One of Them

December 16, 2009 — 18 Comments

I guess what I was trying to say here is that when you start to work in the real world, you see people rewarded for the worst stuff. Things like overcompensation, cluelessness, aggression, shameless self-promotion and so on. This is especially true in Los Angeles. And when you see that happen, it’s easy to question the fairness of it all. What you have to remember that is you’re not refraining from those behaviors out of some “strategy.” You don’t decide to settle on integrity or humility because it will work out better.

The people that find rewards in these types of behavior have accepted a certain alchemy in their soul. They’ve traded in their self-awareness: if they were able to see themselves half as objectively as they saw others, they couldn’t live anymore. You could do this too if you wanted. In fact, it’d probably be easier. But you didn’t choose to not be insufferable after weighing the costs and benefits – it was simply not an option.

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.

18 responses to One of Them

  1. Can you explain the following further please?

    “But you didn’t choose to not be insufferable after weighing the costs and benefits – it was simply not an option.”

    I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Or conclude with. Or whatever.

  2. Well, try it this way. I wrote it roughly 2 hrs ago and I’m guessing you commented immediately after you read it. Give it some more thought and see if you still have questions. It’s no fun if things don’t require meditation or consideration – that’s normally where you get most of the value.

  3. Cool, I’ll get back at ya later then.

  4. What is the suicide rate in LA?

    I believe I understand what you’re saying. I also believe it may all be a bit oversimplified. Introspection is not in everyone’s vocabulary.

    Or maybe I don’t get it at all…

  5. So, you’re saying a person really doesn’t realize they are being insufferable in the moment. It’s after the fact they realize they were insufferable, or someone else points it out?

    What I mean, is the definition of the word “insufferable” is hard to keep in your mind moment to moment, or something like that.

  6. Scott, I don’t know what you’re talking about in your last comment, but it seems to me like what he’s referring to is when you live with integrity – where what you feel compelled to do and be is in tune with how you actually live – then doing the things that make someone “insufferable” is not an option. But like Ryan said, if something doesn’t make sense sometimes it’s best to just sit with it and see what it means to you. What I’ve described is just my understanding, and doesn’t speak to your experience like your own thoughts will.

  7. Matthew,

    What I mean is that if a person is acting insufferable, do they really realize he or she is doing it? Does it take someone afterward to point out said person was acting insufferable?

    What I’m saying, is we really don’t know how we’re acting until after the fact. We do our best. But until we see reactions, we never know.

    If this makes no sense, I’m osrry.


  8. It is hard to be aware of how you’re acting. Anyone who tries to maintain his self-awareness will probably agree. However, that doesn’t mean you should relieve yourself of the responsibility to act decently by throwing your hands up and saying, “Well, I’ll try my best, but I’m not making any promises.”

    Ryan made a post a while back about staying in the present, and he reflected on the fact that it’s very hard to do. It’s easy to let events slip by while subconsciously vowing to reflect on them later. If you’re even remotely introspective you’ll reflect whether you like it or not. The daily challenge is reflecting on events as they happen, and consciously grasping the present versus leaving it for consideration at some point in the future.

    Again, this is a hard thing to do consistently. This reminds me of a class I took on Confucianism, and in particular of the Confucian concept of the sage. The sage always knew to check his ego at the door, always had a grip on his emotions, and was self-aware at all times. It required a lifetime of dedication for even the slightest chance to maybe, possibly, be considered sage-like. Actual sages were few and far between. The men we might refer to as sages (Confucius, Marcus Aurelius) would no doubt prickle at the idea of being referred to as such.

    So, yeah, consistently not being a douche is difficult. As they say, virtue is it’s own reward (if you believe it is).

  9. It seems like Ryan is arguing two things.

    The first is that people will often get rewarded for being ignoble in the work world. These are the “Them” in “One of Them.”

    The second is that, for someone concerned with living well, the kind of concessions “One of them” makes are simply not an option.

    I grant the first point in the short term, but am not certain it holds true in the long run. It seems that those who can actually bring results will rise above those who merely flatter their way into positions of authority. There are always exceptions, but on the whole you can only rise so high on pure bullshit and flattery. At some point you must perform. It isn’t always the inept who debase themselves for quick gain though. Even when the competent lower themselves to these tactics they compromise their reputations which is often worse than being inept.

    As for the second point, it reminds me of something Aristotle wrote in the Politics. Of the Spartans he said, “They consider that the good things [men] generally fight over are won by virtue rather than vice, and rightly so; but they conceive these things to be better than virtue which is not right.”

    I think that gets at Ryan’s last line. He’s saying that one doesn’t choose virtue as an instrumental tactic for achieving external goods, but as something valuable for itself. Thankfully it is also true that the virtues, at least in the classical sense, are damned good tactics for being a success.



  10. I have to say that I don’t think it’s true that “They’ve traded in their self-awareness,” although it would be nice to think that self-awareness is an automatic corrective to behaving like an asshole toward people. Its a commonplace, for instance, that self-aware people divorce and use their children as weapons against their former spouses. Happens all the time — deliberately, and for little reward. There’s no unwritten law that says that people who lack integrity must necessarily be without self-awareness. Reality is much worse: self-aware people deliberately act without integrity.

    Self-righteous people not only believe that they choose to behave better than assholes, they believe that they ARE better than assholes. But this isn’t the case, even in blogland. Integrity is taught, learned, cultivated, and practiced, not infused through the placenta during gestation. It may feel like it comes naturally to you and not to others, but it is in fact very much a choice that we each make, however much we may have internalized and shortened the conversation we have without ourselves about it in the moment.

  11. I think the real reason people are having trouble understanding the above sentence is because the grammar is very confusing.

    “But you didn’t choose to not be insufferable after weighing the costs and benefits – it was simply not an option.”

    Wow, a triple negative. Nice job.

    Let me simplify what he is saying be removing one of the negatives, by replacing the word “insufferable” with the word “asshole”

    “He did not choose to not be an asshole.” There are 2 possibilities: choose to be an asshole, or choose to not be an asshole. So if you did not choose to not be an asshole, then you must have choose the other possibility, which is to choose to be an asshole.

    Therefore, he is saying that you choose to be an asshole.

    Which I think is the opposite of what he meant to say.

    When he says “it was simply not an option” is he saying that “not being insufferable” (i.e. being sufferable” was deemed to be not an option, because that would mean that he is saying that you deemed being insufferable to be the only option.

    Also, the word “insufferable” is not the best word to describe what he is talking about in the previous sentences. A better word would be “fake”.

    He also says that people get “rewarded for overcompensation”. Uhh, thank you, mr redundant.

  12. Ryan,

    I get what you’re saying completely, and despite struggling with it, I agree. But how do you deal with the frustration? As the schism grows larger and people begin relinquishing integrity material rewards it’s only going to get worse.

    Does karma even affect those lacking self-awareness, I wonder? Because those same people always blame others for any perceived misfortune. And while we can sit back and be good people and live with integrity while they carry on like reprehensible jackasses being the butt of jokes and ridicule, they’re getting promoted and gaining material success. Isn’t there a point at which, in an ever-decaying, increasingly entropic world where maintaining integrity simply becomes impractical?

    I’m not sure, and I hope not. But sometimes it feels like “no one’s going to let me slide on rent because I try to be a good person,” y’know?

    ~ Corwyn

  13. Asdf, spend a little more time thinking about your post and you should realize how completely you botched what Ryan was trying to say. I recommend you review your vocabulary.

  14. Good post; insightful follow up to the original article.

    I’ve often marveled at the absurd lengths to which people will go to protect and maintain their egos instead of just admitting an obvious mistake. But it’s a downward spiral, isn’t it? Shoveling bullshit onto bullshit, the pile growing ever higher.

    In fact, this is probably why so many people are so fucked up: once you down this path it’s always easier to continue compromising yourself than to honestly examine your choices and make a change. You’re right when you say that they couldn’t live anymore if they ever got an honest glimpse of themselves living like they do.

  15. @ Corwyn — I get what you’re saying but you’re missing the point. Integrity is a way of living to maintain your self-respect, not to pay the rent.

    If your self-respect and paying your rent were in conflict, which would be more important to you? Which will be more important to you when you look back on your life?

    If you answered “self-respect”, fine. If you answered “the rent”, ask yourself why not move away, switch careers, make a change that allows you to live a life you can be proud of? Or are you lying to yourself about your true values?

  16. This line of thinking strikes me as the first step in falling into another trap. Judging other people.

    I work with some people who can be very unaware at times. Throughout the day I’ll gripe about how awful their behavior is. What’s worse is I stop focusing on what I’m doing. I get cranky and negligent, so I sacrifice my performance for my bruised ego thus becoming “One of them.”

    So wouldn’t it be better to cut out the deluded thinking that I’m above the fray right from the get go?

  17. Take it from someone who went from Tucker Max level of narcissism and lack of awareness to being very aware – if something doesn’t fill that hole, you are miserable, you can read situations, but you still think it is around you – to get away from the mirror, to stop the feedback loop from snapping right back to good ol’e you is taking forever..and it’s painful, and you don’t know just what to do.

    I don’t know what the next step is, but I hope it comes soon.

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