The Temptation

[The following is a message I posted to a group of people I met at a conference a few weeks ago. Following the event we were supposed to give an update on our work. I saw the community descending into the self-gratifying, escapist and Resistance-laden tendencies that often ruin the promise of great people and great groups. I thought it was relevant to everyone here too.]

Since I was a speaker, I am not sure I am able to win this thing but I thought I would post anyway. In the last 30 days I have: finished my book, written the business plan and secured investing for a new startup, negotiated a $3M Groupon deal, driven 3,000 miles, traveled to 4 states (two I’d never been to before), ran and swam almost every day, hosted some great dinner parties with friends, attended my first crab boil and did plenty of thinking. And most proudly, I posted in this group approximately zero times. I consider this last accomplishment integral to having been able to manage the others.

I hope the following message is not misinterpreted. I’m not looking to be a troll. But it’s a worthwhile risk to warn of the dangerous turn virtual communities can take.

The internet is seductive. It allows us to be a fantasy version of ourselves without the pain of earning it. Our natural tendency to inflate, distract and rationalize are—all too kindly—confirmed, supported and inflated further still. Congratulation comes easy, problems are glossed over, everything finds an audience. It becomes so easy to talk online about what we are doing or what we plan to do that, hey, the next thing we know the day is through and we didn’t have time to actually fit in doing any of it.

Add into that an inherently and achingly supportive group such as this and even the most grounded person can start to swim in the rising waters of their own grandiosity. Think about the temptation offered by all this: we can fly all over the world to meet with people who make us feel accomplished just by association, who keep us in our bubble of self-satisfaction. Feeling down? Hint at it and a dozen comments affirming your incredible worth are there by next time you log on. The idea that our work must earn these gifts is lost. After talking enough about them, our goals become so reified in our minds that actually accomplishing them seems unnecessary.

Here is the hard truth though: none of it is real. I would argue that it is toxic and self-destructive. I have seen plans for meet ups that will occur a half a year from now. I’ve seen links to conference calls, to web chats, to email lists and a dozen other things. There must be 50,000 words of kindness and inspiration posted here. In a different context, these are good things (they are certainly better than, say, doing heroin) but they are not what people like us need. We need to WORK. And to work quietly and humbly and with discipline. The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other. I have, and again I mean this with all the respect in the world, seen a lot of chatter in this group.

It was wonderful to meet all of you. I learned more at __________ than I have at every other conference I have ever been to combined, and then some. Some of the relationships I made there I know I will continue for years and years to come. If I could offer any service in return for the value I took from the event it would be this: the next time you see the red (1) alert from this group in the corner of your Facebook account, note it as a lost opportunity. Someone’s opportunity to work, to prove themselves, to say that thing which they claim to be compelled to say to the world, to make a difference, just evaporated. And needlessly so. Instead of seizing it, they came online and talked. They succumbed to taking easy credit instead of earning it the hard way. Don’t be that person.

Reading back what I have written so far, I feel I may have gotten a little carried away. But like the Stoics say to people who complain that their philosophy is too depressing: nobody needs a reminder that pleasure feels good. Sometimes its necessary to go the other direction and point out the negative side of things so we don’t become enslaved to them. I hope my post does that.

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.