Total Commitment

December 23, 2011

People say things are important to them. Success, recognition, money, freedom, power, some purpose or passion. Yet what do they do with themselves?

They make their choices as if time is infinite and as if it will all be handed to them. As a young man, Bill Bradley used to tell himself that when he was not practicing, someone else was and that when he finally met that person, they—not he—would win. These people do not practice and yet expect to win. And they are disappointed and disillusioned when that doesn’t happen.

You’re given a deadline. What does this mean to you? To me it means nothing. I have my own deadlines. They are tighter and shorter. You are told that the system works a certain way. What does this mean to you? It means little to me. I have my own knowledge, my own education. I’ll learn the best way, not the way to do things. You see that most people life their life a certain way. This too means absolutely nothing. Most people are miserable, self-loathing and passive. No thanks.

When I was a 19 year old college dropout with no experience in the field I was operating in, out-working and out-producing people twice my age, I realized something. I realized that there was very little out there that was so hard or difficult that I couldn’t figure out and excel at so long as I followed my own rules and held myself to my own standards. And so I was able to do this repeatedly, from Hollywood to publishing to fashion and now to writing.

It is a special kind of freedom. It is the freedom from the tyranny of acting ordinarily and expecting extraordinary results (the definition of futility). Total commitment. This is what it takes. It’s more than just wanting—it’s making it happen.

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.

24 responses to Total Commitment

  1. Ryan, usually love your writing. I hope you haven’t started believing your own bullshit. Falling in love with your own narrative. You had some early success and now you are making up just-so stories about why it happened. I’ll still buy your book, but get back to the old philosophy soon.

  2. Absolutely spot on, as always.

  3. Ryan,

    Great post. I wish I had realized this when I was 19 like you but I’m happy to have come upon the same freedom now.

    This is my first time reading here but I’ll be back for sure.


    P.S. Your code in the post didn’t work correctly and is still showing the code. 3rd paragraph. (feel free to delete this part)

  4. Ryan, I love your blog and strongly admire
    your work ethic. However, what did you do to develop such a strog work ethic?
    I feel like All this post is essentially saying is “Work Hard”, okay, ofcourse. Yet for a lot of people, laziness isn’t so much just them being lazy, but a habit they have developed based off how they were raised. This isn’t necessarily my problem, but I feel likeiof your post is to be more effective it should focus on how to develop the habit of being a hard worker. Learning to treat your comfort zone as a cancerous enemy and constantly push yourself. How can people learn to do that? Because I doubt “I need to work harder” ad the message people take away from this post, is actually going to make them a harder worker.
    Do you understand what I am saying? I’m sure you can answer that.
    Thank you

    • I don’t think he’s trying to teach people how to develop habits here – I think he’s talking to those who want to do something great and take steps to make it happen.

      My takeaway wasn’t “work harder”. I think the point is that most people fail to achieve what they claim is important to them, often because they don’t work hard enough (or work at the wrong things). That’s why it’s relatively easy to stand out – most don’t work hard enough to stay with those that do.

  5. Ryan, when will your book be available for pre-order? I want it before the next Twilight book is out. Thank you

  6. In order to be free from the constraint of the system, you have to be stronger than the system.
    But in order to be stronger than the system, you have to work harder than it alone would require.


    • It’s not about working harder. It’s about working fearlessly.

      • It’s about working harder, but in your own deadlines, beacause they are the only ones that really matters. Working hard or fearlessly on others people deadlines is not “work ethic”, is wasting your time and your life.

        And Ryan, “making up a story to connect unrelated events and discussing why you were successful” can be different things, but most times they are not and you know it, be carfull with that.

    • A lot of it’s about working smarter. You can work out hard running, but if you want to gain more muscle, it’s not going to do much.

      Or you could be doing a million things and once and not prioritizing anything.

      Or you could just be unfocused and only work in spurts…

  7. This is all well and dandy but what the hell are you talking about? What successes have you had in Hollywood? Who are you besides a product of generation me with a blog?

    • The nice part about getting older and more secure is not feeling the need to justify or defend yourself to random, anonymous people on the internet. Click the links on the side column of your site or read my bio. My accomplishments speak for themselves.

  8. I wanted to comment on a few of your book recommendations, but didn’t want to clog your inbox. The Tiger was absolutely fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I read something with so many fascinating facts that I had never heard before.

    I originally had no interest in the 50th Law. The concept seemed like one of those get rich and happy quick books, but for urban youths. I was wrong, it was probably the most interesting and potentially useful books I’ve read in several years.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Re: The Tiger, I know right?

      I probably would have thought the same thing about The 50th Law. But the reality is that it is probably the most philosophical and immediately applicable of all of Robert’s books.

  9. You may have talked about this in earlier posts, but when you talk about succeeding more in areas that you have little experience in, what kind of methods/strategy/mindset do you have when approaching projects or jobs (besides following down the tried-and-true traditional paths of more school)? Do you try to find similarities/connections from your past expertise and try to apply it to your education of the current topic (you can argue there are correlations between the different fields you mentioned, namely in marketing and finding the right audience)? Do you look for and seek out outliers in the field who have had past success you can drawn from?

    If you could boil it down, what is it about your approach that is unique and works so well in such a variety of different fields/applications?

    As always thanks for the book recommendations and writing.

    • He brings his fucking A-game bro. There’s no secret.

      If you don’t crush it with whatever you do, you are nothing to me. Go eat a dick or kill yourself, I don’t care.

    • Self-Education
      Asking an endless amount of questions
      Noticing patterns. Make connections
      Seeing through bullshit
      No respect for ‘how things are usually done’ (unless there is a political/strategic reason)
      Have an objective
      Total commitment/Complete dedication

  10. Your post reminded me a lot of The Dip (maybe because I just read it). Especially the part where Godin writes about focusing and being like Woody Woodpecker.

    “A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty thousand times on one tree and get dinner.”

    Could be wrong, I make weird random connections.

  11. Good post. Well worth reading and reflecting upon. Your blog and the last psychiatrist’s are the only “must read”s in a whole web of the trivial.

    Keep up the work.

  12. I didn’t so much get work harder from this as don’t saddle yourself to the limitations of rote learning. You have to break away from the idea of someone teaching you step by step–understand that the limit of their knowledge will then be the limit of yours as well.

    You have to look at challenges in your own way, find your own solutions. You’ll gain confidence, you’ll learn to wrap your mind around increasingly complex ideas. While others wait for direction you’ll already be doing, and that’s really the only way to be successful.

    How many people buy books, respond to infomercials and join empowerment programs that promise to teach them to be successful? By rote? The steps to success. The only real success is the person who convinced them that they can’t be successful on their own. The first, and strongest, trait you’ll notice in any successful person is that they are self-reliant. They aren’t waiting for anyone and if everyone walked out on them they’ll go it on their own–no problem.

    I live by one philosophy. If it’s stupid but it works… it isn’t stupid. In my field that sometimes gets me weird looks, but the end product speaks for itself.

    At least I thought that was rather close to the point you were making, but as happens here sometimes, the comment threw me for a loop…

    Reflection? (pretty broad–maybe reflecting on what went right and wrong and considering other approaches? Even if you don’t need to use it, mental problem solving is an important exercise.)

    Asking an endless amount of questions?
    Noticing patterns. Make connections?
    Seeing through bullshit?

    “I realized that there was very little out there that was so hard or difficult that I couldn’t figure out and excel at so long as I followed my own rules and held myself to my own standards.” Then why ask questions, make connections or even get involved in bullshit?

    That’s all just food for thought on my part. I haven’t been here in a very long time, but I’m glad to see you’re still here, Ryan. You do offer some challenging thoughts and that’s something I miss on a daily basis.


    PS. Gotta thank dbag2 for the most painfully incoherent comment I’ve heard all year. Brilliant! “If you don’t crush it with whatever you do, you are nothing to me. Go eat a dick or kill yourself, I don’t care.” The “you are nothing to me” bit is priceless. But seriously, given the choice between eating a dick and killing yourself? I’d definitely recommend the former rather than the latter.

    I copied his comment, need to go paste it on my friends’ blogs. They’ll laugh their asses off. God, that’s funny.

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  1. Review: Ryan Holiday’s Blog | Die Gallantly - March 21, 2014

    […] Total Commitment “As a young man, Bill Bradley used to tell himself that when he was not practicing, someone else was and that when he finally met that person, they—not he—would win.” […]