November 2, 2012 — 42 Comments

You are soft. If you were born in my generation or thereabouts, you are almost certainly soft. You live a nerf life in a nerf world, filled with nerf delusions.

Check the boxes. Put in your 8 hours a day. Get what you you earned. Get anything.


That’s not how it works. But you don’t get to complain that the game is rigged. Why? Because it’s basically fairer than it ever has been. It’s unlikely you’ll suddenly die. You don’t have to go to war. You can travel from place to place and never, ever worry about pirates.

Yet we’re soft. We quit early. Settle. Complain. Think we deserve a break. Make lazy, self-serving assumptions. Try to get the most for the least work.

Stoicism is hard. Cato was hard. They were obstinate, in a good way.

Consider what hustlers call their work: “grinding.” Not “the grind,” diminutively like us, but grindin‘. The hustle. Working all day and all night, looking for an angle, taking their share. They have to, there is no other way.

You have to cultivate that hardness. And you better start soon, because we’re all in the same ghetto now. How? Savagery is one way. You have to learn to love the struggle. To know how to grit your teeth, and promise yourself that you will never, ever let something like that happen to you again.

Everything is a test. It’s a test to see how hard you are. Will you keep going? Can you get to your knees? Can you get you to your feet? Can you try again? Can you bear it? There’s no end in sight, how long can you last?

Stop failing this test. Stop being soft.

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.

42 responses to Soft

  1. A nation full of soft people is a nation that isn’t taking as many smart chances as it should.

    • Not wrong but ironically a resiliant economy allows more people to take risks. Screw up, lose you job, no biggy pick up the pieces and move on. These days, once screw means “Wal Mart for life.” at best in the minds of many people.

      Also making men soft was deliberate. This was a social control designed to reduce ethnic strife, class warfare and provide compliant factory workers who obeyed.

      It was decent succesful at least as long as the goods kept flowing.

      Right now its a transition period,the good are drying up and when they are look out. You may find a world ofhard men to be most unpalatabile

      • I meant that for the most part, in a general sense, people immediately react to things negatively without thinking about the other side. To me, soft = being really self-conscious

  2. I love the Nerf analogy… but I think some of us stop playing with the Nerf, and pick up the real football again.

    Over the next decades, we won’t have a choice IMO.

  3. Damn straight. This is what we need to read. If what’s good for you doesn’t feel good, you have to learn to make it feel good.

  4. Matthew Manning November 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    My friend and I decided to write stand up comedy for some open mic nights on campus. It’s hard as shit—that was a given. Still, when I was doing research I was surprised by the sickening work ethic of most comedians. Do you know what it took for Chris Rock to become successful? It was fucking ridiculous to me, but then I realized that it also should have been a given. It’s easy to check all the boxes, or worse, fall prey to schemes as fantasize about your art or lifestyle design or whatever. The work is hard. Diligence over entitlement—that’s something you’ve turned over again and again that I need pounded into my head again and again.

  5. Kablam! Understood. Also, I think you made a typo in paragra…..good shit Ryan.

  6. Well timed.

    It helps when you understand that the work should be it’s own reward. The War of Art solidified that for me.

  7. Ryan – how often do you cry?

  8. In the philosophy I follow, it mentions that we should regularly do “tapasya”, willing take on difficulties to culture steadiness of character, tolerance as well as to purge ourselves of unnecessary things.
    Thank you for bringing this issue to notice.

  9. Don’t worry, my friends. Life will catch up with you, even in our lovely country club nation. Your heart will be broken. Your parents will age, decay, and die. Your friends, too, will die, some as early as their 20s, some in their 30s, and, you can be sure that by the time you reach 40, you will have lost a companion to cars, to cancer or to random catastrophe. Once you have children, you realize you are fortune’s plaything.

    Only the very privileged have the luck to consider and strive against softness. This is a fine post. But as we struggle against softness, we should remember that it’s in preparation for the certainty of suffering and death that will strike us anyway.

    With time, the nerf world will grow some very hard edges, even in our perfumed garden. Just wait. And prepare as best you can.

  10. Boom. Less people climbing to the top. See this as an opportunity.

  11. You can lead a hard life full of broken glass delusions too. I find your recent drift towards the hustler to be far removed from what Marcus Aurelius dwells on. If you think the struggle to get to “the top” is what stoicism is about, then look closely at what he says. Your work as a human being is to be good to others, not obsessed with reward, with results even.
    If by savagery one means to be wholly committed to the work at hand, that is fine. But I think many people mistake this for mean spiritedness, and you are welcome to whatever you get out of that.
    Ryan, you’re a bright guy, but please don’t pander to jerks who simply wish to make a lot of money. The sage you claim to admire the most expects a lot more of us than that.

  12. In a world that society wants us soft and media promotes it in any possible way, it is damn hard to create a personality like Cato.
    A Fight Club is urgently needed.

  13. Bulleye! I couldn’t help but be reminded of the book of Ecclesiastes when I read this. Particularly12:10–

    “The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.”

    Even though it’s referring to a different teacher, it certainly applies here. I see many parallels between stoicism and proverbs/ecclesiastes. Thanks for the insights Ryan. And the hard work.

  14. “American Apparel, Tucker Max, and Gawker”— I liked your article right up to this point. If this faggotry you listed above are your claims to fame, I weep for you. You -ARE- soft, and when I say you, I mean your generation and you personally. I’m a Gen X’er and even I’m not what I’d like to be, but I’m close. Compared to anyone under about 30ish today, I’m like a superhero. I see it in their eyes when I go out. Weak, demure, pussified ‘men’, who were raised in a society controlled by liberal feminists. Even the tough white guys, like frat boys full of bravado, time at the gym, and alcohol are just a facade. They are ripped and tanned, but have likely never been punched squarely in the mouth. Have all their real teeth still, CERTAINLY have never had a gun pointed at them, etc. I.E. Jellyrolls.

    I stumbled across this place from links on another website were men congregate. Real men, testicles intact and all, who will call you on your bullshit and strike fear into your heart sometimes with just a look. You do have the general idea though, and you are physically fit, that is a start. Stop jerking off in Jiujistu class which is only useful in an age where firearms haven’t been invented, and learn to survive in all ways. Artic weather, weapons training, eating shit that most people would vomit because you want to live, all the rest. We have very few men like this in the States anymore, particularly if you live on one of the coasts.

    • I love you.

      I agree with Ryan’s post, and everything you said was really true. My generation will never have men like yours. Real men. And oh my god, your post turned me on incredibly.

  15. This generation needs a wake up call and your post is just that. Life is all about struggle. If we are not living with that in mind, we’re simply postponing the evil day when everything we depend on will be taken away from us. What will we do then?

  16. Just finished translating your book into Russian for Atticus Group (check with your publisher). Hope it will beat some shit out of certain Russian bloggers. Many fascinating analogies with local events, some look astonisingly actual, the other less evident because of different level od media development.
    I think, you don’t mind that I had borrowed a couple of phrases from your post for the annotation. Sincerely, it woud be great, if you agree to write a short preface for Russian readers, or I’m asking too much? Anyway, have a good day and day after that,too.

    Cyril Saveliev

  17. Philosophy is a life of inquiry, not one of constant ” grindin’. ” If your book or reputation says anything, Mr. Holiday, than you sell your respect short to make a buck by some of the sleaziest of means (i.e. pandering to shock value). Is making money THE goal? Is there something that is more worthy?

    I would recommend Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead as a portrait of a project that brings the things we want (power, money) while the creation remains something that is worthy. Puppy-style certainly doesn’t fall in that category.

  18. I love you Ryan 🙂

  19. So basically “Quit bitching and get to work.”

  20. Here on the other side of the pond in Europe, your words don’t quite carry the same weight. A lot of us – admittedly maybe a bit older – have had to live through civil war (Ulster – the Balkans) or through separatist strife (Corsica – Basque Country) which, contrary to your thesis, has not really hardened us up but rather made us a lot more circumspect and reticent about taking risk decisions.

  21. Today’s America is soft and young men are not tested. I receive at least an email a day from a young man that wishes to crab fish on our boat. Some will work for free. Why? Many can verbalize it; most can not. I believe they wish to test themselves. How does an American boy know when he’s a man? What is the threshold that he must cross?

  22. I believe I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I will let necessity drive me to reach into myself for its dormant resources when I am faced with poverty not before. I’m going to enjoy this tiramisu and my water bed, and when the Gestapo come knocking I might change but not before. Right now, I am sipping a lovely Armagnac my feet in the air in my lazy boy reading hitch hikers guide with my girlfriend purring in the next room. I wouldn’t trade this for the life of Cato or Marcus Aurelius if you gave me all the Lindt chocolate in the world

  23. I think the best part of this comment section was Jay from DC giving a step by step: “how mentally jerk yourself off your ego via paragraph”

  24. I read this from the comfort of the comfiest chair, in the comfiest room, listening to Christmas music, the comfiest time of the year. This is like Soft on Soft Crime.

    Alright, well, once I finish the hard-ish work I’m currently doing form said soft chair, I’ll get up & do something harder. And then I’ll probably read a book.

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