how to dominate the world. sort of.
Seek first to understand…. — Stephen Covey
One of my all-time favorite bloggers is Chris Guillebeau (THE ART OF NON-CONFORMITY). Chris uses the term ‘world domination’ as part of his call to arms, from his intensely popular PDF “A Brief Guide To World Domination” to the annual gathering of bright-eyed world-changers known as the World Domination Summit.
When Chris came through LA on tour for his first book, I hosted an after-booksigning-party for him at my house. I figured anybody willing to make the long and winding trek from Book Soup on Sunset into the hills of Bel Air would be a hardcore fan indeed.
Let’s just say he has a lot of hardcore fans.
“It’s mostly guys,” observed a friend of mine.
I was a bit surprised by this, since Chris’s central message – about living your own life on your own terms – is valid for both genders. My friend, who wasn’t familiar with Chris’s work at the time of the party, pointed out that his use of the term ‘world domination’ might have something to do with it: the language of force and strength, of the conquering and the conquered: the traditional language of men. (And Chris invokes the same kind of military metaphor when he refers to the “small army of remarkable people” who compose his readership.)
This actually hadn’t occurred to me. I liked to throw around the term myself, in the spirit of fun and play. I knew what he meant by it. Chris was hardly urging us to raise arms and go to war against the world (unless it was the world of conformity). Chris wants us to express ourselves honestly and joyfully through how we live and how we work, creating value for others and income for ourselves, forging a life path that activates the soul.
His stuff hammers home the message: There’s another option, no matter what they tell you.
Generally to dominate the world — through your art, or your products, or your teaching or your dealmaking or whatever — you need to get really really good at something. And then you need to get even better. Like, really fucking excellent.
When we think about mastery, we think about domination, the whole masters-of-the-universe thing. There’s the Master, and there’s the person or activity or discipline being bent to his or her will. Possibly dressed in chains and black leather.
Anyone who has had the experience of being emotionally or psychologically dominated might react to this concept a bit like I do: a clenching in the chest, maybe even a faint rush of nausea.
But what if this was a deep misunderstanding of what mastery actually is?
Or at the very least, what if there’s another way of talking about it?
“Most of the time,” points out Robert Greene in his book MASTERY, “we live in an interior world of dreams, desires and obsessive thoughts.”
But when we are in the flow of exceptional creativity, we “force ourselves to step outside our inner chamber of habitual thoughts and connect to the world, to other people, to reality. Instead of flitting here and there in a state of perpetual distraction, our minds focus and penetrate to the core of something real.”
We think of this sensation as mastery – “the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves.”
You’ll notice, though, that this definition of mastery isn’t about dominating – it’s about knowing.
(…Our minds focus and penetrate to the core of something real…)
Stephen Cope writes about this in his book THE GREAT WORK OF YOUR LIFE:
“The capacity to know a certain domain of the world in such depth appears to us ordinary mortals as a kind of supernormal power. It seems like magic. It is not magic…but simply the inevitable result of sustained concentration on an object of intense interest.”
Cope here is talking about deliberate practice – the kind of focused, challenging practice necessary to attain mastery in any field — which he describes as
“a kind of sophisticated attentional training. It bears fruit when attention begins to penetrate the object of its interest in an entirely new way….the master’s perception of the object becomes refined….
“…the master begins to see patterns that others cannot yet see.
“…When a chess master looks at a board during a game, he sees hundreds of potential individual moves (many more than the average player sees) but more important, he sees them in relationship to the outcome of the overall game. This gives the individual moves heightened meaning.”
One of the more famous American chess masters is Josh Waitzkin, the child prodigy who inspired the movie SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISHER (based on a memoir written by his father). In his (awesome) book THE ART OF LEARNING Waitzkin describes a moment of mastery from the inside:
“It is a strange feeling. First you are a person looking at a chessboard. You calculate through the various alternatives, the mind gaining speed as it pores through the complexities, until consciousness of one’s separation from the position ebbs away and what remains is the sensation of being inside the energetic chess flow. Then the mind moves with the speed of an electrical current, complex problems are breezed through with an intuitive clarity, you get deeper and deeper into the soul of the chess position, time falls away, the concept of “I” is gone, all that exists is blissful engagement, pure presence, absolute flow. I was in the zone…”
(He goes on to win the game. And the tournament. And lots of other tournaments.)
Look at the language Josh uses here. He is what we would call crushing it. He is kicking ass. But he doesn’t talk about dominating the game so much as merging with it, getting inside the “energetic chess flow” to see things from a different perspective. This allows him to ‘breeze through’ complex problems and get deeper and deeper into the ‘soul’ of the chess position…
This isn’t domination. This is an act of deep empathy, brought about by a thorough and nuanced understanding – knowing — of the game. Josh can enter the spirit of the game, confront and deal with the bare reality of it, and then guide it to victory on his own terms in his own way.
Brutal competition, yes, but Josh turns it into a profoundly creative and even a spiritual experience. And, oh yeah, stomps the competition.
Which, according to Stephen Cope, is kind of the point. Because the cultivation and mastery of your unique gifts, and their intersection with what Cope refers to as “the call of the times”, is your dharma: your truth, your path, your unique self brought to full expression in the world in a way that somehow changes it, or at least a tiny corner of it.
It’s not about dominating other people, or even yourself.
It’s about expressing who you are, the nature of your soul, through the nature of what you can do. To master your work is to become one with it, so that knowing your discipline becomes a deeper way of knowing yourself.
And knowing yourself becomes a way of knowing the world.
As his mastery of chess continued to deepen and grow, Josh writes about his “powerful new private relationship to chess. I worked on the game tirelessly, but was now moved less by ambition than by a yearning for self-discovery.”
For the pleasures of mastery, according to Stephen Cope,
“…are not what we usually assume them to be. They do not center around the control of one’s particular domain…They center, rather around knowing. It is the profound pleasure in knowing the world more deeply that creates authentic fulfillment. This is what dharma is all about…[True masters are not motivated] by extrinsic factors like money and fame. There is a much, much deeper pleasure: the pleasure in knowing the world.”
To know the world is to make a profound connection to it – to move beyond our shadowy isolated interior life and become a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s that very connection that makes up your art: how you do that special voodoo that you do, reaching out through the tools and methods of mastery to express your values and your self. To live your own life on your own terms in a way that serves the larger community.
The dancer becomes the dance.
And inside that dance, a world.