On Positioning and a Life’s Pursuit

Every few weeks I wake up to something that makes me grin from ear to ear. Like ten thousand uniques overnight, a job offer, an email from an author I read, the front page of Digg, or a reminder of how good I have it. I get so excited that I don’t know what to do. That’s when I remember: “This is why I’m doing this. And I’m doing pretty well too.”

I’ve pointed myself towards a position that allows as many positive life-changing experiences to happen as possible. This is what Taleb talks about in The Black Swan. Is it more likely that an utterly unexpected event will wipe you out completely or put you on top of the world? If it all went to shit, at the absolute worst, I go back to school and start over. I did alright there. I’ll be fine. And no one can ever take away what happened, what I was able to do. The best case is almost too good to quantify.

I keep saying this but it is not easy. Most mornings you wake up and nothing happened. You get The Fear. You hold onto your principles, your faith in yourself contrary to all posted evidence. Sometimes you break down and have turn to some to someone and completely open up: “What the fuck am I supposed to do?” You see people and wonder what obliviousness feels like and maybe wish for it a little. The stress of knowing there is always something left undone, that you’re letting people down, that you got in over your head. The little twinge of accomplishment you feel at people’s jealousy–and the counterbalance of its loneliness. And of course, the Damoclean notion of knowing that others were here too and failed and got fucked. You worry about stuff that a 20 year old isn’t supposed to worry about. Like getting cornered, selling out, or being over exposed. Making sure you don’t spin off the planet.

We can sit here and talk about the strength it takes to push through. No question it is a requirement. Still, it is unrepresentatively glamorous. There is also the numbness. A internalized hardness that keeps the stresses from cracking the core. You need that. But it doesn’t translate well to the rest of your life. Nor is it a particularly pleasant state, to feel cold and apathetic.

Is it worth it? That’s not a question that I can really answer. See, I don’t have another choice. I can’t be anyone else. You’re only fucking fooling yourself if think you do either. Can you find yourself and be happy? Everyday, do you check a few things off that list? Homo faber. Have you positioned yourself for good gains and manageable losses? And then also understand that you still stand the risk of being totally fucked? If you still want to do it then you’re probably onto to something good. As Godin says, the Dip creates scarcity and scarcity creates value. There’s a reason this stuff is hard, it weeds out the weak. And unfortunately, sometimes the sane.

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.