Law 41: Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes


What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.

Power depends on appearing larger than other people, and when you are lost in the shadow of the father, the king, the great predecessor, you cannot possibly project such a presence.

How does the Son Step Out of the Father's Shadow?

1. He adopts the ruthless strategy of Alexander the Great: disparage the past, create your own kingdom and put the father in the shadows instead of letting him do the same to you.
2. If you cannot materially start from ground zero—it would be foolish to renounce an inheritance—you can at least begin from ground zero psychologically.
3. Throw off the weight of the past and chart a new direction.
4. Recognize like Alexander instinctively did that privileges of birth are impediments to power.
5. Be merciless with the past, not only with your father and his father but with your own earlier achievements.
6. Only the weak rest on their laurels and dote on past triumphs; in the game of power there is never time to rest.

5 Reasons to Bury the Past

1. The past prevents the young hero from creating his own world
2. He must do as his father did, even after that father is dead or powerless.
3. The hero must bow and scrape before his predecessor and yield to tradition and precedent.
4. What had success in the past must be carried over to the present, even though circumstances have greatly changed.
5. The past also weighs the hero down with an inheritance that he is terrified of losing, making him timid and cautious.

How to Bury the Past

Power depends on the ability to fill a void, to occupy a field that has been cleared of the dead weight of the past.
1. Only after the father figure has been properly done away with will you have the necessary space to create and establish a new order.
2. Variations on the execution of the king that disguise the violence of the impulse by channeling it in socially acceptable forms.
3. Perhaps the simplest way to escape the shadow of the past is simply to belittle it, playing on the timeless antagonism between the generations, stirring up the young against the old.
4. Establish distance from your predecessor which demands some symbolism, a way of advertising itself publicly.

The Problem
1. The overbearing predecessor fills the vistas before you with symbols of the past.
2. You have no room to create your own name.
3. The superstitious belief that if the person before you succeeded by doing A, B, and C, you can re-create their success by doing the same thing.

The Solution
1. Hunt out the vacuums—those areas in culture that have been left vacant.
2. With this you can become the first and principal figure to shine.
3. Make a name for yourself where no shadows could obscure your presence.

Remember: You are your own father. Do not let yourself spend years creating yourself only to let your guard down and allow the ghost of the past—father, habit, history—to sneak back in.


The past often has elements worth appropriating, qualities that would be foolish to reject out of a need to distinguish yourself. Even Alexander the Great recognized this important fact because he was influenced by his father's skill in organizing an army. Making a display of doing things differently from your predecessor can make you seem childish and in fact out of control, unless your actions have logic of their own.

Finally, it is often wise to keep an eye on the young, your future rivals in power. Just as you try to rid yourself of your father, they will soon play the same trick on you, denigrating everything you have accomplished. Just as you rise by rebelling against the past, keep an eye on those rising from below, and never give them the chance to do the same to you.