The Reason You’re a Mess is a Lack of Power and Control



Robert Greene is an international best-selling author, most famous for penning The Art of Seduction and The 48 Laws of Power, but success was something that came to him a bit later in life after many years of hard work. As a young man, Greene was an aspiring screenwriter and novelist living in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t until he experienced some professional stagnation that the idea for his first book came to him in a moment of desperation.

“I was in Italy on yet another job and I met a man there who was a producer of books,” he says. “One day we were in Venice and he just asked me a question, ‘Do you have any ideas for a book, Robert?’ And suddenly–I don’t know what it was, it was a sunny day, and the gods were smiling on me–all of my pain and everything I had been through in life, it just welled up in me and I improvised a pitch. Probably the greatest pitch I’ve ever done about a book about power.”

The book that Greene pitched was what ended up being his first international bestseller, and possibly what he’s best known for, The 48 Laws of Power. The book has sold over two million copies and has influenced many notable celebrities, entrepreneurs, athletes, and creatives worldwide.

Greene tells me that that chance encounter meeting the man in Italy who would ultimately help him produce his first book was the streak of luck that changed everything for him, but it was a lucky moment that was colliding with years of hard work and preparation.

Today, Robert Greene has written six books. His newest, The Daily Laws, just came out a couple weeks ago.

“I was always drawn towards words and language,” he says. “I was obsessed with words from a very early age. And then suddenly around the age of nine or ten I got really in love with books. And I knew by the time I was in high school that I wanted to be a writer. It was very clear to me. I was reading a lot of novels like Fyodor Dostoevsky… I read a lot of novels of Theodore Dreiser. I read Machiavelli’s The Prince when I was fifteen. I was even reading Nietzsche when I was in high school. These were some of my main influences among many, many others.”

Greene grew up in Los Angeles and went on to study English at UC Berkeley. He describes his parents as traditional Jewish parents who might have loved to have seen him grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer, but they were supportive of his dream. After college Greene went and lived in Europe for several years and worked a litany of odd jobs in places like France, Greece, Spain, Ireland, England, and Italy. He gained a ton of life experience, met a huge number of people and as he describes it, had a blast.

“After that I went back to New York–I’d never lived in New York before–thinking I would get into journalism, because I had to make a living. I couldn’t just write poetry and novels and such. So, I got into journalism, and I got a job at Esquire. So that was legitimate, my parents, you know, they could be proud of that. And I got that job for my writing skills. I sent them a short story. I was in journalism for many years… it wasn’t a good fit.”

At that time Robert had a lunch that he tells me he’ll never forget. “An editor took me to lunch…and he was going to talk about an article I’d written,” he says. “And basically, he had had his third vodka gimlet, or whatever he drank, and he said, ‘Robert you’re not going to make it as a writer. You don’t have the talent, you’re too undisciplined. Your writing is too all over the place. You don’t know how to communicate. Go to law school; go to business school. I’m telling you I’m going to save you a lot of pain.’ And instead of getting all upset and angry–I was initially, I don’t deny it–it kind of sunk in that maybe because I wasn’t excited about this career, it was showing up in my work. It was maybe my fault.”

After that, Greene tried to find that excitement and he spent some more time searching. He went back to Europe for a time to attempt to write more novels, and then ultimately back home to Los Angeles to try out a career working in Hollywood. He worked for a famous director as his assistant, and he says he learned a lot about making things dramatic, but the biggest thing he observed was the power moves that were happening amongst powerful people in the industry and those experiences got the wheels turning for what would ultimately become is first massively successful book.

“I knew deep down inside of myself that I was a good writer and that I was worth having some kind of success in life,” he says. “I didn’t get down [on myself] on that part. I doubted whether I could be a screenwriter, or a novelist etc…. But I knew deep down that it was the only thing that I’m good at. When I look back on it, maybe it’s a skewed perspective but it seemed almost like fate. That I had to go through all of these kind of lost moments, but they were teaching me. They had a reason behind them. I was almost being directed in this way.”

Greene tells me that he’s had at least sixty different jobs in his lifetime, but he counts it all as experience that has been of value, especially given the subject matter he’s made his living writing about.

“I’ve seen every different kind of power maneuver,” he says. “I’ve had the worst bosses in the history of mankind. I have all kind of experiences and I had learned in journalism how to write snappy; how to write well under a deadline. It all came together when I had to write The 48 Laws of Power. All those awful bosses that tortured me. I could put them in the [book] completely disguised by kings and princes etc…Nothing was wasted.”

The interesting thing about talking with Greene is that for such a wholesome and genuine guy, his work has gotten a bad rap over the years. The 48 Laws of Power has been banned in many prisons because the tactics discussed within are viewed as dangerous ideas to give to criminals or people who are considered high-risk as far as society is concerned. The book is a favorite of powerful and influential people like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Brian Grazer, Will Smith and even Fidel Castro. There are many who will say that Greene’s books are ostensibly handbooks for teaching manipulation techniques, but Greene defends his work saying he’s only written about the things he’s observed in the world. They’re not tactics or techniques that he’s creating. He wasn’t happy with how The 48 Laws as well as The Art of Seduction were perceived–as a quick fix to get what you want–and it was one of the reasons he wrote Mastery.

I ask Greene how he feels about critics. He’s clearly had his share of them over the years. For him the way he deals with them is remaining true to himself and the path that he’s chosen for himself.

“You have to have a sense of knowing your life’s task,” he says, noting an idea he talks about in Mastery. “This was what you were meant to accomplish in life. And you’re very firm about it and you feel very confident about it. And so, when people come like that editor did and tell me that you shouldn’t be a writer, you’re able to deflect it because you have a dream, and nothing will get you to sidetrack from that dream. But also having a sense of accomplishment. It’s not that you’re a bullshit artist, it’s not that you’re a con-artist, you’ve actually accomplished A, B and C in life. So, if people come and attack me, I don’t really care because I have this [career] that I can always fall back on. I have a book that sold two million copies, how many people can say that? Bring it on. I’m fine with that.”

Greene tells me that of all forty-eight laws that he talks about in his first book, the one he feels is most important is making yourself indispensable.

“You don’t want to appeal to people’s love, [or] to the fact that they like you,” he says. “You want to appeal to the fact that they need you. Because love is a very tenuous emotion. In fact, it doesn’t work very well in the work situation. It causes all kinds of problems. They’ll get rid of you tomorrow even though they like you. But if they need you, it’s like pulling out all of these roots of a plant to get rid of you. It’s going to cause all kinds of damage. They need you and they can’t get rid of you. So, you need to make sure that you’re position in a company; in life in general, you’re the only person who can do [what you do.]”

I ask Greene how people can make themselves indispensable to a company and he says that it depends on the nature of your work. In a corporate setting he says that it’s wise to spread your talents around the company. Make yourself indispensable to multiple people or departments.

“You get a sense of how the whole company is functioning,” he says. “You have your roots in this place, in this place and this place. So, you have more knowledge that’s kind of spread around and to get rid of you is going to cause a lot of problems, because you’re not only involved here but you’re involved [in multiple places] and you have knowledge that nobody else has. So, you want to have a kind of knowledge and skill-base that makes you unique.”

Greene suggests not just cultivating a single skill, but many skills. The more skills you may possess the more people need you and the more indispensable you truly are.

Greene surprises me by telling me that he views it as the same for entrepreneurs. “The way you make yourself necessary, and others dependent on you is to be the only person who can do this job. You are so unique! There’s only one Elon Musk, there’s only one Steve Jobs, right? They’re irreplaceable. They’re not afraid to be themselves; to have their own style…and so that’s what secures their position. If I wrote books like everybody else, I wouldn’t have that position of power. But because I’m the only one for better or for worse who can write books the way I do, I have secured a position in the publishing world. So, it’s a law that applies everywhere.”

More of my conversation with Robert Greene here:


The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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