How Nathaniel Branden Changed My Life, and Impacted Us All
I’m not the only one who’s had some socially awkward teenage years. Mine were pretty depressing. I wore mostly black, I was hostile when I spoke back to everyone, and I had no friends. I don’t blame others, I was pretty uncomfortable to be around. I was a smart kid, but I was way behind everyone else. The most toxic part about it was how self righteous I was. Clearly being a loner meant I was much better than everyone else. This was obviously preferable to associating with all the mindless sheep. But I knew something was wrong because I was always sad. I was stuck in a hole. Discovering Nathaniel Branden’s books were like finding an outstretched hand guiding me out of a dark hole. When I discovered him I quickly read everything of his that I could find. I scoured used book stores and found powerful books of his that had long been out of print. There’s no question that I was transforming myself as I read his books. Everyone has potential, but too often too much of that potential is restrained and untapped. From an incompetent loner who was uncomfortable even socializing with people, I’m still stunned by how quickly I became a massive overachiever with an overwhelming abundance of incredible friends in my life. It seems strange now since I’m such a public person, but I used to be an extremely private person. I had to rip myself open with both hands, I had to fight against my inertia and change my terrible habits, I had to reach up and pull with everything I’ve got. Finally I was excited to become something more than a disgruntled loser. I saw a path out, and I took it. Nathaniel’s writing laid the foundation for me to create a powerful blueprint for my life that I could act on and achieve with. Which is why I’ll always be so deeply grateful to him. And why I often say that I was raised by Nathaniel Branden’s books more than by my own parents.
16 years ago, when I was a young 18 year old, I would drive to any book signings for Nathaniel within driving distance, just for the chance to see him in person. I never really got a chance to talk to him back then, I was shuffled along in the line of his other fans. About 7 years ago I reconnected with Nathaniel at a regular local Objectivist salon hosted at the home of a mutual friend of ours in LA. Nathaniel was in his later years at this point. We eventually became friends. What that initially meant is that he would call me up when he had computer problems and I would try to fix it. When he eventually stopped driving, I started giving him rides around Los Angeles. His wife appreciated it since it would relieve some pressure off her busy calendar, and I appreciated the opportunity to talk with him. I held a few events for Nathaniel at my house to speak to a group of friends that I assembled. I later held large birthday parties for his 81st and 82nd birthdays. By the way, his 82nd Birthday Party here was the largest party I’ve ever thrown at my house, with about 400 well dressed high quality people literally stuffed like sardines into my living room (never ever again, never will I ever let my house get that packed again). Nathaniel would sometimes tell me fondly that I was like a grandson he never had. I never lost sight of the fact that Nathaniel was a hero to me. If I could go back in time and tell my 18 year old self that “one day you are going to become personal friends with him , and you will even host Nathaniel Branden’s birthday at your house in Bel Air”, probably 18 year old Judd wouldn’t believe me. Because 18 year old Judd did not believe he was capable of that.
Yesterday I was honored to speak at Nathaniel’s memorial in Los Angeles. It’s not easy for me to let go of him. No one in this world has had a bigger impact on my life. If Nathaniel Branden hadn’t been in my life, I wouldn’t have accomplished what I have. I wouldn’t be who I’ve become.
Some people touch many lives, Nathaniel Branden profoundly changed many lives. Millions of lives. In fact, all of us have been affected by him.
A world renowned author of over 20 profoundly impactful books. That’s an impressive piece on anyone’s resume. These books are incredible, and each immensely valuable in their own way. I imagine if I were him, I would hold these books to sleep at night, so in love with my masterpieces.
Nathaniel was the protégé of the philosopher Ayn Rand. At the age of only 28, Nathaniel launched the Objectivist philosophical movement in the 1950s with a lecture series promoted by the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which has in large part led to the rising Liberty movement of today. That’s a rather arrogant 28 year old who felt he could explain to everyone fundamental matters of how the world works, and how we should interact with each other. Then again, Ayn Rand was a pretty powerful mentor. He was teaching her philosophy, but she knew he was much better able to present it and be the face of Objectivism. His talks were recorded, and groups were promoting listening parties around the country, and around the world. All the founders of the Libertarian party attended his talks, among so many other thought leaders. This sea change in the realm of ideas that our world is experiencing today, if you trace it back, Nathaniel Branden has had a significant influential impact on much of it.
Starting in the 1960s Nathaniel then went on to transform the field of Psychology, from a field primarily focused on alleviating mental sickness, into a field also very focused on helping normal fairly healthy people significantly improve their levels of competence, self respect and confidence. This earned Nathaniel Branden the moniker “Father of the Self-Esteem Movement”. Psychologists simply weren’t discussing Self-Esteem or giving the subject much attention in the realm of psychology before Nathaniel started focusing on Self Esteem in the 1950s. Nathaniel Branden has unofficially become the guru to so many prominent mega successful personal development/self help gurus of the last couple decades. These gurus have gone out and spread Nathaniel’s ideas to the masses far further than Nathaniel could have done himself. Think of it this way, Nathaniel Branden was never the arena rock band like U2, he was the musician’s musician who was a massive source of inspiration for many huge artists. Nathaniel’s writings were mostly written to be understood by any layman, but they weren’t quite as simplistic and flashy as the mega gurus’, and he never had that kind of marketing muscle behind him. But his insight resonates throughout the personal development world, and many of Nathaniel’s contributions have become commonplace knowledge in our culture.
Once during a personal talk I had with him, I told Nathaniel that even though he’s known as the Father of Self-Esteem, and the words Self Esteem are in the title of almost every book of his, that this is actually all nonsense. He’s not teaching self-esteem. Not really. He’s teaching people how to grow to become better people, higher self-esteem is the consequence. “You’re not teaching people how to appreciate themselves more, you’re teaching people how to become someone that they have higher appreciation for. And THAT is what differentiates you from most others in the field of self-esteem.” That was a pretty bold thing to say to him, but he had a big grin on his face, and he enjoyed that. Those aren’t his words, but I think he agreed with that perspective.
To this day, when people privately ask me for book recommendations, I always tell them that Nathaniel Branden’s writings are the most powerful material I know of. I even advise people to halt their business and pause medical school if they need to, and read Nathaniel’s books. They’re that important. A good place to start is his opus, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (check out the Amazon reviews). It lays out the framework for the scope of his perspective. It’s a pretty easy but insightful read, though it does require some deep reflection. And while I deeply love each of his books for their own insights, the book that is easily the most transformative thing I’ve ever read is Taking Responsibility. It has a simple innocuous title, but the insight is profound and so empowering. It’s a deeper exploration of one of the six pillars of his opus. I cannot imagine anyone achieving great things in life without some understanding and adoption of this perspective. At the very least, read Taking Responsibility after you read Six Pillars, take action on what you’ve just learned, and watch your life improve. Nathaniel’s insights help you see the best within you that you might not see, and he helps you pull that potential out of you, so you can experience it.
In my early high school years, I feel like I learned a lot after I discovered Ayn Rand.
In my early college years, I feel like I grew a lot after I discovered Nathaniel Branden.
He was a giant who has left his mark on this world.
I would like to personally thank Nathaniel for the wisdom and the guidance I gained from his books that helped me develop and grow to the point that I may one day host his birthday party at my house in Bel Air surrounded by so many incredible friends. I would like to thank Nathaniel for helping me become someone who was honored to speak at a memorial in tribute to a legend like him.
It is sad for me to acknowledge that I’ve lost someone I loved so much. But Nathaniel hasn’t left us, and he never will. If you look around, this man’s influence on the world is everywhere.
The organizers put up a display at the entrance to the hotel to honor him. – January 2015
A photo of Nathaniel and I was featured fairly prominently on a table of images. – February 2015
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