Ray Dalio says he wants to help people more than he wants his own success.
“I’ve evolved to the stage where to have others successful without me being successful is the most beautiful thing I can do,” Dalio recently said in an interview with Business Insider.
The Bridgewater Associates founder and co-CIO now says he’s transitioning to the final stage of his “hero’s journey,” a concept outlined in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” a book Dalio’s son Paul recommended to him in 2014. The book was written by the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell in 1949, and it’s influenced popular culture ever since.
According to Campbell, the journey begins with accepting a call to action, going through trials and explorations into the unknown, and then bringing back the wisdom gained from those adventures to the community. He uncovered this “monomyth” through studying the folklore and cosmology of religions and cultures the world over. For Dalio, that final stage is marked by sharing the knowledge, or “principles,” he’s obtained through his journey.
Campbell’s work has led to lasting influence: Master storytellers like George Lucas of “Star Wars” and J. K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” follow the path of the hero’s journey in their respective epics, leaving different impressions within the common cultural footprints that Campbell illuminated. Lucas deliberately wrote “Star Wars” so that Luke Skywalker followed the steps of a hero’s journey, from crossing into the extraordinary world to surviving a culminating ordeal. In “Harry Potter,” the hero’s journey plays out progressively over seven books, resulting in a final battle, but each book also cycles through the journey on a micro scale. You can see the same structure underlying the voyage of the titular princess of Moana, who has to heed the call to adventure and go out past the reef.
The hero’s journey applies along professional and personal paths. If you’re at a personal low, whether on an external level in terms of professional or financial success or on an internal level in terms of depression, the journey of other heroes, through myth or modernity, can help you understand what rewards or insights could be on the other side.
“Look, pain is a great teacher,” Dalio said. “You go forward toward your goals.”
Heroes generally take the same path, but the way they respond to deep failure determines if they stay on that path
In “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Campbell outlined the following path: A hero, usually the focal point of the story, starts off heeding a call to adventure, eventually crossing the threshold into a path of surmountable failure, and, after those many trials, elevating successes.
Then, one failure comes along that the hero could view as his or her end. That low point is life-altering. At that pivotal moment, the potential hero will either have a metamorphosis — that is, a rebirth after appearing to have been swallowed by the unknown — or they won’t.
For Campbell, a hero is someone who goes beyond common knowledge and everyday society (what he calls “interpreted experience”) and into the wilds of new things (what he calls “uninterpreted experience”). As he told the journalist Bill Moyers:
[Heroes have] moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience, that is the hero’s deed.
The key here is the journey into the dark forest, the land of fire, the underworld, the belly of the whale — these images from world literature and art that denote delving into the unknown and dangerous. It can be distinctly modern, as it was for Dalio in his moment of profound yet transformative failure.
In 1982, he made a prediction for the US economy that didn’t pan out, that the US economy was headed for a massive downturn, when in fact it would roar through much of the decade. This cost him credibility and capital for his then seven-year-old firm. “As a result of being wrong, I lost money for me, I lost money for my clients, I had to let everybody in my company go,” Dalio told Business Insider, “and I was so broke I had to borrow $4,000 from my dad to help pay for family bills.”
Dalio completely changed his approach to life after his failure. His mindset changed from “I know xyz” to “How do I know xyz?”
“It gave me an open-mindedness,” he said. “It gave me a fear that balanced with my aggressiveness.”
He started collecting principles on work, investing, and life that he later shared with the world. Dalio’s arrogance initially cost him a fortune, but the way his mindset changed enabled him to build Bridgewater to what it is today, the largest hedge fund.
“You succeed and fail, but you really learn from your failures because they’re the painful experiences,” Dalio said, “and if you can reflect on them, you change.”
A metamorphosis after failure means a hero’s mindset changes
Campbell wrote that a hero is tasked with returning from the abyss to ordinary life, “there to serve as a human transformer.” After the metamorphosis, the hero is irreversibly changed. He had to be audacious at the start of his journey as he faced obstacles he could overcome, but the “belly of the whale” failure tempers his ambition with the remembered pain of failure that wasn’t easily conquered.
The abyss is the midpoint of this personal cycle. Strangely enough, Campbell wrote that the deeper the hero falls, the higher he’ll rise in the second part of the cycle: “The deeds of the hero in the second part of his personal cycle will be proportionate to the depth of his descent during the first.”
Dalio’s groundbreaking knowledge lies in the success he’s built with Bridgewater that others seek to replicate, whether it be culturally or financially. The last stage, which Dalio says he’s entering, involves returning the boon of his knowledge.
At this final stage, heroes derive more fulfillment from teaching others what they’ve learned than they do from winning more prizes for themselves. Indeed, watching others achieve success from the stands is now Dalio’s “greatest joy.”
“My concept of success is having others successful without me,” Dalio said. “My concept of success before was being successful myself.”