May 19, 2008

I decided a while back that I wouldn’t become one of these people. I didn’t want to be a wunderkind. I wasn’t going to play off the cute little stories about prodigies and the blessed.

When I first started, I got to ride that wave a bit, I was the lucky kid that worked for Tucker Max. Then I got in over my head and it became a little harder to reduce it all to a couple of sentences. I lost shiny simpleness of a narrative.

The Executive’s big thing is being underestimated. As a rule, he almost never takes credit – the least of which includes not letting me use his real name. The idea is that ultimately it gives you the freedom to actually get things done. Tucker too – you’ve never seen Rudius Media mentioned in the press. They’ve been able to bifurcate themselves from their ego, to submit their emotions to strategy.

When someone doesn’t reckon you with the seriousness that you’d like, the impulse is to correct them. You want to remind them of what they’ve forgotten – your ego screams for you to indulge it. I think though, that when you really step back and think about it, you more often realize that you’ve just been handed an advantage. If you can not take it personally, if you can take the deep breath and hold your bearings, you buy yourself an incredible pocket of freedom.

It’s about taking some knocks in pursuit of a larger goal – in many cases, for a chance to develop. You can dull the jabs by anticipating them. For a young person I can tell you what you’ll see: Dismissals. The “why the fuck is he here?” looks. There’s the paranoia and secrecy. Little fuck yous that imply you don’t deserve to be there.

It sucks. Taking this path isn’t fun, young or old. You have to turn down press. You pass up open shots. You defer. You get yelled at. You pretend that you’re confused. You work for other people. You say that you don’t care.

I have so much I’d like to throw in people’s faces. I get to come on my own site and take shit about stuff that could be very easily cleared up. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t really say “what it is that I do.” It’s almost certainly limited the growth of this site. But I don’t and I won’t. And now it doesn’t bother me as much.

When you really think about it, there’s the taint of shamelessness that comes with holding yourself on high anyway. Do you want to be Robert Scoble or do you want to get things done? What the fuck do you care if someone toys with the illusion that you’re expendable? It’s been the hardest lesson I have had to learn. It goes against everything you feel inside. You have to quell deeply visceral impulses. I don’t think it’s so much something you master as it is an ongoing process of keeping your ego in check – making sure that you dictate it rather than the alternative.

If can get into that rhythm you burst into a strategic place that almost everyone else is excluded from. Their ego checks them at the door. Maybe it’s more fun on the outside, I don’t know. From everything I’ve seen though, if you want to stay lean and accomplished and motive you only have one option.

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.

15 responses to Ego

  1. That you’re aware of the bullshit rules of the game while learning within in it is admirable. Stop and think of the chumps walking the beaten track of mediocrity. You’re carving your own path, and from your writing here, it seems that your path is counterintuitive to the experiences and beliefs of those entrenched in the system.

    How long do you think it’ll take to replace those people, Ryan? A generation? Half?

  2. I find that you are the most happy when you define your life by your own rules, and exceed.

    Setting your OWN benchmark is the most important step you can take.

    You can measure your life against another mans, but you can not define it by it.

  3. Keep it up. Entries like this are why I keep coming back.

  4. In my neck of the woods, we call this remaining humble. If I let my ego inflate, if I start to believe anything I hear about myself, if I let myself believe that I don’t have at least 12 ways I could be a better person/ blogger/ employee/ friend, etc., then I’ve lost it. The moment I say “I have arrived” then I am gone.

    When you think you’ve got it, you don’t. When you think you don’t have it, you’ve got it.

  5. This post was good, if only for comment on Scoble. So true. Gets things done, or be obsessed with every little thing. Good post overall.

  6. Very cool post x

  7. Ryan,

    I agree that external attention can be distracting, both practically (spending time doing stupid interviews) and “emotionally” (becoming obsessed with how people perceive you, etc).

    Where I think this post is maybe a bit dishonest, though, is the first sentence: “I chose…”. By the sheer fact of having your own blog with your own name and writing your musings on the world, how, exactly, are you choosing not to be “one of those people”? What choice have you made that’s different than what anyone else has made? Have you said no to every single interview request, not answered any email to you from a blog reader, and tried to be as anonymous and “focused” as possible? Based on the very site this comment is being left on, I can’t see that being true.

  8. Ben – You know as well as I do that you’ll never be able to talk about half of the great stuff you’ve done. If you did, you wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.

    In my opinion, all this Gen Y, Millenial talk is bullshit. To the people who wake up and actually do stuff everyday – who have the ability or the power to move the needle – it is utterly irrelevant. Those are the people I’m talking about, let’s call them anyone who posts at this site:

    The reason they’re able to sit back and put everything in these neat little categories is because they look that way from a theoretical 10,000 ft view. Reality is much messier. And it almost never includes “The One Interview Question You HAVE to Know.” You talk to Brad Feld, you know how it actually is.

    Yes, the title of the post is Ego, but more specifically, I’m trying to explain that being a prodigy or kid who gets written up in the newspaper for their homeless charity is easy. It’s mostly fabricated anyway. I’m sure it feels really exciting too. But if you want to actually get in with power brokers and people compete at the highest levels, your best bet is to pass ALL of that up.

    Would you agree?

  9. Also by not insisting on taking the credit you can avoid being lumped in with those insecure people who demand or struggle for attention. You can gain respect because if doing something mildly important seems so casual to you maybe you spend time doing much more important things. And It also plays off the idea that if I treat is as not a big deal it becomes not a big deal and my self-confidence isn’t wrapped up in the outcome.

    All important things when conducting relationships

  10. you know what i love most about this blog that probably hasn’t been mentioned before? The tendency of it to almost always conclude before that square of advertisement.

  11. I agree that “talking” is easy, “doing” is hard, and if you spend all your time talking, you’re not doing.

  12. I love the stories about The Executive and how he thinks.



  13. Remember Boyd on being and doing.

    …all I see is that you took your fork in the road. You’ll be allright.

    You’re not going to be a publicised prodigy, so what. You’re not in it for the eyeballs, and you know it.

    Haven’t you said it so many times?

    In a Marcus Aureleus-esque narrative to yourself.

    Not to care about all that comes from it.

    But to lead a good life.

    You’ll be allright.

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