Every great magic trick consists of three acts—the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. We as developers can learn the principle behind the magic and use it to get “the Prestige”.
“The Prestige” is one of my favorite movies. I love an entertaining story with a rich plot, and that movie is a hundred percent like this.
The main character unexpectedly achieves the most important win in his life. How did he do it? I won’t tell you here—you’ll have to watch it yourself to figure it out. The movie is totally worth it.
What software developers can learn from the movie and what we too often ignore in our careers?
The Pledge: Don’t Be Fooled By Instant Gratification
“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because, of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”
– Cutter, The Prestige
We tend to look for shortcuts—quick ways to get what we want. New technologies are teaching young people that they get everything instantly.
Instant noodles, instant shopping, instant access, instant messaging, instant response.
This is not how things work. The magic happens privately, almost imperceptibly. It is easy to overlook this universal principle because we want to be fooled.
We always hear the end story—Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michale Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo, Muhamed Ali. We rarely pay attention to the story before the “overnight success” because we want to be close to them as “instantly” as possible.
We should not blame ourselves, at least personally. This all comes from mass media, culture, and the environment. Just think of the phrases we hear so often, like “Because you’re worth it” and “Obey your thirst.” A slogan like that trains us to want instant gratification. We have no time to wait!
The way out from this trap is to see the value of ordinary things—practicing, reading books, asking questions, and learning from mentors and peers.
The Turn: Seek Private Wins Before Public Wins
“No one cares about the man in the box, the man who disappears.”
– Robert Angier, The Prestige
Turn what everyone considers extraordinary into your ordinary things.
The trick is to start to appreciate winning privately before trying to achieve public wins. Every achievement will look like you did it in a matter of months, days, hours, or moments, but the truth is that your achievement is just the tip of what you have done for years or even for your whole life.
Sometimes even bad things that have happened to us are the catalyst for our success. Life doesn’t happen to you—it happens for you.
No one sees your private wins, which makes it hard to keep putting effort into those wins. These include things like making your first pet project (even if no one is interested), completing another course, finishing another book, reading an article a day, and so on.
We all seek public wins, but the source of them is private ones.
Often we may find ourselves alone doing things that others don’t seem to do. This can be disappointing, but it’s actually a good sign—as a result, we will get something better than what everyone else has.
The Prestige: Focus on the Journey, Not Just the Goals
“The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.”
– Alfred Borden, The Prestige movie
Sometimes it seems like your efforts result in nothing for a really long time—for weeks or even months.
Most people stop there, settle with mediocrity, and make trade-offs with their desired outcomes. Don’t make that mistake.
During a gold rush, one man found a vein of gold, borrowed money from relatives for equipment, and started mining with his nephew. The first supply of gold ore was very successful. With just a couple more supplies, he would be able to cover all his debts and start making a net profit. But then the vein of gold ore disappeared. He drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again, but to no avail.
You can guess what happened next—he quit. He sold his equipment to a junkman and went back home to where his debts were waiting for him.
The junkman made a good move. He hired a mining engineer who advised him to make a mine three feet away from the original place. With the equipment that he paid almost nothing for, he found the mine and earned millions of dollars as a result.
The story might have ended here. But the nephew of that failed gold miner learned a bitter lesson that changed his life:
Never stop when things go wrong.
That nephew became a famous insurance salesman who sold more than a million dollars in life insurance annually. His name is R. U. Darby.
When you’re too focused on goals, the frustration of not achieving them can crush you. Goals are great and you should know them clearly, but your focus should be on the journey.
Aim to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome.
Persistence is the second ingredient.
Patience is the last one.
The result is appreciation—and anything that you want from your career. Become a CTO of a big company. Receive huge paychecks. Work from anywhere for companies with an amazing culture. Be a top freelancer with a queue of clients who offer you interesting projects. Have the time and money to contribute to open-source projects. Work less. Achieve anything you can imagine.
People naturally want to be appreciated, and we software developers are no exception. But the path to appreciation is paved with practice and effort. So how do you make that path an enjoyable ride?
Start with “the pledge” by doing ordinary things that bring you closer to the desired result.
Next comes “the turn”. Commit to transforming extraordinary things into ordinary things. Read every day. Attend every possible event. Challenge yourself with 100 days of some coding language. Learn from an exceptional mentor. Do things that inspire you.
The final step is “the prestige.” Remember your goals but focus on progress. The journey is a lot more fun that way, and fun can make a huge difference in the end result!
After you humbly do what it takes to pursue private wins—“the turn”—then “the prestige” will come, bringing with it appreciation and everything else that comes as a result. This may happen suddenly, even for us, and will make others feel that our success is instant. Simply a magic trick.
“Simple maybe, but not easy.”
– Alfred Borden, The Prestige
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