Do you ever lie to yourself? Yeah, I do. Plenty.
Yesterday we introduced Domino Principle #1, the principle of Deceptive Perceptions, quoting Richard Feynman stating: “The First Principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
I’m a fairly smart fellow. And sometimes I’m really good at not lying to myself. But I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit… for every time I’ve been good at not deceiving myself about something that is important, I could probably point out another instance where I’ve failed to let myself see a truth sitting right in front of me. Not deceiving myself is something I’m working at getting better at doing, each and every day.
Believing in yourself is critically important to achieving success. Starting something as outside-the-box as The Domino Principle requires a huge degree of confidence, initiative and self-assurance. Having these traits by no means guarantees success, but not having them certainly does assure failure.
Today we use the television series Breaking Bad to illustrate what can happen when one fails to recognize the lies that they are telling to themselves, effectively taking Domino Principle #1 to its most extreme repercussions. And in the process, we also tell the story of how I got my self-confidence back from a most unlikely source, at a time when I really needed to find it again. This article contains some major spoilers from the Breaking Bad TV series. If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, and you plan to do so in the future, then you might want to skip this article.
Breaking Bad is a story of “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface.” Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a brilliant chemist who failed to achieve his potential and instead became a high school chemistry teacher. As the story begins, Walt is diagnosed with lung cancer. Initially for the purpose of paying for his treatment, Walt (along with partner-in-crime Jesse Pinkman) becomes a methamphetamine manufacturer, and eventually a meth kingpin, over time responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people.
Breaking Bad isn’t an easy show to watch. There are virtually no characters in the story for whom one can easily find sympathy… they all are a pretty sorry and despicable bunch. Yet, the show is riveting. The acting is superb, especially Cranston’s characterization of Walter White. As the inevitable dominoes fall, the slide into degeneracy of Cranston’s character is fascinating, and the scripting and cinematography are literary, intelligent and full of subtleties. Breaking Bad is both continually moving and continually painful.
I watched Breaking Bad on Netflix during the second half of 2014. It was at a time in my life when most everything was, in fact, breaking bad for me personally. My business was doing poorly, and I also lost several people in my life who were most important to me. And I lost something else huge: my self-confidence. It was often a struggle to find a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Twice, I stopped watching the show for a month because it was just too difficult for me to digest. Eventually I came back to it. In the end I was glad that I had the perseverance to see it through.
Breaking Bad gave me the perspective to see the need to stop lying to myself, while also reminding me that I have the strength within to seek something greater for myself. I came to a point where I remembered that I have a choice (and so do you!)… I can let the dominoes crush me, or I can be the one who sets up the dominoes and knocks them over. And that gave me the confidence to realize, in a far more constructive, positive and entrepreneurial way than it ever was for Walter White, that I too have the capacity to be, and in fact am, The One Who Knocks:
As Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan noted in The New Yorker: “In writers’ rooms, being nerds, we talk in terms of characters’ superpowers. On the face of it, you’d think Walt’s superpower is his scientific genius. But, in our minds, Walt’s superpower is his ability to effortlessly lie to everyone. And the person he’s best at lying to is himself.”
I am, like Walter, a somewhat erudite man who has never quite fit in with normalcy. It isn’t all that hard for me to understand how someone could deceive themselves into going down the path of evil like the one that Walt ultimately fell into. Walter White was a character who had the potential and strength for greatness within, but instead lied to himself consistently throughout his life and never found a way to apply his gifts constructively. In the end, Walter White becomes the last domino to fall over in a dreadful chain reaction of his own design.
“When we were working on the series, we always talked about ‘When does he see himself the way we see him? When does he realize the ends don’t justify the means?'” writer and co-executive producer Peter Gould told The Hollywood Reporter. “We eventually realized, ‘That’s the end of the show.’ When he’s no longer lying to himself, that is truly the end for Walt.”
“If tempted by something that feels “altruistic” examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then, if you still want to do it, wallow in it!” — Robert A. Heinlein, The Notebook of Lazarus Long/Time Enough For Love
In the final episode of the series, Walter is at last willing to tell himself the truth about why he has done what he has done:
Doing something because you like it, because you are good at it, and because it makes you feel alive are undistorted justifications for pursuing an activity (even if, in some cases, the activity is one you might be better off not pursuing). Heck, those are some of the same reasons which caused me to start The Domino Principle. And if, in addition to doing this for myself, I can help you and I root out the self-deceptions in our lives and learn how to set up and knock over our own chains of dominoes to create better and more fulfilling futures for ourselves and our families and businesses, then all the better!
In the immortal words of Jesse Pinkman, “Yeah! Dominoes, bitch!”
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