“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people he didn’t exist.”
The devil does exist, but not in the form you imagine. No, there is no red-skinned, horn-headed, fire and brimstone lair ruler, but there is an insidious force that exists to kill your dreams. Steven Pressfield calls this force The Resistance — a more apt name than something more benign like self-doubt.
Here’s Pressfield’s definition of it straight from his classic book The War of Art:
“Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
And another one:
“Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”
You’re a smart person, which means you won’t just make any old deal with the devil. If you knew and understood the direness of your choices up front, you’d make different ones. Instead, you make these choices because of a beguiling inner-voice that convinces you subtly.
Remember, resistance takes any form it needs to. It can come in the form of self-talk, the messages society uses to condition you, and from your well-meaning family and friends. The goal? To convince you to trade life, purpose, and meaning for peanuts.
The Faustian Bargain
The Bible tells the story of the first ever Faustian Bargain. We’ve been duped from the very beginning of existence. Even if you don’t believe in God, the story itself is telling. The serpent doesn’t just attempt to convince Adam and Eve to eat the apple all at once.
He first goes to Eve, convinces her, which causes her to convince Adam as well. He uses the perfect medium to get his message across — a loved one. That’s lesson number one. It’s often better to use a mental side door to get you to make a bad deal instead of approaching you directly.
Next, he makes a promise for greener pastures. If Adam and Eve eat the apple from the tree of knowledge, they will have the same wisdom God has. There’s lesson number two. If you want to convince someone to make a bad trade, speak to their ego because humans will do anything to feed their child-like need for self-centeredness.
The moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for because you might get it. Adam and Eve do, in fact, receive the wisdom of God, but they get the baby and the bathwater. They now know the nature of the world, which has great parts to it, but they also learn about mortality. They realize they’re naked and come to know shame. In exchange for wisdom, they get cold reality.
Satan attempts another Faustian bargain on Jesus himself. Alone and hungry in the wilderness, Lucifer tries to convince Jesus to use his powers. “If you are the son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
He tries to play on another bug (or feature?) of human nature — the need for power. He also plays on the need for satisfaction and instant gratification. You’re hungry and you have the choice not to be. Why not make yourself happy and fulfilled right now? Jesus resisted because he knew he needed to play the long game. Had he fallen to temptation, he’d have had a major setback in his journey to preach the gospel.
I’m sure you didn’t come here for a Bible lesson. The point here is that the idea of trading something of great value for something trivial is a feature of human nature that stretches back thousands of years. And, it’s worked 99 percent of the time. Is it working in your life? Have you accepted a Faustian Bargain? Undoubtedly.
The LinkedIn Trade
Is it just me, or does everyone on LinkedIn look like a hostage who’s being forced to smile for a photo? You can tell these people don’t want to be there — pimping themselves out for paychecks, “being practical,” and carefully curating a C.V in lieu of doing what they actually want with their life.
Let me preface this by saying some people do love their jobs. Some people enjoy the corporate lifestyle and being an employee. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Yet in still, the vast majority of people either aren’t engaged in or hate their jobs.
Peter Theil touches on this beautifully in his book Zero to One:
“Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?”
Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why trade a fulfilling career for burdensome debt and limited prospects? You fell for the subtle messaging. At some point, it just became a given that you were supposed to go to college and live the corporate life. It became canon without any evidence of truth. How? The best way to make someone believe a lie is to assert it repeatedly. Our brains recognize repeated assertion as truth. You’ve been told this lie about 1,000 times since you were in Kindergarten.
Why was this lie told to you? I discussed this earlier in the chapter “Why Society Doesn’t Want you to Succeed.” The structure of society emerged into one that needed complacent and, most importantly, dependent people. White collar crooks rob you without a gun.
If the positive presentation doesn’t convince you “Life will be great after college!” a little applied pressure works just as well “don’t go to college and you’ll flip burgers!” If you feel duped, don’t become resentful, use the feeling of being used to your advantage and say no the next time you’re offered a bargain like this.
The Time Trade
“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” — Seneca
Someone posted a Twitter poll that asked to choose between these options:
- Live the rest Warren Buffet’s life: become an uber-billionaire, but be 88 years old
- Life a broke 18-year-olds life: not ideal, but plenty of time left
You can guess which one most people chose. What good is money when you have little time left to spend it?
In the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, one of the regrets was wasting too much time on work. Keep in mind, the regret wasn’t over having a vocation, but rather a job that only carried meanings of status, money, and prestige. Work is a third of your life. Why trade it for the materials of this world and status among people you don’t even like?
Lies You’re Told to Steal Your Time
All you need are a few convincing lies that cater to your ego and fear:
- The security lie — You no longer have to risk your livelihood to go your own way. You can do it for low-cost in your spare time until it works. The idea that you’re putting your family at risk to pursue your dreams is patently false.
- The “what will people think of me” lie — You’re convinced the world is watching you; waiting for you to fall on your face in embarrassment. The truth? Nobody gives a flying you know what about you, your dreams, your behavior, none of it.
- The “you have more time” lie — There is a reason so many products are catered to making you look and feel younger. They help you believe you can get time back, reclaim a youth you’ve spent, and give you the illusion that you’re immortal. You can’t save time at all. In fact, it’s slipping away fast.
- The “I owe people” lie — You’re made to feel guilty if you don’t honor every request, drop everything for any reason to help someone, or set boundaries on your schedule. You don’t owe anything, especially time, to anyone but yourself. If you do give time to others, it’s a choice, not an obligation.
Time is easy to waste because you can’t see it, touch it, or conceptualize it in a tangible way. Other people, and society at large need to consume your time because the more time you spend working on yourself, the more aware you become about the nature of the world. Distraction is the W-D 40 that keeps the squeaky wheel of quiet desperation turning.
The People Trade
One of the hardest things to do is have an accurate perception of other people. Human beings have great qualities. They’re creative, adaptable, resilient, and cooperative. They also have many negative qualities. They’re conniving, jealous, self-interested, vain, energy-sucking, and sometimes downright malicious.
If it seems Machiavellian to carefully guard who’s in your inner circle, consider some of the worst scenarios people find themselves in when they give their trust and love to the wrong person. They’re betrayed and hurt by the love of their life who leaves or cheats on them. They choose an unscrupulous business partner who embezzles money from the company. A friend, who means well but is filled with negativity, drags someone down to their depths, infects them with depression, and chips away at their self-esteem just by pure association.
When it comes to the people in your life, consider the cost of associating with the people in your life. A theme of this book has been understanding the downsides and consequences of your action. You can do everything right — get in perfect health, find a career you love, and genuinely care for others — but if you get the people part wrong, it will unravel everything else in a tenth of the time it took you to build it.
So why do we trade our hearts for toxic people? Love, acceptance, and certainty. Having someone who seemingly accepts you causes you to ignore their flaws. We crate acceptance from others. As much as you want an adventure, you want safety and security even more. This is why people stay in loveless, sexless, joyless relationships. In a way, it’s still better than being alone.
Here’s a hard truth pill to swallow — you are born alone and will essentially die alone. Even with family members by your side, you will revert back to oneness and loneliness, afraid to leave the world just as you were afraid to enter it — naked, weeping, confused, lost. That is unless you lived life well as an individual. If you learn to first live well on your own, then allow the right people to come into your life by vetting them instead of just letting them in, you’ll develop an inner-fortitude rarely afforded to most.
Take care of yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
The Economics of Life
When you buy a cup of coffee, a new jacket, a car, a home, you don’t just trade away your money. You trade away everything else you could’ve done with that money. In economics, this is known as an “opportunity cost.” Nothing is free in this world, nothing. You pay a price for what you spend — time, money, love, etc.
Before fields like behavioral economics emerged, there was an idea of the rational human being called “homo economicus,” a rational person who always made perfectly optimized decisions, weighed the pros and cons of each choice, and always opted to make the decision that benefits them most. On its face, it seems like a solid premise. Humans are self-interested, so why wouldn’t they do everything that’s in their best interests?
Pioneers in the field like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed us that people are largely irrational. We are self-interested but to a fault. Driven by our “fast-brain,” the ego-centric, automatic, cave-man foundation our brain is built on, we almost always make the choice that feeds the darkest nature of our self-interest — instant gratification, greed, discomfort avoidance, and our lust for familiarity.
And what do we end up with after repeatedly making these Faustian bargains? Shit we don’t need, entertain to dull our pain, useless pieces of paper, a false sense of security (see:2008), and people who may or may not be ideal for helping us live their life.
Going back to Theil’s quote earlier, “Why are we doing this to ourselves?” Why are you doing it to yourself? Because you’re afraid of making the right trade. The success equation comes down to trading safety, certainty, security, fake-love, distraction, and ego-stroking in favor of greatness, adventure, sanity, and joy.
Stop believing the greatest myth — the myth that you don’t pay a price for staying in your comfort zone. Stasis doesn’t exist. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going backward. Each minute you spend in contemplation and procrastination trades your wonderful miracle of existence for…nothing, really.
Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you ready for something different? It’s time for you to go on your adventure and create your own fate instead of the one you were sold.