“It is your own bad strategies, not the unfair opponent, that are to blame for your failures.”
Robert Greene is arguably one of the most controversial authors of our era and yet, he stands as one of my favorite. With being endowed by the New Yorker as “Hip Hop’s Machiavelli”, his claim to fame lies in his debut masterwork The 48 Laws of Power which is dubbed as the “psychopath’s bible” by some and is even banned in select US prison systems alongside his other book, The Art of Seduction as they both serve as guidebooks for manipulation.
It’s easy to simply see his books as evil, and that may ring true if you were to follow his rules to a T — the true value these books provide to the layman lies in taking the guidelines he lays out as piecemeal. After all, everything he writes is the result of taking tried and true methods observed throughout history and distilling them into harsh (but true) principles that explore keys to power, seduction, strategy, mastery, and human nature.
It’s not evil to be a realist about the innate nature of mankind as learned through the most powerful people our world has seen. In actuality, his research proves to be extremely fruitful and delivers brutal insight that we can all extract immense value from.
It may intrigue you that his books are influential to many of the world’s entrepreneurs, athletes, and celebrities such as Will Smith and Jay-Z. Such attention merits a closer look into the mind and wisdom this man provides. Now given that he’s rather prolific as a novelist, it’s better to introduce you to some of his best insights through a few simple quotes from him that I believe can provide the most value to you.
“Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.”
To be bold is to overcome fear with bravery and be firmly committed and decisive in the action you take. It’s a true mark of a great leader as it instigates growth, progress, and movement not only in yourself but others. Now, this shouldn’t be confused with impulsive action, the bold person makes strategic risks and strides forward by taking planned action without hesitation or doubt. This is much easier said than done.
As Psychology Today put it, indecisiveness infects some constantly as a result of chronic overthinking and anxiety. If you identify yourself in this light, it might benefit you to take an objective look as to why you’re lost in this self-limiting thought-loop.
Maybe you’re caught up in the future, self-critical, assign too great importance to everything, and are afraid of upsetting others — all things deeply rooted in an underlying sense of fear. Now it’s good to note that no one can escape such emotional thought patterns, but the difference between the bold and the timid lies in the ability to overcome such modes of thought.
How can one overcome such fear? It all comes down to how you psychologically frame the situation. That same article states that you can learn to become bold by practicing mental solitude and listening to your gut, setting priorities, understanding that action can always be corrected and that you must most importantly force yourself to take a course of action.
A simpler approach is to use Mark Manson’s “do-something” principle which simply claims that action leads to inspiration which leads to motivation which goes full-circle and leads back to action. All it takes is one step forward instead of stagnating in the same place.
“The best way to neutralize our natural impatience is to cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain — like an athlete, you come to enjoy rigorous practice, pushing past your limits, and resisting the easy way out.”
As the saying goes, “No pain. No gain”. Being an athlete, I understand this principle on a spiritual level. In order for me to progress athletically, I have to constantly be willing to push past my current limits through deliberate practice. I’ve found this to be equally true in anything I do.
In my job, I couldn’t have made myself seen as a valuable resource if I wasn’t constantly trying to breach the limitations of what was expected. I had to intentionally try to move above-and-beyond what was set before me. This required grit, persistence, and the mental fortitude to keep me from falling into the path of least resistance. Without doing so, there’s no way I could’ve seen myself actualizing my goals.
In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth reinforces this point through her observation that the only true way to high achievement is not talent but the ability to persist through our hardest moments without taking our focus off what we’re trying to achieve. As she says:
“…grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance”
The best way out of impatience and desire to be somewhere or something else is to simply take the path of most resistance. Learn to find pleasure in the pain by knowing that pain is exactly the thing that is making you grow.
“Any titles, money, or privilege you inherit are actually hindrances. They delude you into believing you are owed respect.”
Among the most difficult things to do when achieving any metric of success is staying humble and disallowing your ego to get the best of you. As Ryan Holiday put it in his acclaimed book Ego is the Enemy: “Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”
No one owes you anything. You shouldn’t expect the respect of others. Rather you should do the contrary which is what the Stoics call, premeditatio malorum — roughly translated to “the premeditation of evils and troubles that may lie ahead”.
What this Stoic proverb illuminates is that we must set our expectations low. We should expect the worst from people and the worst possible outcome of any situation. It’s better to think of this, not as pessimism, but as strategic negativity. When you expect the worst, you can better prepare your mind for resilience and empathy in the toughest situations. You prime yourself to believe that you always have to earn the respect of others regardless of your accomplishments. That respect is something you are awarded based on your daily actions. If anything, it serves as motivation to always do the highest good you can possibly deliver.
“It is in fact the height of selfishness to merely consume what others create and to retreat into a shell of limited goals and immediate pleasures.”
I can just imagine Ayn Rand — founder of Objectivism and author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead — with the biggest grin on her face when reading this quote. Rand once wrote: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” She praised the individual and the internal spirit. To live your life consuming the creativity of others without being creative yourself was among the greatest humanitarian sins. She saw it to be a waste of human potential. Human potential and achievement, as she saw it, was exactly what fueled the motor of the world.
That’s why passivity, procrastination, and laziness are seen as vice. Our ability to create and foster positive change in the world is precisely what allows the world to move forward and continuously improve in ways that make our lives easier. You can’t move the world forward if you don’t act upon and recognize your own potential as a human being. Everyone is capable of great things — be it for themselves or others. One of the primary differences that set the “remembered” from the “forgotten” was the fact that they tried and never gave up in accordance with their highest values.
“Actually, your past successes are your biggest obstacle: every battle, every war, is different, and you cannot assume that what worked before will work today.”
No situation is the same. I’ve observed a large majority of people fall into the thinking that success can be replicated by constantly repeating what worked for them in the past or by simply studying and mimicking the success of others. To some degree, this may ring true. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t move in a linear fashion. Not a single success story is identical to the next. What this means for you is that you should focus on adaptation. As Charles Darwin said:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
You should aim to be dynamic in thought and fluid in your decision making. Be readily prepared to tweak or shift whatever you already know into the current situation you’re facing. As this article in Entrepreneur Magazine highlights, “the ability to evolve can keep you in the game and lead to further growth and success”. It allows you to stay relevant, think creatively, uncover hidden and new opportunities, become happier, and establish yourself as an interesting and reliable individual.
Remember, you can’t constantly try to fit a square block in a triangle-shaped hole. Eventually, you’ll need to find a knife and carve that block into the desired shape of the hole or carve the triangle into the shape of the square. Constantly search for new ways to learn, think, and do.
“It is your own bad strategies, not the unfair opponent, that are to blame for your failures. You are responsible for the good and bad in your life.”
No one likes someone who constantly complains and places all blame on external forces. That being so, I admit guilt to this. It’s much too easy to point fingers at others rather than subsiding your ego to blame yourself for all the failure and hardship that creeps into your life. Yes, we’re not all dealt the same cards. Some are born with better hands than others. Not everything goes as planned. Even so, it’s essential that we accept our situation as it is, harboring full ownership and acceptance for the outcome of our lives.
In Jocko Wilink’s book, Extreme Ownership, he utilizes stories from his tours as a Navy Seal and his mentorship within the business world to drill into the reader’s mind that the key to great leadership and self-reliance is the ability to operate at a high degree of humility. He emphasizes that one must practice “admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges” in order to achieve peak levels of freedom, fortitude, and leadership. In essence, you always have a hand in the cookie jar of your own life.
A good way to overcome such internal challenges is by intentionally living by and reminding yourself of the proverbial Stoic principle, Amor Fati — a love of fate. Practice learning to love every failure, hardship, mistake, and annoyance in your life through radical acceptance. Know that these external forces are things that are out of your control, so the best thing you can do is march forward humbly with the gift of foresight. That’s why you should challenge yourself to focus entirely on what you can control — your decisions, actions, and reactions. You’re harnessed in the driver seat of your mind, so best to take full ownership of every good and bad thing that occurs in your life.
My friend once told me that his Mom used to claim: “No one cares about you. No one’s going to help you. You have to do everything for yourself. Be self-reliant.” The odds are against you.
It’s a hard notion to accept, but what it comes down to is that we possess full control of our lives. We shouldn’t rest our hopes on anyone or anything else we cross paths with. Ultimately, we define the meaning and outcomes we have in our lives through what we do and how we think. You can either live passively, or you can actively sharpen your mind in a way that benefits you.
That’s the largest thing to understand about the lessons that Robert Greene delivers. Everything depends on harnessing control of yourself and taking directed and intentional action to get the most out of life. It isn’t about manipulation. It isn’t all about power. It’s about actualizing a hardened and beautiful reality for yourself — manifesting the image of your reality piece by piece. Simply tackle the weaknesses in your life with open-minded brutality supported by harsh insight.