THE BLOG
07/01/2014 05:14 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Magical Thinking

For many of us, "magical thinking" is a nice way of telling your neediest Facebook friend/train-wreck that, "B*tch, your mind is not OK; you need to help all of us by shutting up. I don't speak glitter." But, as a woman who has been told by more than one man that I'm crazy, I actually believe that magical thinking -- i.e. the act of dreaming far above the current realities of our lives -- when backed up by intelligent, consistent, organized action is the whole reason we're alive. Life is not fair. Fear is cheap. Our dreams are what keep us going through the cruelty, darkness and soft bigotry of lowered expectations that is, unfortunately, all too much a part of our daily lives.

Ideally, we should always be engaged in magical thinking. We should always be trying to achieve our highest potential. Loved, nurtured children, for example, fantasize about growing up to be princesses or presidents, or both. No happy child ever dreams of growing up to manage teams of underemployed attorneys engaged in electronic document review in a warehouse in Jersey.

Magical thinking is that primal, life-changing rush of joy that occurs when you sing in choir and you think, this is how I want to spend my life: feeling this alive. I want to sing! Or, when you read a book and feel as if the author was speaking directly to you and you experience that thrill of recognition. Call me corny, but isn't that why we're alive? Surely it's not just to post photos of last night's dinner on Facebook. Surely the whole meaning of life is to be found in those rare magical moments when individuals are brought face-to-face with the realization of all they could be.

But -- and yes, there's always a "but," -- magical thinking only works as hard as you do. If you give in to your fears, and doubts, and trained inadequacies, deciding that you're crazy to think you could ever [fill in the blank], all of your energy will be wasted convincing yourself of your imminent failure, instead of creating the opportunities you need. Trust me, no matter how big or small your goals, you're going to need ALL of your energy (and more), to do the sustained work necessary to make your dreams blossom.

The Good

Magical thinking, when done right, is extrapolating yourself into a fantasy and understanding that you can, through hard work, make that dream your reality. It's saying, "I could do that, so I will also allow myself to make mistakes, create some kind of plan and, understanding how hard this will be, won't GIVE UP. I'm going to get it!"

Perfect example: check out this interview with Nic Pizzolatto, the creator/writer behind True Detective.

Already a college professor and published author -- which hey, most of us would probably be pretty damn proud to be "just" that -- when Nic heard that there was a job that would allow him to fulfill his dreams of writing for TV... ding ding ding! He experienced that moment of understanding that what he had yearned for was possible if he worked very hard. And he did the work. Today, we hear the name Nic Pizzolatto and we think, Oh yeah, the True Detective guy. Before his series debuted on HBO, if Nic had told his fellow faculty that, "Yeah, I'm writing a show that's going to change TV," many of them would have rolled their eyes. He dreamed it, he did it. Such is the glory of magical thinking.

The Bad

In the same Daily Beast interview, Nic Pizzolatto mentions that a lot of people wouldn't have even bothered sending in their spec scripts. Unfortunately, he's right. The bad part of magical thinking is that, for many people, identifying their goals immediately makes them feel unworthy, overwhelmed and frightened. Who the hell am I, they think, to want so much? (Spoiler alert: You're human.)

How many clients come to me with realistic goals, but after I construct a strategy for them, some of these people -- the very same people who just spent an hour revealing their deepest desires to me -- give me this look like there's something wrong with me? And then they start detailing for me all the reasons why their goals are never gonna happen. And I want to say, "Oh, that's right, I must be the crazy b*tch, because when you came to me with your goals, I took you seriously. When you said you wanted to achieve your dreams, I must be the b*tch who's trippin' because I wanted to help you achieve them. Got it. This is allllll my fault."

Again: magical thinking only works as hard as you do. So work from your dreams, not your fears. If you're seeking excuses to give up on your dreams (i.e. yourself), you don't need my help. The world will give you reasons in abundance to hate and fear yourself. It's a miserable, destructive way to exist, but people do it. Cheating your dreams gives you a whole lotta nothing: nothing to be proud of, nothing to believe in, nothing inside. These are the people who wrote half a book, or spent four years writing a business plan instead of actually doing business, or wasted 20 years spewing bile at a job they loathe, because gawd, Carlota, job hunting is hard. This is the dark side of magical thinking: it can be a real downer when you're not willing to put the work in, and commit.

The Ugly

The ugliest part of magical thinking is that some people use it to reinforce their trained self-loathing. If you hate yourself, it can be extremely difficult to believe you're worth the hard work necessary to change your life. Magical thinking only electrifies your life as much as you allow it to do so. Otherwise, it becomes a dangerous pattern of poor choices without commitment, destroying your confidence and reinforcing your worst fears of yourself as incompetent, pathetic and unworthy.

For example, the call girl I used to know who was desperate to have even one loving relationship with a good man, but given her venomous self-loathing and rage towards men, she pursued men who could barely have relationships with themselves, never mind with an actual living, breathing woman. The "relationships" that then ensued would be emotionally shallow, short and punctuated by cruelty, loneliness and bad sex. At the end of which, dumped again, the call girl would melodramatically sigh and say, "Well, that's the kind of men I get." NO: that's the kind of men you allow yourself to get, because you don't have the courage to commit to the hard work necessary to make your magical thinking of a loving relationship a reality, because you hate yourself and don't think you deserve love. Big difference. One takes hard, intelligent work, one takes fears, self-loathing and cowardice.

Finally, before you give up, thinking, Well, anyway, who the hell am I to want so much? Who the hell is anyone? The people you admire, who inspire and influence you... once upon a time, they also were legends only in their mind. How hungry are you?

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