Harper Collins, 2009
What the book is about:
The 50th Law takes the extensive knowledge and insight of Robert Greene and feeds it through the proxy of one of the greatest hustlers of our era: 50 Cent. The 50th Law uses specific events from 50 Cent’s life to expand upon the 50th Law: fearlessness. From 50 Cent’s battles with the entertainment industry to his earlier trials as a corner boy in New York, the 50th Law describes what is required of anyone looking to attain a position of power today. If you like Robert Greene’s previous work, you’ll like The 50th Law.
This book resonated with me on a number of levels and does a great job of describing some very real problems that people struggle with in our modern world. The book’s essence can be boiled down to two things: becoming fearless and taking bold action.
For anyone feeling that they aren’t in control of their life or are unable to assert themselves, the 50th Law does a good job of presenting this reality: we have become afraid to be our true selves. Whether you are in a job you hate and can’t find the courage to quit or are trying to carve out your own path but can’t create any momentum, the 50th Law uses great stories from 50 Cent and other figures like Malcolm X, FDR, and James Baldwin to expand upon the lessons of the book.
Passages of Note:
“Understand: we are all too afraid-of offending people, of stirring up conflict, of standing out from the crowd, of taking bold action.”
“…Yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful…people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are…”
“The old order is crumbling before our eyes on so many levels. And yet in such an unruly moment, our leaders in business and politics cling to the past and the old ways of doing things.”
“The greatest fear people have is that of being themselves…They do what everyone else does even if it doesn’t fit where and who they are. But you get no where that way…I lost that fear. And once I felt the power that I had by showing the world I didn’t care about being like other people, I could never go back.”
“We are social creatures, and so it is natural for us to want to conform to the people around us and the norms of the group. But underneath this is a deep fear — that of sticking out, of following our own path no matter what people think of us. The fearless types are able to conquer this fear. They fascinate us by how far they go with the unconventionality. We secretly admire and respect them for this; we wish we could act more like they do.”
“The key to possessing this supreme power is to assume the active mode in dealing with your fears. This means entering the very arenas you normally shy away from: making the very hard decisions you have been avoiding, confronting the people who are playing power games, thinking of yourself and what you need instead of pleasing others, making yourself change the direction of your life even though such change is the very thing you dread.
“The greatest danger you face is your mind growing soft and your eye getting dull. 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 complacen, imagining that what you have now will continue forever.”
“People can be full of book knowledge and crammed with information but have no real sense of what’s going on around them.”
“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.”
“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.”
“With time our minds tend to close off … We do this out of fear. We don’t want our assumptions about life challenged.”
“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 swin 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, 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.”
“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.”
“He refused to have the usual entertainment in his cell — television, radio, pornographic magazines. He knew he would grow dependent on these weak pleaseures 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.”
“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.”
“Our task as an adult is to take full possession of that autonomy and individuality we were born with.”
“We settle into some job and slowly give in to the illusion that our bosses care about us and our future, that they spend time thinking of our welfare. We forget the essential truth that alll 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 somone younger and less expensive to replace us.”
“Never be a minon, always be an owner.”
“Time is the critical factor in our lives, our most precious resource. 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.”
“Self-help books and experts will try to convince you that you can have what you want by following a few simple steps … The only way to gain self-reliance or any power is through great effort and practice.”
“Events in life are not negative or positive. They are completely neutral. The universe does not care about your fate; it is indifferent to the violence that may hit you or to death itself.”
“Today we have regressed to a point that resembles the pre-Renaissance. Knowledge has once again hardened into rigid categories, with intellectuals shut off in various ghettos.”
“What you want is for these emotions that assail you during the day to wash over you, to never hold on to one single emotion for very long. You are able to let go of any kind of obssive feeling. If somone says something that bothers you, you find a way to move quickly past the feeling — either to excuse what they said, to make it less important, or to forget.”
“If you indicate you’ll do anything to avoid trouble, that’s when you get trouble.”
“The ability to deal with conflict is a function of inner strength versus fear, and that it has nothing to do with goodness or badness.”
“We could use some of the toughness and realism that people who grow up in pressurized environments have. A simpler line can be drawn — we all have ambitions and larget goals for ourselves. We are either waiting for some perfect oment to realize them, or we are taking action in the present.”
“The culture at large…emphasizes values of cooperation and decency, while titilalating us constantly in the media with endless stories of those who have risen to the top by being bad and ruthless. We are both drawn to and repulsed by these stories. This split creates ambivalence and awkwardness in our actions.”
“In general, you must be less repsectful of the rules that other people have established.”
“You leave the job (there are always others); you leave the person who is tormenting you with as much finality as possible. Resist the temptation to feel any guilt. You need to create as much distance as possible, so they cannot inveigle these emotions in you. They must become dead to you so you can go on with your life.”
“In our own inner turmoil we tend to exaggerate the negative intentions of our opponents. In general we take conflicts far to personally.”
“Most often when they do somehiting to harm or bock us, it really is not directed at us personally. It comes from some unfinished business from the past, or deep insecurities.”
“You start with nothing in this world. Any titles, money, or privilege you inherit are actuqally hindrances. They delude you into believing you are owed respect.”
“We are now more distracted than ever, with thousands of bits of infomation competing for our attention in the course of a day. This makes us less patient and capable of seeing the larger picture.”
“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.”
“The public is never wrong. When people don’t respond to what you do, they’re telling you something loud and clear. You’re just not listening.”
“You must learn early on to endure the hours of practice and drudgery, knowing that in the end all of that time will translate into a higher pleasure — mastery of a craft and yourself.”
“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 are unhappy.”
“Confronted with such freedom, the mind has a tendency to gravitate towards anxieties about the future — possible problems and dangers. Such empty time fainlty echoes the eternal emptiness of death itself. And so with this new emotions that assailed our ancestors came a desire that haunts us to this day — to escape boredome at all cost, to distract ourselves from these anxieties. The principle means of distraction are all forms of public entertainment, drugs and alcohol, and social activities. But such distractions have a drug-like effect — they wear off.”
“If we go far enough in this direction, we find it increasingly difficult to muster the patience to endure the hard work that is required for mastering any kind of craft.”
“All of man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still, alone in a room.”
“The real secret, the ugly reality that learning requires is a process, and this in turn demands patience and the ability to endure drudge work.”
“Too often our concept of learning is to absorb ideas from books, to do what others tell us to, and perhaps to do some controlled exercises. But this is an incomplete and fearful concept of learning — cut off from practical experience.”
“You come to respect the process in a deep way because you see and feel the progress you can make through practice and steady labor. Taken far enough, you gain a fingertip feel for what needs to be done because your knowledge is tied to something physical and visceral.”
“Try to look at boredom from the opposite perspective — as a call for you to slow yourself down, to stop earching for endless distractions. this might mean forcing yourself to spend time alone, overcoming that childish inability to sit still. ”
“Let me point out to you that freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.”
“Your opinion of yourself becomes your reality. If you have all these doubts, then no one will believe in you and everything will go wrong. If you think the opposite, the opposite will happen. It’s that simple.”
“But much of this identity is shaped and constructed by outside forces — the opinions and judgments of hundreds of other people who have crossed your path over the years.”
“Many of these criticisms and opinions are not objective at all. People want to see certain qualities in you. They project onto you their own fears and fantasies … it is often frustrating and frightening for people to think they cannot figure someone out. Behavior that is considered abnormal or different, which may very well be coming from somewhere deep within you, is actively discouraged.”
“People are drawn to those who act boldly.”
“In impoverished environments like the hood, people’s sense of who they are and what they deserve is continually under attack. People from the outside tend to judge them from where they come from — as violent , dangerous, or untrustworthy — as if the accident of where they were born determines who they are … those from the hood who want to overcome this pronouncement of the outside world have to fight with a double the energy and desperation … The intensity of their ambition becomes the deciding factor. It has to be supremely high. That is why the most ambitious and confident figures in history often emerge from the most impoverished and arduous of circumstances.”
“But at any moment we could let go of the fear and leave the job, not really certain where we are headed but confident we can do better.”
“People judge you by appearances, the image you project through your actions, words, and style. If you do not take control of this process, then people will see and define you the way they want to, often to your detriment.”
“In his experience, whenever he felt as if he had too much to lose and he held on to others or to deals out of fear of the alternative, he ended up losing a lot more. He realized that the key in life is to always be willing to walk away.”
“People talk about my getting shot like it represented something special. They act like they’re not facing the same thing. But some day everybody has to face a bullet with his or her name on it.”
“It is a matter of looking inward and seeing death as something that you carry within. It is part of you that cannot be repressed. You convert the terrified, denial-type relationship to death into something active and positive — finally released from pettiness, useless anxieties, and fearful timid responses.”
“The dread of death, however, has always remained intense, and with the waning of the power of religion to soothe our anxieties, we found it neccessary to create a modern solution to the problem — we have almost banished the physical presence of death. We do not see the animals being slaughtered for our food. Cemeteries occupy outlying areas and are not part of our consciousness. In hospitals, the dying are cloistered from sight, everything made as antiseptic as possible. That we are not aware of this phenomenom is a sign of the deep repression that has taken place.”
“To keep death out, we bathe our minds in banality and routines; we create the illusion that it is not around us in any form. This gives us a momentary peace, but we lose all sense of connection to something larger, to life itself.”
There are an endless amount of self-help books you can read, outline, and absorb. And now there is a whole cottage industry of self-help gurus, social media marketing mavens, and lifestyle coaches enabled by the web, preying on the desperate, low-hanging fruit. Trust me, I’ve fallen into this trap. I’ve felt the bursts of inspiration, read the amazing case studies (how did I not think of that?), and memorized the “new” rules that, when boiled down to their essence, are glorified social cues for undiagnosed Asperger’s sufferers.
Where does falling down this rabbit hole lead? An awful job you still haven’t quit. You, over there, at the table for one in the coffee shop, sitting in front of your laptop paralyzed with ennui.
Yes, none of us were prepared for our post-industrial economy. And the result is more of us are unemployed, living with our parents, up to our eyeballs in debt, or barely getting by. But, if we are asked “What have you accomplished thus far in your life?” I think a lot of young people, including myself, wouldn’t have an answer, or at least one they’re proud of.
In a larger sense this indicates a failure of our academic and cultural institutions. Entire generations have been taught the same narrative: regurgitate information, master the five paragraph essay, get the gold star, pad the resume. Want some proof this narrative is false? Go to craigslist and click on food/bev/hosp.
What our global post-industrial world has done is rendered your GPA and credentials to be almost meaningless. You want to be a cog in the machine? Go ahead. Embrace mediocrity and enjoy the race to the bottom, if they’ll let you.
This realization has come to some quicker than others, and those who have are reaping the rewards. Its something I’ve felt in the pit of my stomach for a while and only recently have begun to act on it. The feeling in your stomach that you know something is wrong, but where in the hell do I start? I’m only beginning to learn it really doesn’t matter where you start, but only that you do. Just start shipping. The great equalizer and saving grace in the midst of all this disruption is you have no excuse now. None. You don’t have to ask permission to do anything. The barriers to entry have never been lower.
You can read until your eyes bleed. And yes, nothing inspires like the written word. But nothing is more visceral than experience. The proving grounds aren’t in the classroom and you won’t find them in this book. You prove yourself through deliberate practice, something I am painfully starting to learn. That is why Cal Newport is saying, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Skills rule the roost now, credentials be damned.
This is both the easiest and hardest way to separate yourself. Easy because the only requirement to start is you. Hard because it flies in the face of a lifetime of indoctrination. So, I guess the question to ask is “What can I be proud to say I’ve done?”