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Friedrich Nietzsche

While I was in college, a visiting writer/activist, whose name I have forgotten, said to me, “Never consent to give power to anything that disempowers you personally.” I think it was a paraphrase of Nietzsche– or, if not, it was certainly in his spirit.

She said this in the context of gay rights activism, and marriage specifically (we were both against marriage as a concept generally, and felt that aping an institution designed to disempower people, to rope them together economically so that they could be counted on to raise children more conveniently, was not the best use of activist energies; what can I say, I was a firebrand and a radical back then).

I took her advice well out of that context, though, and applied it to everyday life, particularly to my career. If you apply this concept rigorously and carefully to your career, you will find that It can lead to a great deal of personal success over time — which is fine, as long as you are the underdog. Refusing to cede power to anything, or anyone, who disempowers you will make you surly and curmudgeonly and awful to work with. You will lose job after job after job. But each job you lose will be better and more lucrative than the one before. And it will also give you power, in the long run.

Once you are the person with power, which is what I ended up being after a while, refusing to empower that which disempowers you can become ethically and practically problematic. You’re the oppressor at that point.

Maybe it is ethically problematic all along, even before then, but more forgivable when you’re the underdog just because, you know, everybody loves an underdog. I dunno.

But yeah. Whatever. It works! It’s a tough way to make it in life. But it gets you there.