The key to transforming yourself — Robert Greene at TEDxBrixton

Translator: Marta Palacio
Reviewer: Denise RQAfter the publication of my first book
“The 48 laws of power,”I began to receive requests for advicefrom people
in every conceivable professionand at every level of experience. Over the years, I have now
personally consultedwith over 100 different people. In so many of the cases,the following scenario
would play itself out. They would come to me
with a specific problem,a boss from hell,a business relationship
that had turned ugly,a promotion that never came. I would slowly direct their attention
away from the boss and the job,and instead get them to search
inside themselvesand try to find the emotional root
of their discontent. Often, as we talked it out,they would realize that at their core,
they felt deeply frustrated- their creativity was not being realized,their careers had
somehow taken a wrong turn -what they actually wanted
was something larger;a real and substantial change
in their careers and in their lives. It would be at this point that I would
tell them a story about myself,about my own peculiar path
to change and transformationfrom a highly unsuccessful writer,eking out an existence in a small,
one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica,to best-selling authorseemingly, overnight. I have never publicly related
this story before,but for this special occasion,
my first TEDx talk,I thought I would share it with youbecause it’s actually very relevant
to the subject of change. The story goes like this,I had known since an early age
that I wanted to become a writer. I just couldn’t figure out
what I wanted to write. Perhaps it was novels,
or essays, or plays. After university, I drifted
into journalism,as a way to, at least,
make a living while writing. Then one day, after several years
of working as a writer and editor,I was having lunch with a manwho had just edited an article
I had written for a magazine. After downing his third martini,
this editor, an older man,finally admitted to me
why he had asked me to lunch,”You should seriously consider
a different career,” he told me. “You are not writer material. Your work is too undisciplined,
your style is too bizarre,your ideas are just not relatable
to the average reader. Go to law school, Robert,
go to business school,spare yourself the pain. “At first, these words were
like a punch in the stomach,but in the months to come,
I realized something about myself. I had entered a career
that just didn’t really suit me,mostly as a way to make a living,and my work reflected
this incompatibility. I had to get out of journalism. This realization initiated
a period of wandering in my life. I traveled all across Europe,
I worked every conceivable job,I did construction work in Greece,
taught English in Barcelona,worked as a hotel receptionist in Paris,
a tour guide in Dublin,served as a trainee
for an English company,making television documentaries,
living not far from here in Brixton. During all of this time,I wrote several novels
that never made it past 100 pages,and dozens of essays that I would tear up,
and plays that never got produced. I wandered back to Los Angeles,
California, where I was born and raised. I worked in a detective agency,
among other odd jobs. I entered the film business,
working as an assistant to a director,as a researcher, story developer,
and screenwriter. In these long years of wandering,
I had totaled over 50 different jobs. By the year 1995, my parents
– God bless them! – were beginningto get seriously worried about me. I was 36 years old,and I seemed lost
and unable to settle into anything. I too had moments of doubt,
but I did not feel lost. I was searching and exploring,
I was hungry for experiences,and I was continuously writing. That same year, while in Italy
for yet another job,I met a man there, named Joost Elffers,
a packager and producer of books. One day, while we were walking
along the quays of Venice,Joost asked me if I had
any ideas for a book. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere,
an idea just gushed out of me. It was about power. I told Joost that I was constantly
reading books on history,and the stories that I readabout Julius Caesar,
the Borgias, and Louis XIV,were the exact same storiesthat I had personally witnessed
with my own eyesin all of my different jobs,
only less bloody. People want power,and they want to disguise
this wanting of powerso they play games. They covertly manipulate and intrigue,all the while presenting
a nice, even saintly, front. I would expose these games. I gave him numerous examples
of what I meant,and he became increasingly excited. He said I should write a treatment,
and if it was good enough,he would pay me to live
while I wrote half the book,enough to sell it to a publisher. Suddenly, in writing what would become
“The 48 laws of power,”everything in my disjointed past
seemed to click into place,like magic, like destiny. All of those various writing experiences- the journalism, the television,
the theater, the film -had given me the skills to tell stories
and organize my thoughts;all of that reading of history
had given me a vast storehouse of ideasthat I could draw upon;and my work as a researcher had taught me
how to find the perfect anecdote. Even those different, seemingly
random jobs had exposed meto every type of psychologyand to the dark corners of human psyche. Even the languages I learned
while traveling taught mepatience and discipline. All of these experiences added up
to rich layers of knowledge and practicethat altered me from the inside out. In my own very weird and intuitive way,I had given myself the perfect educationfor the writing
of ” The 48 laws of power. “The book came out in 1998,
and it was a success. The course of my life was forever altered. The moral of this story,as I told the people
who would come to me for advice,and as I’m telling you now,is the following. We humans tend to fixate
on what we can see with our eyes. It is the most animal part of our nature. When we look at the changes
and transformationsin other people’s lives,we see the good luckthat someone had
in meeting a person like Joost,with all of the right connections
and the funding. We see the book or the project
that brings the money and the attention. In other words, we see the visible signs
of opportunity and success. — change in our own lives,but we are grasping at an illusion. What really allows
for such dramatic changesare the things that occur
on the inside of a personand are completely invisible:the slow accumulation
of knowledge and skills,the incremental improvements
in work habits,and the ability to withstand criticism. Any change in people’s fortune
is merely the visible manifestationof all of that deep preparation over time. By essentially ignoring
this internal, invisible aspect,we fail to change anything
fundamental within ourselves. And so, in a few years time,
we reach our limits yet again,we grow frustrated, we crave change,we grab at something
quick and superficial,and we remain prisoners forever
of these recurring patterns in our lives. The answer, the key to the ability
to transform ourselvesis actually insanely simple:
to reverse this perspective. Stop fixating on what other people
are saying and doing;on the money, the connections,
the outward appearance of things. Instead, look inward,focus on the smaller, internal changesthat lay the groundwork
for a much larger change in fortune. It is the differencebetween grasping at an illusion
and immersing yourself in reality. Reality is what will liberate
and transform you. Here’s how this would work
in your own life. Consider the factthat each and every one of you
is fundamentally unique – one of a kind;your DNA, the particular configuration
of your brain, your life experiences. In early childhood, this uniqueness
manifested itself by the factthat you felt particularly drawn
to certain subjects and activities -what I call in my book ‘mastery, ‘
primal inclinations. You cannot rationally explain
why you felt so drawn to words,or to music, or to particular questions
about the world around you,or to social dynamics. As you get older, you often lose contact
with these inclinations. You listen to parents who urge you
to follow a particular career path. You listen to teachers
and alcoholic magazine editorswho tell you what you’re good and bad at. You listen to friends who tell you
what’s cool and not cool. At a certain point, you can almost
become a stranger to yourselfand so, you enter career pathsthat are not suited to you
emotionally and intellectually. Your life’s task, as I call it,is to return to those inclinations
and to that uniquenessthat marked each
and every one of you at birth. At whatever age you find yourself,you must reflect back
upon those earliest inclinations. You must look at those subjects
in the presentthat continued to spark
that childlike intense curiosity in you. You must look
at those subjects and activitiesthat you’ve been forced to do
over the past few yearsthat repel you, that have
no emotional resonance. Based on these reflections,you determine a direction
you must take: writing, or music,or a particular branch of science,
or a form of business, or public service. You now have a loose overall framework
which you can exploreand find those angles and positions
that suit you best. You listen closely to yourself,
to your internal radar. Some parts of that framework
– for me. journalism and Hollywood -do not feel right. So you move on,slowly narrowing your path,
all the while accumulating skills. Most people want simple,
direct, straight line pathsto the perfect position and to success,but instead, you must welcome
wrong turns and mistakes. They make you aware of your flaws,they widen your experiences,
they toughen you up. If you come to this process
at a later age,you must cultivate a new set of skillsthat suit this change in direction
you’ll be taking,and find a way to blend them
with your previous skills. Nothing in this process is ever wasted. In any event, the gold that you are afteris learning and the acquisition
of skills, not a fat paycheck. Look at what happens to you,as you adopt this very different
internally-driven mindset. Because you are headed in a directionthat resonates with you
emotionally and personally,the hours of practice and study
do not seem so burdensome. You can sustain your attention
and your interestfor much longer periods of time. What excites you
is the learning process itself,overcoming obstacles,
increasing your skill level. You are immersed in the presentinstead of constantly
obsessing over the future,and so, you pay greater attentionto the work itself
and to the people around you,developing patience
and social intelligence. Without forcing the issue,a point is reached in which you are
thoroughly prepared from within. The slightest opportunity
that comes your way,you will now exploit. In fact, you will draw
opportunities to youbecause people will sense
how prepared you are,which is, I believe,
what happened to me with Joost. Some of this might sound a bit mystical,but the results of this process
that I’m talking abouthave been corroborated
by recent scientific research. Most notably, the 1995’s study
by Anders Ericssonthat yielded the very famous
10,000-hour rule. In tracking people
who had devoted years of their livesto learning chess or music,Ericsson discoveredthat somewhere near that magical mark
of 10,000 hours of practice,the minds of these people suddenly
became much more creative and fluid. The structures of their brains
had been alteredby all of those hours of practice,and at that 10,000-hour mark,we could see a visible transformation
in their performance and creativity. That is a level you will reach
naturally and organicallyif you follow this process far enough. Finally, what I’m proposing
to you right nowis actually, I think, rather radical,namely, the way to transform yourself
is through your work. I know this runs counter
to our prevailing cultural prejudices;work is too ugly, too boring, too banal. Self-transformation, we think,comes through
a spiritual journey, therapy,a guru who tells us what to do,intense group experiences,
social experiences, and drugs. But most of these are waysof running away from ourselves
and relieving our chronic boredom. They’re not connected to process,
so any changes that occur don’t last. Instead, through our work,
we can actually connect to who we are,instead of running away. By entering that slow, organic process,we can actually change ourselves
from the inside outin a way that’s
very real and very lasting. This process involves
a journey of self-discoverythat can be seen
as quite spiritual if you like. In the end of this process,we contribute something unique
and meaningful to our culturethrough our work,which is hardly ugly, boring, or banal. Thank you very much.

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