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Desire to have influence was a thinly veiled form of narcissism.

26 Mar 2024

I read “How to Win Friends & Influence People” in my early twenties. Being an introvert who thought I was broken, I was interested in the “win friends” part, but the book revealed my hidden desire to influence people too.

I applied the concepts in the book, and they… sort of worked. But I was no happier.

Something I didn’t ask myself until much later was: Why do I want to win friends and influence people?

Is it to gain something from them, or to get an advantage over them? Is it so I can convince them I’m likable? Is it because I want them to believe what I believe? Is it to gain status, so that I will finally be seen as a valuable human being in the eyes of others?

In all of these scenarios, I was the main character. Others should bend to my will. Everybody should like me. I have the correct beliefs, I am the one with the free will and rational thinking. Others simply haven’t woken up to the beliefs I hold yet, they just need some… influence. And of course, I’m certainly not the one who has been influenced, right?

Influence in its essence is a certainty that I know how things should be. But what if you didn’t? What if you began to question everything that you think you know?

If somebody was raised to believe in Santa Claus and nobody ever told them the truth… if instead that message was reinforced to them throughout their lives, would it not be ridiculous to suggest that they should begin influencing others with their belief? If they really truly believed it and were charismatic, charming and confident, I bet they’d resonate with plenty of others who still hoped Santa was real. They may gain millions of followers and even make a living from speaking about the Santa conspiracy. Does that mean there is any truth value to their belief?

If the influencing is close enough to our existing belief system, it will typically fly under the radar. But for most of us - as soon as we discover that somebody is trying to influence us we’ll immediately resist, it feels like they’re crossing our boundary and we lose trust. So why do we think we can do it to others? In my experience, it’s about feeling in control of our reality.

We live in a strange world now where instant access to information makes everything feel like it’s moving so fast, it feels out of control. It’s uncomfortable to face the fact that reality really is much larger than us, and although we impact those around us, we can never know exactly how much. So, we try to take more and more control. We try to influence reality, make it the way we think it should be and become angry, afraid, or depressed when the world doesn’t bend to our individual will.

For a long time I believed that the alternative was to keep my mouth shut. Since I couldn’t be truly sure of anything, there’s no point trying to convince others of my beliefs. I thought that saying something publicly meant I could never rescind that thought if I later learned I was wrong. If I still held that view, you wouldn’t be reading this. But there’s a middle way. It’s possible to share your thoughts, work and creativity with the world with no expectation that you are correct, that anybody must listen to you or that you deserve anything in return. Let reality, chance, or nature take care of the rest. There are no guarantees, nor should there be. After all, everything I’ve written here could be untrue.

So much energy is expended on this merry-go-round of people influencing people influencing people influencing people in a game of trying to be enough, have enough, get enough.

The secret is that you can hop off the merry-go-round at any time.

It’s nice out ☀️

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Jordan West

Sydney, Australia

jordan [at] west.io | twitter | github | youtube | instagram