Rules of Ascendancy: Drama is the Enemy of Progress

I’m going to describe three types of people.  I call them average, elite, and ascendant.  One of the differences between the three is how they approach drama.

Average drama

Average people love drama.  It’s a distraction from the boredom of daily life.  Average people enjoy drama in a self-aware way.  It’s a known indulgence; an escape from weightier things that take too much effort.

Average drama takes the form of Judge Judy, or People Magazine, sports and celebrity gossip, and a voyeuristic pleasure in the domestic disputes of those around them.  Average people like to trump up tough situations and turn them into drama as a way to make life seem more epic and interesting.

Elite drama

Elite people have an equal, if not greater appetite for drama than average people.  But it’s masked by pomp and circumstance.  Elite drama is a method of constant movement and benchmarking along the social hierarchy they so long to climb.  Elite drama is not an escape, it has a purpose.  It’s an integral part of elite life.  Its purpose is to undermine or posture so that other’s dramatic failings make you look better by comparison.

Elite drama takes the form of complex office politics, infighting and gossip in churches or civic organizations, and of course governments and committees.  It is mostly unspoken.  It’s not acknowledged or recognized as drama, but painted as valuable information.  “I think Sheila is angling for John’s job”, or, “I’m concerned that James is treating Hannah differently because they’re having an affair”.

Elite drama is imagined, created, provoked, and discussed not to materially change facts and arrive at solutions, but to create feelings, schisms, and unspoken alliances.  It seeks perpetuation, not resolution.  It’s used as a way to ask for things an elite would be too polite/dishonest/insecure to ask for directly.  Rather than, “I want you to stop liking this person so much and start liking me more”, it’s, “Sure, they’re good at their job, but I wonder if other people on the team really trust them…”  Elite drama-talk is pregnant with implication but almost devoid of provable, actionable fact.

Elites end up spending considerable energy and resource on drama, which limits their ability to become better versions of themselves.  Hard work and focus are the most direct route to accomplishing anything, but in effort to shortcut the system, elite people pursue endless dramatic narratives and angling in effort to move up by by jockeying, rather than through direct hard work.  The paradox is that navigating endless drama is more work in the end.

Beyond drama

Ascendant people hate drama.  They avoid it at all costs.  They don’t care about Sheila or John or social hierarchies or elicit affairs or rumors.  They hate celebrity gossip, political gossip, and workplace angling.  All are a distraction from meaningful, productive progress.

The easiest way to separate the elite from the ascendant in a group of high performers is to introduce a juicy tidbit of gossip or some unspoken animosity.  Elites will be unable to resist the lure of scandal that could possibly impact their social status or present an opportunity to climb the ranks of perception.  Ascendant people will ignore it as soon as possible, find those willing to get to work, and move ahead.

When it comes to drama average people may be closer to ascendancy than elites.  A known indulgence can be given up if the goal is meaningful enough.  A way of life that permeates the complex lattice of social status isn’t so easily abandoned.

Drama is the enemy of progress.  Rise above it in all its forms.

This is part of a series on the difference between average, elite, and ascendant.

The Call of Christ to Freedom, by Stephen Legate

Thirteen years ago, age 20 and grappling with how to make the world freer, my good friend Leon Drolet (I think only the second time I met him) handed me photocopied article from Liberty magazine.  He’d heard I was a Christian, and though he was not, he made several copies of this article and handed them out to every Christian he knew in the political realm.

The article changed my life.  It put into words so many things I felt but couldn’t articulate.  It generated a burst of mental freedom and set me on a trajectory that altered my intellectual and professional life.  I had a great appreciation for theology, philosophy, ethics, and the concept of free-will.  I had a great appreciation for the science of human action and free-market economic principles.  I knew these things were not in conflict, but I lacked the lexicon to describe how two paths (for me, represented by Milton Friedman and C.S. Lewis) led to the same conclusion about the unnecessary evil of government.

Legate described it for me.  I’m not objective enough to determine whether the article itself is really great or if it’s just the time in my life when I read it.  Regardless, it’s been lost and found on and off over the years, so I’m thrilled to have pinned down a PDF of the issue in which it appeared.

I’ve uploaded a file below of just the one article for my own records and remembrance.  But you can enjoy it too!

The Call of Christ to Freedom, by Stephen Legate

The Five Phases of a Creator’s Relationship to Haters

Phase 1: They hurt you. This is the phase where you want to quit, and many do.

Phase 2: They anger you. This is the phase where you react with rebuttals and get into endless flame wars.

Phase 3: They amuse you. This is the phase where you use their hate as fodder for comedy with your friends, but do not respond directly to them.

Phase 4: They fuel you. This is the phase (sometimes reversed with phase 3) where you are no longer offended or angry, but develop a dependency on haters. Your brand and content begin to orient around purposefully generating haters so that you have more fuel to work with and the cycle repeats. This is where most shock jocks and political commentators sit.

Phase 5: Who’s ‘They’?

Once you’ve reached a new phase, you can freely move between all previous phases, and it is often necessary and beneficial to do so. These stages are listed in the order you experience them, not in any kind of moral hierarchy. Any of the phases can be useful or harmful, depending on your goals and preferences.

Rules of Ascendancy: Know When to Play the Game

I’m going to describe three types of people.  I call them average, elite, and ascendant.  One of the differences between the three is how they approach games.

What are games?

Games are everywhere.  Every social setting and institution is made of games, mostly unwritten, that govern success and failure within.  Games include things like dress codes, insider lingo, lunch break norms, name dropping, and other patterns of behavior and language.

Average games

Average people play games when opting out is painful.  They comply with rules and norms to avoid shame, material loss, or physical discomfort.  They view games as a necessary evil.  They don’t see the opportunity presented by learning and winning certain games, only the cost of failing to do so.

They learn and play the games necessary for a life they can tolerate and opt out of those that require too much work and have little cost of ignoring (except, of course, opportunity cost, which average people are never very aware of).  Average people don’t take ownership of the games they play, but instead believe they don’t have a choice.  They think they have to play the games they play.  Even when they opt-out, they often claim they aren’t free to play and disqualify themselves from the start.

Average people mock and scorn the games they don’t play.  The best way to defend against feeling lazy or insufficient is to claim all the games you don’t play are pompous or ridiculous.

Of course they are right much of the time.  Many games are pompous and ridiculous.  Many games aren’t worth playing.  But not because, as average people believe, they don’t have enough downside, but because they don’t have enough upside.

Elite and ascendant games

At first glance it can be hard to distinguish the way that elite and ascendant people play games.  But the difference could not be more stark.

Ascendant people opt out of games when they calculate that the cost of playing is more than the gains from winning.  They assess the gains and losses at stake and pick only games that get them what they want at the right price.  They harbor neither bitterness nor excitement at the existence of games or the prospect or winning.  There is always something beyond the game that they want, and their eyes are fixed on it.

Elite people never opt out of games.  They can’t.  They must win every game they meet.  Moths to a flame, introduce a new game to an elite individual and they will immediately re-orient their life and begin studying how to play and be recognized as a superior player.  They have nothing that motivates deeper than status within games.

When ascendant people play games they do it with self-awareness.  They know it’s a game and they know they are choosing to play.  They bring a sense of identity to the game, and playing does not involve a change in who they are, only changes in emphasis.  In certain social circles, certain aspects of their identity will be more rewarded than others, and certain ways of describing the world.  Ascendant individuals choose to bring to the fore and let fade to the back whatever aspects are necessary to win worthwhile games without losing themselves.  The language and behavior patterns adopted in ascendant gameplay are not affectations, but regulations of the flow of information.  Friends of an ascendant person hardly notice when new games are being played, because they see the same person simply navigating new situations.

Elite gameplay may look the same at a glance.  Like ascendant people, they first assess and learn what is rewarded in the domain of the game.  They are a quick study, often learning rules faster than average and ascendant people.

When elites play games they do so without self-awareness.  They know they must do things to win, but they do not recognize the game as a game, but as the new Truth.  When they discover things rewarded in gameplay, they become those things, rewriting their entire personal history in mere moments.  These are not new terms and habits, but everlasting realities.  They are not adapting and behaving in new ways, they have always and everywhere been like this.  This is the narrative immediately adopted, and they believe it.

Because status within games is the deepest motivating factor for elite individuals, who they are at the core changes with each new game.  It is easy to spot elite gameplay when you know what to look for.  Think of the people who, upon each new book they read, use new terms they’ve never used before and adopt new beliefs and habits quickly and to the extreme, and do so with an air of “I’ve always been like this.”  They fail to see how transparent it is to others that they have, overnight, put on a new skin.  Friends of elite individuals always know when a new game is being played, because a completely new person materializes.

Elite personal narratives are not unlike the history in Orwell’s 1984.  It’s not enough to say “We are now at war with Eurasia”.  Elites must rewrite the story from the beginning; “We have always been at war with Eurasia.”  Saving face is key, and elites are in perpetual fear of being revealed as impostors or frauds.  They worry they’ll lose status if people know they are new to the game, so they play as if it is and always has been who they are.  No one believes it but them.

Elites win games, and sometimes important games.  They get the status they seek but miss the chance to define success for themselves.

This is part of a series on the difference between average, elite, and ascendant.

119 – Goodbye (for Now), 2016 Reflections, and Looking Ahead to 2017

Weirdness and Success, fake news, Facebook warriors, and reflections on 2016.

The first half of the show starts with a new rule of thumb, the weirder you are at the start of your career the less likely you are to succeed and the weirder you are later in your career, the more likely you are to be successful.

In the second half, since it’s the end of the year, TK and Isaac are looking back and looking ahead. From big growth at Praxis, to family developments, and TK growing his hair out, a lot has happened in the past year.

Finally, the podcast news, the show will be on hiatus until at least the end of January. 

Topics Covered:

  • The correlation between time, weirdness, and success
  • Facebook warriors
  • Fake news
  • Merit beliefs vs. crony beliefs
  • Your power to change the past
  • Reflection’s on 2016
  • Looking forward to 2017
  • Learning to love the process and creating your structure in your life
  • Setting your sights high and acting like you’ve been there before



If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Rules of Ascendancy: Learn to the Task, Not the Test

I’m going to describe three types of people.  I call them average, elite, and ascendant.  One of the differences between the three is how they approach learning.

Pain, prestige, or purpose?

Average people learn what they need to avoid pain.  Elite people learn what they need to get the grade, ace the test, win the award, gain certification, impress people, and obtain honors.  Ascendant people don’t care about accolades or awards or tests or stickers or stars.  They learn exactly what’s needed to solve a problem that matters to them, exactly when it’s needed.  No more, no less.  No sooner, no later.

If you want to be average, avoid pain and learn like a lab rat.  If you want to be elite, bulk up on tons of just-in-case knowledge so you’ll never look dumb and you can chase prestige and external validation.  If you want to be ascendant – the best of the best creators, dreamers, doers, and rebels – find meaningful challenges and projects, pursue them, and learn what you need to complete them.

Tasks vs. tests

Mitchell Earl built a horrible website.  He got an ‘A’ for it.

The website sucked because Mitchell didn’t particularly want or need a website at the time.  It also sucked for the same reasons it helped him ace the computer class in which he built it.  He spent the semester on it.  It met all of the specific course requirements – hyperlinks, number of pages, content, layout – and followed the recommended steps.  It was meant to be a digital resume of sorts, but it was ugly and useless in the real world.  In fact, Mitchell didn’t use it after the class, as it would have lowered rather than raised his professional value.

Oh, and he didn’t remember any of the techniques he used to build the site once the class was over.

A few years later Mitchell was in Praxis and eager to improve his writing, build an audience, signal his value, and discover meaningful work for his entrepreneurial tendencies.  He wanted a good website.  So he built one in a few weeks.  He took some tips from the Praxis community, ignored others, picked up a few new skills via YouTube, and put together a great site.  To this day he can tell you how to integrate WordPress with opt-in forms, customize themes, improve SEO, get hosting setup, and a lot more.  (He used those skills to build a new website for his business partner, where he now works.)

When he had a specific task that was meaningful to him based on his own desires, Mitchell built a vastly superior product in far less time and retained specific skills that he had to pick up to do it.  He only learned exactly what the task demanded, not what the test required.  This made the learning faster, more intense, more fun, and more useful.

Just-in-time vs. just-in-case

My son is really into video games, art, design, and entertainment media.  He’s a creator.  Having learned myself the slow, hard way how important marketing and sales skills are to creators, I’m always trying to impart bits of wisdom to him.  He might need it when he decides to sell his creations some day!

He ignores me.

There’s nothing in his daily experience that demands the advice I supply.  It’s just an old guy giving him insight without any current context.  That’s exactly how I felt in college marketing classes.  There were all these words and charts and concepts and case studies that really didn’t mean anything for me.  Sure, someday when I’m trying to promote a product, “Target Market” will be important.  Yet when that day actually came, the classroom cramming did nothing for me anyway.  I aced my classes but had to learn from scratch how to market when I needed it to survive.  Any sooner and the info was worse than useless.  I developed a bias against what would later be important concepts because I despised being forced to chase grades by memorizing stuff that didn’t help me achieve my goals.

When it matters, once is enough

The entire modern education apparatus is built on just-in-case learning.  Better know how to multiply fractions, just in case you find yourself tasked with preparing a report on some data someday.  Better know when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, just in case…well I’m not really sure there even is a case for that one unless you want to be a guest on Jeopardy.  Otherwise Google it.

I talked to a bright young guy (an executive at a growing startup) who sent me a financial report to proof a few months ago.  I noticed a mistake.  He calculated the percentage increase from month to month incorrectly.  I pointed it out and sent a four-step explanation I found on Google, he laughed about forgetting, said thanks, fixed it and never had that problem again.

Yet how many hours had he been forced to sit in a classroom doing a unit on percentages?  And for what?  When he needed the knowledge – prior to an important board meeting – he found it fast.

Oh, and my son learned more about marketing in one evening of playing Mario Maker than I did from all those classes.

Real learning is hard but sneaky

I played a lot of LEGO as a kid.  My kids do now.  It’s a pastime full of pain, anguish, and maniacal, “Just one more minute I’m almost done”‘s late into the night.

When you have a vision for a build and you must – must – find a way to solve it with imperfect pieces, your brain is stretched and your creativity awakened.  It’s hard work that can even take a physical toll (ever bent over digging through a bin of plastic blocks for an hour?).  It’s frustrating.  But it’s deeply meaningful and fun.  You’re on nobody else’s timeline.  If I asked my kids if they were learning anything while playing they would laugh.

Yet I’m totally convinced, just like me, they’re learning more from LEGO than they would if I made them do algebra instead.

Real learning happens when you’re absorbed in solving a real problem, one that matters to you.  It took a complete abandonment of lessons and a deep personal interest in Calvin & Hobbes for my son to learn to read.  The same pattern can be spotted in all real learning.

Knowledge is overrated

Knowing a bunch of stuff isn’t that valuable.  Knowing what you need to know to solve a problem, reach a goal, or become a better version of yourself is hugely valuable.  Often this requires first figuring out what’s non-essential and ignoring it.  Conscious ignorance is hugely valuable.  What you don’t waste time or energy worrying about — what you don’t memorize just for prestige or fear of embarrassment — are what determine how much room you have left to learn what does matter.  (This is also why I advocate completely ignoring the news.)

Don’t be prepared, be hungry

It’s not about what you know, or even who you know.  It’s about what will improve your life, how to learn it, how much of it to learn, and when.

Goals and dreams are better than grades and information.  Meaningful tasks and challenges are better than memorized facts and textbooks.  Go do some cool stuff and go be what you want to be.  When you need to learn to take the next step, you will.  And it will be better than any arbitrary data-cram for any class.

Average people can learn the basics when shoved.  Elite people can learn that plus a bunch of other stuff that’s meaningful to others, not them.  Ascendant people discover who they are, who they want to be, and learn what it takes to close the gap between the two.

This is part of a series on the difference between average, elite, and ascendant.

Rules of Ascendancy: What it Means to Ascend

I’m going to describe three types of people.  I call them average, elite, and ascendant.  Average is good.  It’s not a bad thing to be average.  It won’t ruin you and you can have a good life.  Elite is great.  You can do things few do and achieve a lot, including a place in history.  Ascendancy is something else altogether.  Ascendant people are better than great, whether or not the world knows it.

Average people don’t try to change the world. Elite people try to be recognized for changing the world. Ascendant people work every single day to become a superior version of themselves and inevitably change the world as a result.

Average seeks safety, primarily motivated by pain avoidance.  Elite seeks social esteem, primarily motivated by prestige and external validation.  Ascendant seeks something no one else can give; the self-actualization and restless contentment of a life lived fully alive and in pursuit of whatever their ‘it’ is.

The point is not to condemn being average or elite, but to describe three different approaches to a variety of situations in hope that we can learn what it takes to ascend when and where we are willing.  In reality, no one is ever fully average, elite, or ascendant.  We’re more or less these categories in different areas of life.

You may be ascendant in your business, hobby, fitness, or family life while being average or elite in other areas.  Striving for ascendancy in more areas of life is a ceaseless and difficult journey.

I settle for average in a number of areas.  I love music, but I haven’t ever mustered the will to go beyond average.  I play it safe, keep music to myself, and avoid embarrassment or failure.  I find myself fighting the elite plateau in many things – writing included – where a certain type of success or praise begins to draw me away from genuine growth and progress.  The formula for likes and clicks and fans is a powerful draw for any creator.

Ascent is hard.  Really hard.

It’s probably easier to go from average to ascendant than it is to go from elite to ascendant.  Average and elite both share characteristics with ascendancy, but the shared characteristics of average and ascendant are in some ways more fundamental.  Elite and ascendant share drive, hard work, and risk-taking.  Average and ascendant share unpretentiousness, inward focus, and a higher degree of self-awareness.

More importantly, elite is valuable and rare, and therefore the move to ascendancy is more costly.  Prestige is very hard to give up.  Good reputations can be both a propellant and a tether.  This is what Jesus meant when he talked about a rich man reaching the kingdom of God being harder than a camel passing through the eye of a needle.  He didn’t mean riches were bad, nor did he say it was impossible.  The lesson was simple: when you have more to lose, you’ll have a harder time ascending.

I’ll explore the average, elite, and ascendant approaches to a number of situations.  Most are from personal observation of people through the Praxis program and my own life experiences.  There is a truly unique approach to life that only the rarest remnant – the best of the best, better than great – have.  That’s what I wish to capture, describe, and constantly move towards.

It’s up to you if and when you wish to pursue ascendancy for yourself.  The cost is great, but the reward is greater.

This is part of a series on the difference between average, elite, and ascendant.

118-How to Motivate People: Talk Less, Do More.

This week’s episodes kicks off with a question:

“Hey Isaac, I know somebody who is close to me and has no motivation to do anything valuable and is just sucked into video games. I want nothing more than to help this person find their passion and to unlock some ambition that I know is there, but I’m not sure how to do it. Do you have any advice for helping unlock those doors for people?”

How do you motivate others? Should you even try?

TK and Isaac discuss challenges and traps involved with attempting to influence people around you before jumping into thoughts on Jesus and politics and self-discipline.

Topics Covered:

  • How do you motivate people in your life
  • Why are so many people ashamed of their desires
  • Jesus and politics
  • Freeing yourself from the myth of political authority
  • Self-discipline mush be selfish and why you need to stop obey imagined authorities
  • Figuring out what you really want


If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

117 – How to Create Social Change: Isaac on The Social Change Podcast

What causes social change?

Is it the “right politicians getting elected? Investment in non-profits? Or entrepreneurs creating experiences that change beliefs?

Isaac was recently interviewed on The Social Change Podcast about his theory of social change. He covers his intellectual evolution about how social change happens, from politics, to non-profit, to founding Praxis.

Learn why politics is not the way to create a better world and how Praxis contributes to Isaac’s mission of making people free.

Topics Covered:

  • Why politicians aren’t ideological
  • Public choice theory
  • The beliefs of the masses are changed through experiences
  • Uber as an example of social change
  • Actions are more important than opinions
  • How Praxis helps create a freer world


This episode is brought to you by one of the most innovative accounting startups in the country, Ceterus. Ceterus is looking for accountants or finance-minded professionals who want more something more than a standard job.

If you have accountants in your network that are interested in empowering entrepreneurs in a growing startup, visit

If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

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