a strategy you’re currently using seems to be a crutch or actually helping; often in areas when you are actually making progress you won’t be able to imagine a nonlinearly better version of yourself, only one who in fact followed the current strategy to its logical conclusion and is now about as great (at the thing the strategy is for) as you expected to be. This is fine. We don’t necessarily need to make nonlinear jumps in all aspects of our lives, particularly if (according to your values) making such a jump would require a sacrifice you don’t endorse. But for the things you care about most, or are causing you the most suffering, there is probably a nonlinear strategy that you will miss if you pay too close attention to the linear strategy you current have or that people recommend. Sometimes, jumping ship and having no strategy for a while can be better, and allow you to clarify what you want, in the same way that being single for a while can allow you the space to look at who you are in a relationship and improve it.


So, in short, a helpful strategy for becoming a magician: Surround yourself with people who look like magicians to you. Then imagine yourself as one, older and wiser, in great detail. Imagine yourself as the person you would be afraid to say you want to be out loud to others (because it seems so ridiculously impossible right now). Write it down in great clarity and detail, then forget it. And let the part of your subconscious mind that still remembers lead you to becoming the things you want, and maybe, years later, check if it did.