You know that myth about humans only using ten percent of their brains? Mages are the sort of fantastical people you might wind up with if that were actually true, and if we could somehow unlock that dormant ninety percent. Simply put, the Mage is a power fantasy of the tapping of latent potential. (And while I'll use the words "Mage" and "Awakened" here, all of this thinking applies in large part to Proximi also.)
Imagine your idealized self. The one who never slacks off, never underperforms, never chickens out, never neglects relationships, never shirks either responsibility or creative passion. The one who went and did that thing you always wanted to do but never got around to doing. Think of how you've felt at the times in your life when you've been closest to matching that ideal vision of yourself in your head: the wild exhilaration of staggering success, the revelation in victory against the odds, the feeling of being able to take on absolutely anything and come out on top.
Mages feel like that all the time. They're human beings who have truly realized their potential to be everything they can possibly be. Humanity perfected. The Awakened are always in the zone. They walk around with the fire of raw creation burning in their veins, tickling at their fingertips. With everything they do, everything they see, their minds are constantly awash with the wondrous possibility of twisting the world into a better version of itself. Their wish for infinite wishes has been granted.
As a rule, then, Mages are typically more confident, fiery, passionate, and enthusiastic than regular people--certainly, in each individual case, much moreso than that same individual would have been without the Awakening. They're on a constant runner's high, feeling more vigorous and alive than Sleepers can imagine. And like any high, that gets addictive.
If the Awakening is the unlocking of latent potential, then the life of a Mage is a constant effort to squeeze out the last bit of toothpaste from the tube. By their very nature--the earnest passion which caused them to Awaken in the first place--a Mage feels a constant need for more. They're already the best they can be, yes, but true to human nature they're not satisfied with even that. They want to be even better. They need to be even better.
Every Mage is a star about to go supernova--an engine of divine fire on the brink of destroying itself.
Part Two: Obsessions Are Called That for a Reason
The Mage is every bit as much an addict as the Vampire, but their need is less obvious and intuitive than the Kindred's simple directive to drink blood. So, what satisfies a person who is addicted to the raw power of the Supernal?
It's common knowledge that Mages are curious people, but too often the impression given here is one of the detached scholar in his laboratory, pulling wings off flies because he can, seeking knowledge for its own sake just because he likes to know things. But that's hard to relate to, and that's not what's happening here. Mages don't seek knowledge because they're nerds (even if lots of them happen to be nerds). They seek it because knowledge is the path to power. Every revelation is a burst of energy, a cell of fuel for the engine. Every lesson learned boosts Gnosis, which directly deepens the well of power from which the Mage can draw. If you had a genie who granted wishes for every A you got in Math, you'd have studied a lot harder, wouldn't you?
But for Mages, it's not as easy as cracking open a book and reading a few chapters. No, real knowledge--the kind that leads to Gnosis--has to be experienced, and divine fire is a beast not easily tamed. The kind of knowledge Mages seek comes from dark and dangerous places, from puzzles no one has yet solved. These dangerous puzzles to which Mages are drawn are called Mysteries.
So if the Vampire is a heroin addict, the Mage is an adrenaline junkie. And just like the Vampire hunts mortals for blood, the Mage hunts Mysteries for knowledge. I'll repeat that: Mysteries are to the Mage what Vitae is to the Vampire. If you haven't read my Vampire guide, go do that now, and then come back and read the previous sentence again. Let it sink in. It's important.
Mages are compulsive puzzle-solvers, desperate investigators. They're like mice with electrodes hooked up to the pleasure centers of their brain, and the scientists are pushing the button every time they solve the maze. A Mage who encounters a potent Mystery will throw herself at it like a moth slamming itself into a window to get at the light bulb on the other side. And this is why they have Obsessions.
As should be clear from the word choice, an Obsession is more than an Aspiration. Obsessions represent that primal thirst for knowledge I just described. There is a reason that fulfilling an Obsession gives you Mana; by solving Mysteries, the Mage is literally fueling his Supernal Power. The need to fulfill an Obsession is never secondary. It is never an afterthought.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: more than anything else, Mages understand how to unlock potential--and more than anyone else, Mages understand intuitively that adversity is the path to improvement. To get better, to get more power, Mages need to become greater than themselves, to reforge themselves anew in the crucible of struggle. And this is the root of Obsessions.
Part Three: Wisdom and Hubris
Has a God Mode cheat ever ruined a game for you? It's an insidious thing. The first time you try it, it's just idle curiosity. But from that point on, any time you're playing the game normally, there's always that thought in the back of your mind how much easier it would be if you just flipped the God Mode switch. You see through the game, recognize it as a phony set of hurdles designed to simulate a challenge that doesn't really exist. The whole thing is cheapened, potentially stripped entirely of any pleasure or meaning. Imagine now that a brand new game you just started playing dangles the God Mode cheat in your face. Puts a button in the corner, one click away, with free and unlimited use to simply break the rules of the game and render any challenge trivial. Could you resist the temptation to activate it? Would there be a point to doing so?
That's the thing about Mages: they know the cheat codes to reality. The God Mode button is always there. Why not press it? Why not press it again?
Hubris is a subtle, creeping thing: a corrosive nihilism born of having too much power. Once you realize you can just magic your way through your problems, everything becomes a matter of simple expediency. Mages can brute-force their way through problems. Magic can steamroll over difficulties that would be lifelong struggles for Sleepers. And there's nothing to hold them in check, except for some tenuous grasp on the philosophy that struggle is the path to improvement and you shouldn't get complacent and blah blah blah who cares?
Inexperienced Mages tend to feel like they're not powerful enough, like there's always more they can do, like they need more fuel for their fires. Experienced Mages often wonder instead how to keep themselves in balance--how to keep the fire under control before it burns the house down. Because it will, if you let it.
Part Four: Bonds of Friendship: Mentors, Students, Sleepwalkers, and Proximi
Putting all of this together--the lust for power, the need to solve Mysteries and develop, the creeping dread of Hubris and the need to be kept in check for Wisdom's sake--it should be pretty easy to intuit why the Mentor-Student bond tends to be the absolute most important component of any Mage's life, and why most Mages keep in close touch with their teachers for their whole lives, even when they're well past the point of being able to learn anything new from them.
Early on, sure, it's a matter of learning rote spells and the Arcana. But a Mentor is so much more than a vehicle for learning spells. A Mentor is a stabilizing influence on a Mage's life. In early days, the Mentor not only teaches spells, but also sets the pupil on the path to Mysteries, guides him gently through points of confusion, helps him come to moments of Supernal revelation on his own. Later, she's a person who understands, who can see things more impartially or provide new perspectives on problems, who can counsel her student in the path of Wisdom even if she herself might fall prey to Hubris were she in her protege's position. She's a source of comfort in a chaotic world, the Mage's principal and only advocate, his defense attorney when the whole world has put him on trial.
The relationship is not one-sided, either. Taking on a pupil is a time-honored tradition among experienced Mages because seeing the wide-eyed wonder of the newbie helps to pull potentially power-mad Mages back from Hubris. Seeing the struggles of the student, the master is reminded that he too must struggle. The more the relationship develops, the more the master learns from the student, too--so that, when they are closer to equal in power, they can advise each other and keep one another in check.
For Mages, the importance of the teacher-student bond cannot be overstated. A Mage without a teacher or a pupil often comes unhinged, due to either the stagnation of failing to learn or the implosion of power unrestrained.
Sleepwalkers and Proximi can play these roles for Mages, too. Though neither of these groups is technically Awakened, each is likely to have had brushes with the Supernal without looking away, and each is likely to have come away with some understanding of it--some grasp of the Awakened's fire. A good Sleepwalker is a Squire to the Mage's Knight--carrying her spells like the Squire carries the Knight's arms, and providing a tether to the Sleeping world that will remind the Mage of her humanity. They're sort of like the companions on Doctor Who--ordinary (or closer to ordinary) people who remind the Doctor to do the right thing when he is about to go astray.