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Narcissists: Why some are losers, and some are winners

I paraphrase Bernstein:

There is no greatness without narcissism, but there is plenty of narcissism without greatness.

So what differentiates the "winners" from the "losers"?

In Bernstein's opinion, it comes down to two things:

  1. the ability to do things you don’t want to do because the job requires them
  2. the ability to sell yourself and your ideas to other people

The problem?
Narcissism stands in the way of both of them.
And that's true for talented narcissists as well, which Bernstein calls "narcissistic legends".

Says Bernstein:

In order to succeed in any system, you have to be perceived as a part of it.
This usually means going through an initiation period of doing pointless work because somebody more firmly entrenched in the system wants it done. There’s no way around paying your dues.
Narcissistic Legends are quick to note that the work they’re being asked to do is pointless and generally believe that they, because of their superior intelligence, are the first to discover this amazing fact. Often, they will use this pseudo-insight as justification for not doing what they consider unimportant.

In short: narcissists refuse to do the easy entry-level tasks because they think it's beneath them.

The problem with this approach?

  1. Narcissistic Legends are apt to confuse what they don’t like with what is unimportant
  2. Those "unimportant tasks" are important for the people who want them done. Which usually are the people in charge

Narcissists Can't Persuade

And when it comes to selling:

Their idea of a sales pitch is sketching out their idea and acting as if it would be stupid to consider anything else.

Poor in empathy, narcissists do not understand how persuasion really works, they don't understand basic social rules, and they don't understand how to play politics.
Bernstein says that narcissists can change their behavior when they find out it’s preventing them from getting what they want. The funny thing is that they seldom find out, because other people don’t explain the problem to them in a way they can understand. 

Narcissists Attract The Weak, & Push Away The Strong

Says Bernstein:

Narcissistic Legends create alternate realities that push powerful people away and attract the weak. Narcissists know that they’re the best. People who doubt themselves are attracted to Narcissistic certainty. When these vampires want someone, they can make that person feel like the second most special being on the planet.

When people at the top get a whiff of the entitled attitude of narcissists, they get an immediate dislike on them.
The insecure people around and below the narcissists instead might be attracted. But those people usually have little power.

Successful Narcissists Learn Basic Social Skills

Says Barnstein:

The Druckers, Coveys, and Senges of the world do their magic by tying success to the simple human strategies that the rest of us learned in kindergarten—listening, sharing, taking turns, and telling things as they actually are—and by reassuring Narcissists that the techniques have worked well for people who succeeded in life.

In short, successful narcissists learn to control their ego, and treat others better.

Some of them just hide their outsized egos of course.
Says Bernstein:

 It’s not that Superstars haven’t heard of teamwork; it’s just that they’re more apt to consider it a public relations ploy rather than an actual way of running their businesses or living their lives. 

Successful Narcissists Learn the Value of Hard Work

Another huge issue of narcissists is that they think the yare entitled to success without having the skills for it.

So they never start working hard, they never start climbing organizational hierarchies, and they're forever stuck in menial jobs, believing they are owed the world, but never doing a thing to advance their lives.

The narcissists who succeed, instead, learn that hard work is the price to pay for success.

Says Bernstein:

The narcissist who drops being special and instead works his ass off to become special, those are the narcissists who succeed.

So, in a way, the successful narcissists learn to be less of a narcissist.

I can attest to this analysis from my own experience as well.


A touch of narcissism is an important fuel for achievement.

But it can stand in the way of the same greatness that narcissists feel they deserve.

The narcissist who do become great, do a few things right:

  • Successful narcissists learn social skills and deploy effective political strategies
  • Successful narcissists learn psychology and persuasion
  • Successful narcissists learn the value of hard work




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