Uphills and Downhills; more thoughts from SXSW

March 18, 2007 — 3 Comments

I wanted to write a little bit more on my last entry, especially after some of the comments people left. One of the them reminded me of something I’d wrote to myself a few months ago, as I was just getting back into reading.

As you race, it matters only have you behave on the hills. Downhill–did you resist brashness, exhibit more control and discipline here than on the straight-aways. Ignore your impulse and shorten your strides. Uphill–did you clench your jaw, look down once and then lift your gaze to stare directly in to its eyes. Races are won here and not there–where it’s hardest to speed up, not where it’s easiest.

I learned that lesson in High School Cross Country and thought it was ridiculous. But as I’ve grown to see it as one of the greatest fungible truths I’ve ever known. When you practice restraint where it is easy to lose it and dedication where it is difficult to maintain it it, you gain instant advantage, both temporally and transcendentally. Of course, common sense seems to imply other wise–which is fine if you’re looking for common results.

I constantly struggled with the impulse for self-destruction. It is all too easy to get caught in the moment, to sprint down the hill, but that’s not an efficient, scalable strategy. It cannot be sustained, it’s not a life foundation. In a precarious or rare situation like the one I am in at Rudius–these dangers are real and tangible.

So when I find success or innovate or breakthrough, I struggle with how to distribute credit. It doesn’t matter if I was behind it, I feel more comfortable attributing credit to the writers I read, my mentors, my friends, or my girlfriend. On the shoulders of giants… I under to never understand people who thanked others when they clearly did all the work themselves. But now I see it’s an attempt to stay grounded–in a sense to maintain the mindset that generate the first success.

The last thing I ever want to be accused of is acting my age–it means I’ve sprinted where I should have pulled back. For this I am reluctant to declare much with certainty, regardless of how monumental a step may have been. In other words, by turning inwards and focusing, you capture and store the kinetic energy–literally turning it into potential for the future.

Understand: if you are weak and ask for little, little is what you will get. But if you act strong, making firm, even outrageous demands, you will create the opposite impression: people will think that your confidence must be based on something real. You will earn respect, which in turn will translate into leverage. Once you are able to establish yourself in a stronger position, you can take this further by refusing to compromise, making it clear that you’re willing to walk away from the table–and effective form of coercion. Robert Greene in 33 Strategies of War

Like Robert says, I think you become how you see yourself. And you literally are how your enemies or clients see you. You tell yourself you’re strong, act strong and they see you as strong. They based their actions on that perception. Perceptions are just as important as reality. The key is to get inside their OODA Loop–assuming they’d ignore me as a timid teenager–>making myself appear an equal or even a superior–>driving them towards a course of action beneficial to myself and Rudius.

Again, this is a risky strategy in that I’m reaching into Pandora’s box to grab my social mask. But when pursued with congruous moderation and restraint, I neutralize the tantalizing danger of delusion. And honestly, there really isn’t much pretending going on. Rather I am compensating for various social tendencies to discount the young. In making this a conscious strategy it becomes an asset, not a source of folly.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

3 responses to Uphills and Downhills; more thoughts from SXSW

  1. Deep. I really connected with this article in how it made me more conscious of how much effort I use to stabilize my internal focus when facing the fluctuating difficulties of everyday life. Low and high points, who doesn’t have them? But how many people deal with them in appropriate fashion?

    This must be a challenge that has existed ever since man found himself capable of enlightenment. I call it a challenge, a more positive connotation, as opposed to a problem because otherwise it seems too far out of reach to conquer, being something that I must face everyday of my life.

  2. With a little alteration, the last paragraph will be printed out and taped to my desk.

  3. Dude, as odd as it may sound, can I just say thankyou for your blog – you couldn’t possibly know the enormous impact you’ve had on me as a person. By introducing me to Aurelius and getting me reading Meditations – which is but one of countless things you’ve gotten me doing – you’ve been instrumental in my process of overcoming my various demons and becoming a man. I honestly hope you read this comment at some point, as I’m sure you will being who you are, and feel happy, because you honestly deserve happiness for all the help you’ve given me. I will read more, I will learn, and I will not be lazy and useless. I could never really tell you exactly the effect you’ve had – I’m still absorbing everything you’ve said (I re-read your old posts a lot), and I’m sure you’ve got a lot more to say. Keep writing – I owe you, and if there’s anything I can ever do to repay that debt, tell me. Have a good one.

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