Spying 101

The first rule of being a spy is that you must not be noticed.

In The 39 Steps, Richard Hannay finds himself alone in the Scottish countryside, with no one around but the gangsters on his heels. When he finds a lone road worker, he offers to take his position for a few hours. With great effort, Hannay adjusts his attire down to the laces on his shoes. He even throws dirt into his eyes to make them less recognizable.

“A fool tries to look different,” Hannay asserts. “A clever man looks the same and is different.”

This very principle will later help Hannay uncover the mastermind behind the evil operation he is attempting to thwart, and it behooves us to honor it as well.

We are not spies, of course. We are individuals realizing a dream, and most of the time, the world won’t care all that much what it is and why we do it.

Every now and then, however, we do bump into a societal wall. Some of these encounters we can’t avoid, and in those, we must stand our ground. At some point, you’ll have to tell your parents you want to be a dancer, not a doctor.

Most of them, however, we can just slide right by. Go unnoticed, like Richard Hannay, the inconspicuous road worker. You can be a fly on the walls of society, then return to your basement and keep tinkering on your dream.

Unless telling the whole world about your dream is part of your strategy to make it come true, for example to give yourself an extra push of accountability, don’t take the rebel role too far. Some people lose themselves in it. They start caring so much about looking like a rebel, about making sure they proclaim their individuality at every turn, they forget about the dream. Originally, the rebelliousness was just an attachment. Now it has usurped the dream itself.

Most of the time, there is no use in looking flashy, arguing with strangers, and causing a scandal at every party. Don’t be a clown. Be a spy. You know your goals, and that is enough.

May your mission be your greatest success.