On Clicks

November 19, 2007

One day, it all clicks. Everything you’ve been working on, all the reading, everything you’ve been wrestling with mentally, falls into a coherent place and it starts makes sense. And these are the moments we strive for.

I had this teacher my junior year of high school who told us not to worry about the Vietnam War. He said to take down the facts and listen to the lectures but realize that we just weren’t capable of grasping it. But that one day in the future, we’d be doing something and suddenly it’d all be clear. I still don’t really understand the Vietnam War as much as I’d like to, but the phenomena he was talking about is real, nonetheless.

I feel like I’ve recently had one of these moments. For the first time I actually understand the difference between tactics and strategy. Of course I knew academically–I could have given you the same answer today as I could have 6 months ago–but now I feel it. One day it just happened. It is a more comprehensive knowing, the one that changes how you act instead of speak. Being able to think strategically–to plan, endure, adjust, to know and make the gamble. Being able to think in the future, being comfortable waiting, of being strong enough to truly ignore all the noise and stick to what you think will be best.

When you talk to people that are older than you, you can tell when they have it. They just ooze the effortless understanding that comes only from experience of whatever it is that they’ve mastered. It used to make me jealous. Now it makes me hungry.

Which is why not “getting” a book isn’t a reason to quit. You might not be able to recall every name of every character, but that’s not what it’s about. All of it should be part of a larger vision–one that might not be totally clear just yet. It’s ok to sit there and listen to someone, even if it all goes over your head. Because it’s about pooling together as much material as you possible can and then slowly putting the pieces together every day–until eventually, you have something to show for it.

The key–if you’d like to ever really accomplish something–is to appreciate such moments as the gifts of solace that they are. Appreciate its rarity, but only for a minute. You can’t expect much relief if you’ve truly dedicated yourself to a life of pursuit and curiosity and ambition. Then dive back into the confusion and bombard yourself with new material until it happens again. And again and again.

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.

10 responses to On Clicks

  1. Could you elaborate on what you mean by the difference between tactic and strategy?

  2. “Then dive back into the confusion and bombard yourself with new material until it happens again.”

    That willing and welcoming dive, as you call it, back into an uncomfortable area of study sounds very romanticized to me. Confusion can lead to frustration and frustration can lead to disillusionment and failure. The emotional willingness to put yourself academically,or in any area of personal investment, into danger acknowledges a Socratic understanding of relative ability.

    I’m a “B” student type of person and have trouble getting past that area of clear ability into a real accomplishment. Preoccupation with the instability of confusion can be a difficult obstacle to overcome and has kept me down in the past. Good for you that you’ve conquered that step. Congrats, man.

  3. Someone can go more in depth but essentially, tactics vs strategy goes like this:

    Tactics are the what (marching six miles and engaging the enemy) and strategy is the why (we’re looking to show the enemy our dogged determination with relentless attacks)

    Strategic is your overall mission/goal/endeavor/mindset and tactics are the day-to-day operational steps

  4. It doesn’t have to be scary and you don’t have to throw yourself into fucking quantum physics. You can venture outwardly slowly, it doesn’t matter.

    But sticking with what you know is ultimately the scariest path because everyday it becomes a smaller piece of an exponentially larger pie.

  5. But what happens when the click is false? I feel like I’ve felt these “clicks” many times, only to go back to the way things were shortly later. There are times when I’ve felt supremely confident, thought something had “clicked”, only to see it fade days or so later. There are times I have read ideas, that seem to open a new understanding as to how our reality is, only to see their importance fade shortly later, and to resume a normal everyday life based on the same thinking. Sometimes great ideas produce great returns, but how do you manage to maintain your strategies when they are not providing results? Should I read those Robert Greene books over, or is experience the only true way to make them stick? I’m more and more beginning agree with Oscar Wilde, that “nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” That and that implementing is MUCH harder than understanding.

  6. Corkhead — it doesn’t sound like you’re working at it at all. Feeling that some vague concepts of reality click into some amorphous blob of understanding is meaningless unless you can figure out what the hell it is.

    If you’re more concerned with the score of the Bills game and the day’s paperwork than about developing your thoughts, then I doubt you’ve really had that transcendental ‘click’.

    Re-reading Greene’s books won’t do shit for you until you’ve are striving for something specific.

  7. Do you know about procedural and declarative memory? That’s what you’re referring to.

  8. I just had the same click about tactics and strategy in the past 2 weeks as well. It took months of reading PG’s essays, your archives, Seneca and Meditations, and a meeting with John Robb, but it all finally clicked for me.

    I have a lot left to learn, but am already starting to see things a bit differently. Thanks for the help.

    • How’s you meet John?

      • I am COO of a company, CloudFab, that is in the open hardware space and knew John would be interested. I was up in Boston for business and just emailed him to see if he wanted to meet up. He’s a really interesting guy and has a really good grasp of everything that’s going on in the space – definitely one of my favorite bloggers.