Never Be Like Them

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.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.