in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: July 1, 2023

Podcast #454: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World

Magicians usually become magicians because they experienced a sense of wonder seeing a cool trick as a kid, and they want to re-create that awe for audience members on a regular basis.

But what happens when a professional magician stops feeling the magic of magic?

That happened to my guest today.

His name is Nate Staniforth, and he recently wrote a book titled Here is Real Magic. Today on the show, Nate shares how he got into magic and became a professional magician, only to become disillusioned with his career. Nate then talks about how he embarked on a search to re-discover the magic of magic, which took him to the slums of India where he encountered a three-thousand-year-old clan of fire-eating street performers, and re-kindled his sense of wonder. If you’re feeling burnt out from your work or disenchanted with life, this episode will have some insights for you. 

Show Highlights

  • How Nate got into magic as a career
  • What is it about magic that so entrances us? Especially as adults?
  • What’s the career path of a magician?
  • The workman-like approach that Nate takes to magic (and that pervades the industry) 
  • Is magic an art or a craft?
  • How did Nate’s wife feel about his being a magician?
  • Houdini’s influence on Nate
  • How Nate lost his wonder for his profession and became jaded
  • How magic is like a novel 
  • The 3,000-year-old tradition of magic in India (and how Nate ended up there)
  • Experiencing wonder and awe as an adult 
  • How Nate brought the wonder back to his day-to-day life 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover of " Here is Real Magic" by Nate Staniforth.

Connect With Nate

Nate on Twitter

Nate’s website 

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. Now magicians usually become magicians because they experience a sense of wonder, seen a cool trick as a kid. And they want to re-create that awe for audience members on a regular basis. But what happens when a professional magician stops feeling the magic of magic? That happened to my guest today. His name is Nate Staniforth. Today on the show, Nate shares how he got into magic and became a processional magician, only to become disillusioned with his career. Nate then talks about how he embarked on a search to rediscover the magic of magics which took him to the slums of India where he encountered a 3,000-year-old clan of fire-eating street performers and rekindled his sense of wonder. If you’re feeling burned out from your work or disenchanted with life, this episode is going to have some insights for you. After the show’s over, check out the show notes at And Nate joins me now via

Nate Staniforth, welcome to the show.

Nate Staniforth: Thank you very much for having me on.

Brett McKay: So you have a book out, Here is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World. I love this story. I’m a guy, I’m a romantic at heart. I love the idea of wonder and awe, but also I live in the 21st century, and so it’s easy to be cynical and jaded and you’re like, “Does wonder exist?” But you’re also looking forward at the same time. So this is your search. You’re a magician. You’re a guy who spends his career inducing wonder in people, but you had this moment where you lost the wonder and you went looking for it again. Before we get there, let’s talk about how you began a magician, because I think it’s interesting. How did you get into magic? Because every kid goes through a magic phase, I did. But, for some reason you had your magic phase and you decided I’m going to do this for the rest of my life. How did that happen?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, so just to touch on something you said there. Long before I knew anything about magic tricks, I loved the experience of being amazed and of feeling that sense of wonder or awe. And I feel like as a child, that comes relatively easy. When you’re young it’s easy to be amazed. And you notice that as you get older and older it becomes harder to find.

So, as a kid, I remember one night when I was young my parents took me out to see a meteor shower. It was the first time I’d seen the Milky Way. Because in the city, the city light obscures the sky. So all you can see is a few stars. But when you go out into the country it’s just, it’s staggering if you haven’t seen the Milky Way before, it just knocks you down. And I remember loving that experience so much, feeling like that was real magic. And then a few years later when I discovered magic tricks, the connection that I made in my mind was that the experience that you’re sharing with an audience, with a good piece of magic, is the same thing as you’re getting from the night sky, or a sunrise, or a sunset.

From the beginning, that was my interest in magic. Using the craft of the magician to share that experience and wonder with people.

Brett McKay: How did you discover magic? Were you one of those kids who watched David Copperfield on TV and you’re like, “I want to walk through the Great Wall of China like that guy, what happened?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, that came later. For me it was an accident. I ended up reading the Lord of the Rings. Those movies came out when I was a little bit older, but when I was young it was just the books. And I wanted to be able to cast spells the way that Gandalf the wizard did in the book. So, I ended up going to the library looking for a book of actual magic that I could do to people on the playground. And it turns out that’s not how it works. But I learned how to make a coin disappear, and that was pretty good.

Brett McKay: Now, I remember particularly the awe. When I went through my magic phase I checked out all the books in the library about magic tricks. And I remember when I learned how to do the French Drop, is that what it’s called?

Nate Staniforth: Sure, yeah.

Brett McKay: With the coin, where you make a coin disappear. I looked in the mirror, and the first time I did it and it looked like it disappeared, it blew my mind.

Nate Staniforth: Yeah. The thing you learn as a magician, the astonishing thing from the magician’s side of the performance is how little it takes to take a grown, educated adult and make them believe in magic for a moment. I remember my first piece of magic was very similar. It was a coin vanish, and I did it for the children at school just at recess. We were playing football, and I decided to make this coin disappear. And the kids saw it, and they didn’t know I was a magician. They didn’t know they were seeing a trick, so they just saw this coin disappear, and they started screaming and jumping and running around.

So the teacher on duty at the playground … I was terrified of this woman. She stormed over and demanded that I show her whatever I showed the kids to make them scream and run away. So I made the coin disappear for her as well. And this was not a lady that you ever messed around with. She was terrifying. I remember my hands were shaking when I did this trick for her. But when I opened my hand and showed her the coin was gone, and I looked up, it was like the transformation was total. She was no longer this authoritarian, dictatorial teacher of presence on the playground. It was like she was a little kid again. And that, far more than the secret to the trick, blew me away. That you could use anything and take someone through that transformation. That felt incredible to me.

Brett McKay: What do you think is going on there? Why do we feel wonder? Is it just like the mystery that we don’t know? What do you think is going on there?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a lot of things going on. But I think especially for adults, and I say this as an observation of my own experience as much seeing the people around me, but I know that in my life, I’m very good at making things ordinary. Humans are really good at getting used to things. When I think about my favorite moments, it’s those moments that have pulled me out of that sense of the ordinary. And magic is so good at doing that because it takes something that you think you know and turns it on its head right away. It’s almost like skydiving. I don’t know if you’ve been skydiving before but it is a total violation of everything you think you know about how you should behave. You know, because they open the airplane door, and you jump out and it’s just … that is such a … you don’t do that. You have to be crazy to do that. But when you make that jump, there’s this sense of freedom and release. And that’s how good magic feels as well.

Brett McKay: What’s the career path like to become a professional magician? Because that’s something I have no … If my kid said I want to become a magician, I would have no clue to tell them like, “Well, here’s your next steps.” What is that look like?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah. Well, I grew up in Iowa. And no one from Iowa grows up to become a professional magician. I think maybe if you grew up in New York or Las Vegas, or Los Angeles where there are other professional magicians, you could see someone else and try to copy their career path. But for me that just wasn’t the case. So I think in my experience, I just had to make it up as I went.

In my town, I grew up in Ames, Iowa. There was this athlete. He was in middle school when I was a kid, and then he went to high school. He was a phenomenal basketball player. The whole town would go out to watch him play. Then he got signed on to the local college team, and then he made it to the NBA. He’s the head coach of the Bulls now, Fred Hoiberg. But growing up and seeing this guy rise from a small town in Iowa to national superstardom, it was an incredible thing to see because it made me realize that even as a young magician, it’s okay to have an unusual job. It’s okay to do something that not everyone else is doing. I thought if he could make it to the NBA, maybe I could make it as a magician.

So I just started doing shows everywhere. I did them for birthday parties, and Cub Scout banquets. The advantage I had is that I was the only act in town. If you wanted to hire a magician for your children’s birthday party, even at age 11, I was the only option. I got in a great deal of experience, even by the time I finished high school, that allowed me to make the jump to becoming a professional. I think a little more intuitive. It didn’t seem like as big of a jump because I’d already had so much flight time.

Brett McKay: Did you go to college?

Nate Staniforth: I did, yeah. But I went because I got an acting scholarship, and I thought maybe I could learn something about becoming a great magician by studying stagecraft and dramatics. In the end, the best way to learn how to do magic for people is just to do magic for people.

Brett McKay: Do magic for people. I imagine it’s just you’re on the road a lot. Right? It’s just like constantly touring, correct?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, it is. I had this vision of having there be some point where you make it. Where you feel like you’ve arrived and finally you’re on tour. And that lasted for about a week. And after that I was just faced with the relentless reality of traveling 100 days a year, 150 days a year, 200 days a year. There’s a very small window of my day where I do the show, and the rest of my day was just dedicated to getting from one place to another.

Brett McKay: One place. So it’s a grind. And also, here’s another thing about magicians and performers, particularly magicians, they give off this aura of mystery. They make everything look effortless and easy. But we did this post on Harry Houdini. It’s with his work ethic, a couple years ago and researching it. I was blown away about how disciplined and how much willpower, and how much of a hard worker this guy was. It was mind-blowing. It was grind. Did you take that sort of workman-like approach to your magic as well?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, Houdini was my hero growing up, and I think for a lot of people. Here’s the thing about magic, there’s no practical reason to be a magician. If you want to be famous, there are far better ways to become famous. If you want to be rich, there are far better ways to become rich. So you only do magic if you love it. And some of the most hardworking people I know are magicians. Because it just takes an extraordinary amount of work. Not only to perform the shows and to go on tour, but to develop the material and to teach yourselves the skills that you need. So yeah, Houdini sort of set the example for everyone.

There’s a quote of his that I have on my studio wall. He says, “The real secret to my success is simple. I work from seven in the morning to midnight, and I like it.” I hit Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. You know you’ve that to become a master at anything you have to hit 10,000 hours. I hit that when I was 22. I think that’s true for most magicians who are serious about it. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work.

Brett McKay: Right. So this is kind of interesting … I mean, it kind of raises the question, is magic like an art or is it more of a craft like plumbing or carpentry?

Nate Staniforth: It’s both. And I think the reason I love it, or one of the reasons I love it, as a profession is it’s both. It’s sort of like building a cathedral. First, you need to have this grand, aesthetic vision and this wonderful dream of how it will look when it’s done. You need that, otherwise, you’ll never build anything. But then you also have to become a bricklayer and actually start to make it and finish it. So I think I am similar to many other magicians in that the day is divided in two where every day I have a series of things that I have to practice just to keep my skills up. But then you also have to look at the long-term. What am I trying to build? What am I trying to create? How do I want this to feel? That allows you to create things on stage for people that really feel amazing.

Brett McKay: You also during this time when you were touring, you started touring, you got a girlfriend, you got married. What did your girlfriend think, now wife, things like you said, “I’m a professional magician?”

Nate Staniforth: We met while I was still in school, she was in school as well. And before I had made the jump to becoming a professional. I think we both knew what we were getting into a little bit. But it is unusual. That first year I was on the road all the time. It’s certainly hard being away from home so often.

I will say though that I think it’s important to keep it in perspective. Going on tour is hard, but it’s not like fighting in Afghanistan. There are many couples who have it much harder than we did. And so, yes it’s hard to be apart, but I don’t want to whine about it because we both signed up for it. And it turned out all right.

Brett McKay: All right. You became a magician because you love that feeling of wonder, awe, that you experienced when you did a trick where you saw the look on other people’s face where they were just like blown away, their minds blown. Got in it for that reason. You hit the road. You reached a point where you lost it. Tell us about that moment when you finally realized, I just don’t feel the magic anymore in magic.

Nate Staniforth: Well, so, let me say this first. I think most professions have this problem where they … On the outside it looks glamorous, and it looks wonderful, and exciting. And that sort of glittering veneer conceals a grinding day to day reality within. I don’t know anything about being an architect. I think on the outside, being an architect looks amazing. But I’m sure there are probably vast swathes of the job that are tedious and very much a grind. And the same is true for being a magician. We’ve already spoken about the rigors of travel and the amount of practice time that it takes. But I found … As soon as I graduated from college I jumped into the world of touring as a magician, and after five years I was just burnt out. I’d thrown myself at this. I dedicated my entire life to this. And I was tired.

For someone whose job depends on being able to share that experience of wonder, none of it felt very amazing at all. And there’s one night when I was on stage in Milwaukee. I had been on the road for a long time, and in the middle of the show I Just stopped and I said, “I’m sorry. I’m done. I’m going to go, good night.” And I went back to my hotel room not knowing what to do. Because I felt like whatever ship I was on was sinking. And I needed to figure something else out.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s why I love this book because I think that happens, like you said, it happens to everybody. They get a profession or they start this thing that they love but then they lose the spark and it becomes a grind. What’s compelling about your story is that your whole job is to convey magic. Right?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Convey that feeling and you lost it too.

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, that’s right. When you lose that spark in another profession you can maybe fall back on the craft. Or even just feeling like you’re doing something useful for the world. But as a magician when you lose that sense of that spark or that sense of wonder about the work, that’s the very heart of the profession that you lose. I felt like I was such a phony on stage, because I was trying to give people this experience that I couldn’t feel at all. A magician has to believe in the magic on some level or it doesn’t feel like magic. It just feels like a trick. Nobody likes being tricked. Nobody likes being deceived. But a great magician can use that craft of deception to give you something real. Sort of like fiction, right. Like a good novelist can make up the entire story. Magic is fake in the same way that a novel is fake. But that doesn’t matter, you’re using it to give the audience something real. But as a magician when you become disconnected from that sense of wonder, the whole thing just falls apart.

Brett McKay: Has this ever happened to other magicians? Like, did this happen to Houdini for example? Did he get jaded about the profession?

Nate Staniforth: He did. Most people don’t know this about Houdini but he spent the last, I don’t know, a third of his career trying to get out of the magic business. And you can read his letters. And he talks about the rigors of being on the road and how exhausted he is.

He tried to get into the movie business. He started the Houdini Motion Picture Corporation because he wanted to find another way to work. And yeah, I think it is, as we said, I think it’s a liability in any job, but it’s especially true for the magician because of the importance of wonder and feeling that when you’re trying to give it to the audience.

Brett McKay: What did you tell your wife when you said, “You know, I don’t know if I can do this anymore?”

Nate Staniforth: She’d been part of the process the whole time, talking while I’m on the road and you call home. And then when I’m home … At first I was thrilled to go out on tour. Then I was ambivalent about it, and then I dreaded it. It was like a death sentence watching that date come closer and closer on the calendar. And I think she wanted me to figure it out too. Because no one wants to live with someone who’s just miserable about their work all the time. So she was totally on board with me finding a way to sort of dream it all up again, and find a new way to approach my craft. But yeah, I certainly didn’t know what to do.

Brett McKay: Well, the one thing you came up with which out of the blue is like, “I’m going to go to India.”

Nate Staniforth: Right.

Brett McKay: The last of mystery. Where did-

Nate Staniforth: Honestly, it was a coincidence. Sometimes the universe is just an amazing place and incredible things happen on their own. On tour there’s plenty of time to read because you get sick of playing games on your phone very quickly. So, I just read a lot when I was on the road, in the hotel, or on the airport, in the airplane, or backstage after a show, or before a show. And on the leg of the tour where I quit in the middle of the show, I just happened to be reading this, it was a academic text about traditional Indian street magic. And so when I left the theater and went back to my hotel, I was laying on the bed in like a Super 8 or whatever it was, reading this book about traditional Indian street magic.

The whole thing started as this crazy idea. What if I leave this whole world of touring in America behind, and forget everything I know about being a professional magician, and travel to the other side of the world, and try to dream it all up again? The mission statement at the beginning was how can I put myself back into the mindset of being in the audience? Maybe I could go … Because India has this tradition of magic that’s famous in the world of magicians. So I wanted to go see snake charmers, and fire breathers, and street performers, and see anything that would amaze me, to try and rediscover why I liked magic in the first place.

Brett McKay: The one trick that you described that sounded brutal, but I never knew existed was like, is it the resurrection trick that happens in India?

Nate Staniforth: It has a few different names, yeah. I mean, the thing you have to understand about the magic that I saw over there is that it’s 3,000 years old. There’s a tradition of magic that stretches back for 3,000 years with the secrets passed from the parents to their children and then over and over and over again. To be fair, some of those illusions look like they’re 3,000 years old. When I saw them with modern eyes sort of looking with all the experience I had as a magician, some of it wasn’t amazing at all. But there were a few pieces that were just staggeringly good.

Yeah, one of them is where you … So, usually the magician works with his son. It’s a combination act where the son is the assistant. But I saw … and it was brutal, the father took a sword, and seemingly butchered his child. And there was this boy who’s bleeding, just lying on the ground, and he covers him with a sheet and brings him back to life. You can imagine how 2,000 years ago, 3,000 years ago if you saw that in a village it would just feel like a miracle.

Brett McKay: Well, what is the tradition of magic in India? So, it’s old. They’re performing these street tricks, the cobra stuff, the rope, and I guess that really didn’t happen, you talk about it in the book, but this thing.

Nate Staniforth: Yeah. The rope trick is a hoax, right. But let me say this. Every culture in the world has its own culture and tradition of magic. It’s just like food or theater or music. Magic is a cultural expression as much as the other art forms. And so, magic in one culture would look different than magic in another culture. And in India, there’s this tradition of these nomadic tribes of street performers that would travel around the country performing from village to village. And so much of their material reflects the challenges of living in a place like India where it’s hot, and sometimes you’re faced with extreme poverty or lack of nutrition.

So an illusion they performed is they show a basket that’s empty, and they cover it with a cloth. And they open it up and it’s filled with food. And they pass all the food around. And they show a bowl that’s empty, totally empty, and they cover it with cloth, and it’s filled with water and everyone can have something to drink. It’s very far removed from the world of card tricks that sprung up in Europe, but I thought it was fascinating. I went there looking for those illusions. But what I found very quickly was that … and I found them and they were great. But even more amazing than the magic that I saw was the culture of India and the people of India, and the experience of traveling in a place that was so different from my own country and my own culture. I was totally out of my element.

And as a result, I couldn’t fall back on any of the sort of, I don’t know, patterns or behaviors that you normally use in your own culture. Everything was new, and everything was different. I felt like I had to pay attention, and I was alert and awake. And that more than the magic I saw was unbelievably wonderful.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great … Wonder is experiencing something new, so by putting yourself in a completely foreign situation you’re more likely to experience that.

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, it’s like what we were speaking about earlier, how if it’s true that as adults we become very good at making things ordinary. And one of the ways you can break yourself out of that is by plunging yourself into an environment where nothing is ordinary. As a result, you’re not living from moment to moment on your certainties, but instead on your instincts and your observations.

Magic and travel are very similar. And that they both can deliver this cataclysmic death blow to your sense of certainty about the world and your place in the world. So rather than living in the story that you tell yourself about the world all the time, you’re just living in the world itself. And that is amazing.

Brett McKay: What I thought was interesting is India has this reputation of being this land of mystery and wonder. But when you got there, you described how people in India were actually pretty ambivalent about that reputation. In fact, they try to be like, they go out of the way, it’s like, “No, we’re scientific. We don’t believe in that stuff. Those are just tricks.” What do you think is going on there?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah. I think that the image of India as a land of mystery is antiquated and outdated, and has its roots in a lot of questionable colonial practices from so long ago. It was easy for the European powers to embrace rationalism and science in their own culture, and to say that anyone who didn’t live like that must live in a land of mystery. But India is a modern superpower, and the people I met were quick to assure me that the reputation of India as a land of mystery is just a fabrication. Some of them loved seeing magic and some of them didn’t. Just like in America, just like in the United Kingdom.

I want to be clear that I didn’t go to India because I thought that it was a land of mystery. I went because I wanted to find those people who were performing the illusions that I was reading about in the book. And I could’ve gone anywhere. If I was reading a book about traditional Japanese magic, I would’ve gone to Japan or China. I just got lucky and went to India.

Brett McKay: What are these street magicians, have their tradition goes back thousands of years, when you told them like, “I too am a magician,” how did they receive you?

Nate Staniforth: Well, let me set the stage just a little bit. At the end of the book that I was reading, there was this lengthy interaction with one of the tribes of traveling street magicians that has settled in a slum outside New Delhi called Shadipur Depot. And when I finished the book and decided that I was going to go to India, I wrote the author of the book an email and said, “Listen, I’m going over there. Are you still in touch with any of these people? And could you facilitate an introduction?” And that worked out. So on my trip, I knew that I had to be on a particular corner, at a particular day, at a particular time. And the leader of this tribe would take me in and talk to me about his illusions, and I get to see all the stuff that I read about.

I had never been in a slum before. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was like, you look at those pictures of Dresden that was bombed in World War II, and that’s the closest thing that I can … It was just rubble and garbage and tarps forming houses. And in this wasteland of an environment, I discovered one of the most kind, welcoming families you could possibly imagine. When they discovered that I was a magician, and I wanted to talk with them about magic, they welcomed me into their home like I was a long-lost member of their family. And I thought I was just going to speak for an hour, and I spent the whole day with them. And they cooked this enormous feast, and showed me all of the magic that I wanted to see. And they also wanted to see the magic that I did. Some of the pieces in my show have their roots in that traditional Indian magic.

It was incredible for me to be able to show them my version and they could show me theirs. We had nothing in common. I’m a magician from Iowa, and they live in a slum outside New Delhi. We had nothing in common but magic but that was enough.

Brett McKay: As you described that, they’re living in the slum, yet they’re able to make a life for themself. Right? I mean, that’s magic. That’s like alchemy. You turn lead into gold.

Nate Staniforth: That’s exactly it. It felt like an actual miracle. And I’ll tell you what’s even more amazing. The leader of that tribe works as a magician in India. He performs at parties, he performs wherever he can. He just hustles for a living. He hustles like you would not believe. And he saved enough money to wire his home in the middle of the slum with internet access. So that he could using the internet and a computer that he was able to afford, after just saving up after show, after show, after show so his children could learn online and hopefully have a better life. When I saw that, and I understood just from speaking to him what he had to do to make that possible. How many people see that slum and just dismiss it as like I said a wasteland, not knowing that inside there’s this family who are making this incredible life for themselves and for their children?

I was there almost a decade ago, and I think about that every day. It was just remarkable.

Brett McKay: So was it the experience in the totality or was there like a moment where you saw an illusion and you were like, you were wow or was it both?

Nate Staniforth: I mean, In the book, I talk about some of the illusions that they showed me. And they were remarkable, and there’s one in particular, I saw their version of the fire breathing illusion that I still can’t explain to this day. But far more amazing than any of the magic I saw were the people themselves, how in this incredibly tough, I mean just unbelievably tough, I’d never seen anything like it, that they were able to create this life for themselves and … I guess I didn’t know what to expect, and the reality that I discovered blew me away. That was far more amazing than any of the magic that I saw.

Brett McKay: I’ve talked to other people who’ve had this similar experience. They weren’t a magician but they somehow got disenchanted with life. And so they go on this trip or journey and they experience that transformative moment where they rediscover wonder again. Now, the hard part it seems is like how do you bring that back with you to your ordinary world? You had that feeling in India, but at some point you had to return to Ames, Iowa. How did you take that back with you?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah. It’s one thing to be amazed on the other side of the world when you’re living out of a backpack traveling through the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. It’s another thing, as you said, to bring it back to Iowa. I think that’s probably the main idea that I came home with. That I went to India to rediscover the sense of wonder, but you don’t have to go to India. You can find that same spark that I was looking for anywhere. You can find it in music or movies or basketball or poetry or mountain tops, your sunrises, your sunsets. It’s more about how you look than where you look. And even more than that it’s about remembering to look.

I know in my own experience how easy it is to disappear into the to-do list of every day, and to break every day into nothing more than a list of things that I want to work and do and accomplish and that’s it. You can lose a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, or a lifetime without ever pulling your head out of that machine and looking around.

And the idea I came home with was if you stop and try to find that sense of wonder and awe, wherever you are, you will find it. You just have to remember to look for it. There’s that Joseph Campbell quote, I’m going to butcher this, but he said something like, “People talk about searching for the meaning of life, but what they’re actually looking for is the rapturous joy of feeling alive.” When I think back on my time in India, and also just my experience as a human being, my favorite moments aren’t my victories. You know the moments where I feel like I’ve succeeded at something. They’re the moments where I feel like I’m most awake, and alert, and alive. People find that in all sorts of ways. But for me, the single greatest distinction between having that in my life and not having that in my life is the daily practice of looking for it. If you look for it, you’ll find it. It’s just you have to remember to look.

Brett McKay: Where do you look on a day to day basis?

Nate Staniforth: So many places. I think travel is still a very good way of doing that. But I have two young children now. And the youngest, who’s three, has this routine that he does every night before bed he insists on going out to say goodnight to the stars. And it sounds sort of ridiculous. It sounds like a cliché, until you try it, and then it doesn’t sound like a cliché anymore. Then it doesn’t feel like a cliché. Every night when we go outside and just you make two minutes before going to bed, you just carve out two minutes to go up and look outside and remember that it goes on forever above you, and forever below you, and forever all around, and somehow you are here to be a part of this. That has influenced me as much as going to India.

Anyway, I’m grateful to him for wanting to do that. Because when it’s cold, when it’s late, when I’m tired, I don’t want to do that. But having him insist on going out to say goodnight to the stars has been very good for me, certainly.

Brett McKay: Yeah, having kids definitely can help you find the one … Because they’re looking, they can see it. Right?

Nate Staniforth: Yeah, they can see it. I remember when I was a young kid. As a young magician, you see … Here’s what happens. As a kid, you see how the adults in your life act all the time. Teachers, parents, grandparents, neighbors. But the young magician gets this sort of window into a different side of the adults in your life. Because when you show them a piece of magic, for a second they’re not adults anymore. You get to see this glimpse of how they were when they were kids. I talked about that teacher on the playground when I made the coin disappear. But I saw that hundreds of times. And it makes you realize as a young kid looking forward towards adulthood that you lose something when you become an adult. And my interest in magic was, as much in that as anything, what do you lose? What have these people lost? What happened to you? And how can you get it back?

Brett McKay: How is your career as a magician looking like now?

Nate Staniforth: I just had this book come out, and so writing a book it’s a all-encompassing experience in a way that I did not expect. At first I was writing while I was on tour, and I’d go back to the hotel room afterwards and write for an hour. And then again when I woke up the next morning before the flight. But to finish the book I stopped touring and just finished, just wrote. When the book came out in January, I went back on the road again, and I’m about to start my fall tour. I’m in this strange spot right now where I write books, and I tour as a magician, and I’m making it up as I go. But I love it, and I feel very lucky that I get to do all of this.

Brett McKay: You feel like the magic’s back in your magic?

Nate Staniforth: It is, yeah. I feel like after having finished the book I can see the magic in a way that I couldn’t see it before. I know what I’m shooting for, and I think I know how to hit it.

Brett McKay: Well Nate, is there some place people go to learn more about your work?

Nate Staniforth: I think the best place is just the book. I put everything that I have to say about magic, and wonder, and disillusionment, and rediscovering wonder in your daily life. All of that is in the book. So if you’re interested, it’s called Here is Real Magic. You can find it on Amazon or at any bookstore. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

Brett McKay: Nate Staniforth, thanks for coming on. It’s been a pleasure.

Nate Staniforth: Thank you so much.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Nate Staniforth. He’s the author of the book Here is Real Magic. You can find out more information about his work at You can find the book on And also check out our show notes at where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at And if you enjoyed the show, you got something out of it, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.

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