Future notorious gangster Henry Hill walks out of the courtroom. He’s greeted by Jimmy Conway, also a notorious gangster.
Henry is surprised to see Jimmy smiling. He’d been pinched — arrested for a crime and questioned by the police — after being caught illegally selling cigarettes from the back of a truck. Having, in his mind, messed up big-time, he feared repercussion from his non-law-abiding mentors.
The opposite occurred. Jimmy stuffs a large wad of hundred dollar bills into Henry’s shirt pocket.
“I thought you’d be mad,” Henry said.
“Mad? I’m not mad, I’m proud of you!”
“But I got pinched.”
“Everybody gets pinched, but you did it right. You took your first pinch like a man. And you learned the two greatest things”
“Oh yeah. What’s that?”
“Never rat on your friends. And always keep your mouth shut.”
Paul Vario — known as “Paulie” — was a made man and head of his own crew in the Lucchese crime family.
Long story short, if you had your own crew, you earned it one way or another.
Some of the members of the organization were boastful, hyper-macho, and above all else loudmouths.
Paulie barely talked.
He didn’t talk on the phone — his crew members took calls on payphones and relayed messages to him in person. He didn’t talk to people in groups — if you wanted to deal with Paulie you brought a message to him one on one. If he talked at all, it was either because he felt he needed to or he was legitimately exchanging pleasantries with you. Otherwise, he was basically mute.
Paulie could walk into an auditorium filled with the most dangerous gangsters in the world — all of them jabbering at loud volumes — and he could make it go silent, all without saying a word.
See, when you have real power and confidence, it’s self-evident. You don’t need to tell people what you’re capable of. They just know.
This theme rings true from gangster movies to boardrooms. The loudest are (usually) the weakest and the real boss opens their mouth only when they want to, never because they feel they have to.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Because I need to sink a life-changing lesson into your brain.
Stop talking so much.
Do the work instead.
You have dreams for your life. You aspire to be something more than you are now.
This requires work. Lots of it.
To do the work, and do it well, you have to avoid distractions, which there are a lot of.
One of your biggest distractions? Look in the mirror — specifically at the aperture seated beneath your nose and above your chin. Success is often a matter of getting out of your own way. And keeping your mouth shut solves about eighty percent of that battle.
See, you’re always tempted to talk instead of work in various ways.
When you embark on a new dream, path, or goal, your instinct tells you to evangelize and spread the gospel. You tell your friends and family about your aspirations and are often met with indifference or even resistance — rarely the pat on the back you thought you’d get. Compounding the problem, talking about your goals out loud makes you feel like you’ve achieved them already. You congratulate yourself for having goals, which sates you, so you don’t pursue them. Where I’m from, we have a saying for this – hustling backward.
You try to convince people to share your viewpoints by word instead of deed. You tell them what to believe instead of showing them why your beliefs are valid by setting a good example.
During happy hour, you and your friends vent about your shitty jobs, complain about the news, and pat yourselves on the back for it. Tawk, tawk, tawk.
I’m not immune to this. Who doesn’t like a good soapbox? I know I do. But unmeasured pointless ranting doesn’t get me anywhere. What does?
Doing the work, in silence, while everyone else runs their mouth.
I sound like a hypocrite.
I’m a writer, after all, so my whole job is basically to pontificate. Who am I to tell people to shut up?
Here’s the difference between me and you. My words are my work — they’re tied to my mission in life, I don’t use them lightly, and I actually get paid to say them. If none of the above were true, it wouldn’t make sense for me to spend my time waxing philosophical.
Words are powerful tools and can be used for good, even for people who aren’t writers. You have a right to your expression and in some cases a duty. I’m not telling you to avoid standing up for yourself or the right causes by using your voice.
I’m telling you not to be a bullshitter.
You can talk, but don’t be a talker.
Talkers use their words as a substitute for building the type of confidence and purpose that come from actually exerting effort toward an ideal or goal they care about. Why do they do this? Gee, I don’t know, because it’s 1,000 times easier than working hard.
I used to be (rightfully) tepid about wielding authority because I haven’t put in the work yet. But after spending years and thousands of hours not only working on my craft but also myself, I have a solid foundation to stand on when I talk to you.
I also try to keep it in this forum – In books and blog posts, where you’re allowed to explore the ideas I’m presenting by yourself behind a computer screen instead of in a public conversation, where things usually always go to hell.
I love to argue.
I will play devil’s advocate against ideas I believe because I love challenging people’s thinking skills.
I’ve invested a lot of time trying to better understand the world and I’m tempted to force my enlightened views on other people in conversation. But often, I remind myself how stupid and fruitless doing so would be.
First, if anything, I can only be less wrong. It’s hard to be right. There are too many variables.
Second, conversations with someone who disagrees with you are counterproductive nine times out of ten because they weren’t going to change their mind in the first place.
Third, there’s almost no upside to talking and sharing your views too much and there’s an infinite amount of downside.
So I reserve my views and ideas for my writing. In my day to day life, I mostly conform and pretend like I believe in status quo ideas even though I don’t. Why? Because I don’t need extra friction in my life. I don’t want to waste energy proselytizing others into the religion of my ideas via conversation — it’s ineffective.
I notice the more I engage in pointless talking, the less I get done. And I’m here to get things done, so I talk less. I direct my energy into my work — focused, careful, and deliberate use of speech — and I make a much larger impact that way.
Also, people who know me know how I feel about life, I don’t need to tell them. I reek of ambition. There’s an energy ambitious people emit that you can’t ignore. You don’t need to tell people.
If you spend less time talking and more time working on becoming the best version of yourself, you can achieve the goal of changing hearts and minds that you once fruitlessly tried to achieve through talking.
You also get to experience these awesome benefits of shutting the f*** up.
Gamblers have a saying, “If you don’t know who the sucker in the room is, you’re the sucker.”
From your workplace, to your home, to casual interactions in public, you can learn how to make better decisions through observation. It’s hard to observe when you talk too much.
When you become an observer you realize open secrets about people — they love to talk, talk, talk, spill their guts, provide the rope to hang themselves, open themselves to influence.
Now, if you’re a psychopath (or an internet marketer, same thing maybe?) you can use this to manipulate people.
But if you have positive intentions, you can use these insights to gently nudge people in the right direction without them ever noticing what you’re doing. They’re too busy talking.
A while back, I’d gotten deep into following (and arguing about) politics.
I made no concrete impact through arguing with people about the Syrian civil war (which I once did for six hours straight on a road trip, arguing against my mother-in-law of all people…talk about the idiocy of talking too much).
What happened instead? I wrote less. I made less money and got less done.
I’ve recommitted to staying mostly quiet in my personal life, and I’ve skyrocketed my productivity.
I love watching the human experiment unfold. The more I observe, the more I see the themes of human nature repeating themselves. Everything makes more sense. Even things that used to upset me no longer do because I know they’re part of the game.
By talking less, I’m learning to accept people and the world as they are. Talking has a tendency of giving you a false sense of superiority. Staying silent frees you up to experience a version of the world a loud mouth could never fathom.
A world full of opportunity, excitement, and compassion for fellow human beings.
“I’m sorry Jimmy, there was nothing we could do. He’s gone.”
Jimmy bashes the receiver against the payphone repeatedly.
“What happened?” Henry asked.
“They whacked him. They f***ing whacked him.”
Tommy DeSimone, the third member in a trio of gangsters portrayed in the movie Goodfellas, was a loudmouth renegade with an itchy trigger finger. Not only did he talk too much, he often let the things other people said affect him too easily, the latter usually going hand in hand with the former.
From killing a made man — meaning an untouchable gangster you’re not allowed to kill — over a few wise-cracks about his past to shooting a teenage boy for telling him to “go f*** himself,” Tommy built a gigantic pile of negative karma often driven by pointless words.
Still, he was invited to become a made man and officially join the crime family for life. Per Henry Hill, being a made man “was a license to steal. It was a license to do anything.”
He walks into the house where the ceremony was to be held. He walks into an empty room, has a split-second realization, and with a sigh indicating a brutal and too-late understanding of karmic justice, eeks out the words “Oh no,” before he’s shot in the face from behind — done on purpose so his mother couldn’t have an open-casket funeral.
There’s way too much downside to running your mouth.
Better to just do the work.