The Man Who Risked It All is an entertaining and well-written novel set in The City of Lights, Paris, France about transformative personal development via Neuro-linguistic programming techniques.
My wife enthusiastically recommended that I read this book about a man’s inspirational hero’s journey from suicidal despair to personal and corporate victory. Often fiction is a better medium than non-fiction for impactfully teaching philosophy and this book will go on my shortlist of must-read fiction for personal development pragmatists along with Memoir From Antproof Case and Atlas Shrugged.
From the book’s back cover blurb…
Looking down from the Eiffel Tower, Alan Greenmor stands on the edge, determined to end it all. As he prepares to jump, his thoughts are interrupted by a cough. To his right is a mysterious stranger in a dark suit, smoking a cigar. This is Yves Dubreuil. The person who will change Alan’s life.
Dubreuil convinces Alan to reconsider his plans, with one caveat: instead of ending his life, he will give his life over to Dubreuil. In return, Dubreuil promises to teach Alan the secrets to happiness and success.
And so, Alan embarks on a wild ride of self-discovery. From a humiliating fiasco at a Parisian bakery, to finding the strength to assert himself in his company’s boardroom, Alan learns to overcome his deepest fears and self-doubts, face life’s unexpected twists and turns, take crazy risks, and fully accept himself in the process.
From best-selling author Laurent Gounelle, The Man Who Risked It All explores the fragility of life and the possibilities that are presented to us in the unlikeliest circumstances.
So the book starts with this young man, Alan, raised by a single mother who is kind of a loser who goes through a series of personal development adventures. The book emphasizes the primacy of action in one’s personal growth. No action, no transformation.
The book centers around the relationship between Alan and Yves (or Igor), his enigmatic, wealthy and mercurial mentor.
The moment has come for the disciple to free himself from his master. You can easily understand, Catherine, that there’s a paradox in guiding someone toward freedom by leading them by the hand all the way. Strict control was necessary because it made him do what he would never have done otherwise, but now he must free himself from my control to become really free. (p. 272)
Reality sometimes takes the shape of a terrifying dragon that disappears when you dare to look at it head on. Spurred on by Igor, I had mastered the dragons in my mind, and it now seemed to be inhabited by benevolent angels. (p. 316)
In the book, Alan receives devoted mentorship from this older gentleman who lives in a mansion in Paris. Young men struggling in their career or love life often have this fantasy that a wise mentor will come along, take them under their wing and show them how to get just what they want. While this may seem fanciful, it happens in real life, when you start taking your personal growth seriously, when you start taking a lot of action, this serendipitous world will often deliver to you a mentor that you can really learn from. When the student is ready the master will appear.
But the master mentor you need is often cloaked and appears to be something else. In my case, at the beginning of my entrepreneurial career as a young man, I had two anti-mentors, who showed me how just addiction, mental illness, hedonism hubris, and lies can ruin even the most well funded of endeavors.
“You know, one can see life as a series of pitfalls to be avoided, or as a vast playground that offers enriching experiments at every street corner.” (p. 48)
“When you meditate on revenge, you feel an energy that is admittedly very stimulating, but it is a negative, destructive energy, one that pulls you down. (p. 142)
There are limits to what we’re capable of doing.” “The only limits are the ones we give ourselves.” (pp. 219–220)
“The person who obeys rules avoids thinking. If you think inside the box, the only solutions you’ll find are those that everyone else has already thought of. You have to think outside the box.” (p. 220)
The book describes the process of daily journaling to recalibrate your reticular activating system to find evidence for new mindsets…
Every evening, you must take two minutes to think of the day that has just passed and write down three things that you have achieved and are proud of.” (p. 146)
Body Language Mirroring
Body language is one of the first things that many people learn about in their personal growth journey.
First, when you are synchronizing with the other’s posture, you must respect a certain lapse of time before following his movements, so that he doesn’t feel mimicked. (p. 136)
I had managed to create a bond with a stranger and force him to open himself to me. I marveled at the power of gesture over the unconscious, the superiority of the body over the word. (p. 118)
Public Speaking Training
One of the higher leverage personal growth skills is public speaking and taking public speaking classes is a commonality among people who do cool things and live life on their own terms. In the book, public speaking skills are key to the protagonist’s accelerated personal and professional success.
“They’re not lessons. Each member trains by diving into the deep end with a talk of ten or so minutes on a topic of his choice. After that, the others write feedback on bits of paper, which are then given to the speaker.” “Feedback?” “Yes, information about his performance. Comments about his little defects, his tics, his imperfections — everything, in short, that can be improved, whether it’s his voice, his posture, or the structure of his talk.” (p. 264)
People often ask me if I have public speaking training — other than attending a few Toastmaster’s classes (in Kyiv, of all places) I don’t have much formal training. What’s really honed by speaking and communicating skills is videoblogging. If you want to be a better communicator start videoblogging.
“Faced with unfounded criticism, torture him by asking him questions.”
“What do you mean exactly?” “Rather than justifying yourself, ask him questions to make him justify himself! And don’t let go. It’s for him to provide proof of his criticisms, not for you to prove they’re unfounded! (p. 162)
If frame control interests you, check out my article 24 Practical Examples of Frame Control.
24 Practical Examples of Frame Control — Limitless Mindset
By Jonathan Roseland Connect Frame control is a topic that gets discussed Ad nauseam in hypothetical terms, in this…
Theory vs Practice
Alan and his mentor in the book don’t spend much time delving deep into Alan’s dysfunctional psychology, his mentor is not his shrink. His mentor is a pragmatic practitioner of NLP. He suggests to Alan new and empowering mindsets and then he sends Alan on missions to experience and enshrine them in his personality.
For example, Alan has this annoying neighbor, an old lady that kind of bullies him about the totally reasonable amount of noise that he makes in his Paris flat. His mentor teaches him that he must establish frame control with his neighbor by doing something shocking and bold, so hilariously, one day when his neighbor nags him he opens his door totally naked and says “Madame Blanchard! How lovely to see you!”
The book in a subtle way is about the showdown between two diametrically opposed schools of philosophy of psychology and personal change. The Neuro-linguistic programming/Cognitive behavioral therapy school of thought and the Freudian Psychoanalysis school.
This book will make you curious about NLP…
According to Wikipedia…
Neuro-linguistic programming is a pseudoscientific approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s.
When Wikipedia calls something pseudoscientific, it’s probably something you should be curious about! I’ve never undergone formal NLP instruction, but I think I owe a lot of my personal growth to fields that utilize a lot of NLP techniques. I started my career in 100% commission sales (salesmen use a lot of NLP techniques), I was a pickup artist for about 5 years (PUAs use all sorts of NLP techniques). And I would not be married to a great woman (nor remain happily married) without the principles of NLP.
If I had to summarize NLP, it would mean that if you want to be something, you do that thing. If you want change and transformation, you’re biassed towards action.
Ready, fire, aim. You fake it till you make it.
The book mentions Jacques Lacan, a prominent figure in psychoanalysis.
Lacan was the key figure in psychoanalysis in France. Psychoanalysis being what it is, people thought it was natural for a patient to spend fifteen years on a couch talking about his problems. (p. 266)
But this is France — the less people understand what you’re talking about, the more you are taken for a genius. (p. 268)
About the book’s author
LAURENT GOUNELLE is a personal development specialist who trained in humanities at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In addition to lecturing at the Université of Clermont-Ferrand, he is a consultant and leads international seminars. His three books, based on the principles of Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), have sold more than 300,000 copies worldwide. (p. 337)
The book hints at what I believe which is that NLP and Cognitive behavioral therapy are effective tools for transformation, for living a better life and that Psychoanalysis is the pseudoscientific, time-wasting fraud. In the NLP/CBT school, if there’s a guy who is lonely and failing with women, the NLP instructor will give him a seduction technique, like go out to a bar, talk to an attractive woman and disagree with every single thing she says, disagree with her arbitrarily. The student will go out and have a totally novel experience with women, they’ll get outside their comfort zone and immediately become a bit more confident. The psychoanalysis school is a different story, in psychoanalysis, the therapist will have the lonely man sit on a couch and talk endlessly about his past, his traumas, his failures, his disappointments. The therapist will try their damndest to dig up some dysfunctional connection between the lonely man’s present failure with women and his relationship with his mother.
A Non-Hysterical Critique of Capitalism
Capitalism gets critiqued and criticized endlessly in mainstream movies, television, and culture even though capitalism is clearly the best way for society to function. But really, the problem with capitalism is the state, whenever you see these egregious examples of corporations harming people or the environment it’s almost always due to some entanglement with big government. The worst corporate behavior is often motivated by the stock market, in these numerous cases of corporate malfeasance, it’s the stock market performance that motivates corporate “citizens” to behave so psychopathically. This book portrays this brilliantly.
A lot of the book is about the corporate intrigue of the French recruitment firm where the protagonist works. The firm has recently gone public on the stock market which motivates the firm’s management to make a bunch of shortsighted, unethical bad decisions to inflate the stock price. A few illustrative passages:
Returning to my office, I passed cubicles full of employees stressed out by the ever more dehumanizing management style, harassed by the demands of stock-market profitability, and no longer motivated by an exciting business plan. What a waste to see all these people unhappy on the job when every one of them could be fulfilled, could bloom in their work! (p. 277)
“This requirement for share-price growth brings with it enormous pressure on everyone, from the CEO to the most recent hire. It prevents people from working properly, calmly. It encourages short-term management that’s good for neither the business nor the employees nor the company’s suppliers who, squeezed hard, will reflect that pressure back on their own employees and suppliers. We end up with companies in good health laying people off just to maintain or improve their profitability. (p. 311)
Since the stock exchange has become a casino, we have forgotten its prime function, and especially we’ve forgotten that behind the names of the companies we gamble on like we’re playing roulette, there are people — living, flesh-and-blood people, who work in these companies and devote much of their lives to the company’s development. (p. 310)
The CEO of the firm drops a red pill…
“You mustn’t look for meaning where there isn’t any,” he said dismissively. “You think that life has a meaning? The strongest and the cleverest win, that’s all. They get the power and the money. And when you’ve got power and money, you can have anything you want in life. It’s no more complicated than that, Greenmor. The rest is intellectual masturbation.” (p. 170)
“A bunch of sheep! All of them! A crummy journalist sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong, and all the morons incapable of thinking for themselves follow his damn-fool advice and sell. As a result, the share price goes down a bit, and the others rush in without thinking! Without thinking!” (pp. 295–296)
I’ve long thought that the stock market is awful! Businesses and corporations would naturally be pretty benign actors because they only profit in the long term if they sell a decent product that people want and are not terrible places for people to work. But the stock market creates this million (or billion) dollar incentive for corporate management to think only about short term performance, to worry about how the stock is doing in 3 months, in 6 months or maybe in 2 years. They are no longer thinking 10 years out, they stop worrying about building something to last, they stop worrying about if the company is contributing in a meaningful sense to society. They worry more about the fickle stock market investors than they do about their employees and even their customers.
One of the more recent examples of corporate idiocy that I protested was the $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger, which Bayer has been harshly punished in court for. They’ve already had to pay out billions for lawsuits won by the victims of Monsanto’s cancer-causing products (sometimes there is justice in this world). At the time of the merger, I watched several interviews with the Bayer executives and their sentiment was “We know this merger is very unpopular, people hate Monsanto and we’re paying a ton of money for it BUT it will deliver value fast to our shareholders, so we’re going to do it!” If they weren’t myopically focused on short term stock market gains, would they have decided to merge with this vile company that does so much harm to people, farmers, and the ecosystem? I don’t think so!
And who do we have to thank for the perpetuation of the stock market? The state. The government employs floors and floors of bored bureaucrats, apathetic apparatchiks, and arrogant attorneys to “regulate” the stock market. Consistently these regulating agencies are captured by corporate influence and they allow and encourage the worst corporate behavior. The government also writes endless, byzantine and confusing futures-trading laws without which there would be no reason for corporations to play (and cheat) in the global casino. Without the damn government, businesses big and small would be a whole lot more conservative, risk-averse and honestly interested in serving their customers a good product.
The Silly Last Chapter
The only part of the book that I scoffed at was the last chapter where he is reunited with a beautiful (and very cavalier) young woman who broke his heart and drove him to suicide in the first chapter
It was a great joy to be reunited, closing the painful parenthesis of our separation. I was delighted to find she still loved me. I felt light, happy, overcome with emotion to be able once more to see her, touch her, smell her, kiss her. We swore never to be separated again, whatever happened. (p. 333)
I found this unrealistic. If you know anything about women (especially young, beautiful ones), you know that they move on, fast. They fall in and out of love, fast. I would have rather seen the protagonist end up with a new, more virtuous woman at the end as a result of his growth.
It’s a fun, easy read that makes me want to visit Paris with some red pill truths about life, women, and the business world. It has a great twist at the end, I enthusiastically recommend The Man Who Risked It All to anyone passionate about taking action in their personal development.
I’m not a doctor, medical professional or trained therapist. I’m a researcher and pragmatic biohacking practitioner exercising free speech to share evidence as I find it. I make no claims. Please practice skepticism and rational critical thinking. You should consult a professional about any serious decisions that you might make about your health.