1st Law of Power: Never Outshine the Master

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Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please and impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your master appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power. 

The reason for this law is simple: All masters want to appear more brilliant than other people. They do not care anything more than their name and glory. Instead of insecurity, you must give them glory. Do not challenge their intellectual authority, instead make them feel superior. Do not outshine them, make them outshine all others. 

Key to this power:
Everyone has insecurities. When you show yourself in the world and display your talents, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity. This is to be expected. You cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others. With those above you, however, you must take a different approach: When it comes to power, outshining the master is perhaps the worst mistake of all. 

Masters want to feel secure in their positions, and superior to those around them in intelligence, wit, and charm. It is a deadly but common misperception to believe that by displaying and vaunting your gifts and talents, you are winning the master’s affection. He may feign appreciation, but at his first opportunity he will replace you with someone less intelligent, less attractive, and less threatening. The master will not admit the truth, but will find an excuse to rid himself of your presence. 

There are masters who are more insecure than others, monstrously insecure. Should you inadvertently outshine them by your charm and grace, or just by being simply yourself, this lesson should be put in mind: If you cannot help being charming and superior, you must learn how to avoid such monsters of vanity. Find a way to mute your good qualities when in the company of these kind of masters. 

Also, never imagine that because the master loves you, you can do anything you want. Entire books could be written about favorites who fell out of favor by taking their status for granted, for daring to outshine. Do not be somebody who had no sense of limits. Presuming that you are in the same rights and position as those of the highest nobility, do not forget that your position depend on your master. Do not come to believe that you earned your position on your own. Remember the following: Never take your position for granted and never let any favors you receive go to your head. 

Applying this power:
If you are more intelligent than your master, make him appear more intelligent than you. Act naive. Make it seem that you need his expertise. Commit harmless mistakes that will not hurt you in the long run but will give you the chance to ask for his help. Masters adore requests. A master who cannot bestow on you the gifts of his experience may direct rancor and ill will at you instead. 

It is not weakness to disguise your strengths if in the end they lead to power. By letting others outshine you, you remain in control, instead of being a victim of their insecurity. If you can make your master shine even more in the eyes of others, then you are a godsend and you will be instantly promoted. 

This power is a lesson that the stars in the sky teach us – they may be related to the sun, and just as brilliant, but they never appear in her company. 

If today your master is still firm in his position, yet you know yourself to be the more capable, bide your time and be patient. It is the natural course of things that power eventually fades and weakens. Your master will fall someday, and if you play it right, you will outlive and someday outshine him. 

Excerpts from: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene (2000).