So this Sunday Breaking Bad starts up again. I don’t watch much TV, but I love this show. No matter what it is that I do or see, I like to look for useful lessons that I can apply in my life.
Here are X nuggets of advice that any Strategic Sorcerer/Businessman can take from the characters in Breaking Bad:
1. BECOME IRREPLACEABLE: Throughout the series a LOT of people would have loved to kill Walter, but they couldn’t because he was irreplaceable. He found something that he could do that no-one else could. If you are employed at a company and can find a way to position yourself in a way that makes you irreplaceable, you will enjoy a job security that others won’t. If you are an entrepreneur and you do something that no-one else can do as well as you, you will find yourself with no shortage of customers/readers/students/clients
Read Seth Goddins “Linchpin” for more info on this.
2. BE THE BEST: Walter creates meth that is 99.1% pure. Because of this he is able to be a cook for just about any cartel or crime organization he wants to OR be his own man and dominate the marketplace on his own. If what you are offering is just a cheaper or faster version of what someone else is already doing you can still have some success, but not like you can if you are the best.
Being the best often comes from doing what you love most. Find the angle that is yours, the one that excites you, and work it. Marketability comes later. I love talking about strategy in magic and the combination of magical and mundane efforts so I built my business on it. Rufus loves hermetics and getting people to do the work as soon as possible – people that read his first book could summon an angel an hour after reading it. He built his business on it.
3. LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES: Gus once told Walt that the best piece of advice is to never make the same mistake twice. Throughout the series Walt makes numerous, sometimes catastrophic mistakes and miscalculations. You will too, in business and in magic. the trick is not making them again and again. Sadly most businesses fail because they do not learn from their mistakes. Many magicians fail because something is not working for them, but they keep doing it anyway because of tradition or teachers or whatever tells them to. Walter rose to power because every single mistake he made led to a new realization of how to be better and stronger.
Success comes from good decisions. Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes at the cost of making lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Do not judge yourself for making a bad choice – unless you do it again and again.
4. BE DECISIVE: Successful people are ones that can make decisions. Assess the information that you have, and make a good decision based on it. Too many people are paralyzed by choice and the fear of being wrong. Walt is, throughout the whole series able to make choices without waffling, accept the results of that choice, and deal with the results of his decisions whether they are good or bad. He never strays from his goals and constantly re-orients himself in accordance with the results of his decisions.
As magicians we have the added input of divination to help us make choices. This can be a great tool, but it can also be a detriment. If you trust the cards over all intuition, other information, and good sense that is a misuse of divination. If you ask what you should do rather than what results will be you are turning your life over to someone or something else. If you need a reading before making any decision at all, you are dependent in an unhealthy way. Develop decisiveness. Learn to make a decision in the span of seven breaths.
5. BUILD A BRAND, A REPUTATION, AND A NARRATIVE: To be clear you already have a brand, a reputation, and a narrative. If you don’t take control of it, other people will. Walt does not just rely on his quality product to do this. He differentiates himself in the marketplace by having blue crystal. He creates the persona of Heisenburg complete with black hat and sunglasses. He doesn’t just do amazing things like make the best Meth, blow up Tuc’s office with exploding crystal, or killing Gus – he makes sure that they feed into the myth about him. It’s not just about business. Think about how magicians like Crowley, Gardner, Marie Laveau, Anton LaVey, Ki Jokobodo, Dr Buzzard, Peter Carroll, and Nana Kwaku Bonsam manage their message and their myth.
When he makes for a rival manufacturer to distribute his product for him they ask who he is and he says: “You already know who I am… Say My Name!” And when these big time criminals utter the name “Heisenburg” in a mixture of fear and awe, he is justified in replying “Damn Right!”
6. SPIRITS CAN HELP, BUT ARE NOT OMNIPOTENT: Remember the Salamanca brothers? The assassins from Mexico that were devotees of Santissima Muerte? They were diligent in their offerings and it is clear that she helped oversee their success. But no spirit is omnipotent. Eventually if you keep pushing your luck (like having a clear shot at your target, but deciding to walk back to the car and get an axe instead just to be a dick) their protection will eventually fail.
I have known too many magicians, witches, and sorcerers that were absolutely shocked that they spirits did not bring customers to their occult store located in rural PA. The spirits help, but you are part of the equation.
7. KNOWLEDGE OF OTHER TRADITIONS AND CULTURES IS HELPFUL: Remember when Hank got transferred to El Paso and made fun of an agent for having a bust of Jesus Malverde on his desk? The officer told him that he has it (and speaks Spanish) so that he knows who he is dealing with. By the end of that season Hank inherits the bust and seems to have learned his lesson.
We live in a multi-cultural world. You may be a Hermetic magician, but that does not mean that you won’t encounter magic done by a Brujo. If you have no real clue about it, you may not be in a position to react appropriately. I am not saying that you need to practice outside your tradition, but knowledge of other traditions and cultures gives an understanding and perspective that you cannot get if you stay inside your bubble. It may even give greater understanding of the tradition that you come from.
8. CONSTANTLY ASSESS YOUR OPTIONS: Walter White seems always to be doing a SWOT analysis in his head. He knows his strengths: that he can produce a quality product that no one else can. He know his weaknesses: he has a family, he does not want to sell and distribute himself, he has cancer. He asses his opportunities: access to melamine, cutting out middle men. He is keenly aware of threats when they arise, be they rival dealers or his own employers. Even the decision to become a meth manufacturer in the first place is carefully and methodically decided upon. He is never afraid to pivot and even re-invent himself in order to take advantage of opportunity.
Magic can be a great way of generating opportunities, but when it opens a door you have to be ready to recognize it and walk through it.
9. BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR IDENTITY: As someone who is invested in something that the mainstream world does not even believe is possible you have probably already had experience hiding parts of yourself from others. The same is true of people that are involved in religions that mainstream culture condemns of understands: ATR’s, Witchcraft, perhaps even Islam. Even if you are “out” as a Pagan, you might do well to keep your spellcraft to yourself.
Walter is very flexible with his identity. He can be the bumbling chemistry professor. He can be the ruthless Heisenburg. His truth is somewhere in the middle, but one of the ways that he has been able to avoid arrest is that no-one ever suspects that the two could possibly be the same person. There is a reason that many orders and religions have you choose a new name, and its not always a symbolic one. If there were not two more famous Jason Miller’s than I am to run Google interference for me, chances are I would write and operate under an assumed name.
10. KEEP FRIENDS CLOSE AND ENEMIES CLOSER: Cliche I know, but good advice. Walter gets a clear advantage out of the fact that his brother in law is the DEA agent that is investigating his activities. Whenever a rival dealer or threat comes up that he cannot defeat outwardly, he ingratiates himself and gets close. Mike starts last season looking to put a bullet between Walt’s eyes, but winds up working with him – right up until Walt shoots him.
We hopefully don’t have people looking to kill us, but we can all have people that obstruct us. Whether it is other people, harmful spirits, or our own worst qualities, know them and keep them close so that they can’t sneak up on you.
11. STAY ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LAW: This may seem like strange advice for an article that is drawing lessons from Breaking Bad, but it is one that I strongly believe in. I know a few people that operate on the other side of the law, and while some of them succeed remarkably well, they lack peace of mind. Success to me would mean nothing if I always had the threat of prison or asset seizure looming over it.
The more people depend on you the more you should be aware of this. Getting nailed for doing drugs when you are in your 20’s is inconvenient but unless you got nailed for massive distribution chances are that you will bounce back and people in your life will forgive your youthful indiscretions. If however you have a wife and children and career that you have worked hard to build getting nailed for drugs or insider trading or tax evasion can be devastating to everyone around you. People won’t look at your mistake as youthful indiscretion when you are 35.
Walt’s family life suffers horribly because he is on the wrong side of the law. He is never really able to enjoy his success because of it. Yes, a part of him gets off on the excitement of the illegality, but that is also the part of him that gets him into the most trouble. Whether you agree with the law or not, there is a lot of advantage to abiding by it. remember the Clash song: when we fight with the Law, the Law usually wins.
12. TAKE CONTROL. NEVER GIVE IT UP: There is a great exchange between Walt and a cancer patient named Gary. It never left my mind ever since seeing it. Its worth reproducing in full:
Gary: It’s like what they say: man plans and God laughs.
Walt: That is such bullshit.
Gary: Excuse me?
Walt: Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.
Gary: Yeah, no, I get what you’re saying, but, uh, cancer is cancer.
Walt: To hell with your cancer. I’ve been living with cancer for the better part of a year. Right from the start, it’s a death sentence. That’s what they keep telling me. Well, guess what? Every life comes with a death sentence, so every few months I come in here for my regular scan, knowing full well that one of these times – hell, maybe even today – I’m gonna hear some bad news. But until then, who’s in charge? Me. That’s how I live my life.
One of the core tenets of Strategic Sorcery is to maintain sovereignty and not yield your life to God or the Spirits. Many people do, always trusting that God or the Spirits always know best. This is Bunk. God(s) may or may not have a plan for you, but you can be sure that your own decisions and discrimination are part of that. If not, then why have them at all? The spirits can be wonderful advisers and very often they are pointing you in a good direction, but ultimately it is YOUR life. Take responsibility for it.