Meditations on Human Behavior, Struggle, & The Power to Change

Books I’ve Read: The Courage To Be Disliked

Jay Kapoor
Feb 6 · 7 min read

The Courage to Be Disliked

By Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

Already a massive bestseller across Asia, selling over 3.5 million copies since its 2013 first-publish in Japanese, The Courage to Be Disliked quickly made its way onto several ‘Best of 2018’ lists, especially amongst technology and VC communities, after its English release in May 2018.

Structured as a conversation between a learned teacher and skeptical student over the course of five “debates”, it reads as much like a two-man theatrical play, as a Socratic exploration of behavioral psychology and existential philosophy. Anchored in teachings of Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler, the book rejects many Freudian or Jungian tenents of psychological thought and asks the reader to first ‘un-learn’ before we can fully accept the Adlerian view of the world, and of ourselves.

As the two characters debate these concepts, the book does a good job not overloading the reader with too many new terms or concepts, without first adequately establishing a foundation (via real-life examples) of the ones already introduced. Always insightful and thought-provoking, The Courage to Be Disliked is the first book I finished in 2019, one that I enjoyed immensely, and one I fully expect to reference time-and-again as I work to internalize some, if not all, of the book’s teachings.

Five Key Takeaways

“You are the only one who can change yourself”

As I primarily read non-fiction, at the end of each book, I’m full of questions, thoughts and personal perspectives without a consistent outlet to share them before I start on my next book. Fully recognizing that this is subjective, and in no way a comprehensive summary of a highly-dense subject matter, these are my personal top-five takeaways from The Courage to Be Disliked:

I. All problems are interpersonal relationship problems.

Our unhappiness is rooted in interpersonal struggle and interpersonal struggle comes from an inability to separate “tasks”, meaning we often believe someone else’s burden is ours to carry, or expect others to help us carry our own. Instead of attempting an intervention, we are better served by offering advice or encouragement. The “separation of tasks” is a core tenant of Adler’s thesis and leads to the foundational truth that “You are the only one who can change yourself”.

II. Do not live to satisfy the expectations of others.

Most of us have an unhealthy relationship with seeking praise or recognition without even realizing it. When we seek the adulation of others, we are entrusting our happiness to them and creating a negative cycle of action-expectation-reaction. There is nothing wrong with receiving praise or accepting recognition with humility, but in seeking it out, we aren’t operating in our own best interest. You can’t please everyone. The goal is not to be unlikeable, simply to accept that there will be people who don’t think well of you and, at a certain point, it’s not your task to control their perception. You have the freedom to choose the best path you believe in and accept that it will be the task of others to react accordingly.

III. Endeavor to view others not as adversaries but as comrades.

Life isn’t a competition with other people — the person we are actually trying “to beat” is the best, most-realized version ourselves. Secondly, everyone starts at a different point along their path so it’s futile to benchmark ourselves against someone else’s journey. This view makes every other person around us not an adversary but a comrade, on their own journey, whom we can help in their time of need, and likewise, someone who might help us achieve our own goals.

Tying to the point above, the way to free oneself from the need of others’ approval is to view interpersonal relationships as horizontal, not vertical. When a relationship is vertical, one person has power or influence over the other, making the other “inferior”. Horizontal relationships are built not on praise or rebuke but on mutual feelings of gratitude, respect, and joy between comrades. Thus we find our own value in how we can be of value or service to others.

IV. Our limitations are a function of the Life-Lies we tell ourselves.

We tell ourself harmful Life-Lies: pretexts we use to avoid our tasks because the alternative is the harsh reality that we are responsible for our own actions. Wallowing in past trauma is a self-imposed crutch to avoid facing our unwillingness to move past it. Anger is not an uncontrollable emotion but tool we consciously or subconsciously use to exert control over another. Believing that Adler’s philosophies won’t work beyond theory reflects an unwillingness to try as much as it reflects cynicism about human behavior. The more we come to recognize our limitations as self-imposed Life-Lies, the more readily we can embrace that we have the ability to change and better accept ourselves.

V. Life should be viewed, not linearly, but as a series of moments.

It’s a common condition of the human mind to draw lines between disparate points and weave that into a causal narrative — as if you could have perfectly foreseen that you would be exactly where you are today 15, 10 or even 5 years ago. Life isn’t about clean lines. Life is unpredictable and messy. When we change our perspectives to view life as a series of moments, we can free ourselves of ascribing reason to past events or placing undue importance on future ones. Will things turn out exactly the way you want? Almost certainly no. Accepting that, all we can do when faced with a negative moment is to collect ourselves, evaluate our options, and choose the best path forward — free from the burden of wondering whether these choices will one day fit a neat, linear narrative.

Reflections & Recommendations

“The courage to be happy means the courage to be disliked”

Given this book is a favorite recommendation of VCs, its mass appeal, and, truthfully the title itself, I expected this book to be a by-the-numbers tome on positivity, self-affirmation, and clichéd suggestions to “ignore the haters” that stifle contrarian thought. In a manner of speaking, the destination was the same, but the journey was not at all the one I expected and am glad I took.

The Courage to Be Disliked isn’t a prescriptive, self-help guide in the traditional sense. As the dialogue between teacher and student evolves over its chapters, the book implores readers to ask themselves why they choose to think and behave the ways that they do. It re-inforces Adler’s core belief that anyone, no matter age, circumstance or past, can change — if only they fully embrace that they want to change. It forces the reader to evaluate whether our self-imposed limitations are merely life-lies we manufacture because these are easier to believe than harsh realities that we may try something new and fail. Deep self-reflection is an important first step on the journey to self-acceptance which begets the titular courage to be disliked.

In this way, The Courage to be Disliked is an important meditation on both how to process the demoralizing voices outside your head but first, and more importantly, the voices inside it.

I began this book after what was (and remains) the worst moment of my life and perhaps my affinity for the book is colored by the immense comfort and solace is brought me in times of unexpected pain and grief. Everyone’s experience will be different, reflecting their own personal journeys, but I believe this book’s positive, hopeful messages deserve due consideration by all even if the path it illuminates is a difficult, counterintuitive one to walk down.

Parting Thoughts

One of my personal OKRs for 2019 is to double the number of books I read per year from an average of 8 per year to 16 (gulp!). Definitely a “stretch goal” but wanted to set something that would be difficult, yet attainable. As with any goal setting exercise, there needs to be structure, measurability, and communication. For me that has come in the following two ways:

  1. Read at least 25 pages per day (Thanks Shane Parrish!) then check off on a daily calendar with a (Y or N) when completed.
  2. Publishing my key takeaways and overall observations in a brief-ish post like this one.

For transparency: Over the last 5 weeks, I’ve read at least 25 pages on exactly 33% of days, which candidly, will need to improve significantly if I plan to finish 15 more books in the next 11 months. Normally, I would say “wish me luck!” but reading consistently is, as this book would say, my task alone so I alone must believe I’m capable enough to succeed 😄

Up Next: Thinking In Bets by Annie Duke


If you enjoyed reading this book summary, please smash that *clap* button in multiples of 9 so others can enjoy it too! Also, if you’ve read similar books on behavioral economics or social psychology, please leave me a comment below or on Twitter @JayKapoorNYC with your recommendations!

Jay Kapoor

Thoughts on Sports, Media, Tech & Guacamole

Jay Kapoor

Written by

VC investor at LaunchCapital | I read and write about Tech, Media, SaaS, & Investing | Don’t be afraid of failure. Be afraid of being ordinary.

Jay Kapoor

Thoughts on Sports, Media, Tech & Guacamole

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade