The Magician, the second of the Major Arcana cards of the Tarot, is known for bridging the gap between illusion and reality through power, skill, and sleight of hand. As I reflect on my life through the lens of the Tarot, I am amazed at how many of the people who have informed who I have become have also turned out to be characters in the deck.
My Grandfather was a magician. Every year he arrived at my birthday party decked out in a cape and top hat to present a magic show for my friends. Colorful scarves magically appeared from the tip of his wand. He made coins come out of our ears and noses. He did card tricks. And he even pulled a (stuffed) bunny out of his hat. We never, ever, questioned his magic – it was the real deal for us.
I have an old Polaroid snapshot of us kids all looking up at the show in amazement. I love that picture – there is something about the looks on our faces, the belief in our eyes, our imaginations on fire. There is an ethereal quality to the photograph as if something else is at play in my living room. And, indeed, there was something else at play – that things are not always as they seem. Our ideas about the truth, what was real, were being transformed right before our little eyes – by someone who played at the edges of two extremes.
By day, my Grandfather was an accountant. His job was exacting, rigorous, and uncompromising – there was no gray area, the numbers had to add up. By night, he was a magician, a job that was fantastical, illusory, a play in an alternative reality. But these outward opposites were actually two sides of the same coin – it takes a tremendous amount of attention to detail to be a skillful accountant and a successful magician. I used to think his life was one big contradiction, but perhaps it wasn’t. My Grandfather applied his abilities in distinct disciplines and left us wondering how he did it – the real trick of the Magician.
In college, I majored in psychology and minored in classic literature. I read Dante’s Inferno, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Paradise Lost while I carefully worked through the thinking of Freud, Maslow and Jung. I thought about pursuing a graduate degree in psychology but decided to go to Wall Street instead – it was high energy, smart, and exciting. Yet, on some level, it was incongruous. What is a psych major doing in finance?
It turns out psychology is a great tool – work is all about people and psychology is all about people too! As I moved up through the management ranks, it helped to be a good listener and have an understanding of what makes people tick. In a demanding, challenging, and unyielding environment, I became a successful banker and a skillful (if unlicensed) psychologist.
The Magician demonstrates this with his power to change our ideas about what we “think” is “right.” Were it not for my Grandfather, I probably would not have had the courage to take a job in finance. I was willing to accept what appeared to be a paradox. And it worked – I influenced my colleagues by changing their perceptions about what success looked like on Wall Street.
If we are able to accept the notion that two things that don’t appear to go together can actually stand side by side, there is a better chance that we will understand each other and ourselves. Because it is never just this or that, up or down, black or white, heaven or earth, illusion or reality. It is always both.
As a little girl, my grandfather gifted me more than just his magic show. His influence was greater than he could have ever imagined. His legacy reminds me to always ask questions, never settle for the obvious answer, always perfect my skills, never accept mediocrity, and always be on the lookout for the Magician.
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