The 3 Sayings from Business Books I Would Get Tattooed as Daily Reminders

Advice I love from Ryan Holiday, Ben Horowitz, and James Clear.

Trent Hawthorne
3 min readSep 16, 2020


Author Ryan Holiday’s actual tattoo reminders

One of the first serious entrepreneurial ideas I had was the Fading Ink Company. A friend and I, both 23 and unemployed, believed a lot more people would get tattoos if they vanished over say, five years, rather than being a lifelong commitment. We got excited about it, did some Google searches to validate that this didn’t exist, told other close friends and family about our billion-dollar idea, and…then our enthusiasm faded quicker than our theoretical ink. I’m not sure exactly what it was: the fact that we had no capital, knew nothing about skin, had no background in chemistry, had no tattoos ourselves, or zero experience starting companies — but one or all of those reasons killed our unicorn. We dropped the idea and got jobs instead.

But this week I found myself wondering: “If the Fading Ink Company did exist, what business sayings would I get inked as constant reminders?”

Here are my top three.

#1: There’s always a play

This one comes from Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, the best book for entrepreneurs I’ve ever read. “There’s always a play” means you’re never cornered. You’re never out of moves. Even when your back is against the wall, and you feel like you have no options — a sensation entrepreneurs often feel — you do have options. You may not have good options, but you have options, and your job is to pick the best one and do something.

#2: Ego is the enemy

In success or failure, ego is always the enemy. This book of the same name by Ryan Holiday relates stories from history to drive home the point that it’s not about you. One of my worst habits is that I take things personally — including important constructive criticism — and the core fault in that is making things about myself. That’s ego at work, and I’m working on it. And I need this reminder every day.

#3: You fall to your systems

In Atomic Habits James Clear convinced me that “you don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” This is now part of my worldview, and it affects how I think about achieving anything. Don’t set a goal — become the type of person who would achieve that goal. Adopt the habits that person would adopt. Everything flows from your systems.

Given that timing is the #1 reason for startup success, a close runner-up would be timing is everything. It wasn’t the right time for me and my friend to start a company in 2006, but I still think the Fading Ink Company is a good idea. Tattoos are 6,000 years old — that’s quite the staying power — and only 1 in 3 Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have one. A primary objection to getting them is their permanency. That’s why I don’t have one. I have body art commitment issues.

Do you have any tattoos that serve as reminders? If not, would you get any if they’d only last for five years? What was the best business idea you ever had but never started? Reply back and let me know!

Originally published at



Trent Hawthorne

Builder of companies, high-performing business teams, & technology products. People Accelerator.