Life is not a Fairy Tale

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein

“Life is not a fairy tale.”

I knew somebody who used to say this. She said it in reference to the life I was living. The over the top, seemingly glamorous life of wining, dining and buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

Flying as high as I could possibly go.  Nothing could bring me down. I flew higher and higher, ignoring the ground beneath me. Nobody knowing that I was flying on the wings of fear, insecurity and unworthiness.  I didn’t know that, how could anyone else?

And then the arrest.  My wings clipped I came crashing to the ground.

I went to prison. My wife divorced me. I am financially ruined. I will forever be labeled as a criminal.

Life is not a fairy tale.

And yet, even with all that I have experienced I would argue differently.

Life is a fairy tale.

We have a common misconception of the fairy tale. In the Americanized version there is always a happy ending.  But, there are more than one type of fairy tale.  In the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, in their original unadulterated form, there is sadness,violence, loss and tragedy.

Bad things happen.

The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson did not talk down to children. They did not sanitize their words to make them safer and to shield children from the harsh realities of the world.

What they did was teach children that it is not the tragedy that matters, but the importance of how one navigates through tragedy.

This is where strength is grown. This is where character is created. This is where one finds out who they really are.

It is through tragedy and adversity where resilience is born. It is through tragedy and adversity where we learn that both the worst of life and the best of life can come from the same source.

Pixar has a formula in which they model every one of their stories around. It is simple in its overall premise, complex when you actually think about it and go through the steps your self.

There are three acts to a Pixar story:

Act 1: The protagonist is called to adventure and accepts the adventure.  The rules of the world are established, and the end of Act 1 is in the inciting incident.

Act 2: The protagonist looks for every comfortable way to solve the problem. By the climax , they learn what it is really going to take to solve the problem. This act includes the lowest of the low.

Act 3: The protagonist needs to prove they have learned the lesson, usually showing a willingness to prove this at all costs. This is all about redemption – an enlightened character knowing what to do to resolve a conflict.

These three acts are heavily based on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.  The hero’s inner journey is as follows:


  1. Limited awareness of problem
  2. Increased awareness of need for change
  3. Fear, Resistance to change
  4. Overcoming Fear
  5. Committing to Change
  6. Experimenting with new conditions
  7. Preparing for major change
  8. Big change with feeling of life and death
  9. Accepting consequences of new life
  10. New challenge and Re dedication
  11. Final attempts, last-minute dangers
  12. Mastery


I am using this as a narrative tool of my journey, I am in no way referring to myself as a hero.

In the Pixar scenario I am in Act 2. In Campbell’s inner journey I vacillate between the middle numbers. I am still resistant to some change while I am also committed to change.  I am still overcoming fear. I am experimenting with new conditions.

But what I am realizing is that it does not matter where I am in the journey.

What matters is the journey itself.

I don’t know if there will be a happy ending. Nor does that matter.  I am not looking for a happy ending. Why would I look so far into the future, one in which anything can happen, at an ending I cannot predict when so much magic is happening right now?  I’d like to think that by doing what I am doing now that I will have some impact on my future and that it will be a happy one. But, in reality, I don’t know.

But what I do know is this.  It is about now. This moment. And at this exact moment I am writing this, and I am doing something I love. That is what matters.

Both Pixar and The Hero’s Journey have happy endings. The fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson seemingly do not. I would make the case that they do.

To understand that the beautiful and the horrible can both come from the same source is powerful.  That to navigate through adversity and come out stronger on the other side is transformative.

It is what you do with your circumstances that matters, not the circumstances.  It is enjoying the journey and experiencing all that you can that matters.

That is a happy ending to me.


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