The Ties That Bind

A good contemptuous expression to remember: how power is inextricably linked with its inverse. Become empowered and simultaneously disempowered. For instance, the now standard prescription for a president after he leaves office—the former most powerful man in the world—is sign a book deal, relegating him, no obligating, him to slock it on television shows and an endless series of hostile interviews. Then he has to raise the money for his own monument to his own honor, the Presidential Library. And it’s all downhill from there, see: Bill Clinton, the most powerful man in the world twice removed, finding himself on Pittsburgh’s 96.1 Morning Freak Show with Mikey and Big Bob.

Listen to a CEO answering dumb questions from shareholders during conference calls with resigned disdain. Watch celebrities gain the love of the world only to lose the ability to ever be in a loving relationship with one person. Wonder why the narrative of history seems to be inescapably similar for every generation of important people. Think about often authority over actually means compelled to and that the more powerful the position, the more inalterable the prescription. This is what Seneca meant when he said that ‘slavery dwells beneath marble and gold.’

It goes without saying what an empty, misguided emotion jealousy can be but it’s a little more difficult to consider that what we’ve been aspiring to was really to wrap ourselves up in chains. That we seem to think that achieving more and moving higher is to take a step towards freedom instead of what it really is: a different but likely smaller cage. This is not to convince ourselves to sit around and do nothing but to come to the conclusion, after adjusting our eyes just right in order to see how comically predetermined most of the choices famous, rich, powerful or otherwise ‘inspiring’ people make, that perhaps we ought to orient our priorities accordingly.

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.