James Altucher is a friend and blogger whose posts I look forward to. His writing inspires one to introspect, improve and get into action right away. James is a veteran of financial media. He is also a Yoga enthusiast like I am.
I connected with him during the making of No Idling. Recently, I asked him a bunch of questions with an intent to bring his ideas to you. His response follows. It is years of experience distilled in a single post. Read, enjoy and once you have finished reading head over to his blog to get more goodness.
1. You are a trader, investor, writer, and entrepreneur? Which of these roles you enjoy the most and why?
When I first moved to New York City in 1994 I wanted to be everything to everyone. I had spent the six years prior to that writing a bunch of unpublished novels and unpublished short stories. I must’ve sent out 100s of stories to literary journals. I got rejections from every publisher, journal, and agent I sent my novels and stories to.
Now, in 1994, everything was possible. The money was in NYC. Media was here. I lived in my 10×10 room and pulled suits out of a garbage bag every morning but it didn’t matter…the internet was revving up and I knew how to build a website. One of the few in the city. My sister warned me though: nobody here is your friend. Everybody wants something.
And I wanted something. I wanted the fleeting feelings of success, for the first time ever, in order to feel better about myself. I wanted a girl next to me. I wanted to build and sell companies and finally prove to everyone I was the smartest. I wanted to do a TV show. I wanted to write books.
But everything involved having a master. Clients. Employers. Investors. Publishers. The market (the deadliest master of all). Employees. I was a slave to everyone for so many years. And the more shackles I had on, the lonelier I got.
Much of the time, even when I had those moments of success, I didn’t know how to turn it into a better life. I felt ugly and then later, I felt stupid when I would let the success dribble away down the sink.
I love writing because every now and then that ugliness turns into honesty. When I write, I’m only a slave to myself. When I do all of those other things you ask about, I’m a slave to everyone else.
2. What inspires you to get up and start working/writing every day?
The other day I had breakfast with a fascinating guy who had just sold a piece of his fund of funds. He told me what “fracking” was and how the US was going to be a major oil player again. We spoke for two hours about a wide range of topics, including what happens when we can finally implant a google chip in our brains.
After that I had to go onto NPR because I firmly believe that in one important respect we are degenerating as a country – we are graduating a generation of indentured servants who will spend 50 years or more paying down their student debt rather than starting companies and curing cancer. So maybe I made a difference.
Then I had lunch with a guy I hadn’t seen in ten years. In those ten years he had gone to jail and now I was finally taking the time to forgive him for something he never did to me. I felt bad I hadn’t helped him when he was at his low point. Then I came home and watched my kid play clarinet at her school. Then I read until I fell asleep. Today I did nothing but write. Both days inspired me.
It also inspires me that I’m being asked these questions. Whenever anyone asks me to do anything I’m infinitely grateful. Why me? I feel lucky. I like it when someone cares what I think. I’ll write and do things as long as anyone cares. I honestly probably wouldn’t write if nobody cared. I don’t have enough humility for that, I’m ashamed to admit.
3. Your new book “How to be the luckiest person alive” has just come out. What is it about?
When I was a kid I thought I needed certain things: a college education from a great school, a great home, a lot of money, someone who would love me with ease. I wanted people to think I was smart. I wanted people to think I was even special. And as I grew older more and more goals got added to the list: a high chess rating, a published book, perfect weather, good friends, respect in various fields, etc. I lied to myself that I needed these things to be happy. The world was going to work hard to give me these things, I thought. But it turned out the world owed me no favors.
And gradually, over time, I lost everything I had ever gained. Several times. I’ve paced at night so many times wondering what the hell was I going to do next or trying not to care. The book is about regaining your sanity, regaining your happiness, finding luck in all the little pockets of life that people forget about. It’s about turning away from the religion you’ve been hypnotized into believing into the religion you can find inside yourself every moment of the day.
4. Is it possible to accelerate success? If yes, how?
Yes, and it’s the only way I know actually to achieve success. It’s by following the Daily Practice I outline in this post.
It’s the only way I know to exercise every muscle from the inside of you to the outside of you. I firmly believe that happiness starts with that practice.
5. You say that discipline, persistence and psychology are important if one has to achieve success. How can one work on improving “psychology” part?
Success doesn’t really mean anything. People want to be happy in a harsh and unforgiving world. It’s very difficult. We’re so lucky most of us live in countries without major wars. Our kids aren’t getting killed by random gunfire. We all have cell phones. We all can communicate with each other on the Internet. We have Google to catalog every piece of information in history! We are so amazingly lucky already.
How can it be I was so lucky to be born into such a body? In New York City of all places? Just by being born in such a way on this planet was an amazing success.
So what else is there? The fact is that most of us, including me, have a hard time being happy with such ready-made success. We quickly adapt and want so much more out of life. It’s not wars or disease that kill us. It’s the minor inconveniences that add up in life. It’s the times we feel slighted or betrayed. Or even slightly betrayed. Or overcharged. Or we miss a train. Or it’s raining today. Or the dishwasher doesn’t work. Or the supermarket doesn’t have the food we like. We forget how good the snow tasted when we were kids. Now we want gourmet food at every meal.
Taking a step back, doing the Daily Practice I outline in the question above. For me, the results of that bring me happiness. That’s success. Today. And hopefully tomorrow.
6. You advocate not sending kids to college. What if kids grow up and then blame their parents about not letting them get a college education?
I went to one of my kid’s music recitals yesterday. She was happy to see me. I hugged her afterwards. She played “the star wars theme” on the clarinet. I wish I could’ve played that for my parents. My other daughter has a dance recital in a few weeks. I tried to give her tips but she laughed at me. I was quite the breakdancer in my youth. The nerdiest breakdancer on the planet. I want to be present for them. To love them. To let them always know that in their own dark moments, they know I will listen to them. I love them. Even when they cry and don’t always agree with me. Even when they laugh at me because sometimes I act like a clown.
Later, if they want to blame me for anything at all then I will still love them. That’s my “what if”.
As soon as I publish a post I get scared to death. Is it good? Will people re-tweet? Will one part of the audience of this blog like it at the expense of another part of the audience. Will I get Facebook Likes? I have to stop clinging to these things but you also need to respect the audience. I don’t know. It’s a little bit confusing to me. I don’t have the confidence of a real writer yet.
Here are four of my favorites.
- How I screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm (and lost another $100mm in the process)
- It’s Your Fault:
- I’m Guilty of Torturing Women
- The Girl Whose Name Was a Curse
Although these four are favorites I really don’t post anything unless it’s my favorite of that moment.
8. 3 must-read books for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The key in an entrepreneur book: you want to learn business. You want to learn how to honestly communicate with your customers. You want to stand out.
The Essays of Warren Buffett by Lawrence Cunningham
“The Thank you Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk
“Purple cow” by Seth Godin
9. I love your writing, so do so many others out there. Who are your favorite writers?
“Jesus’s Son” by Denis Johnson is the best collection of short stories ever written. I’m afraid I really don’t like his novels though.
“Tangents” by M. Prado.A beautiful series of graphic stories about relationships.
Other writers: Miranda July, Ariel Leve, Mary Gaitskill, Charles Bukowski, Celine, Sam Lipsyte, William Vollmann, Raymond Carver. Arthur Nersesian. Stephen Dubner.
Many writers are only really good storytellers. Most writers come out of a cardboard factory MFA system and lack a real voice. A real voice is where every word exposes ten levels of hypocrisy in the world and brings us all the way back to see reality. The writers above have their own voices, their own pains, and their unique ways of expressing those pains. Some of them are funny. Some a little more dark. I wish I could write 1/10 as good as any of them.
10. You are a prolific writer. Do you have any hacks that help you write a lot in little time?
Coffee, plus everything else coffee does for you first thing in the morning.
Only write about things you either love or hate. But if you hate something, try to find a tiny gem buried in the bag of dirt so you can reach in when nobody is looking and put that gem in your pocket. Stealing a diamond in all the shit around us and then giving it away for free via writing is a nice little hack, Being fearless precisely when you are most scared is the best hack.
11. I totally get and love your idea about bleeding as a writer, appreciate if you share more with the readers of this blog.
Most people worry about what other people think of them. Most people worry about their health. Most people are at a crossroads and don’t know how to take the next step and which road to take it on. Everyone is in a perpetual state of ‘where do I put my foot next’. Nobody, including me, can avoid that.
You and I both need to wash our faces in the morning, brush our teeth, shower, shit, eat, fight the weather, fight the colds that want to attack us if we’re not ready. Fight loneliness or learn how to love and appreciate the people who want to love you back. And learn how to forgive and love the people who are even more stupid and cruel than we are. We’re afraid to tell each other these things because they are all both disgusting and true.
You and I both have the same color blood. If I cut my wrist open you can see the color of my blood. You look at it and see that it’s the same color as yours. We have something in common. It doesn’t have to be shameful. It’s just red. Now we’re friends. No matter who you are or where you are from. I didn’t have to lie to you to get you to be my friend.
12. What is your advice for young entrepreneurs?
Only build something you really want to use yourself. There’s got to be one thing you are completely desperate for and no matter where you look you can’t find it. Nobody has invented it yet. So there you go — you invent it. If there’s other people like you, you have a business. Else. You fail. Then do it again. Until it works. One day it will.
Follow these 100 Rules:
And, in particular this:
In my just released book I have more chapters on my experiences as an entrepreneur.
13. I advocate the concept of working at a job while building your business. You have of course lived it. Now as you look back, what is your take on this? Is it possible to make it work while sailing on two boats?
Your boss wants everything out of you. He wants you to work 80 hours a week. He wants to look good taking credit for your work. He wants your infinite loyalty. So you need something back.
Exploit your employer. It’s the best way to get good experience, clients, contacts. It’s a legal way to steal. It’s a fast way to be an entrepreneur because you see what large companies with infinite money are willing to pay for. If you can provide that, you make millions. It’s how many great businesses have started and will always start. It’s how every exit I’ve had started.
14. Who is a “person with true moral fiber”? In current times are there any role models who are people with true moral fiber.
I don’t really know the answer. I think I know a few people like that. I hope I’m someone like that. And I pray to god the people I’m invested in are like that and my family is like that.
I find most people to be largely mean and stupid, a vile combination. It’s not that I’m pessimistic or cynical. I’m very much an optimist. It’s just reality. Open the newspaper or turn on the TV and watch these people.
Moral fiber atrophies more quickly than any muscle on the body. An exercise I do every morning is to promise myself that “I’m going to save a life today” and then leave it in the hands of the Universe to direct me how I can best do that. Through that little exercise plus the Daily Practice described above I hope to keep regenerating that fiber.
15. Your message to the readers of this blog?
Skip dinner. But follow me on Twitter.