I remember the moment, many years ago, when I realized I didn’t have to be a badass.

There’s a pervasive myth within the world of entrepreneurship—and within many adjacent sub-cultures—that in order to succeed, you have to be hard, have to be ruthless, have to be borderline sociopathic.

This truism is reinforced by the people we tend to celebrate, the stories we tell, and the lessons we teach both consciously and unconsciously about what “success” looks like.

For a long time, I tried to fake that badassery and probably came across as convincing at least part of the time. But a few years after I began to live more intentionally, started traveling and streamlining and refocusing on the things and people and work that were most important to me, I realized that this supposition I had about how a person who makes things has to behave was wrong. I realized, in fact, that most of the people for whom I had the most respect were nice, friendly, helpful people.

They were, in short, not badasses.

Which is not to say that they didn’t have grit, didn’t have the ability to hunker down and get things done, to survive difficult situations, and to get back up after being knocked down. It just means they didn’t knock other people down to feel taller, didn’t feel the need to flex all the time to feel big and powerful, and didn’t consider it a weakness to treat others well, and pull others up as they climbed the ladder, no quid pro quo necessary.

This latter approach to life and to people, I found, came a lot more naturally to me, and I was a lot happier and more fulfilled with my work and my relationships as soon as I dropped the act and stopped trying to seem like I was someone else; like I was someone willing to kill to launch a product, or someone who would grind someone with whom I was negotiating into dust over every last dollar.

That sort of thing didn’t actually interest me, and though it’s important not to be a doormat—not to allow others to walk all over you—it’s also not necessary to be the person doing the walking.

It’s possible, in other words, to do work you care about and make a living from it without getting blood on your hands or leaving a trail of enemies (or bodies) behind you.

We needn’t be true or feigned sociopaths to be successful, and some types of success are only really accessible if we avoid pretending or behaving like we’re that kind of callous.

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