After college, when I started my mundane career, I entered a field where there’s no health insurance and no pension. The money you make is the money you have and you eat what you kill, so to speak. If you want to go to the dentist, you better have some cash saved for that eventuality. Take a vacation? Sure. Anytime you want, but know that while you’re resting, someone else is taking your clients.
I’m not going to talk about my non-magical work directly because I like to maintain a certain degree of privacy, but I will say that it’s a field where things move pretty fast; you live on your wits; and not everyone can survive there, much less do well. But I have been doing well at it, sometimes very well, for a long time. I’m not a genius or some kind of savant. I was just lucky enough to stumble into a field where I had a large degree of aptitude. My point in saying this isn’t to brag but rather to make a point about practical magic. So please bear with me.
When I hit my first big “target” in my job, I thought I was a badass. Other people were missing it, and I hit it right away. An older guy, kind of a teacher and mentor, congratulated me but added a warning I never forgot: “You have an obsessive one-track mind and a hard-nosed attitude, which will take you far in this business. But don’t get cocky. It’s easy to get to the top once. It’s not so easy to stay there.” I soon learned how wise and insightful this advice was when I missed my next goal. Then I had to find humility in myself in order to keep going. I had to learn from the failures and let them go. It’s easy to win, but you only learn a little that way. You learn a lot more from your enormous fuck-ups.
Last night, I learned that I’ve hit my 100th target in this business. There’s no doubt I’m at the top of my field, even though what I do isn’t a status- or fame-oriented industry and discretion is a lot more valuable than being able to shoot your mouth off about all your success—like I’m kind of doing here and I apologize for that. I don’t know any other way to make the same point about practical magic: it’s easy to hit your target one time. But can you do it ten, fifty, one-hundred times? If you do enough magical workings and record them, you’ll eventually know enough and be proficient enough that you’ll be seeing a 80-90% success rate. But that is an enormous commitment.
At that point, magic will be like breathing. You’ll still get bad cards for workings you think you might want to do, and you’ll sometimes have the odd failure even when the cards are good, but you’ll usually know why it failed and how to approach the situation again from a different angle to get results. You might even hang your shingle out as a sorcerer-for-hire at that point.
In my opinion, the only way to get to this level is to have constant obsessive focus on actually doing the work day in, day out. This means magic will have to be more than a hobby or a fun way to seem spooky and cool (actually, most pros in any field look very normal and boring on the outside because they’re too busy putting everything they have into their work). It will have to be a way of life, which is hard. It’s hard to integrate something like that into your life and keep it there over the long term. But that’s the price. In magic, as in everything else, there’s always a price you have to pay.
So how much do you want magic? How much are you willing to sacrifice? How much are you committed to doing it, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly? Constant study? Constant practice and experimentation? Meticulous records and journaling? All while maintaining a mundane life, having a job, family, and friends who don’t know (and wouldn’t respect) a thing about it? You can do successful magic once, twice, maybe now and then. But if you want serious chops, you need to work at it and let nothing stand in your way.