The Things You Think Matter…Don’t

Ryan Holiday
5 min readJul 13, 2022

I dropped out of college.

When this happened it was a big deal — to my parents anyway. Then it was a big deal when people met me because they were constantly surprised by it. You didn’t finish college?! But for all the warnings and then surprise, there has been literally zero times where my lack of a degree has come up in the course of any business deal or project.

So I am always surprised by the lengths people will go to get their degree. I read a fascinating book a couple years ago about the Varsity Blues scandal and the parents who bribed their kids into various colleges — many of which were not even that hard to get into. The parents were so convinced that college mattered that they were willing to do just about anything to make sure their kids got in…even in one case where one of the girls had millions of YouTube followers and didn’t want to go to college. Or another where the daughter wanted to be an actress and the mother was an actress, but she still tried to cheat on her daughter’s SAT’s to get into Juilliard (even though Julliard doesn’t require SATs!)

It reminds me of a line from Peter Thiel who pointed out that we can get so good at trying to win that we don’t stop and ask if we’re playing the right game.

Here’s something I thought mattered a lot: The New York Times Bestseller list. When my first book came out I worked very hard to sell a lot of copies so I could say I was an NYT bestseller. I missed it (for somewhat suspicious reasons) and hit the WSJ list instead. As it turns out, this had absolutely no impact on the sales of the book or my ability to have a writing career. What mattered was whether the book continued to sell well over time and whether I continued to have interesting things to say.

Literally no one ever bought the book because it hit one list…and certainly no one didn’t buy it because it wasn’t on the other.

But I found it quite funny in the years since that when people would introduce me for talks they would call me “a New York Times Bestselling author” because they just assumed, and it sounded like something important. So in one sense the term did matter and mean something…yet the fact they couldn’t tell or care about the difference was a reminder to me that it didn’t really matter at all.

Ryan Holiday

Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’