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And once you start on this path, it is hard to turn back. You will continue all the way to a bold and fearless approach to everything. Understand: you do not have to grow up in Southside Queens or be the target of an assassin to develop the attitude. All of us face challenges, rivals, and setbacks. We choose to ignore or avoid them out of fear.
It is not the physical reality of your environment that matters but your mental state, how you come to deal with the adversity that is part of life on every level. Fifty had to confront his fears; you must choose to. Finally, your attitude has the power of shaping reality in two opposite directions—one that constricts and corners you in with fear, the other that opens up possibilities and freedom of action.
It is the same for the mind- set and spirit that you bring to reading the chapters that follow. If you read them with your ego out in front, feeling that you are being judged here, or are under attack—in other words, if you read them in a defensive mode— then you will needlessly close yourself off from the power this could bring you.
We are all human; we are all implicated by our fears; no one is being judged. Similarly, if you read these words as narrow prescriptions for your life, trying to follow them to the letter, then you are constricting their value—their application to your reality.
Instead you must absorb these words with an open and fearless spirit, letting the ideas get under your skin and affect how you see the world. Do not be afraid to experiment with them. In this way, you will shape this book to your circumstances and gain a similar power over the world.
He wanted more than anything the very things that it seemed he could never have—money, freedom, and power. Looking out on the streets of Southside Queens where he grew up, Curtis saw a grim, depressing reality staring him in the face. He could turn to crime and make his money fast, but the ones who went for that either died young or spent much of their youth in prison. He could escape it all by taking drugs—once you start down that path there is no turning back.
The only people he could see who led the life that he dreamed of were the hustlers, the drug dealers. They had the cars, the clothes, the lifestyle, the degree of power that matched his ambitions. And so by the age of eleven he had made the choice to follow that path and become the greatest hustler of them all. The further he got into it, however, the more he realized that the reality was much grimier and harsher than he had imagined.
The drug fiends, the customers, were erratic and hard to figure out. If you did too well, someone would try to take what you had. The police were everywhere. One wrong move could land you in prison. How could he possibly succeed amid this chaos and avoid all of the inevitable dangers?
It seemed impossible. One day he was discussing the troublesome aspects of the game with an older hustler named Truth, who told him something he would never forget. He has to see through all the bullshit people throw at him—their games, their lousy ideas. He has to look at himself, see his own limitations and stupidity. The greatest danger we face, he told Curtis, is not the police or some nasty rival.
If things go well, he starts thinking it will go on forever and he takes his eyes off the streets. If things go bad, he starts wishing it were all different and he comes up with some foolish scheme to get quick, easy money. Either way, he falls fast. Lose your grip on reality on these streets and you might as well kill yourself. In the months to come, Curtis thought more and more about what Truth had told him, and it began to sink in.
Over the next few years he became one of the savviest hustlers in his neighborhood, operating a small crew that brought him good money. In this unfamiliar space and with time to reflect, suddenly the words of Truth came back to him. See it as it is, no matter how ugly.
But no street hustler lasts that long. By the time hustlers reach their twenties, they slow down and something bad happens or they go scurrying into a low-paying job. And what blinds them to this reality is the money and lifestyle in the moment; they think it will go on forever.
He had to wake up and get out while he was still young and his ambitions could be realized. He would not be afraid. And so based on these reflections, he decided he would make a break into music. He would find a mentor, someone who could teach him the ropes. He would learn everything he could about music and the business. He would have no plan B—it was either make it there or die.
Operating with a kind of desperate energy, he made the transition into music, carving a place for himself by creating a sound that was hard driving and reflected the realities of the streets.
After a relentless mix-tape campaign in New York he got the attention of Eminem, and a record deal followed. Now he seemed to have realized his childhood ambitions. He had money and power. People were nice to him. Everywhere he went they flattered him, wanting to be a part of his success.
He could feel it happening—the good press, the sycophantic followers—it was all starting to go to his head and dull his vision. On the surface everything looked great, but what was the reality here? Now more than ever he needed that clear, penetrating eye to see past all the hype and glamour. The more he looked at it, the more he realized that the reality of the music business was as harsh as the streets. The executives who ran the labels were ruthless.
They distracted you with their charming words, but in fact they could care less about your future as an artist; they wanted to suck you dry of every dollar they could get out of you. Once you were no longer so hot, you would find yourself slowly pushed to the side; your decline would be all the more painful for having once tasted success. In truth, you were a pawn in their game.
A corner hustler had more power and control over his future than a rapper did. And what about the business itself? Record sales were falling because people were pirating music or buying it in different forms. Anyone with two eyes could see that.
The old business model had to go. But these very same executives who seemed so sharp were afraid to confront this reality. They held on tightly to the past and would bring everyone down with them. Not Fifty. He would avoid this fate by moving in a different direction. He would forge a diversified business empire, music merely being a tool to get there.
His decisions would be based on his intense reading of the changing environment that he had detected in music but was infecting all levels of business. Let others depend on their MBAs, their money, and their connections. The world has become as grimy and dangerous as the streets of Southside Queens—a global, competitive environment in which everyone is a ruthless hustler, out for him- or herself. When things get tough and you grow tired of the grind, your mind tends to drift into fantasies; you wish things were a certain way, and slowly, subtly, you turn inward to your thoughts and desires.
If things are going well, you become complacent, imagining that what you have now will continue forever. You stop paying attention. Before you know it, you end up overwhelmed by the changes going on and the younger people rising up around you, challenging your position.
Understand: you need this code even more than Fifty. His world was so harsh and dangerous it forced him to open his eyes to reality and never lose that connection.
Your world seems cozier and less violent, less immediately dangerous. It makes you wander and your eyes mist over with dreams. Reality has its own power—you can turn your back on it, but it will find you in the end, and your inability to cope with it will be your ruin.
Now is the time to stop drifting and wake up—to assess yourself, the people around you, and the direction in which you are headed in as cold and brutal a light as possible. Without fear. Think of reality in the following terms: the people around you are generally mysterious. You are never quite sure about their intentions.
All of this can prove confusing. Seeing people as they are, instead of what you think they should be, would mean having a greater sense of their motives.
It would mean being able to pierce the facade they present to the world and see their true character. Your actions in life would be so much more effective with this knowledge. Your line of work is another layer of reality. Right now, things might seem calm on the surface, but there are changes rippling through that world; dangers are looming on the horizon.
Soon your assumptions about how things are done will be outdated. These changes and problems are not immediately apparent. Being able to see through to them before they become too large would bring you great power. The capacity to see the reality behind the appearance is not a function of education or cleverness. It is in fact a function of character and fearlessness. Simply put, realists are not afraid to look at the harsh circumstances of life. Like any muscle that is trained, they develop the capacity to see with more intensity.
It is simply a choice you have to make. At any moment in life you can convert to realism, which is not a belief system at all, but a way of looking at the world. It means every circumstance, every individual is different, and your task is to measure that difference, then take appropriate action.
Your eyes are fixed on the world, not on yourself or your ego. 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. To see this power in action, look at a man like Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president.
He had little formal education and grew up in a harsh frontier environment. As a young man, he liked to take apart machines and put them back together. He was practical to the core. As president, he found himself having to confront the gravest crisis in our history. He was surrounded by cabinet members and advisers who were out to promote themselves or some rigid ideology they believed in.
They were emotional and heated; they saw Lincoln as weak. He seemed to take a long time to make a decision, and it would often be the opposite of what they had counseled. He trusted generals like Ulysses S. Grant, who was an alcoholic and a social misfit. He worked with those whom his advisers considered political enemies on the other side of the aisle.
He was determined to measure everything exactly as it was. His choices were made out of pure pragmatism. He was a keen observer of human nature and stuck with Grant because he saw him as the only general capable of effective action. He judged people by results, not friendliness or political values. His careful weighing of people and events was not a weakness but the height of strength, a fearless quality. And working this way, he carefully guided the country past countless dangers.
It is not a history we are accustomed to reading about, since we prefer to be swept up in great ideas and dramatic gestures. But the genius of Lincoln was his ability to focus intensely on reality and see things for what they were.
He was a living testament to the power of realism. It might seem that seeing so much of reality could make one depressed, but the opposite is the case. Having clarity about where you are headed, what people are up to, and what is happening in the world around you will translate into confidence and power, a sensation of lightness.
You will feel more connected to your environment, like a spider on its web. Whenever things go wrong in life you will be able to right yourself faster than others, because you will quickly see what is really going on and how you can exploit even the worst moment.
And once you taste this power, you will find more satisfaction from an intense absorption in reality than from indulging in any kind of fantasy. This came from the harshness of the environment, the many dangers of frontier life. We had to become keen observers of everything going on around us to survive. In the nineteenth century, such a way of looking at the world led to innumerable inventions, the accumulation of wealth, and the emergence of our country as a great power.
But with this growing power, the environment no longer pressed upon us so violently, and our character began to change. Reality came to be seen as something to avoid.
Secretly and slowly we developed a taste for escape—from our problems, from work, from the harshness of life. Our culture began to manufacture endless fantasies for us to consume. And fed on such illusions, we became easier to deceive, since we no longer had a mental barometer for distinguishing fact from fiction. This is a dynamic that has repeated itself throughout history. Ancient Rome began as a small city-state. Its citizens were tough and stoic. They were famous for their pragmatism. But as they moved from being a republic to an empire and their power expanded, everything reversed itself.
They lost all sense of proportion—petty political battles consumed their attention more than much larger dangers on the outskirts of the empire. The empire fell well before the invasion of the barbarians. Understand: as an individual you cannot stop the tide of fantasy and escapism sweeping a culture. But you can stand as an individual bulwark to this trend and create power for yourself. You were born with the greatest weapon in all of nature—the rational, conscious mind. It has the power to expand your vision far and wide, giving you the unique capacity to distinguish patterns in events, learn from the past, glimpse into the future, see through appearances.
Circumstances are conspiring to dull that weapon and render it useless by turning you inward and making you afraid of reality. Consider it war. You must fight this tendency as best you can and move in the opposite direction. You must turn outward and become a keen observer of all that is around you. You are doing battle against all the fantasies that are thrown at you. You are tightening your connection to the environment.
You want clarity, not escape and confusion. Moving in this direction will instantly bring you power among so many dreamers. Regard the following as exercises for your mind—to make it less rigid, more penetrating and expansive, a sharper gauge of reality. Practice all of them as often as you can. This baffled the philosopher—he did not think himself worthy of such a decree. It made him uncomfortable.
He decided to simply go around Athens and find a person who was wiser than he—that should be easy and it would disprove the oracle.
He engaged in many discussions with politicians, poets, craftsmen, and fellow philosophers. He began to realize that the oracle was right. All the people he talked to had such a certainty about things, venturing solid opinions about matters of which they had no experience; they were full of so much air.
If you questioned them at all, they could not really defend their opinions, which seemed based on something they had decided years earlier. His superiority, he realized, was that he knew that he knew nothing. This left his mind open to experiencing things as they are, the source of all knowledge. This position of basic ignorance was what you had as a child. You had a need and hunger for knowledge, to overcome this ignorance, so you observed the world as closely as possible, absorbing large amounts of information.
Everything was a source of wonder. With time our minds tend to close off. At some point, we feel like we know what we need to know; our opinions are certain and firm. We do this out of fear. If we go too far in this direction, we can become extremely defensive and cover up our fears by acting with supreme confidence and certainty.
What you need to do in life is return to that mind you possessed as a child, opening up to experience instead of closing it off. Let go of your preconceptions and even your most cherished beliefs. Listen to the people around you with more attentiveness. See everything as a source for education— even the most banal encounters. Imagine that the world is still full of mystery. When you operate this way, you will notice that something strange often happens. Opportunities will begin to fall into your lap because you are suddenly more receptive to them.
Sometimes luck or serendipity is more a function of the openness of your mind. But there is more involved than just that. There is also the morale of the enemy soldiers, the political leaders who set them in motion, the minds of the opposing generals who make the key decisions, and the money and resources that stand behind it all. A mediocre general will confine his knowledge to the physical terrain. A better general will try to expand his knowledge by reading reports about the other factors that influence an army.
And the superior general will try to intensify this knowledge by observing as much as he can with his own eyes or consulting firsthand sources. Napoleon Bonaparte is the greatest general who ever lived, and what elevated him above all others was the mass of information he absorbed about all of the details of battle, with as few filters as possible. This gave him a superior grasp on reality.
Your goal is to follow the path of Napoleon. You want to take in as much as possible with your own eyes. You communicate with people up and down the chain of command within your organization. You do not draw any barriers to your social interactions.
You want to expand your access to different ideas. Force yourself to go to events and places that are beyond your usual circle. If you cannot observe something firsthand, try to get reports that are more direct and less filtered, or vary the sources so that you can see things from several sides. Get a fingertip feel for everything going on in your environment—the complete terrain.
After prison, his mission in life was to figure out the source of the problem for blacks in America. Finally he arrived at what he believed to be the root cause— dependency. If they could end this dependency, they would have the power to reverse everything. 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.
This must be the power and the direction of your mind whenever you encounter some problem—to bore deeper and deeper until you get at something basic and at the root. Never be satisfied with what presents itself to your eyes. See what underlies it all, absorb it, and then dig deeper. Always question why this particular event has happened, what the motives of the various actors are, who really is in control, who benefits by this action.
Often, it will revolve around money and power—that is what people are usually fighting over, despite the surface gloss they give to it. You may never get to the actual root, but the process of digging will bring you closer. And operating in this way will help develop your mind into a powerful analytical instrument. But most people, out of fear, limit their view of the future to a narrow range—thoughts of tomorrow, a few weeks ahead, perhaps a vague plan for the months to come.
We are generally dealing with so many immediate battles, it is hard for us to lift our gaze above the moment. 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. With your gaze lifted to the future, you can focus on the dangers looming on the horizon and take proactive measures to avert them.
All of this gives you an increased power to reach your objectives. As part of this process, look at the smaller problems that are plaguing you or your enterprise in the present, and draw arrows to the future, imagining what they could possibly lead to if they grow larger.
Think of your own biggest mistakes or those of others. How could they have been foreseen? Generally there are signs that seem so obvious afterwards. Now imagine those very same signs that you are probably ignoring in the present. It should be the same in the game of life.
Everyone is playing to win, and some people will use moral justifications to advance their side. In this area, you are fiercely realistic. You understand that everyone is after power, and that to get it we all occasionally manipulate and even deceive. That is human nature and there is no shame in it.
As part of this approach, you must become a better observer of people. This cannot be done on the Internet. It must be honed in personal interactions. You are trying to read people, see through them as best you can. You come to understand, for instance, that a person who is too obviously friendly after too short a time is often up to no good.
If they flatter you, it is generally out of envy. Behavior that stands out and seems excessive is a sign. Pay more attention to the details, to the little things they reveal in their day-to-day lives.
Their decisions reveal a lot, and you can often discern a pattern if you look at them closely. In general, looking at people through the lens of your emotions will cloud what you see and make you misunderstand everything. Think of this as a ritual you will engage in every few weeks—a rigorous reassessment of who you are and where you are headed. Look at your most recent actions as if they were the maneuvers of another person. Imagine how you could have done it all better—avoided unnecessary battles or confronted people who stood in your way, instead of running away from them.
The goal here is not to beat up on yourself but to have the capacity to adapt and change your behavior by moving closer to the reality. The endgame of such an exercise is to cultivate the proper sense of detachment from yourself and from life. It is not that you want to feel this detachment at every moment. There are times that require you to act with heart and boldness, without doubts or self-distance. On many occasions, however, you need to be able to assess what is happening, without your ego or emotions coloring your perceptions.
Moving to a calm, detached inner position to observe events will become a habit and something you can rely on amid any crisis. At those moments in life when others lose their balance, you will find yours with relative ease.
As a person who cannot be easily ruffled by events, you will attract attention and power. Realists, according to conventional wisdom, can be practical to a fault; they often lack a feel for the finer, higher things in life. Taken too far, such types can be cynical, manipulative, Machiavellian. They stand in contrast to dreamers, people of high imagination who inspire us with their ideals or divert us with their fantastical creations.
This is a concept that comes from looking at the world through the lens of fear. It is time we reverse this perspective and see dreamers and realists in their true light. Realists, on the other hand, are the real inventors and innovators.
They are men and women of imagination, but their imagination is in close contact with the environment, with reality—they are empirical scientists, writers with a sharp understanding of human nature, or leaders who guide us thoughtfully through crises.
They are strong enough to see the world as it is, including their own personal inadequacies. Let us take this further. The real poetry and beauty in life comes from an intense relationship with reality in all its aspects. Realism is in fact the ideal we must aspire to, the highest point of human rationality. The money he had earned the previous few years as a corner hustler was all gone, and his once loyal customers had all found other dealers to buy from.
A friend, now running a fairly large crack-cocaine operation, offered Curtis a job bagging up drugs. He would be paid a daily wage, and not a bad one.
Curtis desperately needed the money, so he accepted the offer. Perhaps further down the road his friend would cut him in on some of the action and he could reestablish his own business. But from the first day on the job, he realized that this was all a mistake.
He was working with a group of other baggers, all former dealers. They were now hired help; they had to show up at a certain time and bow down to the authority of their employers. Curtis had lost not only his money but also his freedom. This new position went against all of the survival lessons he had learned up till then in his short life. Curtis had never known his father, and his mother had been murdered when he was eight years old. His grandparents had essentially raised him; they were loving and kind, but they had a lot of children to look after and not much time to give individual attention.
If he wanted any kind of guidance or advice, there was nobody in his life to turn to. What all of this meant was that he was essentially alone in this world. He could not rely on anyone to give him anything. He would have to fend for himself. Then crack cocaine exploded on the streets in the mids and everything changed in neighborhoods like his.
In the past, large gangs controlled the drug business, and to be involved you had to fit into their structure and spend years moving up the ladder. But crack was so easy to manufacture and the demand was so high, that anyone—no matter how young—could get in on the game without any startup capital. You could work on your own and make good money. For those like Curtis who grew up with little parental supervision and a disdain for authority, being a corner dealer was the perfect fit—no political games, no bosses above you.
And so he quickly joined the growing pool of hustlers dealing crack on the streets of Southside Queens. As he got further into the game, he learned a fundamental lesson. There were endless problems and dangers confronting the street hustler— undercover cops, fiends, and rival dealers scheming to rob you. If you were weak, you looked for others to help you or for some crutch to lean on, such as drugs or alcohol.
This was the path of doom. The only way to survive was to admit you were on your own, learn to make your own decisions, and trust your judgment. Do not ask for what you need but take it. Depend only on your wits. It was as if a hustler, born amid squalor and cramped quarters, possessed an empire.
This was not something physical—the corner that he worked or the neighborhood he wanted to take over. It was his time, his energy, his creative schemes, his freedom to move where he wanted to. If he kept command of that empire, he would make money and thrive. This was a turning point. He looked at the other baggers. They all had suffered downturns in fortune—violence, prison time, etc. They had become scared and tired of the grind.
They wanted the comfort and security of a paycheck. Perhaps they could go on like this for several years, but the day of reckoning would come when there were no more jobs and they had forgotten how to fend for themselves.
It was ludicrous for Curtis to imagine that the man now employing him to bag would some day help him set up shop. They think of themselves and they use you. He had to get out now, before that empire slipped from his hands and he became yet another former hustler dependent on favors.
He quickly went into full hustling mode and figured his way out of the trap. At the end of the first day, he made a deal with the baggers. He would dole out the daily cash he had been paid for the job to all of them. In return, he would teach them how to put less crack in each capsule but make it look full he had been doing this on the street for years. They were then to give Curtis the extra crack that was left over from each capsule. Within a week, he had accumulated enough drugs to return to hustling on the streets, on his terms.
He would rather die. Years later, Curtis now known as 50 Cent had managed to segue into a music career, and after a fierce mix-tape campaign on the streets of New York in which he became a local celebrity, he gained the attention of Eminem, who helped sign him to a lucrative deal on his own label within Interscope Records.
But the more time he spent in their cushy offices, the more he had the feeling that he was at yet another turning point in his life.
The game these music executives were playing was simple: They owned your music and a lot more. In return, they lavished you with money and perks. They created a feeling of dependence—without their massive machine behind you, you were helpless in the face of a viciously competitive business.
In essence, you were exchanging money for freedom. And once you internally succumbed to their logic and their money, you were finished. You were a high-paid bagger doing a job. And so, as before, Fifty went into full hustling mode to reclaim his empire. In the short term, he schemed to shoot his own videos, with his own money, and come up with his own marketing schemes.
To Interscope it seemed like he was saving them time and resources, but to Fifty it was a subtle way to regain control over his image. He set up a record label for his own stable of artists from within Interscope and he used this label to teach himself all aspects of production.
He created his own website where he could experiment with new ways to market his music. He turned the dependence dynamic around, using Interscope as a school for teaching him how to run things on his own.
All of this was part of the endgame he had in mind—he would run out his contract with Interscope, and instead of renegotiating a new one, he would proclaim his independence and be the first artist to set up his own freestanding record label.
From such a position of power, he would have no more executives to please and he could expand his empire on his own terms. It would be just like the freedom he had experienced on the streets, but on a global scale. But over the years you tend to give all of this away. You spend years working for others—they own you during that period.
Without realizing it you squander your independence, everything that makes you a creative individual. Before it is too late, you must reassess your entire concept of ownership. It is not about possessing things or money or titles. You can have all of that in abundance but if you are someone who still looks to others for help and guidance, if you depend on your money or resources, then you will eventually lose what you have when people let you down, adversity strikes, or you reach for some foolish scheme out of impatience.
True ownership can come only from within. It comes from a disdain for anything or anybody that impinges upon your mobility, from a confidence in your own decisions, and from the use of your time in constant pursuit of education and improvement.
Only from this inner position of strength and self-reliance will you be able to truly work for yourself and never turn back. If situations arise in which you must take in partners or fit within another organization, you are mentally preparing yourself for the moment when you will move beyond these momentary entanglements. If you do not own yourself first, you will continually be at the mercy of people and circumstance, looking outward instead of relying on yourself and your wits.
The old power centers are breaking up. Individuals everywhere want more control over their destiny and have much less respect for an authority that is not based on merit but on mere power. We have all naturally come to question why someone should rule over us, why our source of information should depend on the mainstream media, and on and on. We do not accept what we accepted in the past. Where we are naturally headed with all of this is the right and capacity to run our own enterprise, in whatever shape or form, to experience that freedom.
We are all corner hustlers in a new economic environment and to thrive in it we must cultivate the kind of self-reliance that helped push Fifty past all of the dangerous dependencies that threatened him along the way. For Fifty it was very clear—he was alone in the house he grew up in and on the streets. He lacked the usual supports and so he was forced to become self-sufficient. It is harder for us to realize that we are essentially alone in this world and in need of the skills that Fifty had to develop for himself on the streets.
We have layers of support that seem to prop us up. But these supports are illusions in the end. Everyone in the world is governed by self-interest. People naturally think first of themselves and their agendas. An occasional affectionate or helpful gesture from people you know tends to cloud this reality and make you expect more of this support—until you are disappointed, again and again.
You are more alone than you imagine. This should not be a source of fear but of freedom. When you prove to yourself that you can get things on your own, then you experience a sense of liberation. You are no longer waiting for people to do this or that for you a frustrating and infuriating experience. You have confidence that you can manage any adverse situation on your own.
The following year he was convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life terms. Through it all Carter vehemently maintained his innocence, and in he was finally exonerated of the crimes and set free. But for those nineteen years, he had to endure one of the most brutal environments known to man, one designed to break down every last vestige of autonomy. Carter knew he would be freed at some point. But on the day of his release, would he walk the streets with a spirit crushed by years in prison?
Would he be the kind of former prisoner who keeps coming back into the system because he can no longer do anything for himself?
He decided that he would defeat the system—he would use the years in prison to develop his self-reliance so that when he was freed it would mean something.
For this purpose he devised the following strategy: He would act like a free man while surrounded by walls. He would not wear their uniform or carry an ID badge. He was an individual, not a number. He would not eat with the other prisoners, do the assigned tasks, or go to his parole hearings.
He was placed in solitary confinement for these transgressions but he was not afraid of the punishments, nor of being alone. He was afraid only of losing his dignity and sense of ownership. He knew he would grow dependent on these weak pleasures and this would give the wardens something to take away from him.
Also, such diversions were merely attempts to kill time. Instead he became a voracious reader of books that would help toughen his mind. He wrote an autobiography that gained sympathy for his cause. He taught himself law, determined to get his conviction overturned by himself. He tutored other prisoners in the ideas that he had learned through his reading. In this way, he reclaimed the dead time of prison for his own purposes. When he was eventually freed, he refused to take civil action against the state—that would acknowledge he had been in prison and needed compensation.
He needed nothing. He was now a free man with the essential skills to get power in the world. Think of it this way: dependency is a habit that is so easy to acquire. We live in a culture that offers you all kinds of crutches—experts to turn to, drugs to cure any psychological unease, mild pleasures to help pass or kill time, jobs to keep you just above water. It is hard to resist. But once you give in, it is like a prison you enter that you cannot ever leave.
You continually look outward for help and this severely limits your options and maneuverability. When the time comes, as it inevitably does, when you must make an important decision, you have nothing inside of yourself to depend on. Before it is too late, you must move in the opposite direction. You cannot get this requisite inner strength from books or a guru or pills of any kind. It can come only from you. As happened with Carter and with Fifty, you will find that self-reliance becomes the habit and that anything that smacks of depending on others will horrify you.
We began life as willful creatures who had yet to be tamed. We wanted and demanded things for ourselves, and we knew how to get them from the adults around us. And yet at the same time, we were completely dependent on our parents for so many important things—comfort, protection, love, guidance. And so from deep inside, we developed an ambivalence. We wanted the freedom and power to move on our own, but we also craved the comfort and security only others could give us.
In adolescence we rebelled against the dependent part of our character. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from our parents and show that we could fend for ourselves. But as we get older, that childhood ambivalence tends to return to the surface. In the face of so many difficulties and competition in the adult world, a part of us yearns to return to that childish position of dependence.
We maintain an adult face and work to gain power for ourselves, but deep inside we secretly wish that our spouses, partners, friends, or bosses could take care of us and solve our problems. We must wage a ferocious war against this deeply embedded ambivalence, with a clear understanding of what is at stake. Our task as an adult is to take full possession of that autonomy and individuality we were born with. It is to finally overcome the dependent phase in childhood and stand on our own.
We must see the desire for a return to that phase as regressive and dangerous. It comes from fear—of being responsible for our success and failure, of having to act on our own and make the hard decisions. 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. For most of us, the critical terrain in this war is the work world. Most of us enter adult life with great ambitions for how we will start our own ventures, but the harshness of life wears us down. We forget the essential truth that all humans are governed by self-interest. Our bosses keep us around out of need, not affection. They will get rid of us the moment that need is less acute or they find someone younger and less expensive to replace us.
If we succumb to the illusion and the comfort of a paycheck, we then neglect to build up self-reliant skills and merely postpone the day of reckoning when we are forced to fend for ourselves. Your life must be a progression towards ownership—first mentally of your independence, and then physically of your work, owning what you produce.
Think of the following steps as a kind of blueprint for how to move in this direction. It was drudge work and he hated it. Cornelius was a willful, ambitious child, and so in his mind he made the following determination: within a couple of years he was going to start his own shipping enterprise.
This simple decision altered everything. Now this job was an urgent apprenticeship. Instead of dull labor, it was now an exciting challenge. He used the money to buy a boat and began ferrying passengers between Manhattan and Staten Island. Within a year he paid back the loan. By the time he was twenty-one he had made a small fortune and was on his way to becoming the wealthiest man of his time. The problem when we work for others is that so much of this becomes dead time that we want to pass as quickly as possible, time that is not our own.
Almost all of us must begin our careers working for others, but it is always within our power to transform this time from something dead to something alive. We have to pay attention and absorb as much information as possible.
This helps us endure work that does not seem so rewarding. In this way, we own our time and our ideas before owning a business. 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. This could mean offering to take over projects that others have left undone or proposing to put into action some new idea of your own, but nothing too grandiose to raise suspicion.
What you are doing is cultivating a taste for doing things yourself—making your own decisions, learning from your own mistakes.
If your bosses do not allow you to make such a move on any scale, then you are not in the right place. If you fail in this venture, then you have gained a valuable education. But generally taking on such things on your own initiative forces you to work harder and better. You are more creative and motivated because there is more at stake; you rise to the challenge.
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. This was not easy. All kinds of rival powers were competing for control of the country—families that dominated the political scene, foreign kings scheming to take over certain regions, city-states with spheres of influence, and finally the church itself.
Cesare Borgia was a shrewd young man. His goal was to expand beyond Romagna and eventually unify all of Italy, making it a great power. But his position now depended on various outside forces that controlled his destiny, each one above the other—the army beholden to the powerful families and king of France, then the pope himself who could die any day and be replaced by someone antagonistic to Borgia.
These alliances could shift and turn against him. He had to eliminate these dependencies, one by one, until he could stand on his own, with nobody above him. Using bribery, he put himself at the head of the family faction his father had allied him with, then moved to eliminate its main rival. He worked to get rid of the mercenary army and establish his own.
He schemed to make alliances that would secure him against the French king who now saw him as a threat. He gobbled up more and more regions. He was on the verge of expanding his base to a point of no return when he suddenly fell gravely ill in Shortly thereafter, his father died and was soon replaced by a pope determined to stop Cesare Borgia.
Who knows how far he could have gotten if his plans had not become unraveled by such unforeseen circumstances. Borgia was a kind of self-reliant entrepreneur before his time. He understood that people are political creatures, continually scheming to secure their own interests. If you form partnerships with them or depend upon them for your advancement and protection, you are asking for trouble.
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 You must remember that when people give you things or do you favors it is always with strings attached.
They want something from you in return —assistance, unquestioned loyalty, and so forth. You want to keep yourself free of as many of these obligations as possible, so get in the habit of taking what you need for yourself instead of expecting others to give it to you.
But there is one last impediment to making this work. Your tendency will be to look at what other people have done in your field, how you could possibly repeat or emulate their success. 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.
This has been the path of the most powerful people in history. Throughout his life the great jazz musician Miles Davis was always being pushed into making his sound fit the particular rage of the time. Instead he kept insisting on putting his own stamp on anything he played. As he got older this became more and more extreme until he revolutionized the jazz world with his constant innovations in sound.
At a certain point he simply stopped listening to others. John F. Kennedy refused to run a campaign like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or any other American politician in the past. He created his own inimitable style, based on the times he lived in and his own personality. By going his own way, he forever altered the course of political campaigning. This uniqueness that you express is not anything wild or too strange. That is an affectation in itself. People are rarely that different.
Rather you are being yourself, as far as you can take that. The world cannot help but respond to such authenticity. Reversal of Perspective We might think of people who are independent and used to being alone as reclusive, prickly, and hard to be around. In our culture we tend to elevate those who are smooth talkers, seem more gregarious, and fit in better, conforming to certain norms. They smile and seem happier. This is a superficial appraisal of character; if we reverse our perspective and look at this from the fearless point of view we come to the opposite conclusion.
People who are self-sufficient are generally types who are more comfortable with themselves. They do not look for things that they need from other people. Paradoxically this makes them more attractive and seductive.
We wish we could be more like that and want to be around them, hoping that some of their independence might rub off on us. The needy, clingy types—often the most sociable—unconsciously push us away. If people do not do what they want or expect, they are not hurt or let down. Their happiness comes from within and is all the more profound for that reason. 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. The only way to gain self-reliance or any power is through great effort and practice. And this effort should not be seen as something ugly or dull; it is the process of gaining power over yourself that is the most satisfying of all, knowing that step-by-step you are elevating yourself above the dependent masses.
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