Never Be Like Them

October 7, 2012 — 28 Comments

About two years ago, I went to an advertising conference in New York City. I was the youngest person in the room by far. The only one who wasn’t in a suit, wasn’t talking about vacation houses, about cars, wasn’t hoping to hook up with some other gross lonely person while away from home. I remember thinking very vividly at the time: this is the track I am on. Right now I am young but soon, soon I will be one of these assholes.

I can’t express how much this shook me. I felt a kind of creeping dread that I would be absorbed into this crowd. That the things that were important to them would be important to me. That I would become just as parasitic as them; selling the same shit they sold, convinced—because I would have to be—that it wasn’t shit. It was not long after this that I dropped out.

Last week, I happened to be in town during the same conference. So I went again. How different it felt. The claustrophobia was no longer there, the anger and resentment too. All I felt was relief. Why relief? I am nothing like these people. I am firmly off this track. The preceding two years were very good to me: bestselling book, national media platform, new clients.

But the irony did not escape me. Last time, I was despondent. I felt like that I’d never be able climb high enough on this pile to breathe my own air, not in that suffocating rat race—that because I could never play by their rules, I’d forever be some bit player. So I resigned. I took my sharp right turn. And the result? Well, that’s the irony.

Today, I am very busy and no longer as obsessed with the industry as I once was, but last week there wasn’t a single presentation at this conference that wasn’t in some way chasing work that I had done. Facebook showed a screenshot of one of my articles and tried to dispute it on stage. Other companies were “announcing” the opening of platforms I’d been using for more than a year. I’m not saying that people were whispering my name or anything, but my finger prints, well I could see them everywhere. I was the only one in the room with a book, the only one doing the thing I’ve done.

That is not to say it was an easy year, leaving this world was incredibly difficult. And scary. And uncertain. It took denial and discipline. And to quote Henry Flagler, “it was hard on me but I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me.”

So it goes, now on to the next worry. I’ll never be one of those assholes, sure, but now it’s time to make sure I don’t become some other type.

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.

28 responses to Never Be Like Them

  1. Ryan! You know what ! first time when i discovered you i felt like i discovered magic. No young guy inspires me as much as your work. You aren’t the cookie cutter and that’s what has brought up your writing. Keep sharing and inspiring our world.

  2. As Blake said, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” I can relate to what you are saying. It also reminds me of something my grandmother told me the last time I saw her before her passing. She pulled me to her bedside and told me: In life, never do as others do. It has echoed with me ever since. Congrats to you, Ryan.

  3. Thank you for clearly explaining your awareness of attitude and conscious shift. Any advice for staying focused on an end goal for someone coming into an entry level role in the ad world-or should the goal be to get out of the system after acquiring the experience and skill sets that lured you in? Cheers -George

  4. The most bizarre part of those joints is the “emperor’s new clothes” effect. Nobody there knows anything, so everyone lines up behind the most charismatic few people there, for good or ill. Next year, nobody will remember that that guys ideas sucked, and it’ll repeat itself.

  5. That conference two years ago did you apply the law ‘Always say less than necessary?’ I can’t imagine saying a single thing in that room of assholes unless it was absolutely certain what I said wouldn’t be at odds with what I identify.

  6. Ryan,

    Thank you for another solid piece. I constantly look forward to your writing for the thoughtfulness and clarity that you bring, and these insights help to ground and humble me in what really matters.

    In my life, I have found these reverse role-models to be just as valuable as my actual role-models for helping me define who I want to be, and what I want to do. It is so easy to get caught up in this game of pointless pursuits, so labeling these people as such helps me check myself when I start going down the same path.

    There are few young, ambitious people thinking and talking in this way, and your perspective is refreshing and much appreciated.

    – Ryan

  7. Charlie Houpert October 8, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Congrats and thanks for this Ryan. Timely advice from someone who got out of the industry and transcended it in many ways.

    I’m at the beginning of my “drop out” phase and it’s a scary, exciting time. When I find myself doubting, I go back to your posts on dropping out, relate totally to the feelings you had at the start, and remind myself what you have accomplished since. What’s lost in stability is made up for in opportunity.

    Keep on kicking ass

  8. My hatred of them, too, comes partially from my fear, of my own inadequacy, of future’s uncertainty. One day, i wish to feel that sense of relief you felt. And perhaps even sympathy towards those assholes who are probably ruled by similar brand of fear.

  9. Holiday- Did Lena Dunham hire you for her latest “book”

    Also I get the feeling she has been given a “free ride” towards popularity. Comments?

    • She has indeed. Look at the actual ratings of her show and they’ll shock you.

      • So the $3.5M was your doing?

        It seems too much of a gamble for the publisher, and the fact that they haven’t commented on it themselves makes it suspcious…

        (Even if true) You’re gonna leak the fact she’s working with you, that the advance figure is blown up, that you’re still having your way will all of the media giants despite revealing your secrets (hammering home the message of your book), unapprove this comment, get a second wave of media for YOUR book (and surely Lena’s in the process)?

        P.s. your book in genius!

  10. You’ve been spending a lot of posts bragging lately. Maybe you’ve earned that. But I’d like to see you get back to philosophy for a while.

  11. Just curious… Did you ask one of those assholes about his life experiences? People can be very surprising.

    Maybe they are exactly as you describe, but I remember being very assumptive when I was younger.

  12. Next book idea: trust me, I’m trying to avoid being an asshole… it’s not easy because assholes finish first – A Tucker Max and Ryan Holiday Creation

  13. Are you not already another type of asshole?

    You’ve poured an enormous amount of time and energy into helping successful American white males become even more successful. You claim to be becoming a better person, but the most visible investment is in fast-tracking yourself to fame.

    Where is the heroism? How are you doing your penance?

    • Anthony, Thanks!

      Needle of Justice. Please, do more research before making comments.

      • NeedleOfJustice October 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm

        Ian, I’m pretty versed in Ryan’s way of thinking and his blog. I’m not intending to be snarky- I’m genuinely interested and I see something missing here.

        Ryan has been the recipient of enormous good fortune. Anyone who truly claims to pull himself up solely by his own bootstraps is terribly mistaken. Ryan has a mantra of “the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly”, and I can relate to that. But I am not in a position with a lot of power and visibility. I have probably hurt a lot of people, and hopefully enriched a lot of lives. But Ryan seems to genuinely believe he has a solution for people, with a certain finality, and the lives he touches is easily measured in the millions.

        I’m pointing out that his solutions look much narrower than his audience. He seems to have some from the same original bias as most enculturated white American males. Fight Club is a key early influence. He hooked Tucker Max with a line about Hunter Thompson. He has clearly matured enormously as his successes have grown, and he is probably much more thoughtful than other people his age with his success. But is that enough? Does his message work for the billions of women and underprivileged people in this world? As his own words carry themselves for other purposes, will he be proud of the results?

        • What have you done for those people? I imagine nothing.

          • NeedleOfJustice October 25, 2012 at 7:44 am

            I believe the burden of responsibility falls on the powerful.

            I work at plan, as best I can. I work at a for-profit company that is known for turning traditional models on their head. In the process we’re improving thousands of people’s lives substantially, tangibly.

            I have tried things like volunteering and protesting but have largely felt alienated by the lack of communication and scalable, workable solutions. I have felt voiceless and unheard, and for that I thank you- you are certainly transparent in helping hand over your tools to others.

            I only worry that these others will remain your target audience and your message will never be heard by the people who could use it most- people who are in real pain and suffering.

            Have you thought about how your work affects these people?

        • To answer your questions: 1. yes 2. yes and 3. probably… but who cares. Anyone could utilize tools he describes in his book for any purpose they hope to promote. As is always the case, people don’t utilize things. Too much read and forget.

          What I love most about this conversation: I’m not sure you’re even real. I feel like “NeedleOfJustice” and “Anthony” could just be Ryan Holiday disguised to stir up more comments and page views on this site. If thats the case, this comment is perpetuating a successful media manipulation!

          Thats what I love about Ryan’s stuff. It uncovers the complete anonymity that can be touted as real news.

          Finally, I’d like to reiterate: Please do more research before making comments.

  14. NeedleOfJustice October 25, 2012 at 7:50 am

    In short: I speak up when I am worried something is wrong, which is what I’m doing now.

  15. Precisely how much time did it take u to post
    “Never Be Like Them |”? It features quite a bit of great tips.
    Appreciate it -Derrick

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