In Praise Of Being An A**Hole

Certain People Have an Advantage

Man using cell phone in bar
Judith Haeusler/Cultura/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant was an a**hole. Just ask him. When he was leading the Los Angeles Lakers to those five NBA championships, he made it very clear that he was a first class one.

Kobe was once asked about fellow NBA guard, Rajon Rondo, and Kobe remarked, “He’s an a**hole, like me.” Rondo responded, “That’s a great compliment… I feel the same way about him.”

So there, Kobe Bryant was an a**hole. We pretty much have consensus.


But the key here is… the “was.”

Today, Kobe is no longer a Hole. He spent his final NBA season waving farewell to adoring fans in enemy stadiums, fans he used to glare at, because he knew they’d soon be consumers of Kobe sparkling water or Kobe movies or whatever lifestyle consumer good he’ll attach himself to. Or maybe after 20 years, he decided to flip the Hole switch to off. 

When you’re a Hole, you win NBA championships. When you’re done winning, you might not need to be a Hole any longer.

However, if you do want to win, you need to embrace your Hole. Because when you’re a Hole, you can build the railroads that shrink continents.

When you’re a Hole, you can create magnificent social media empires that revolutionize global communication, commerce, and distracted driving.

As a Hole, you can run a nation. Of course, if you’re one of the Holes running a nation, other Holes will try to depose you, lead an uprising against you or supplant you in a general election.

Super PAC’s are typically run by first class Holes.

At your job, if you’re a Hole, you probably drive your company’s costs of goods down and its on-time delivery up. Holes make excellent supply chain managers.

But if you want to be a success and you’re a non-Hole, what are you?

Tom Hanks.

That’s right.

Successful non-Holes are so rare that we can name them. Or, rather, him. If you’re not a Hole and you want to be a success, you’d better be Tom Hanks. 

If you’re not a Hole and not Tom Hanks, pay attention.

Let Your Hole Sing

Every organization needs a Hole. Holes get things done. Holes are not afraid to piss off non-Holes (or even other Holes). Holes say the things and do the things that the non-Holes fantasize about saying and doing.

So if you really want to get things done—from negotiating purchase prices with your company’s key suppliers to dropping 81 against the Toronto Raptors—you’re going to want to become a first class Hole. 

You might blush and reject the notion that you of all people can be a Hole. Not everyone’s got what it takes to be a Hole, you might argue. But hear me out. Not only can you be a Hole, but chances are you’re probably already a Hole. You just need to unleash that Hole inside.

The good news is it doesn’t take too much to let your Hole sing.

The better news is once you choose to be a Hole, you’ll have one advantage over all the non-Holes out there.  But we’ll get to that in a moment.

As young children, we’re taught to share. We’re taught to say thank you and please.

We’re taught not to take what isn’t ours. And why are we taught these things? Is it so that when young children ask their elders to pass the steamed broccoli, they preface the request with a demure and submissive “Please?" 

No. We’re taught to share and be polite and not steal because we have to be taught to share and be polite and not steal. Those are learned behaviors, not instinctual ones. Without being taught to get along, we'd stand on each other’s throats to get a better view of the inevitable anarchy. If we weren’t forced to overcome our basic instincts, we would just take what isn’t ours and never share and forget about saying thank you or please.

In the state of nature, we are all Holes.

But how can you unlearn all of the niceties that keep civilization from becoming unhinged?

Is becoming (or, truly, re-becoming) a Hole as easy as listening to the little cartoon devil version of you sitting on your shoulder while ignoring the little cartoon angel version of you?

It’s your little cartoon devil that wants you to be selfish and destructive and angry. That’s the voice we need to pay more attention to. But it’s not enough just to give into your little cartoon devil.

Egos and Ids and Superegos, Oh My

I’m hardly the first person to bring up the fact that there are competing voices inside us jockeying for our attention. That silent, cacophonous chatter has been credited to (or blamed on) God, Satan, the Universe, Loki, Bill O’Reilly, your DNA, and that leftover pizza, among other things.

Educated people, who have thought about this a lot more than I have, argue that one of the voices is your lower voice and the other is your higher voice. Others argue the reverse, in that the lower voice is your authentic voice. Egos and ids and superegos, oh my. Are those voices waging an evolutionary battle between animal instinct and human self-awareness? Are the voices really external wavelengths warring for the trophy that is your soul? Or are those voices the only way you can interpret your brain’s chemical reactions and electrical charges, the vocal manifestations of your neurons firing endless ICBM’s across the infinite and minute void of a trillion synapses?

Physicist, philosopher, and 1922 Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, when he wasn’t coming up with quantum theory and founding the Institute of Theoretical Physics, referred to the “I” that acts, the “I” that thinks and the “I” that studies itself.

Higher or lower. God or the devil. Animal or spiritual. Authentic or Naugahyde. One voice tells us to grab everything for ourselves. The other tells us to rise above all the Samsonite we’ve been lugging around and be grateful.

Why does this battle even exist?  Is it because the “grab everything for ourselves” voice knows that its time is finite—that we are, along with it, going to die. And so it’s scared and insecure and selfish. While the “rise above it all” voice hints that we’re a part of something more grand, more eternal? So just hang in there, it tells us, and be grateful and be cool and just work hard and be kind.

Okay, maybe all we can hope to do is apply some limited human interpretation to it all. And figure out the “what” of what’s happening. But not the “why.”  But, again, why?  Why does this battle, if it is a battle, exist?

Why, indeed. But more importantly…

Who cares? First class Holes don’t. While Socrates posited that the unexamined life is not worth living, others counter that the burden of self-awareness is nothing but an anchor in a life built on quicksand.

Be A Hole 

But don’t be half ass about it. Be a first class Hole. A first class Hole knows that you can be a Hole, but not be a criminal. I’m not advocating breaking laws. I’m saying that to be successful, you need to be a Hole. What should be obvious is that to be successful, you can’t be in Cell Block D. So being a first class Hole means knowing that being a criminal is counterproductive to being successful. Again, do not break the law and then say, “Hey, that guy on the Internet said I should break the law.” I’m not saying that.

What I’m saying is that there is this voice; let’s call it your bedroom voice. (Maybe Bohr’s “I” that acts.) It’s the voice that tells you how you want to behave when there’s no one else around. And then there’s your living room voice. (Bohr’s “I” that thinks.) That’s the voice that tells you how to behave when there are people around. The question is, are you your bedroom voice or are you your living room voice?

I’m here to tell you that you’re neither. And you’re both. You see, you’re the entire house. (Bohr’s “I” that studies itself.)

The Stink Of A Turd

Here’s how you can tell if you’re ready to re-become a Hole. Go to a grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. Chances are it’s going to be crowded. Long lines and all. Grab a handful of groceries and cut the checkout line. Seriously. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

How did it go? Was your heart pounding? Did you apologize? If you did, you’re going to need remedial Hole training. You may need to start off being a more anonymous Hole.

Try this basic exercise: The next time you’re in a public restroom, sit on the john and check your phone.  Facebook, Instagram, the Logistics and Supply Chain section, email, whatevs. Sit there and ignore everyone waiting to use the can. Get lost in your phone and be oblivious to the world outside. That’s a great way to be a Hole, while not having to look people in the eye. People will hate you, but you won’t have to deal with them because they’ll need to run off to find an available loo. You’d be amazed how many people practice this remedial Hole training every day.

Becoming a first class Hole takes more than camping out in a stall. Like anything worth doing, it takes practice. It takes the conscious realization that you are the house. With that, you get to decide whether to listen to your nasty bedroom voice or your mannered living room voice.

Be warned—if you’re going to spend time listening to your bedroom voice and re-becoming a Hole, you’d better become an unmitigated, multiple championships, billionaire-level success. Being a Hole without being a success is like having the stink without really being a turd. We know plenty of those guys.

Everyone wants to be Kobe’s friend because while he was being a Hole, he nailed game winners and crushed the competition's heart. On the other hand, no one wants to hang out with that Hole who talks a big game at office but doesn’t deliver and just creates more work for everyone else. Or that dude who says he’s there for you, but always lets you down. If you’ve got 5 NBA championships, we’ll take the abuse and keep asking for more. If you’re the schmuck who said he would help me move but never showed up with his pickup, you’re just the stink of a turd.

The Hole’s Advantage

Even though the potential to be a Hole is inside everyone, living the life of a first class Hole isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you choose to pay more attention to your living room voice, to live the life of a non-Hole, you’ll probably never hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

And you may have to find a more symbiotic way to deliver your customers what they want, when they want it while saving your company money along the way. (Supply chain managers who aren’t first class Holes tend to work in partnership with their suppliers.)

As a non-Hole, you’ll probably sleep more soundly and you’ve got a much better chance of waking up next to the love of your life.

And while being a Hole means that you’re probably going to end up alone, real first class Holes don’t care. Remember when I said being a first class Hole gives you one advantage over all the non-Holes out there? Well, that advantage is that Holes are always right.

Yes, as a first class Hole you get to be right 100% of the time. Whether you’re rationalizing why she left you or justifying driving solo in the HOV lane or dropping a first class Hole comment on someone’s website, Holes get to never be wrong.

You may disagree. You may think that Kobe and Rondo were just effin’ with each other or the Super PAC you run doesn’t use its unlimited funding and dark money influence to counter the will of the people or that Niels Bohr would find your anonymous web comments brilliant.

And, you know what, you’re right.