The following is the full transcript of Robert Greene’s talk: The Key to Transforming Yourself at TEDxBrixton.
Robert Greene – Author, The 48 Laws of Power
After the publication of my first book The 48 Laws of Power, I began to receive requests for advice from people in every conceivable profession and at every level of experience.
Over the years I have now personally consulted with over hundred different people. And in so many of the cases, they would — 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 gone — 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 themselves, and 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 career 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 transformation from a highly unsuccessful writer eking out an existence in a small one bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, to bestselling author seemingly overnight. I have never publicly related this story before but for this very special occasion, my first TED talk, I thought I would share it with you, because it’s actually very relevant to this subject of change.
The story goes like this. I had known since [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 man who 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 — they’re 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 in compatibility. 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 a hundred 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 and 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 beginning to 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 and 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 in history and the stories that I read of Julius Caesar, [La Borges], Louis the Fourteenth, these were the exact same stories that I had personally witnessed with my own eyes in all of my different jobs, only less bloody. People want power and they want to disguise this wanting of power. And so they play games. They covertly manipulate and intrigue all the while presenting a nice even saintly front. I would expose these games.