Real Life

Phil Stutz describing the 96-Hour Academy Awards Principle to Kim Masters on KCRW’s The Business (April 4, 2011):

My rules of life are there’s uncertainty, there’s pain and it requires constant effort. You can’t abrogate those rules. I don’t care how many Academy Awards you’ve won. I find the high lasts roughly 96 hours. After that, the person’s a little bit stunned because life is going on just as it was, they just can’t believe it. And once in a while, they’ll really crash badly. The principle isn’t a treatment for it. I just try to warn them in advance. If they get nominated, I put them in the army to prepare.

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Barry Michels describes the Realm of Illusion:

Our culture denies reality. It suggests that you can live in a world that is free of hardship. The media portray the beautiful people who inhabit this world. Their lives seem like glossy magazine photographs—airbrushed, like a “perfect moment” frozen in time. Phil Stutz was the first person I heard give this mythical world a name: the Realm of Illusion. We’re trained to feel like failures if our lives don’t resemble this ideal world.

But there’s a way to accept the imperfections of real life and still feel good about yourself: First, you must face the truth about reality.

Phil encapsulated this truth in the drawing above. The Realm of Illusion is depicted above the line. The stick figure is you on a quest for the perfect life (symbolized by the square with the dotted line). This realm is just an image. It has no more depth or movement than a still photograph.

Real life is below the line. Each circle represents an event (one project, one confrontation, even one day). The black dots inside each circle are turds. That means that no event is perfect; pain, uncertainty, loss are always with us. But, whether you consider an event a success or a failure, life will keep moving and produce another event. It’s this constant movement that gives life its creative power.

Look at the picture every morning. It reminds you that the Realm of Illusion doesn’t exist. No one’s life is without turds, no matter how successful people appear to be. Practice projecting yourself into the illusion at the top and then forcing yourself downward into the flawed (but alive) reality at the bottom. You’ll develop the following strengths:

  1. You’ll become more accepting of yourself and stop judging yourself against an impossible standard.
  2. You’ll deal with difficulties calmly and rationally as a natural part of life.
  3. You’ll begin to feel a sacred kind of wisdom in events, even the bad ones. This builds faith.

See also: “Hollywood Shadows: A Cure for Blocked Screenwriters,” by Dana Goodyear, New Yorker, March 21, 2011

Stutz, P., & Michels, B. (2012). The tools: Transform your problems into courage, confidence, and creativity. New York: Spiegel & Grau. (publisherlibrary)