Can You Find Increased Success in Life by Being More Primitive?

Jonathan Russo

Marco Greenberg, a public relations and marketing guru with a New York-based company, Thunder11, thinks so. He has guided some of the “world’s most successful people.” His book, just out from Hachette, Primitive, is a step-by-step guide to identifying, nurturing and ultimately capitalizing on the primitive drive within…assuming there is one within you, even if it’s a small one.

You have to love a book that speaks directly to you, that has a voice explaining you to yourself. There were parts of Primitive that read like Greenberg had interviewed me. More on that later.

Marco Greenberg. Photo by Chia Messina

Who are the Primitives that Greenberg holds up as shining examples? Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Diddy (entertainer), Arianna Huffington (media mogul) and Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla) are a few. What did Greenberg tell Worth they have in common? “They do things they are not supposed to do,” he explained. “They don’t worry about doing what others think they should. Each one has identified a goal, a lane, that they want to achieve something in, and they will not be deterred from their primitive drive to get there.” Some of you may remember the 1975 best seller about a breakthrough therapy, The Primal Scream by Arthur Janov; Primitive is the business and career version of that.

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There are scores of business and self-help books that ask you to look within and find something you really care about—something that you are truly life-and-death passionate about. Greenberg builds on these books. However, his focus is on “shedding the stifling layers of civilization and socialization that render you deaf to what you really want to tell yourself.” It is the exact opposite of the conformity demanded of the characters in Sloan Wilson’s powerful 1950s novel Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

“The silent disappearance of individuality, real goals and self-awareness creates a pervasive sense of unhappiness and an under-capacity at work,” Greenberg said. “That is why every survey of the workplace shows over 67 percent of workers think they are doing useless or meaningless jobs.”

Most self-improvement guides invent takeaways that can be remembered. Primitive is no exception. Greenberg invented the acronym ROAMING. It stands for being: relentless, oppositional, agnostic, messianic, insecure, nuts and gallant. Not every primitive has all of these characteristics, but a true primitive has more than one of these traits. Each gets a chapter, and each asks the reader to look in the mirror of the page and see if it reflects back.

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I saw myself. Because of a late 1950s childhood diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, an onslaught of therapists, medication and teachers’ conferences with my shocked parents became my life. An overwhelming sense that something was really wrong hung over me every day. I developed differently than my classmates.

The conventional way ahead was blocked by academic failure and cratered self-worth. I had no choice but to be oppositional, relentless, messianic, nuts and hopefully gallant. While I never came close to achieving the successes of the bold-faced names that Greenberg mentions, I did climb out of my hole and had a great career and a life abounding with many interests, deep passions and meaningful experiences.

Reading Primitive touched a nerve.

Greenberg understands that the majority of us will not be able to follow a pure primitive path. We have debts, families and mortgages. All of these things bind us to the conventional and force us to compromise our idealized selves. To that Greenberg answers with an intelligent insight. “Wave an imaginary magic wand and see what you want to do. For sure, always live below your means, do not keep up with the Joneses, give yourself some freedom and space to find the goals you need to keep you feeling alive. Consider coaching sports, going full-on into a creative hobby, or devoting yourself to building a better world. All of those things will add a dimension to your existence.”

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Having worked with a few primitives in my day, I agree with Greenberg on the majority of his observations. Driven people who defy the conventional often do succeed in the race to the top. While society reserves most of its admiration for the typical career and family person, its real accolades are reserved for the über-achiever. After all, it’s not some mid-level engineer who launched a rocket into space last weekend. It was the badass bad boy of the business world Elon Musk. For sure, most of his traits fit Greenberg’s ROAMING model. Almost every day brings evidence that Musk is primitive.

As we have all been in a state of suspended animation over the last few months, it could be that the publication of Primitive, coming at the exact moment of the COVID-19 crisis, is a curse. If you are into ROAMING, you could add it to the blessing list. Reading Primitive might give new insight into what to do when we reenter our former lives. Even if the book just plants the seeds of change, it will have fulfilled Greenberg’s goal.

His parting words to Worth were these: “Look in the mirror and see what the child in you wanted to do, then find the traits you have from the ROAMING guide and develop a plan to actualize some of them when you emerge from this lockdown. Chances are you will move to a better place in your life.”

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