Seriously, You Can Do Whatever You Want.

October 17, 2007 — 19 Comments

Most days to the office, I wear jeans and a white t-shirt. It’s the same thing I wear on the weekends…and have for pretty much every other day of the last three or four years. I like it. It’s comfortable. I don’t have to stress about brands. It makes me happy and that is why I do it.

But a lot of people dress up. I have a feeling it’s because they think they’re supposed to, not because they like it. What are the chances of everybody picking the same style?

When I was in 2nd grade, they took us to the computer lab for the first time. The same year, they forced us to learn cursive. “Nice handwriting is key to business documents.” How wrong did that turn out to be? It was the first thing I decided not to learn. To this day, I cannot write in cursive. What teacher was going to fail me because I couldn’t add a tail to my vowels? I can fake it–I can sort of drag the pen on the paper and connect the letters, but I can’t write in cursive.

That’s the thing. You can walk in other people’s footsteps and you make all the moves they tell you to make. But see, the people teaching you have a certain bias they don’t like to disclose. If they teach you their rules then you’re a lot less likely to challenge them on your own terms. And they’ve already got a solid head start when it comes to the old system. Think of it this way, if there is a general rule or aphorism that lays out your path then it’s probably a common one. And thus it lacks any scarcity or value. We know for sure at least one person has already done it, and enough followed to propagate a cliché about it. Is that what you want? Does that sound like the field or the life for you?

A crowded field with a lot of competition is one low profit margins–so success hinges on brute strength, on bearing the unpleasantness longer than everybody else. You’ve decided to beat them in cursive instead of in content–and gotten all the joy that comes from staring a page with curly letters. Enjoy.

So you can dress like everybody else, and you can pay your dues. You can go to grad school because that’s what your brother did, or you can become the best damn paper filer in the entire world so then you can be the best trainer of paper filers and then later you can maybe pick which papers they have to file. And then you can pray to everything that is holy that the world will remain exactly as it is so you can get the same payoffs as everyone else.

Or, you can understand strategic options and flexibility. And grasp that a lot of people have done it their way but no one has done it your way. Thucydides realized way back then that the weak subsidize the strong. [ “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.“]. If you bring something to the table, you get to take something back. When you add value, you get to decide the terms of its delivery. So seriously, you can do pretty much whatever you want.

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.

19 responses to Seriously, You Can Do Whatever You Want.

  1. YEAP.

    I’m planning on taking what’s normally a journey of sweat, tears and desperation (law school) and turning it into something enjoyable and outside the normal realm of things (Middle Eastern construction).

  2. Drop me an email if you don’t want to post the details here, but I’d like to hear more. Middle Eastern Construction?

  3. Solid piece. request: Please write something directly about Plato/more Greek stuff, if applicable or strikes inspiration.

  4. What, are you saying that our educational system only grooms us to be little bitches?

    Heh.

    The only piece of feedback that I’d offer is that everyone has a different path to contentment, and a different amount of contentment in their life.

    It’s a waste of energy to be contemptuous of those on a different path. There are some paper filers that are as happy as clams.

    Who are we to blame people for plugging into the Matrix?

  5. “Who are we to blame people for plugging into the Matrix?”

    We all do, but is it a Matrix you built, or one someone told you to use.

  6. No, YOU can do whatever you want. Apparently you have the drive, the perspective, the intelligence and the courage to break from the program and take a risk. You bring something to the table. You’re not the only one – there are obviously some others – but the vast majority of people, it seems to me, don’t have it in them. They bring nothing to the table and don’t even know where the table is or how to approach it.

    Pieces like this are inspiring in their hope for the majority but I just don’t see this capacity in most people. Most people I meet are mediocre, unoriginal, timid and, at best, have an occasional intelligent moment.

    What can they bring to the table?

  7. Nothing wrong with taking risks but there’s a certain contempt in your voice that reeks of insecurity. Insecurity is perceived as weak. The true visionaries radiate strength by showing, not talking. Don’t turn into a filibuster.

  8. But why me? All the things you mention I could purposely suppress–or fritter away with neglect.

    But I agree that most do that, but nothing says the HAVE to

  9. Why you? First, because you want it to be you. And second, because you have the capacity for it to be you.

    Your advice is perhaps realizable for a certain pool of people with the potential for greatness, and perhaps membership in this pool is – to a point – as much a personal choice as it is a biological or sociological fact. I simply do not believe that all of humanity is in this group.

  10. Derek Kreindler October 18, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    For the older generation I think dressing up has more of an appeal. My dad wears a suit often, even though he could show up in his pyjamas if he really wanted to. My grandpa wore a jacket and tie every day of his life, despite the tropical heat in Barbados.

    Of course, that was the norm back then, for us wearing a white t-shirt is normal. Back then it was like parading around in your boxers.

  11. Ryan, great article! I’ve experienced this thought numerous times after starting my business, and the exact opposite “I cannot do what I want because I have XYZ reponsiblities, employees, set an example, etc”. Do you ever feel this way, knowing you CAN do whatever you want, but feeling guilt for exercising this option? For example, I’m a business owner, and we got rid of our office recently, so now I can work from anywhere. But I still feel guilty catching a plane mid-week to somewhere warm, and working remotely for a few days, even though I accomplish the same amount of work. Are my co-workers judging me? Am I setting a bad example of ‘Laziness’? How does someone who has blazed their own path through life get rid of that feeling? It seems like the ‘regular’ world tries to bring you down, even if subliminally, or because they are jealous?

  12. Really enjoying your blog!

    “You can walk in other people’s footsteps and you make all the moves they tell you to make. But see, the people teaching you have a certain bias they don’t like to disclose. If they teach you their rules then you’re a lot less likely to challenge them on your own terms.”

    – This is my definition of the rat race. Doing the things we were taught to follow in the footsteps of people who are doing the things they were taught, never challenging anything. I can confess, I am a serial non-challenger. Mostly because it seems easier to take the easy way. And often times it is, but at the end of the day, the cost is so much more than the small expense of challenging some things and seeking to do things in your own way. I see it clearly now. Thanks!

  13. “If you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.” – Terry Pratchett

  14. Couldn’t agree more Ryan, thanks for this.
    Samuel, funny you say this, I would love to know about Terry’s writing routine, he has published so many books, it’s incredible. Even King can’t compete.
    Cheers,

    Robin

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