The Walk

November 20, 2012 — 25 Comments

Heading down the sidewalk of a street in New York City, you get the sense that there is something wrong with many people. Look at the way that they walk. Look at the momentary hold ups they cause. It’s a river of people creating its own eddies and backflow.

When I don’t have anywhere I need to be in a hurry, I like to take a second to watch: how they have no idea where they are going (and how hard navigating is). How unnatural it seems to be for them to walk in a straight line, or walk quickly. They veer this way and that way, or more often, drift slowly off kilter and don’t even realize it.

Two people manage to take up 6-10 feet of lateral space between them, conspiring unintentionally to block others from going around. Where on the earth is stopping abruptly when there are people behind you a common practice? They get surprised and scared because they get bumped, as if there wasn’t such thing as spatial awareness. Nobody snuck up on them, they just weren’t paying attention.

I see it as a metaphor. Here are a bunch of different people trying to go in different directions and do a bunch of different things. It’s life.

Some are deliberate and self-contained. Others are not. Is there more aggression in the former than the latter? Absolutely. But more responsibility as well. Less externalizing and disruption too.

How out of reach that all seems to be for many. These are easy things that seem to be so hard. And then we wonder why real obstacles seem to set people back in life. How we are caught off guard or easily discouraged by them.

We can’t even walk straight. Go or wait? I don’t know, what do the rules say? We see a runner bearing down in the opposite direction, left or right? There are no rules, better freeze.

A few simple traits cut through this knot of indecision and impotence: knowing where you’re going (or rather, that you are going somewhere), knowing the value of your time, appreciating the existence of other people (and treating them as they deserve), and proper carriage. That is, to carry yourself properly, directedly and under your own volition.

And to not be alarmed when you realize how much this sets you apart from the crowd.

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.

25 responses to The Walk

  1. Awesome tie-in there at the end with the surprise we feel when laggards, haters, and rats appear once we demonstrate any sense of purposeful differentiation. Maybe a sign that an amateur has gone pro is that the pro has the perspective to realize that most critics are just as or more confused than those they criticize…

  2. I like to observe dogs as their owners are walking them. Dogs only appear to meander when sensations and curiousity attract them. When people meander it’s like it’s the opposite. They’re purposeless and disengaged in the moment. Perhaps people should think more of animal behaviour when they have no drive or direction.

  3. Liked the part in the end about sticking to a straight path, reminds me of Aurelius when he is talking about walking in a straight line. Keep up the good posts!

    • Ryan, go see the Silver Linings playbook and you will understand the east coasters even better. I think we’ve developed some sort of bipolar thing. We want to go too fast, and when we aren’t going our speed we get nervous and shut down like a computer with not-the-right updates. We see the straight line very easily, it’s bold and intense like that green-line from that bank commercial, but we freak the fuck out like some screaming Eagles fans when our flow sees even the slightest piece of oil in the stream.

      Living out west I see how the kids flow with such ease. Or at least they accept the traffic for what it is over here: Always clogged. There’s less beeping over here. Keyword: less. I am so envious.

      But I also miss the seasons back east. Like where’s the fucking rain in Los Angeles damnit!? And why do my Skins and Orioles FINALLY start kicking some ass the second I make a break for LA?

      Anyways thanks for the medecine and I hope you find this comment of use.

  4. Also, Ryan I loved how RG said things in Mastery about how when you want to understand a corporation and how it works that the entire system usually reflects the personality of the guy on top. Look at our older generations out there…and the system they built for us to walk through. We have speed cameras at every corner. There’s more cops around to pester our every little damn thing we do. To be around marijuana means you are doing something wrong, or at least it did. Things are tighter over there than out in LA. Like in LA I haven’t even gotten my plates changed and no one’s pointing a gun at me. I haven’t gotten pulled over once out here….so damn relieving to not have to keep one of my million wires–it’s more wires than parts of a stream for us–on my rear-view. Look at things like how the tolls are everywhere on the streets out there, the flow of our rap artists are much more complex, we don’t have to worry about winding our roads around too many mountains, look at how my prose is so shitty and yours is so fluid (sometimes I have trouble understanding your way of explaining things, as I’m sure you do with my stupid comments). Or how I sound like a complaining asshole when I just want to help the doctor diagnose the illnesses better.

    I think people on the east coast might have developed a way of thinking where we have to stop sometimes and drift off into our computer that is trying to update and adapt to the rules that trickle down so fast from the top and make sure that every tiny little step we do is ok. Is our collared shirt okay with country club members? Wait did that speed limit sign say 25 or 35…ahh fuck I just got a ticket.

    I love how that the word “hella” out in LA translates to “mad” out here. Like that’s “hella awesome.” Back east we say, “That’s MAD awesome.” Or how the word “bro” is usually used sarcastically back east, as if to make fun of somebody, and out west it’s used more freely and is just a synonym for “dude”.

    Holiday for prez.

  5. Let me keep rippin,

    Guys we all need to tee off in Ryan’s comments sections a little more and help out the captain of the ship. Even if we aren’t as smart as the guy. Ryan needs more weight, attention, and action going on in his engine down below with more spring to steer us norther. Maybe he’ll throw his dawgs some bones if we quit being soft. That goes for everybody below him. We have to stop being intimidated and rise up from nerf world…we need to support Ender, learn from him and multiply. Maybe his dawgs can evolve into more thoughtful people. And the entire new world, or this internet, will have stronger systems, stronger writing. People who will let it rip and see what or how Ryan can give it more order and stability. What if one day we have people like Seneca in high up power positions? Ryan’s like Google my fellow nerfians. We needn’t be scared of him, he’s here to help. His slogan is “don’t be evil”….and that sounds like something to follow. Dr. Dre needs some Eminems. Let’s tear his comments section up, give him better top spin, and start the rise sooner….Wiggin style motherfuckas!

  6. chase, admit you were baked when you wrote that

  7. “Sense of time.”

    I needed to read that. Lately I seem to lose mine very easily. I’ve been wasting way too much time on the Internet, just pissing my days away.

  8. Wish I was baked when I wrote that. “Sometimes less is more”. Understood.

  9. So true. Again, I’m thinking it… You’re writing it. Most people have no awareness. How people carry themselves when they walk or drive is the same way they carry themselves through interactions with others, etc. This becomes even more apparent this time of year when everyone is out shopping and driving around. Argh. Thanks, Ryan. Great post.

  10. If you are from the New York area, you might see a man walking aimlessly, at a very slow pace, if you follow him you will see him retrace his steps. He appears to be going nowhere. If you ask him his name, he may be none other than Nicholas nassim taleb, author philosopher successful trader, who enjoys a slow stress free aimless meander. Whenever I see a man walking fast with purpose, I wonder if he is late for something. I pity him, he is walking as a means to an end and missing the pleasure of a delicious slow amble. A slow aimless walk displays a carefree attitude, inner tranquility and puts one in a better position to stop and chat with a pretty girl who you may chance upon. I may be judged by a reader

  11. Good article. Some comments talk of the benefits of meandering. Midtown, fifth ave, etc, are super crowded and are not places to meander. People are going to/from work, lunch, appointments etc. As much as I love to meander through the woods on the weekend and understand the health benefits of taking it slow, get out of my way when I am, walking to work! And while you are at it, has anyone noticed that half of the public does understand that their, in fact, is a rule about walking to the right side of the person passing in the opposite direction? I did not make this up. We drive on the right hand side of two lane roads which go in two directions, and escalators and revolving doors, etc tend to be on the right hand side most of the time. Half of us know this already. So unless you are in the U.K or Australia, etc where they drive on the left, stay to the right. And don’t walk down the middle or you will get bumped. And if the sidewalk is narrow, don’t walk sided by side with your friend, blocking people going the other direction, get in single file, or don’t be surprised when you get bumped.

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