Is This Who You Want to Be?

November 5, 2008 — 54 Comments

-Here’s a list of 30 books you’re supposed to read before you’re thirty if you plan to be plain, uninspired and be an English teacher at a local junior college.

-Or here’s some advice on making money from writing by someone who isn’t actually a writer or happen to know anyone who is one.

-This is a chubby weirdo who thinks you have to confront your boss to get vacation.

-Lastly, we have a ‘brand manager’ who can casually reference the 2 truths, 1 lie icebreaker along with some logical fallacies, unnecessary acronyms and plenty of Arbitrary Capitalization of ordinary Phrases For Emphasis.

If you’re a piddly fucking loser who spends their time reading employee handbooks and going to mixers then that’s a way to think about life. If at any time during your day or education the concepts of Good Boss, Bad Boss, social media, Gen Y, Gen X, Seven Highly Effective Habits, ‘Bulletproofing’, Blogging, liveblogging are in anyway significant, you’ve saddled yourself with the wrong set of priorities. God forbid, if you actually use those words in seriousness, I don’t it’s possible to truly quantify how far you’ve removed yourself from the sphere in which people get things done.

The funny thing is that the people who spend time obsessing over these workplace laws are always the absolute worst at following the rules that matter: meeting deadlines, delivering expectations, communicating what they want, being informed, common courtesy. You know, the stuff that makes society work.

So here’s what you do when you read things like that: keep your head down and keep thinking. The problems that they pretend to have figured out are far more complex than the 23 year old working at a non-profit in Minnesota will ever be able to articulate via bulletpoints. In almost all cases, the people who put together tip sheets and career advice give it away for one reason – they couldn’t manage to make use of it themselves. Let them have the low-hanging fruit they pass off as profound observation and dedicate yourself to chipping away at the actual reality in front of you. You know, turning words into works.

The final irony: the world is indeed a profoundly different place than it was a generation ago, the Brazen Careerist writers though, they are the same small-minded, pontificating idiots that’ve plagued every recorded age. You don’t have to let your ego pull you down that hole. You can pass up attention, the temptation to boil big things down to headlines and giving yourself comically pompous titles and experiences you’ve yet to earn. It just takes discipline and some goddamn perspective.

Note: I keep reading that Penelope Trunk and Brazen Careerist need venture funding, so if you have a few dollars laying around, maybe they’ll make give you an honorary chair in the field of Coachology.

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.

54 responses to Is This Who You Want to Be?

  1. Nice post today. I always thought that “low hanging fruit” was one of the mantras of piddly fucking bosses who cram the 7 habits et al. mentality down the throats of the saps who work for them.

    You couldn’t have been more correct in mentioning that those who can’t do teach. That doesn’t just stop with the ‘coaches’ either. It extends to every branch of the education system. The brain dead teachers who still teach the same thing in the same way as they did in the Carter administration are doing more harm to the future than the banks and insurance industry ever could.

  2. A rather poor posting. You write, “Here’s a list of 30 books you’re supposed to read before you’re thirty if you plan to be plain, uninspired and be an English teacher at a local junior college.” That’s absurd, everyone should read these books. These are among the greatest works of literature written in history. Any intelligent person should go through all of these. A found this post to be rather shallow, arrogant, and cheap post without your usual insight.

  3. IIya you’re wrong. That list is an atrocity. It looks like a computer put it together.

    Hell, that whole site looks like something some human resources director put through an automated program to produce 100 articles out of the same 50 words and cliches.

  4. Sweet, 30 books you should have read if you have a high school diploma.

  5. And here comes the pitch.

    Ilya swiiiiings….and MISSES!

    Ryan’s point has nothing to do with thsoe 30 books. He’s saying that the idea that one can construct a list of 30-must-reads-for-everyone is profoundly stupid. To hone in on the 30 “must reads” is uninspired, narrow-minded, and intellectually lazy.

    Read what interests you, and inspires you. Then go find more of it. Ignore the lists.

    Does it really matter in any way whether someone has read those specific books? Is there any tangible gain to it?

    • “To hone in on the 30 ‘must reads’ is uninspired, narrow-minded, and intellectually lazy.”

      Fantastic! This is perfect considering that I’m visiting this site for the first time *because* of Ryan’s recommended reading list (which includes “Books to Base Your Life On” — note the capital letters).

      Fuck you Colin.

  6. Harsh, but funny. I await their response and hope that humor will ensue.

  7. I’m going to email these douchebags – WAHOO TIME. And by the way, chubby is understating it.

  8. I can only imagine what kind of euphemism “Brand Manager” is. Title inflation I’m sure.

  9. Colin, you’re a hell of a mind reader. The intention you’re inferring has no proof in what Ryan wrote.

    I take issue with slamming this list. I respect Ryan as a reader, and he shows taste with his list of favorite passages, but anyone who slams this list while putting Palahniuk and Ellis on a pedestal needs . . . something.

    I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and consider this just the juicy spread on the B.C. flamebait.

  10. Frankly, what’s the point of harping on idiots? They’re everywhere, there are lots of them, but there is absolutely no benefit to pointing them out and then saying “and when you run into them, ignore them.”

    However, you do make one good point: idiots always try to validate their stupid ideas by getting other people to listen to them. It’s easier to talk than to listen or think.

  11. Wow. I guess if I was an English professor at a junior college, I’d be offended.

    By the way, I counted seventeen grammar/syntax mistakes/typos in your post. Nice work.

  12. Fuck anyone who says different: this is one of the best things you’ve written in a while.

    I came to this realization a while ago, in slightly different form: growing up, the people who always tell you to ‘reach for the stars’ and to ‘follow your dreams’ are dreadfully boring guidance teachers and defeated schoolteachers.

    As such, they are always shocked, SHOCKED, when someone actually embodies and lives by the flaccid inspirational slogans they espouse; they don’t want to see people live dangerously, they want to see people live in the same quiet desperation they live in. Seriously, watch the faces of teachers and guidance counselors and career center advisers or whoever else when you demonstrate actual excellence, the kind of thing underlying their bloated slogans, in their presence. They get overloaded with irony and self-parody and it’s hilarious to watch.

  13. Do you ever wonder if you’re a “pontificating idiot”? I’ve read you’re blog on and off for a while, and I can’t tell. Sometimes you seem to exhibit a profound lack of experience and insight, and then you’ll follow it up with a fantastic thought. Maybe you’re just cherry picking stuff you don’t agree with or that makes you feel better about the way you see things.

  14. I might be, who knows. I certainly try to pontificate about things a little more meaningful than internship interview hacks.

  15. Does she seriously consider that thing a start up? Beware taking advice from fools.

  16. Whoa, hold up. How am I supposed to buy a beamer if I don’t know how to hack my internship interview????

  17. All the books on that list probably are worth reading before 30. But that isn’t the point, is it?

    The real message is that there is no fucking secret formula. You didn’t discover the recipe for Manhood/Proper Reading/Vacation Time. There is no alchemy to doing this stuff the right way. Bulleted lists often come into existence because their intellectually lazy progenitors find it easier to analyze a niche topic as if it were governed by a special set of rules not found elsewhere in reality rather than work on the more difficult general principles where they are hugely deficient.

  18. The word faggot may be overused or inappropriate but damn does it describe these folks.

  19. Ryan,

    I agree with you 100 percent. PT of Brazen Careerist is a fucking idiot. I havent checked her other bloggers, but if it is anything like her, then, they suck, too. I give her chances every once in a while, but she keeps writing idiotic articles, and I agree, I cant stand this crap about gen y, gen x, and whatever else they feel will be the new way of doing things. I am in your boat; i dont give a shit. I am not going to pampher anybody just because they are from a so called different generation, and I am really not going to drop email and instead facebook message my employees like a lot of these idiots are propsing.

  20. steve@steve.com November 6, 2008 at 9:52 am

    oh, yeah, the people defending brazen in these comments are idiots, too.

  21. i stopped reading penelope trunk and brazen careerist bullshit a while ago, and you hit the spot there too. i’m 20 and i don’t see the need to structure my life according to bullet points.

  22. This post is the first thing I’ve read of yours. I liked it.

    Interestingly, as I was reading your post, the story of Siddhartha came to mind… and low and behold, there it was in the number 1 position.

    The reason I thought of that story in particular is that when I read it, before I was 30, the big take-away for me was that there is no “secret formula” to achieving enlightenment or anything else.

    Which seems to be your point.

    Too bad the description of the book on that list, “A powerful story about the importance of life experiences as they relate to approaching an understanding of reality and attaining enlightenment” doesn’t really impart the real nugget of the story.

    I could read Brazen Careerist or anything else all day long, and still never know anything about my own path to whatever I’m seeking.

    Thanks for pointing that out in an interesting way.

  23. Um, aren’t you blogging?

    And aren’t you other people reading them and commenting?

  24. That list is hilarious – anyone could have written that, he doesn’t say anything at all about any of them that isn’t on their blurb.

    Not a single article at that “startup” is worth a dime – they all have their heads up their ass.

  25. Everyone on the net knows Penelope and that whole Brazen Careerist is made up of pretentious people attempting to create a “Gen Y” feel good group. Newsflash. No one cares about Gen Y or any of that other bullshit.

    Employers want to know what you can contribute to the bottom line. If you can’t or won’t contribute, move on.

    And anyone who takes advice from Penelope needs their fucking head examined. Why would you take life and career advice from a woman who would rather pursue a career than keep her family together? Why take life and career advice from a “Brazen Careerist”. Anyone worth anything knows that’s just code or woman-speak for “Raging Bitch at Work”.

  26. Hey Ryan,

    It’s posts like yours that tell me I’m doing good things over at Brazen Careerist. All our content is way better than this crap your putting out there and if you want to know why you never will because you suck.

  27. Ah sweet Penelope, gentle bride of Odysseus, allow me to enlighten you.

    What separates good writing from tripe is the level of raw emotional honesty underlying and informing it.

    While Ryan isn’t a world leader in that sort of all-important emotional rawness, at least he’s aware that it is important. It’s the main thing I, in my own small way, try to help him with. Watch his posts grow fiercer and bolder as I needle him, fairest Penelope.

    You, though, are an unrepentant sophist. You trade in sophistry and surface. You haven’t passed the all-important “deep end of the pool” test. You aren’t even aware that there is a deep end; and you might not even be aware that there is a pool.

    How do I know this? Because of your indignant and shallow responses to provocation. But no matter; you aren’t a smart person, and you aren’t writing for a smart audience.

    • Actually, I’m fairly sure P. Trunk’s response was *not* to say “my shit is better than your shit”. The purpose of her response was entirely selfish, but I don’t think in a bad way. It’s to sort of nurse the wound, because it hurts to be attacked like that. It’s function is sort of like “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” The function is purely to shake the criticism off and get back to work.

      Of course I understand that may not necessarily be a good thing if the work isn’t worthwhile… just… try a little empathy. Think “moving beyond my stupid little perspective how she’s so dumb and this is a dumb rebuttal, why would SHE be doing this?”

  28. steve@steve.com November 7, 2008 at 8:34 am

    @Penelope Trunk

    Honestly, PT, I really dont give a shit if Ryan is wrong all the time, or what. Your defense was fucking weak. It would have been better if you came on this blog and left a good defense rather than “my shit is better than your shit”. These kind of posts are why I read him, for calling out stupid hacks like yourself. Its entertaining. And dont get the idea that I came to hate you from reading RH’s blog; I didn’t. I found out about its — yours — stupidity on my own. Ryan just happened to agree with my own personal feelings on the matter. I really liked your post about on how we should all take it easy on Sara Palin:

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/10/06/you-should-make-sarah-palin-your-mentor/

    Entitled: You Should make Sarah Palin your mentor

    You defend Palin as doing a great job, given the circumstances, and all sorts of other lame ass excuses. What the fuck ever. My little brother has a better grasp on geopolitics than this dip shit.

    And we can all go on about your numerous, moronic posts on how Gen Y is going to rule the work world, and how were all going to run our offices by surfing facebook all day and not taking crap from the boss because, hey, your a part of gen Y.

    Bullshit.

    You and your followers are living in a delusional, fantasy world. While I can respect your writings for, well, its tiny specks of pragmatism, most of it comes off as whiney bullshit about how the “new” generation is going to be in charge one day and how. Every fucking post of yours has stupid lists and “new” rules for the workplace, because the “new” generation is going to rule one day. Laced with idiotic terms and phrases — of your own making — your writing is … well, junk. Gen Y, Gen X, Social Media, blah, blah, blah.

    I know you like laws and bulleted lists, Penelope, … so here is one for you: your following, and everything it represents reminds me of Rule 27 of Robert Greene’s the 48 Laws of Power: “Play on People’s need to believe to create a cult like following”. What you have a is a cult full of followers who are looking for a single, right answer to solve all their imaginary work problems. You try to fill that void, I suppose. Your method of choice? Shallow, bulleted articles, prescribing fixed solutions with unique, sometimes made up phrases, which, as Green will note, are typical of cults. The problem is, as Ryan alluded to, your trainwreck of a site is simply pounding square pegs, into round holes. No one person is going to have the same problem, and no rule, as even Robert Green will note, is set in stone. Sometimes you have to be more imaginative than conventional thinking. On top of that, I think Ryan makes a valid point. Your writers act like they have all this great experience and such, yet its seems fucking phony to me, as Ryan Alluded to, because neither you, nor any of your so-called writers appears to have earned shit, (maybe a few, though I doubt) and our rather just blabbing about the world as they would think it is, not how it really is. People are really good as detecting bullshit, the smart ones at least, and I call bullshit.

    And as far as your weak defense, at least the Rudius guys seem real, and not phony and full of shit. Even your picture on your website, looks like a fake smile. As somebody who is versed in body language, it totally reeks of FAKE, but, of course, that is my own, subjective opinion. On the flip side, one might view it as perfect because it would signify everything your site represents: Fake, phony, bullshit.

  29. ryan, what advise would you give for the “piddly fucking losers” who do get insight from these sources? where should we turn?

  30. Jesus Kid.

    You’re too damn young to be this jaded already.

  31. Awesome post. I don’t read the site, but you’ve nailed them. This was a pithy and justified jab at the heart of their fucked little company, and as I read it, I knew it’d provoke a bunch of irrational defence from Penelope et al.

    I’m listed as a writer on their site, but fucked if I’ve ever written anything for that audience.

  32. Well, being jaded is one of the costs of being able to discern the bullshit in this world. I would much rather be jaded than dissilusioned like these tools at Brazen Careeist who believe they actually create value.

  33. The name of the site is enough to keep me from checking it out. Doesn’t get much more pompous than “Brazen Careerist.”

    Is it supposed to be tongue-in-cheek or do they really intend to call themselves “Flamboyant Douchebags?”

  34. at least they mentioned the master and margarita; that deserves credit.

  35. Having read this article, I decided to check out this site that Ryan was talking about. It seems to me that she offers a lot of bad advice and, well, just fucking moronic pieces of advice to people, citing that it is counter-intuitive.

    In fact, all of her advice seems to take the counter-intuitive approach, as she calls it. It seems her articles and bullshit are more just a gimmick than something derived from actual experience or knowledge. Its good to do hardwork … her approach, instead of doing hard work, just stroll into the office 3 hours late, and it will be all right because your the Y generation, and the bosses are going to have to deal with you guys, so you can get away with it. Always the opposite to conventional thinking — that´s how she writes. Nothing wrong with that style when it is good and needed, but the way she uses it makes her look like a fucking idiot.

    For example: 3 ways to get ahead in the world place, 10 ways to handle asking for raise, 4 ideas to start a business, 30 books to … it seems all of the articles are written in this fashion, and dont really offer any practical wisdom, which, I think was Ryan´s point.

    Not only that, but who the fuck is this chick to be doling out such advice when she doesn´t really have any experience of her own. All she has done has published one book about, basically, what she blogs about. She has no experience whatsoever with management in a real world situation, venture capital, or power dynamics in the workplace that she claims to have experience. I would be a little bit more convinced if her bio wasnt so damn vague. She talks about going through an IPO for her company and how she has all this experience, yet there are no concrete examples. Further, you would think google would pull up this information about her past, but it doesn´t even do that. I think she is full of shit and she has a following who is happy to gulp up this pile of shit that she is spewing. Ryan is on the mark for this posers. PT Barnum said there was a sucker born every minute, and I guess, in this respect, PT is smart, because she has got followers eating up her garbage, but any sane person would read this Brazen Idiot and disregard it.

  36. >”In her personal life, Trunk routinely (often awkwardly) demonstrates buzzwords before they buzz, like the quarterlife crisis, portfolio career, and shared-care parenting.”

    Who would ever take pride in that? I’d be ashamed.

  37. Hey think of this: so these people are just offering advice without really seeming to have any reason to back it up, but isn’t that exactly how that guy you work for, Robert Greene is?

    He is just giving advice on power from a guy who doesn’t even have any power and all he does is sit in his room reading books and he is writing about things he has no experience or success in either since someone who might be a real power guy who would be authorized to write about these things with legitimacy be more like say Henry Kissinger or something.

    So it’s a bit like the pot calling the kettle black when your own boss is really the same as these guys.

  38. Yeah, Robert Greene, the guy who is the retained strategic counsel to people like Brian Grazer, Dov Charney, 50 Cent is EXACTLY like a teenager writing career advise on Penelope Trunk’s website. There is a slight difference conclusions developed from primary sources and baseless, naive assertions.

    You’re an idiot.

  39. Ummm, dude there is a big difference between the heads of a t-shirt company, a rapper, and a film director and like Napoleon and major political leaders that Greene writes about.

    He writes about military campaigns and political leadership, but is he the Secretary of State? Is he advising people in real positions of power in the White House or the World Bank or anything like that?

    No, he’s hanging out with a rap artist, a man with no significant power whatsoever on the world scale.

    These people you just listed are not powerful people at all and are the equivalents in the power world of the career people who read Brazen Careerist.

    Seriously, are you comparing 50 Cent or Brian Grazer to the people Robert Greene writes about like Julius Caesar who commanded an entire Empire? How can you even make such a comparison.

    These people are so not power players in the real sense of world power it’s almost ridiculous to even say such a thing.

    When Robert Greene is advising the President or Putin or even a C.E.O. with a real enterprise that actually has major influence on the world like say the head of something like Viacom or Newscorps then that would be something.

    These people are nice guys and all but they are just not powerful at all.

  40. Unfortunately, this is the problem with people who get angry and jealous but aren’t smart enough to notice where reasonable criticism ends and stupid, conspiracy theory thinking starts.

    The 48 Laws of Power is arguably the most successful and widely read book on strategy of the last two decades, you don’t think that maybe, just maybe, some important people have read it?

    Oh wait, of course they have, here’s an article on its influence on the Chavez administration.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/world/americas/21venez.html?n=Top/News/World/Countries%20and%20Territories/Venezuela&pagewanted=all

    There are not many leaders who haven’t been influenced by Machiavelli, yet they don’t go around quoting lines from The Prince for a reason. The reason you’re alone on this one is because most of us simply assume that precisely the people you’re demanding he work with probably don’t advertise their association. The very bottom of that floor is that Robert is on the board of a publicly traded company. What more do you need? Should he become President and try out all his lessons? Would that make you happy?

    Look, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Is it a reasonable point that Robert never held a public office or lead an army? Sure. But he’s a writer and his books are pretty up front about the fact that their basis is in observation and synthesis. There is a slight difference between that and giving career advice WHEN YOU HAVEN’T HAD A CAREER YET.

  41. Vincent: So Greene isn’t a “real power guy?” He sure tricked a lot of people into thinking he is. That seems like quite a power.

    And why the ad hominem attack before you’ve even demonstrated why Greene is wrong? An argument isn’t wrong just because the person making it is unqualified (which isn’t even true in this case). It’s wrong when it fails to apply in reality. Like bulleted lists of books one must read before 30.

    Greene writes about power, i.e. self-command and influence. This shows up in many forms, one of them being that of an immensely popular rapper/entrepreneur. Another, that of a monumentally successful author of strategic literature.

    Hating achievers is not an achievement.

  42. From what I understand, RG has influenced many leaders, and is particularly big in Russia.

    But that´s just my understanding.

  43. randomname@randomname.com November 10, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    To the commentator who said the Rudius media guys are more ‘real’, I think you are on crack. Many of them are interesting, but Holiday here is a joke. He creates a bile-filled post saying other people’s booklists are incorrect, yet he has a book list filled with similar popular books entitled ‘books to live your life by’. Pot. Kettle. Black.

    I’ve been on the Rudius forums for a while and you gotta wonder if Holiday actually reads all these books he lists, as he doesn’t seem to actually say anything profound or reflective for a person digesting a lot of borrowed wisdom. In essence: he doesn’t seem to learn from his reading. He still is the same as the first day I saw him post. All he offers is cynicism, critiques of others, and never admits to being wrong when called on it.

    You’d think a person with a well-rounded education and love of continuous learning would change, but he hasn’t. Why the anomaly?

  44. Yeah a list with Alinsky, evolutionary psychology, Julian Jaynes and Brave New War is totally cliched and exactly the same as that dude who stole his list from ‘The Most Famous Books of All Time.’ If anything Ryan’s list is kind of obscure and crackpotish. Origins of Consciousness? C’mon.

    Pot kettle black…Why do we get the feeling that you’re the same guy who used that phrase earlier in the comments?

  45. Look- the issue is that Penelope Trunk is a massive, glaring sophist. She hasn’t been broken by rigor. Look at her picture, for chrissakes! You know what she is? She’s the annoying girl in your high school English class who everyone hated because she offered her surfacey opinions every three minutes as they occured to her. I hated those people with a robust venom and, given that I’m right about everything always, y’all should hate those people too. You know, they go on to major in psychology at Trinity College in Connecticut or something, but if you actually ask them anything about psychology, all you’re likely to get is a lame rehashing of Zimbardo’s prison experiment or something. I mean just LOOK at Trunk’s picture! Intelligent people should NEVER smile that shit-eatingly. Grr.

  46. @randomname

    What the hell ever. If he does call people out, at least its entertaining, and I suspect, maybe there is a strategy behind driving up controversy, but by and far, Holiday´s reading lists are a lot more uncommon than that garbage being offered up at Brazen Idiots — I mean careerists.

  47. Proof controversy at least, gets people talking. Although if I were to approach my boss tomorrow saying “I know about 10 Post Grads with a Masters in Business” their response would be “So fucking what?”.

    Such are the joys of working in Business Expansion. Can we cut the crap and skip to the useful stuff? Yes, I believe in a copyblogger, no bullshit style of letting people know exactly what they need to do to get hired.

    If they don’t listen, fuck em. I give a shit enough to at least try.

  48. NAILED ‘EM!

    Honestly, I find some great inspiration from sites like these.
    If these idiots can do it (build a website, be an online writer, or make up words) so can I, and I can do it better.
    Like Tucker’s insight when he read Eggers (I think).

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