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14 Lessons I Learned Through 'Suits'

I rarely if ever watch TV. I think the last time I watched TV was in 8th grade. What could be more passive than TV I thought. I would rather read a book or create something or continue building my businesses. I don’t need to binge watch Netflix…I love what I’m doing. But it seemed like every single one of my friends kept telling me to watch Suits. So I finally gave in and was instantaneously hooked. The juxtaposition of deep characters who always seem to have the perfect stunners to say―and yet still maintain empathizable and human personalities―with the relentless hustling they pursue to get what they want creates a series where each episode has a new kicker. Who knew that you could actually learn something from TV? Here are some lessons that Aaron Korsh’s Suits taught me, right in time for the premiere of the sixth season:

1) There’s always a way. Though the cliche phrase of “never give up” has become incredibly hackneyed in American culture, watching Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams in action figure out how to dig themselves out of every hole is a beautiful art to watch. They show that even when you think nothing is going to work out, you may end up in jail, or someone is about to take away everything you’ve worked hard for, remember that there’s almost always a way to get your way. Of course, oftentimes, this relentlessness leads them to the gray area of the law.

2) Still, oftentimes, the gray area is worth pursuing. Better to ask for forgiveness than to beg for permission?

3) But when posed with a difficult decision, remember there’s always a choice. As Harvey Specter says, when someone points a gun at your face, “you take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their bluff. Or, you do any one of a hundred and forty six other things.” Even when it feels like there are no options, remind yourself that there are; your job is just to hustle hard enough to find them. Don’t do something unethical because you have no choice — you most definitely do. Always remind yourself of the repercussions of a decision before you make it; maybe that seemingly worse option where you lose tremendous amounts of money or public opinion is better than losing your best friend or spending the next year in jail.

4) If you do something unethical, it’s always going to bite you in the future. It may take 2 days. It may take 2 years. It may take 20 years. When you get to a high level of competitiveness, people break boundaries. If you do, be prepared to face the ramifications when you least expect them.

5) The apprenticeship model is still around and works fabulously. In contemporary times, when we think of the word apprenticeship, our minds automatically fly to the 15th and 16th century Renaissance in Italy where we imagine dozens of apprentice painters working under masters such as Michelangelo and Leonardo. But for some reason, we seem to have forgotten that model in our industrial-revolution-like-and-Socratian modern education system. In reality it’s one of the most potent models to hone your craft. As we see in Suits, the fact that Harvey took a bet on his protege Mike crafted Mike into one of the best (perhaps better at times than the best closer in the city himself). Why don’t more of us go to those who we admire and learn directly under their tutelage?

6) “Don’t play the odds. Play the man.” Harvey’s infamous quote resonates so well because every single person―even if he might be the ethics professor of Harvard Law―has some dirt behind him. As they commonly say, the best predictor of the future is the past; similarly, the best predictor of a person’s next move is his past moves. And since every single person has some kind of dirt on them, if you can find that dirt, you can attack that dirt as opposed to the issue at hand. Similarly, if you can figure out more about what is important to the person or what is going to affect him emotionally, you can use that against him. Call it Machiavellian but in dire situations, these strategies work when trying to get into the head of a hard-hitter.

7) On the same note, always do your research. There’s no way you can figure out what a person’s like or figure out how to get to him if you haven’t researched every single bit of information about that person. As Jessica says, always know who you’re getting into bed with.

8) Screw meetings; just go find the person. Perhaps one of Suit’s idiosyncrasies that most of us aren’t used to in our be-polite and honor-the-other-person’s-time-and-privacy culture is how often Harvey and Mike don’t arrange formal meeting times. What’s the point of arranging a formal meeting time when you can just find the person in his natural habitat and give him the news straight out? Perhaps this is difficult in rural parts, but it demonstrates how to get to people who seem to never have time for formal meetings, coffee, or even a phone chat (or don’t want to have time): just go to their office and talk to them on their way in or out. 

9) When you want to convince someone of something they don’t want to be convinced about, give them something better. Give and take? Goes back to doing your research and really figuring out what people want; but oftentimes, it doesn’t help to keep bargaining in the standard measures such as cash or equity. Rather, be creative and see what the person really values and give him that. For some people, all you need to convince them is to take them to the ballet.

10) Let go of anchors. Mike’s grandma always makes a point to convince Mike to let go of Trever because even though they are supposed best friends, Trevor’s an anchor and preventing him from realizing his true potential. As they commonly say, you’re the average of the five people you’re closest to; make sure you choose who you’re around well.

11) Just go out there and act like you know what you’re doing.  Mike is the epitome of “fake it till you make it.” And again, while you hear this phrase being thrown around all over, seeing someone implement it is a different story. Even though Mike doesn’t have a formal legal education―or any college education for that matter―the cool and cocky demeanor he uses to portrays himself to others allows him to do things that others don’t think is possible. None of us really know what we’re doing or “how to live life”; we’re just doing our best to take in as much information as we can, see what’s worked and hasn’t worked, and doing what feels best. By simply acting like you know what you’re doing, you can really do something great. Everyone is acting; you just have to act better.

12) Figure out what your leverage is and then use it. You always have some kind of leverage. It’s important to figure out why someone is doing what they are doing; people in desperate situations will do desperate things.

13) “I win….that’s what I do.” Harvey’s famous line well characterizes his arrogance―which serves not only serves as his armour but also his Achilles’ heel. Nonetheless, in a culture where everyone seems to compare oneself to another, it’s an attitude that more of us could gain from adopting. Your thoughts matter and having a small sense of self doesn’t help.

14) Most people live life down here [hovers hand at stomach height]; I like to live life up here [hovers hand at above head]. Whenever I hear this, I always think back to Steve Job’s famous quote, “When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” Maybe we could all do a little to raise our standards and try to thrive rather than just survive.

Rajat Bhageria is the Founder and CEO of ThirdEye, the Author of What High School Didn’t Teach Me, and a student at The Wharton School in UPenn. Follow/hire him to speak @RajatBhageria.