Law 47: Do Not go Past The Mark You Aimed For, In Victory Learn When To Stop
“The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.”
There’s a particular quote by Socrates that echoes this sentiment.
This means not getting to high or too low — stay unwavered to avoid reacting out of emotion.
The most common thing people try to avoid is staying too low — the depressive emotions. People are quick come to come to someone’s aid to try and lift you up. But how often do people come in a moment of great achievement to help you bring your emotions back down to neutral? Some may think, ‘but why would you want to bring someone down from the high of an achievement?’. It’s not about stopping the elated feelings of achievement, rather it’s about mitigating the potential character defemating effects of letting success get to your head.
Tasting the sweet elixir of success puts you in a vulnerable position, especially if you haven’t tasted it before. So when other people come to challenge your success and achievement, it can reveal insecurities.
Keys to Power
“Power has its own rhythms and patterns. Those who succeed at the game are the ones who control the patterns, and vary them at will, keeping people off balance while they set the tempo. And the essence of strategy is controlling what comes next, and the elation of victory can upset your ability to control what comes next, in two ways.
First, you owe your success to a pattern that you are apt to try to repeat. You will try to keep moving in the same direction without stopping to see whether this is still the direction that is best for you.
Second, success tends to go to your head, and make you emotional. Feeling invulnerable, you make aggressive moves and ultimately undo the victory you have gained.
But the lesson is simple. The powerful vary their rhythms and patterns, change the course, adapt to circumstance, and learn to improvise. Rather than letting their dancing feet impel them forward, they step back and look where they are going. That is the challenge. To pause amongst the midst of victory is the challenge, is the hardest thing. To take a breath, analyze, and move with caution, but swiftness.”
“It is as if their bloodstream bore a kind of antidote to the intoxication of victory, letting them control their emotions and come to a kind of mental halt where they have attained success. They steady themselves, give themselves the space to reflect on what has happened, examine the role of circumstance and luck in their success. As they say in riding school, you have to be able to control yourself before you can control the horse.”
I don’t really feel right saying ‘good luck’ to people. Because it’s hard to encapsulate the idea of luck because you can’t measure luck — it’s not tangible. Regardless of the words we want to use, luck, fortune, the universe, God, fate, there is some sort of energy being played that is out of our control, which arguably has influence over some of the rhythms and circumstances of our lives and of our being.
“When the Athenian general and statesman Pericles led a series of naval campaigns around the Black Sea in 436 BC, his easy triumphs inflamed the Athenians’ desire for more. They dreams of conquering Egypt, overrunning Persia, sailing for Sicily. On the one hand, Pericles reined in these dangerous emotions by warning of the perils of hubris. On the other hand, he fed them by fighting small battles that he knew he could win, creating the appearance that he was preserving the momentum of success.”
“The skill with which Pericles played this game is revealed by what happened when he died. The demagogues took over, pushed Athens into invading Sicily, and in one rash move, destroyed an empire.”
Pericles created the appearance of victory, minor victories. He didn’t go too far in conquering every city he saw, but he still maintained an appearance of momentum, of success.
“People who go past the mark are often motivated by a desire to please a master by proving their dedication.”
But an excess of effort exposes you to the risk of making the master suspicious of you. On several occasions, generals under Philip of Macedon were disgraced and demoted immediately after leading their troops to a great victory. “One more such victory,” Philip thought, “and the man might become a rival instead of an underling.”
If you go too far in your victory, your ‘master’ (boss) may perceive you as having more competence than them. You risk exposing their insecurities and positioning yourself as a threat by peacocking your achievements. This is especially prevalent in the ego driven type, their response will be to either intimidate you, lower your position or remove you from all power and responsibility.
“Another moment when a small success can spoil the chances for a larger one may come if a master or superior grants you a favor, gives you a gift. It is a dangerous mistake to ask for more. You will seem insecure. Perhaps you feel you did not deserve this favor and you have to grab as much as you can when you have the chance, which may not come again. The proper response is to accept the favor graciously and withdraw. Any subsequent favors, you should earn without having to ask for them.”
“Finally, the moment when you stop has a great dramatic import. What comes last sticks in the mind of kind of an exclamation point. There is no better time to stop and walk away than after a victory. Keep going and you risk lessening the effect, even ending up defeated. As lawyers say of cross-examination, “Always stop with a victory.”
“Icarus falling from the sky. His father, Daedalus, fashioned wings of wax that allow the two men to fly out of the Labyrinth and escape the Minotaur. Elated by the triumphant escape and the feeling of flight, Icarus soars higher and higher until the sun melts the wings and he hurdles to his death.”
“Princes and republics should content themselves with victory, for when they aim at more, they generally lose. The use of insulting language toward an enemy arises from the insolence of victory, or from the false hope of victory, which later misleads men as often in their actions as in their words, for when this false hope takes possession of the mind, it makes men go beyond the mark and causes them to sacrifice a certain good for an uncertain better,” — Niccolò Machiavelli, Reversal.
As Machiavelli says,
“Either destroy a man or leave him alone entirely. Inflicting half punishment or minor injury will only create an enemy whose bitterness will grow with time and who will take revenge. When you beat an enemy, then, make your victory complete. Crush him into nonexistence. Be merciless with your enemy, but do not create new enemies by overreaching. There are some who become more cautious, then, even after a victory, which they see as just giving them more possessions to worry about and protect. Your caution after victory should never make you hesitate or lose momentum, but rather act as a safeguard against rash action.”