High-Level Thoughts

Fantastic, one of Robert Greene’s best. The idea of fearlessness is essential for individual success outside of a traditional path, and even within it. If you can master fearlessness and take control of your own destiny, there is no limit on what you can accomplish.

Summary Notes

“…your fears are a kind of prison that confines you within a limited range of action. The less you fear, the more power you will have and the more fully you will live.”

“We became anxious for our livelihoods, the future of our families and children, our personal health, and the aging process. Instead of a simple, intense fear of something powerful and real, we developed a kind of generalized anxiety. It was as if the thousands of years of feeling fear in the face of nature could not go away— we had to find something at which to direct our anxiety, no matter how small or improbable.”

“Understand: we are all too afraid— of offending people, of stirring up conflict, of standing out from the crowd, of taking bold action. For thousands of years our relationship to this emotion has evolved— from a primitive fear of nature, to generalized anxiety about the future, to the fearful attitude that now dominates us. As rational, productive adults we are called upon to finally overcome this downward trend and to evolve beyond our fears.”

“There are no Alps and no obstacles that can stand in the way of a person without fears.”

“And the people who practice the 50th Law in their lives all share certain qualities— supreme boldness, unconventionality, fluidity, and a sense of urgency— that give them this unique ability to shape circumstance.”

“IN MY VIEW… IT IS BETTER TO BE IMPETUOUS THAN CAUTIOUS, BECAUSE FORTUNE IS A WOMAN, AND IF YOU WISH TO DOMINATE HER YOU MUST BEAT HER AND BATTER HER. IT IS CLEAR THAT SHE WILL LET HERSELF BE WON BY MEN WHO ARE IMPETUOUS RATHER THAN BY THOSE WHO STEP CAUTIOUSLY. —Niccolò Machiabelli”

Intense Realism

“YOU MUST FEARLESSLY ACCEPT THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, EVEN EMBRACE THEM. BY FOCUSING YOUR ATTENTION ON WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND YOU, YOU WILL GAIN A SHARP APPRECIATION FOR WHAT MAKES SOME PEOPLE ADVANCE AND OTHER FALL BEHIND.”

“…the greatest danger you face is your mind growing soft and your eye getting dull.”

“People can be full of book knowledge and crammed with information but have no real sense of what’s going on around them. It is in fact a function of character and fearlessness.”

“What you see determines what you think and how you act. The moment you believe in some cherished idea that you will hold on to no matter what your eyes and ears reveal to you, you are no longer a realist.”

Exercises in realism:

  • Take opportunities to be more curious and open, explore the truth. Imagine you don’t know anything.
  • Expand yourself so you know the complete terrain. Expose yourself to different ideas, go outside of your comfort zone.
  • Dig deeper, get to the roots. “When you do not get to the root of a problem, you cannot solve it in any meaningful manner. People like to look at the surfaces, get all emotional and react, doing things that make them feel better in the short term but do nothing for them in the long term.”
  • Look ahead, beyond the present, get a better perspective. “It is a law of power, however, that the further and deeper we contemplate the future, the greater our capacity to shape it according to our desires… If you have a long-term goal for yourself, one that you have imagined in detail, then you are better able to make the proper decisions in the present. You know which battles or positions to avoid because they don’t advance you towards your goal.
  • Judge people by their actions, not words.
  • Assess yourself realistically.

Self Reliance, Make Everything You Own

“WHEN YOU WORK FOR OTHERS, YOU ARE AT THEIR MERCY. THEY OWN YOUR WORK; THEY OWN YOU. YOUR CREATIVE SPIRIT IS SQUASHED. WHAT KEEPS YOU IN SUCH POSITIONS IS A FEAR OF HAVING TO SINK OR SWIM ON YOUR OWN. INSTEAD YOU SHOULD HAVE A GREATER FEAR OF WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU IF YOU REMAIN DEPENDENT ON OTHERS FOR POWER. YOUR GOAL IN EVERY MANEUVER IN LIFE MUST BE OWNERSHIP, WORKING THE CORNER FOR YOURSELF. WHEN IT IS YOURS TO LOSE-YOU ARE MORE MOTIVATED, MORE CREATIVE, MORE ALIVE. THE ULTIMATE POWER IN LIFE IS TO BE COMPLETELY SELF-RELIANT, COMPLETELY YOURSELF.”

“We will often package this as the opposite— that by working for others, being dutiful, fitting in, or subsuming our personality to the group, we are being a good person. But that is our fear speaking and deluding us. If we give in to this fear, then we will spend our lives looking outward for salvation and never find it. We will merely move from one dependency to another.”

The Blueprint of Self Reliance:

1. Reclaim your dead time.

  • “Remember: your bosses prefer to keep you in dependent positions. It is in their interest that you do not become self-reliant, and so they will tend to hoard information. You must secretly work against this and seize this information for yourself.”

2. Create little empires

  • “Keep in mind the following: what you really value in life is ownership, not money. If ever there is a choice— more money or more responsibility— you must always opt for the latter. A lower-paying position that offers more room to make decisions and carve out little empires is infinitely preferable to something that pays well but constricts your movements.”

3. Move higher up the food chain

  • Your goal in life must be to always move higher and higher up the food chain, where you alone control the direction of your enterprise and depend on no one. Since this goal is a future ideal, in the present you must strive to keep yourself free of unnecessary entanglements and alliances. And if you cannot avoid having partners, make sure that you are clear as to what function they serve for you and how you will free yourself of them at the right moment.

4. Make your enterprise reflect your individuality

  • Understand: you are one of a kind. Your character traits are a kind of chemical mix that will never be repeated in history. There are ideas unique to you, a specific rhythm and perspective that are your strengths, not your weaknesses. You must not be afraid of your uniqueness and you must care less and less what people think of you.

“Finally, do not be taken in by the culture of ease. Self-help books and experts will try to convince you that you can have what you want by following a few simple steps. Things that come easy and fast will leave you just as fast.”

“THERE IS A TIME IN EVERY MAN’S EDUCATION WHEN HE ARRIVES AT THE CONVICTION THAT… IMITATION IS SUICIDE… THAT THOUGH THE WIDE UNIVERSE IS FULL OF GOOD, NO KERNEL OF NOURISHING CORN CAN COME TO HIM BUT THROUGH HIS TOIL BESTOWED ON THAT PLOT OF GROUND WHICH IS GIVEN TO HIM TO TILL. – Ralpha Waldo Emerson”

Optimisim, turn shit into sugar

“In places like the hood or in any kind of materially impoverished environment, the response to hardship is much different. There, bad things happening assume a kind of normality. They are part of daily life. The hustler thinks: “I must make the most of what I have, even the bad stuff, because things are not going to get better on their own.”

“When things are going well, that is precisely when you must be concerned and vigilant. You know it will not last and you will not be caught unprepared. When things are going badly, that is when you are most encouraged and fearless. Finally you have material for a powerful reversal, a chance to prove yourself.”

“We generally believe there are only a few such golden chances in life, and most of us are waiting for them to cross our path. This concept is extremely limited in scope. It makes us dependent on outside forces.”

“Many of us have had the following experience: we find ourselves in an urgent, difficult situation. Perhaps we have to get something done in an impossibly short amount of time, or someone we had counted on for help does not come through, or we are in a foreign land and must suddenly fend for ourselves. In these situations, necessity crowds in on us. We have to get work done and figure out problems quickly or we suffer immediate consequences. What usually happens is that our minds snap to attention. We find the necessary energy because we have to. We pay attention to details that normally elude us, because they might spell the difference between success and failure, life and death. We are surprised at how inventive we become. It is at such moments that we get a glimpse of that potential mental power within us that generally lies untapped. If only we could have such a spirit and attitude in everyday life.”

“If we look for more— information, outside people to help us— it won’t necessarily lead to anything better; in fact the waiting and the dependence makes us less creative. When we go to work with what is there, we find new ways to employ this material. We solve problems, develop skills we can use again and again, and build up our confidence. If we become wealthy and dependent on money and technology, our minds atrophy and that wealth will not last.”

“Most people wait too long to go into action, generally out of fear. They want more money or better circumstances. You must go the opposite direction and move before you think you are ready. It is as if you are making it a little more difficult for yourself, deliberately creating obstacles in your path. But it is a law of power that your energy will always rise to the appropriate level.”

Keys:

  • Make the most of what you have
  • Turn all obstacles into openings, into opportunities
  • Look for turning points
  • Move before you are ready

Keep Moving: Calculated Momentum

“DON’T GIVE OTHERS THE CHANCE TO PIN YOU DOWN; KEEP MOVING AND CHANGING YOUR APPEARANCES TO FIT THE ENVIRONMENT. IF YOU ENCOUNTER WALLS OR BOUNDARIES, SLIP AROUND THEM. DO NOT LET ANYTHING DISRUPT YOUR FLOW.”

“Life has a particular pace and rhythm, an endless stream of changes that can move slowly or quickly. When you try to stop this flow mentally or physically by holding on to things or people, you fall behind. Your actions become awkward because they are not in relation to present circumstances. It is like moving against a current as opposed to using it to propel you forward.”

Keys:

  • Mental flow, stay curious, don’t let your knowledge be confined to one area or category.
  • Emotional flow, do not dwell on feelings, you must learn to forget what emotions stand in your way.
  • Social flow, be able to easily move between different groups, do not stay stuck to a tribe, and trust the people you work with.
  • Cultural flow, move culture forward, do not be locked into one archaic form of expression.

Aggression, know when to be bad

“As Fifty had learned, talent and good intentions are never enough in this world; you need to be fearless and strategic.”

“If you indicate you’ll do anything to avoid trouble, that’s when you get in trouble.”

Types of situations where you’ll need to be aggressive:

  • Aggressors. Don’t fight them head on, subvert them, go behind their back, don’t let them know you’re fighting back until it’s too late.
  • Passive Aggressors. Take bold, uncompromising action against them. Don’t play their games, don’t subvert them, be fearless and direct in your combat with them and you’ll send them running.
  • Unjust situations. Play the fox, design strategies to win over public support without being blatant about your intentions to upend the situation. You must be willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the enemy.
  • Static situations. If a situation has become static, ignore the rules and make your own. There is power to be had in instigating a new order.
  • Impossible dynamics. Terminate the relationship, leave the job, don’t fight a battle that can’t be won.

Authority, lead from the front

“IN ANY GROUP, THE PERSON ON TOP CONSCIOUSLY OR UNCONSCIOUSLY SETS THE TONE. IF LEADERS ARE FEARFUL, HESITANT TO TAKE ANY RISKS, OR OVERLY CONCERNED FOR THEIR EGO AND REPUTATION, THEN THIS INVARIABLY FILTERS ITS WAY THROUGH THE ENTIRE GROUP AND MAKES EFFECTIVE ACTION IMPOSSIBLE.”

“FOR IT IS A GENERAL RULE OF HUMAN NATURE THAT PEOPLE DESPISE THOSE WHO TREAT THEM WELL AND LOOK UP TO THOSE WHO MAKE NO CONCESSIONS. – Thurydides”

Four roles you must perform:

  • The Visionary: “You must play this visionary role with some dramatic flair, like Edison who was a consummate performer and promoter. He would give dazzling presentations of his ideas, and stage events to get on the front page of newspapers. Like Moses describing the Promised Land, he could paint an alluring picture of the future that his inventions would help create. This drew in money from investors and inspired his researchers to work even harder. Your own level of excitement and self-belief will convince people that you know where you are going and should be followed.”
  • The Unifier: “A group needs a centripetal force to give it unity and cohesion but it is not enough to have that be you and the force of your personality. Instead it should be a cause that you fearlessly embody… This cause elevates your group above others. It has a quasi-religious aura to it, a kind of cult feeling. Now, to fight or doubt you from within is to stand against this cause and seem selfish. The group, infused with this belief system, will tend to police itself and root out troublemakers.”
  • The Role Model: “Operating with a mission statement is an effective way of softening your image and disguising the extent of your power. You are seen as more than just a leader; you are a role model, instructing, energizing, and inspiring your lieutenants. In crafting this team, look for people who share your values and are open to learning. Do not be seduced by a glittering résumé. You want them near you, to absorb your spirit and ways of doing things. Once you feel they have the proper training, you must not be afraid to let go of the reins and give them more independence. In the end, this will save you much energy and allow you to continue focusing on the greater strategic picture.”
  • The Bold Knight: “You keep your group marching and on the offensive. This will excite them and give them a feeling of movement. You are not taking unnecessary risks, but simply adding a dash of aggression to your normally staid group. They become used to seeing you out in front and grow addicted to the excitement you bring with each new campaign.”

Connection, know your environment from the inside out

Keys:

  • Crush all distance. You must have access to people at all levels in the organizaton you wish to control.
  • Open informal channels for criticism and feedback.
  • Reconnect with your base. “You have a base of power— a group of people, small or large, which identifies with you. This base is also mental— ideas you had when you were younger, which were tied to powerful emotions and inspired you to take a particular path. Time and success tend to diffuse the sense of connection you have to this physical and mental base… Know your base and work to reconnect with it.”
  • Create the social mirror. “You view your work from inside your mind, encrusted with all kinds of desires and fears. They see it as an object; they see it as it is. Through their criticisms you can get closer to this objective version and gradually improve what you do.”

Mastery, respect the process

“THE FOOLS IN LIFE WANT THINGS FAST AND EASY-MONEY, SUCCESS, ATTENTION. BOREDOM IS THEIR GREAT ENEMY AND FEAR. WHATEVER THEY MANAGE TO GET SLIPS THROUGH THEIR HANDS AS FAST AS IT COMES IN. YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND, WANT TO OUTLAST YOUR RIVALS. YOU ARE BUILDING THE FOUNDATION FOR SOMETHING THAT CAN CONTINUE TO EXPAND.”

“MOST PEOPLE CAN’T HANDLE BOREDOM. THAT MEANS THEY CAN’T STAY ON ONE THING UNTIL THEY GET GOOD AT IT. AND THEY WONDER WHY THEY’RE UNHAPPY. —50 Cent”

“More often than not our jobs are something that we endure; we live for our time off and dream of the future. We are not engaged in the daily activity of the job with our full mental powers because it is not as exciting as life outside work.”

“When we look at those who stand out in history, we tend to focus on their achievements. From such an angle, it is easy for us to be dazzled and see their success as stemming from genetics and perhaps some social factors. They are gifted. We could never reach their level, or so we think. But we are choosing to ignore that telling period in their lives, when each and every one of them underwent a rather tedious apprenticeship in their field.”

“Understand: the real secret, the real formula for power in this world, lies in accepting the ugly reality that learning requires a process, and this in turn demands patience and the ability to endure drudge work.”

Developing the proper relationship to mastery and the process:

  • Progress through trial and error.
  • Master something simple. Develop a pattern of confidence through the parts of your life that you take control over.
  • Intenralize the rules of the game. “With a deepening knowledge of these rules you can begin to maneuver them for your purpose… Knowing how it works, you can take it apart— for good.”
  • Attune yourself to the details. “Often when you begin a project of any kind, it is from the wrong end. You tend to think first of what you want to accomplish, imagining the glory and money it will bring you if it succeeds. You then proceed to make this concept come to life. But as you go forward you often lose patience, because the small steps to get there are not nearly as exciting as the ambitious visions in your head.”
  • Rediscover your natural persistence. “First, you must understand the role that your energy level plays in mastering a process and bringing something to completion. If you take on added goals or new tasks, your focus will be broken up and you will never attain what you wanted in the first place… Second, try breaking things up into smaller blocks of time. You have a large goal, but there are steps along the way, and steps within the steps.”

“Try to look at boredom from the opposite perspective— as a call for you to slow yourself down, to stop searching for endless distractions.”

Self Belief, Push beyond your limits

“PEOPLE FOLLOW THOSE WHO KNOW WHERE THEY ARE GOING, SO CULTIVATE AN AIR OF CERTAINTY AND BOLDNESS.”

“If you are dependent on their judgments for your sense of worth, then your ego will always be weak and fragile.”

“Understand: people will constantly attack you in life. One of their main weapons will be to instill in you doubts about yourself— your worth, your abilities, your potential. They will often disguise this as their objective opinion, but invariably it has a political purpose— they want to keep you down.”

Strategies for pushing past yours and society’s limits:

  • Defy all categories. Don’t let yourself be shunted into something where people can have expectations.
  • Constantly reinvent yourself. “Consistency is an illusion anyway— each passing day brings changes within you. You must not be afraid to express these evolutions.”
  • Subvert your patterns. “What often prevent us from using the mental fluidity and freedom that we naturally possess are the physical routines in our lives. We see the same people and do the same things, and our minds follow these patterns. The solution then is to break this up.”
  • Create a sense of destiny. “Having supreme confidence makes you fearless and persistent, allowing you to overcome obstacles that stop most people in their tracks. It makes others believe in you as well. And the most intense form of self-belief is to feel a sense of destiny impelling you forward.”
  • Bet on yourself. “You must always be prepared to place a bet on yourself, on your future, by heading in a direction that others seem to fear.”

The Sublime, confront your mortality

“He realized that the key in life is to always be willing to walk away. He was often surprised that in doing so, or even feeling that way, people would come back to him on his terms, now fearing what they might lose in the process. And if they didn’t return, then good riddance.”

“To accomplish this is remarkably simple. It is a matter of looking inward and seeing death as something that you carry within. It is a part of you that cannot be repressed. It does not mean that you brood about it, but that you have continual awareness of a reality that you come to embrace. You convert the terrified, denial-type relationship to death into something active and positive— finally released from pettiness, useless anxieties, and fearful, timid responses.”

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