This article was originally published by Qazini, an online media platform that is seeking to drive systemic change in our societies through empowering storytelling.
I am convinced nobody on earth can watch Succession and not binge it. Watching it, I felt as if I had inhaled pure cocaine. Not that I have inhaled cocaine, pure or otherwise. I mean it was a pure adrenaline rush. The show has had three seasons so far.
But inasmuch as it’s a thrilling show, it’s also deep and I have learned a great deal from inhaling the 29 episodes of the show.
The show revolves around four siblings, the offspring of a wealthy robber-baron type of character known as Logan Roy. All four spoiled to the core, but none more than the youngest, Roman. Their father is a ruthless, pragmatic character. Before he can trust you with responsibility, he has to trust you. I mean you must demonstrate competence.
That is the nature of the world. No one will baby you. Understanding this is the essence of growing up. It doesn’t matter who your father is if you lack the competence and the confidence to stand on your own feet. Nobody can transform you into the person you ought to be. That is a journey you will have to take on your own. And taking that first step is the beginning of your maturity. Roman begins his journey of growing up when he enrolls for management training.
The show has a brutal view of reality. But that may be because it is set in the cut-throat American corporate world. You might say many of the characters have psychopathic tendencies. Capitalism is a heartless thing, and no one personifies this more than Logan Roy, the old billionaire.
The show is a masterclass on the nature of capitalism. Rule number one: finish the other guy. Fight to the death if you have to but win. This might not be a nice thing to learn, but if competition is inevitable, why not embrace it?
Being nice is very nice. But if you have something of value, you better be sure that the predators will come for it. You will have to fight to protect your space. To do that, you might have to channel an inner monster in yourself. King David was a nice guy who wrote sweet poems for God, but he was an absolute warrior on the battlefield.
Logan Roy at one point tells his son Roman that his gut is all he’s got. As a businessman, he often has to make tough decisions quickly. Making decisions has never been easy, especially when a wrong decision might mean the loss of billions of dollars as in Logan’s case.
There are times when something in you will tell you exactly what you need to do. You should learn to listen to your instincts. It’s a skill. Step one is hearing what your gut is saying. Step two is judgment, to figure out if what you are hearing is legit. Step three is the courage to act on it.
We often consider other people’s advice to be more valuable than what we know we should do. And that costs us. I have been successful more when I listen to my instincts and ignore the seemingly helpful advice of friends.
You are the man in the arena, tasting the wind and the blood and sweat. You are the one experiencing the emotions of the fight. Have some courage and trust your gut. But do gather all the relevant information and informed advice to avoid making a stupid decision.
The children of Logan Roy are deeply entitled. They feel they have a natural right to their father’s wealth, power, and position. They are waiting to be given the throne and often squabble over it. So entitled are they that they even plot coups against the old man.
Entitlement says, “I deserve.” But the cold, brutal fact is that this world does not work that way. Every environment has its rules. Every system has its underlying principles. There is logic behind everything under the sun. People who feel entitled refuse to understand the logic of things, to study the rules or principles. They think just because of one special advantage or another that they have the biggest right to getting what they want.
For instance, Logan’s children forget that in Logan Roy’s world, Logan Roy is king and his word is the law. Logan Roy will pick his successor and only he knows what he is looking for. They don’t automatically deserve to be at the helm of the company just because they are his children. He built the company, he wouldn’t want to see his legacy go down the drain if the successor is unworthy and incompetent.
Smart people don’t sit around complaining. They study how the game is set up, and they play to win, simple. Study the logic of the thing, internalise the principles, and weaponise that knowledge for your own advantage. That might mean getting out of your comfort zone, but if that is the price of winning, so be it.
Those who refuse to obey the rules of the environment they are operating in, either succeed as heroic rebels, which is rare, or are stomped like roaches, which is more common. To explain this concept, Wahenga said: “Asiyefunzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu”, which basically means that those who are not taught the rules of the world by their parents will be taught by the world itself. And the lessons the world dishes out are never delivered nicely.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but every single person is driven by self-interest, even when they do not realise it. Self-interest is not always the rational, cold calculation we think it is. Self-interest could be irrational and destructive, but it’s still self-interest. Even the most selfless people we recognise in history were not really dying for a cause but for glory or to put their conscience at ease. Putting your conscience at ease is still self-interest, no?
I am aware this is an extremely cynical philosophy but think about it truly deeply and you will realise that underneath everything you do, you are always looking out for number one. With this insight in mind, you can be more intentional when making decisions.
Be more rational when making decisions. Your temporary self-interest is inferior to your long-term self-interest, so don’t watch that movie when you should be studying for your exams.
And when it comes to your interactions with people, be more selfish while at the same time giving back. Giving back is still part of self-interest because the community or group will reward you, even if it’s just with a sense of belonging which is good for your mental health.
When you are negotiating in any transaction, be courageous and ask for what you want. If you don’t know what you want, figure it out. Never walk into a transaction without knowing what you want. If you don’t know what you want, you will regret it, because the other party will ask for what they want and give you less than you deserve simply because you didn’t have the balls to ask.
If you have learnt anything from this post, let it be pragmatism. Idealism can blind you or give you an unrealistic view of the world. Take off the idealism goggles and take a good, hard look at your life and what you are doing with it, and what you can do to make it better. Be more self-aware and identify any biases or mental blocks that have been preventing you from seeing things with clarity. Know what you want and go for it.