Living Like a Boss

May 14, 2012

I know many people who call themselves authors, but they’ve never sold a book. I have, and now I know that it wasn’t that hard. The book took three months. Or maybe they have sold a book, and three years later they’re still writing it even though the topic isn’t a difficult one. Not that they’re Robert Caro struggling with an epic, they enjoy living the life of a writer more than writing, or you know, doing things. I know PhD students years deep into grad school and no closer to graduating. I know people talk about entrepreneurship but they aren’t one. They’re just regular guys. Same goes for “experts” “marketers” and “thinkers.” Mostly posers or dilettantes.

I don’t mean people who try to be cool or anything like that, but people who give themselves credit for accomplishments that haven’t happened yet. It’s not that they aren’t working on their book or start-up or whatever. They are. They just can’t close the deal. They aren’t in control of their own lives.

You know who doesn’t go around calling themselves “The Boss?” Bosses. Why? Because real authority is implicit, not explicit. The same goes for superlatives and occupation titles. You leave those for the people who follow you, who buy your work, who write about you, who introduce you. These meaningless words mean something to some people because it helps them definer their relationship to the world. That’s the wrong way to do it. You, the writer, don’t relate to the world as a writer—you relate to the world as you. The world relates to you and your writing. For [writer], plug in entrepreneur, expert, student, athlete or whatever. The leader is the leader because he leads.

Live a life of standards, not descriptors. Wake up each morning and live like a boss.

This isn’t just a power tactic, though it is a good one. It is a life tactic. It’s how you prevent yourself from becoming a clueless asshole (or a delusional never-been). From thinking that things that don’t matter, matter. It’s so easy on the internet to present an idealized version of yourself, and in the process, forget which is the real and which is the fake. It’s easier to cede control than have control. Don’t fake it until you make it. Shut up until you make it. And then when you make it, you’ll be so used to being that way that you still won’t feel all that inclined to talk about it.

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.

20 responses to Living Like a Boss

  1. Well said, Ryan. Reminds me of the turning pro section from The War of Art and it’s a lesson worth repeating. During the writing of your book did you ever struggle with maintaining the “boss” mindset?

    • Of course. But notice I never talked about the book or the writing process once on this site. I knew where I was going and how it was going to happen, but I didn’t go around calling myself an author or basking in the “glory” of my first book with bullshit humblebrags or whatever. I just did it.

      Anyway dude, I just read an advance copy of Pressfield’s book Turning Pro. SO GOOD.

  2. I really like this take on life — the whole “Shut up until you make it” bit. I wish I was more like it, but I just talk too much. Way too much. I get too excited about an idea and I blab. That’s not to say that I brag about what I’m (supposedly) doing or try to fake something. But I am not the strong, silent type. And I wish I was.

    It’s funny that you mention writing a book in three months. I have my first book coming out soon, and we (it was a collaborative effort) also wrote it in three months — during a semester of college while all of us were taking a full course load. The writing was easy. It’s dealing with a publisher that was hard and time-consuming. We had a deal four months after we wrote the thing. But it’s taken over 2.5 years for it to get ready for release.

    This is perhaps why I will seek self-publication next time.

    Anyway, thanks for writing such a great blog. Your posts are always challenging, and I really like that.

  3. Like John, I too have trouble shutting up about new ideas and ventures that I’m excited about. After a while though, you figure out that its more satisfying to share your finished product.

    It feels good to produce and actually contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. This is definitely a current focus of mine.

  4. Great post and a rock solid attitude.
    I’ve built up a half-decent following through a blog over the last six years which has led to great work opportunities…so I know how talking and, in particular, generous sharing, is a crucial tool for building a reputation online.
    That said, I have felt for a long time like I’m talking the talk and not walking the walk and often feel like retiring from the web to go do something decent instead.
    Thanks for flagging up Pressfield’s new release..really looking forward to that.

  5. Great post Ryan.

    A certain quote come to line (courtesy of Neil Strauss) – –

    “A rich man doesn’t have to tell you he’s rich.”

    Also… as my Grandfather (rest in peace Pep) used to say: “The guys who were really in the war don’t talk about it.”

  6. One of my favorite quotes from my days at sea is: “Being in charge is like being a pretty girl, if you have to tell people you are then you’re not.”

    You can easily substitute “In charge” with writer, entrepreneur or ship captain 😉

  7. Took me a long time to internalize the realization that bragging about things never impresses people, it typically turns them off. I always knew it intellectually, but did it anyway–took a few kicks in the stomach for me to finally stop doing it, and keep my business to myself.

  8. Ben Pennington May 18, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Great article Ryan. This was a kick I really needed at this moment. So thanks kindly!

  9. You know, I often find your writing absolutely infuriating. But that’s only because you tell the truth with no bullshit, regardless of how little I want to hear it. This post could easily have been written for me.

    I’ve been telling myself and my parents and friends since age 16 that I’m going to be an entrepreneur and change the world and get rich and blah blah blah. Reading about those things and talking about them has turned out be much easier than actually doing them. I definitely haven’t earned the right to call myself an ‘entrepreneur’ yet, but it’s only really in the last few months that I’ve made any tangible progress whatsoever. I now cringe thinking at how far ahead I could be if I’d just shut up and got on with it 5 years ago.

    I remember reading about a study (actually I think it was from a speech) which showed that telling people about your goals actually makes you less likely to achieve them. The theory is that the act of telling someone ‘I want to start a business’ (or whatever) scratches the itch that made you want to start a business in the first place, and makes you feel like you’re achieving something when you’re not – making you less likely to actually go out and take real action.

    On another note, I just finished reading Virtually You – thanks for the suggestion. A great book, and along with You Are Not A Gadget (which I think should be compulsory reading for everyone who owns a computer) it’s changed the way I view and use the Internet. I’d really be interested to hear more on what you have to say on those kind of topics.

  10. washboardalex May 31, 2012 at 4:20 am

    And shut ALL THE WAY UP until you make it. I was writing a play I didn’t tell any friends or family about. It got performed and we all had a great night going to see it and afterwards I went right back to shutting the fuck up about the next one and not speaking about the first one to the people around me, because I knew it would go to my ego. EXCEPT when I was out talking to girls in bars. I figured, “It doesn’t matter, these are random women. It’s just the flirting game, don’t worry about it.” Wrong. I felt the change, and learned that if you go 99% in pursuit of self-mastery you might as well never start in the first place. There are no exceptions, because no matter who you’re dealing with, you’ll still know.

  11. Ryan,

    This one hit me hard. I worry sometimes that this is what I’ll become.

    It’s a scary thought… probably about the scariest one I can think of, not living up to my own potential.

    I guess I’ll just shut up and make it.


  12. Great post, well said.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Some things that I’ve learned in the past 26 years. « Daniel's Blog - June 21, 2012

    […] to be maintained, but to be changed. Question everything that seems odd to you, especially “experts” and institutions, and never be embarrassed to ask […]