Power Politics in the real world.
From author of “48 Laws of Power” Robert Greene’s commencement speech at Yale:
When you enter the real world, you are suddenly blindsided by this whole realm that exists. It is like our dirty little secret. People will talk about their sex lives. You’ll get Dr. Ruth here, we’ll go through all of that. But nobody talks about all of these power games that are constantly going on in the world. So, I just wanted to interject into this idea my own personal story. When I got out of college and I suddenly was confronted with this real world.
I had graduated, as he mentioned, with a classical background. I was immersed in studying philosophy and literature and languages. And so when I started working, essentially in magazines, I worked at Esquire magazine and a few others. I had no idea of how things operated in the real world, and I was very much shocked by all of the egos and the insecurities and the game playing and the political stuff. It really kind of disturbed me and it upset me. I can remember when I was about 26 or 27 years old one particular job that was kind of the turning point in my life.
I am not going to tell you which job this was. I don’t want you Googling it and figuring out who I’m talking about. But, basically, the job was that I had to find stories that would then be put into either film or a magazine, whatever. But I was basically judged on how many good stories I found. So in this job, I thought, I am a very competitive person, and I was doing better than anybody else there. I was finding more stories that ended up getting produced, because I felt that’s the point. You are trying to produce. You are trying to get work done. Isn’t that the most important thing? Isn’t that why we are all here?
Suddenly I found that my superior, this woman, who’s name I won’t mention, made it very clear that she wasn’t happy with me. That something was wrong. I was doing something wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was.
So going on what I was mentioning, that theory of mind, this power that we have, I sort of put myself in her shoes. And I’m thinking, what is it that I’m doing that is displeasing her? I am clearly producing. And I figured out, well, maybe it is because I’m not involving her in what I’m doing, in my ideas. I need to run them by her. I need to make and involve her more so she feels like she is a part of the research that I am doing.
So I would go into her office and I would tell her where my ideas were coming. I was trying to engage with her, figuring that was the problem. Well, that didn’t seem to work. She was still clearly unhappy with me. Maybe didn’t like me. So, I thought, going further, well, maybe I’m not being friendly enough with her. Maybe I need to be nice to her. Maybe I need to go in and not talk about work, but just talk, be nice and talk like a human being.
Okay. So that was strategy number two. I started doing that. Still didn’t have any effect. She still seemed really cold and kind of mean. I figured, all right. She just hates me. That’s just life. Not everybody can love you. That’s just it. I mean, what the hell? I’ll just do my job. Then one day we are having a meeting in which we are discussing our ideas, and she suddenly interrupts. She says, “‘Robert. You have an attitude problem.”
“What?” “You’re not listening to people here.” “I’m listening.” But, I mean, I produce. I do my work. You are going to judge me about how wide my eyes are open and how I’m listening to people? She goes, “No. You have a problem here.” “I’m sorry. I don’t think I do.”
Anyway, over the course of the next few weeks she just started kind of torturing me about this idea that I had an attitude. And, of course, naturally, I developed an attitude. I started resenting her. And a couple of weeks later, I quit, because I just hated it. I probably quit a week before they were going to fire me anyway. And I went home, and over the course of several weeks, I thought really deeply about it. What happened here? What did I do wrong? I mean, she just didn’t like me? I think I’m a likable person.
I figured, I came to this conclusion. I had violated a law of power 12 years before I ever wrote the book. Law number one: Never outshine the master. I had gone into this environment thinking that what mattered was doing a great job and showing how talented I was. But, in doing that, I had made this woman, my superior, insecure that maybe I was after her job or that maybe I was better than she was. And I would make her look bad because the great ideas were coming from me and not from her.
I had violated law number one. And when you violate law number one, you are going to suffer for it, because you are touching on a person’s ego and their insecurities. That is the worst thing you can do, and that is what had happened.