Why I’m an optimist

ALCHEssMIST-chess-0003

I’m telling you right now to pull the plug on me and let me die. Whatever reader who is reading this that is closest to the plug, please unplug it and just let me die. There’s an ipod in my heart and it just needs charging in order for me to keep going, living a minimal existence of no moving, semi-breathing, barely thinking. Maybe there’s a plug, or a bunch of tubes, or some equipment I can’t even imagine. Just do me a favor. If we get to that intimate moment where I’m lying in there and you’re standing out there, with the decision in your power, just pull the plug.

In 2003 my dad had a stroke. The doctor said it was over, just unplug him. Down the hall there was an orthodox woman who had been in a car accident with her daughter. The daughter was walking around with a cast on her broken arm. The woman was in a coma but the orthodox Jews couldn’t unplug her because that was their religion. They were all huddled in the room. The daughter who had been in the accident just sat outside in the hallway looking at her cast. It only took a few days anyway and the mother’s life dribbled away.

Two years later my dad was still alive, never once having uttered a word or made a concrete motion after having that stroke. His eyes were open. He’d blink. Sometimes it would seem as if he were looking at something. Sometimes they would drop him when moving him from room to room. Other times he’d get a bed sore from not being turned around enough. A bed sore happens when your skin erodes a way right to the bone. One time I took a chess position and blew it up to be three feet by three feet and pasted it to the ceiling so he could look at it since he was lying on his back all day, unable to move. But the hospital he was staying at lost his glasses and he probably couldn’t see anything anyway.

(White to move and win)

My sister said to me, “you must have mixed feelings. Because you guys were in a fight before his stroke.” Its true. I hadn’t talked to him for the six months before his stroke. He sent me an email once, saying I had a good TV appearance. But I didn’t respond. But you don’t get mixed feelings at those points. I was pretty sure what my feelings were.

People get angry at me sometimes for being an optimist. Look at the message board of any article I write. The latest article I wrote has over 100 comments (across two different sites), most of them like mini-hatemails to me. Here is a sample:” James put down the meth pipe… Really you need to be placed upon the firing line…nothing but a propogandist…stop spewing lies, it makes you look stupid…”

I’m not an optimist at all. When I look at you (and you and you and you) all I see is a stroke victim waiting to happen. I see you lying there, your head shaved, mouth slightly open – breathing, being fed, defecating all through tubes. People dropping you on the floor on your head. Innovations in technology keeping you alive as long your family wants to do be. “Don’t worry,” someone is saying about you to a nearby family member, “he has no idea what’s going on. His brain is not there.” The day after he died I wrote two articles for thestreet.com about Internet stocks and one article for The Financial Times about Warren Buffett. I didn’t care. He had been dead for two years as far as I was concerned. I didn’t even want to go to the funeral, standing there in the mud and rain waiting for nothing to happen to someone who hadn’t been there for years.

HE was the optimist. Convincing me in 2002 that stocks were cheap right when I was most discouraged. Encouraging me in 1991, in my first job, to ask for $90 an hour as a consultant. They sort of laughed and said, “Well, we were thinking more like $12.50 an hour.” And of course I said yes. He wanted to be a salesman for my first company, calling Fortune 500 CEOs cold and asking them if they needed websites. He told me once that every chess move he would start looking first at how he could sacrifice his queen, the most valuable piece on the board. He was always optimistic he could start an attack somewhere, never realizing when his attacks were long spent and his position, once so happy and grand, had begun to slip into a fragility that called for strident defense. I was the one always on the ropes, always defending as he unleashed attack after attack, never giving up or slowing down, always convinced the winning move was right around the corner. All I learned was defense.

When I was 15 I had a paper route. I came home one day and was bragging to him, “some guy accidentally

tipped me an extra $5.” He immediately drove me over to the guy’s house and made me return the money. When I was 9 and he heard that I called the third grade teacher “an old crow” it was the first and only time he ever hit me, he was so upset. When he insisted I learn basic economics he gave me Jude Wanniski’s book, “The Way The World Works”. But when I was ten and really trying to learn how the world works I would sneak off with “Candy” by Terry Southern or “Boys & Girls Together” by William Goldman from his bookshelf.

At some point we cross a line. Where once we were fresh and figuring out how to conquer the world there comes a small insignificant moment when you have to decide, “if it happens to me, I would want the plug to be pulled.” It’s a dotted line in the sand. But once you cross it you can’t really say you’re young anymore.

_____

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  • Steven Goff

    Wow!….I really dont know what to say. I can say this though. I argued to pull the plug on my father at one time in life. With my sister (The Family Patriarch) When he suffered a stroke and I was “concerned about his quality of life” going forward. (Later via some psychoanalysis/counseling realized I subconsciously wanted him dead for abusing me as a child..and that was my chance)…He is still alive to this day….and we do not speak. I did crazy things in my youth, just in hopes of getting arested and out of that home. (It eventually worked). I always thought my father would pass before my mother. Not the case. She did so to aggressive pancreatic cancer a few months ago. I did not attend the funeral. Because the last fight and words I had with my family….I said “I wont even go to your funerals”…..I regret that because I did not even know of my moms illness until a couple days before she passed.

    I thank you James for sharing your family story above. It is nice to know that other people share my somewhat family dysfunctionality. I was going to write a book on time entitled > You can pick your friends…but your family comes pre assembled from the factory!

  • VIXdorf

    I always read you letters even if not appearing on the surface directly related to trading but in fact they really are for you outside of anyone I know with your public exposure to display this high raw level of honesty causes me to do the same and realize yeah how dreadfully common we really are but the art is in changing that reality to something constructive.

  • http://bagna.to mao_junior

    I think many of us share your optimistic view, but it just kinda gets lost in the shuffle. Someone of your stature and success gets the attention of the negative nancies, and you become a lightning rod for them. The overwhelmingly negative sentiment in our world now can only be the precursor to great things. Don’t think the GOOG is feeling too negative with their monster building purchase!

  • http://shadowstock.blogspot.com/ John

    James, thanks as this impacted me in countless ways. I will try to carry these important observations in my life and hopefully treat others with more understanding. Bless you

    From a selfish point of view I’m now daily reminded of the fragility of our mental and physical abilities. Getting through a day’s work or posting ideas that benefit others are now my small wins. Multiple Sclerosis with its daily reminders is like being a very old slow fragile Man (mentally and physically) in a young body.

    John

    • Gina

      Do you only share big invites with close friends? If not, should you mind extending an invite?

  • pjc

    My dad went suddenly 11 years ago. He missed out on a few things – two daughter-in-laws, two grandchildren, one son on the front pages for arresting Madoff, the other receiving a check just shy of 7 figures for starting and selling a small company. But he also missed bed sores and drooling and his loved ones wondering when to pull the plug. He went quickly, when he still thought he had time left, but with his affairs in good order.

    Sorry about your dad.

  • James Altucher

    @pjc, yeah, sometimes thats the best way to go. My dream is to die in my sleep someday. But hopefully a long way off.

    @John, I know thats really hard to deal with. Your blog, though, is a blessing. Its both education/entertainment for others and a way for you to communicate to the masses (I follow every post). Please keep it up and revel in the energy each new post gives you.

  • James Altucher

    @mao_jr, I agree. Google is certainly optimistic. They just took over market dominance in smartphones (beating Nokia, Apple, and Rim was no easy task). Not to mention MSFT’s surprise with Kinect and the non-stop innovations in biotech we are seeing. I think we have a lot to look forward to this next year. But I agree, optimism sometimes lets get lost in the drivel that sells media.

  • James Altucher

    @VIXdorf, thanks a lot for your comment. I’m trying a different approach. Basically, I think deep down people don’t really need to know the next big stock to buy. Most stocks are correlated to the market anyway. But in these touch times people need to keep track of the things that are really important. And its not enough to just say “say” whats important. I hope in these posts I can show a little as well. At the very least, whats been important to me over the years.

  • James Altucher

    @Steve, I’m sorry to hear about your mom and even moreso your relationship with your dad. I’ve had similar things happen to me. And, if I remember correctly your dad is the classic overachiever and overpressure-er. Maybe you guys can one day reconcile but like you start to suggest, the families you start with might not be the families you end with.

  • Steven Goff

    As in most cases…you remember correctly James. I cant begin to tell ya how much I enjoy reading your stuff. It’s enlightening, entertaining, and educational, on so many levels. Thanks for taking and making the effort to do so. I aint figured out what you are up to just yet?……But you know me…..I will….:)

  • http://www.lawrencereport.com Steve Lawrence

    I have always told my wife if she ever finds me cold and blue laying in the yard, this is the procedure.Go inside and make a pot of coffee. Wait patiently until it’s through brewing. Pour yourself a cup and drink it slowly. If at least 30 minutes has passed, call somebody to pick up the body. I won’t live as I have seen others that were “saved” by their loving families. I hope she can do it.

  • baronkurtz

    uh..too much information ..this is a conversation for the therapist- he even gets paid for hearing stuff like this – cheers and good luck – hope you find what you’re looking for…

  • http://jamesaltucher.com James

    Baron, thanks for the comment. Some people have suggested to me that this sort of stuff is too much information. But I don’t have a problem with it so why should others?

  • Sooz

    Oh my father..
    He was placed six feet under in a pine box. An honorable service due to his short particaption in the Army as a young lad. Such an elaborate ceremony and only five people to witness it.
    I attended out of respect and cryed the long ride to the cemetery with my third child,a newborn baby girl(life), just a few weeks old. I did not feel sad for myself but SO VERY SAD for my father who died alone and missed out on so much in his lifetime. He was a handsome, intelligent and gifted human being that after marrying one of the most ‘BEAUTIFUL’ women that walks this earth,my mother, and bringing six children into the world was unable/neglected to fullfill his ‘For better..For Worse’ part of child rearing and support.
    I never really new my father only through great stories and old letters..that allowed me to see him in a wholesome and Happier ‘Good ole Irish Boy Light’.
    My mother, a saint, raised us all alone at a time(early~mid sixties)when that just did not happen. Catholics did not divorce..they were suppose to live with ‘The Worst’! We had very little, going from prosperity to poverty, except for eachother. She is the ‘Strongest’ most amazing person, best friend that I have in my life.A ‘SURVIVOR’ that has taught all her children so many values.
    Every year on my birthday I send her a big vase of roses and a note attached which always reads…”Mom, I’m so thankful that on this day I was born into this world and ‘GOD’ chose ‘YOU’ as my mother. Thank~you, for life!!

    p.s..the day she parishes a part of me will die with her..

    • James Altucher

      Thats a great story, Sooz. Not everyone is as luck as you to know you have such warmth to always fall back on.

  • Sooz

    :)

    • Sooz

      imagine..
      Alone with a young family ages 9,8,6,4,(3..me) years old respectfully(my oldest brother lived just beyond a year and parished from a heart defect..today if born..due to advance in med tech he would have survived..so she also survived having to mourn the death and burry her first born).
      She is an amazing pillar of stength ..
      I can only wish to live a full life and be regarded as half the woman my mother is!!

      • Sooz

        sorry for typos..
        edit:
        bury..:(

        • Sooz

          One last note..
          My mother is a perfect example of ‘Optimist’ and faith and so many other things all wrapped up into one beautiful package.
          I, too, have learned(from her) this most important trait..:)
          Even when the chips in life are down..

          • Sooz

            edit..
            perished..;(
            geesh..I need to edit before pressing enter..oopsa!!

  • http://stocksonwallstreet.net/ Stocks on Wall Street

    If only everyone in the world could be an optimist, the world would be a much better place!!!

    • Steven Goff

      “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking. Lets get a man thinking somewhere on the double” ~ Gen. George S. Patton

      I AM THAT MAN….;)

  • James Altucher

    @Stocks, I agree with that. Not to be blindly optimistic but if everyone tried to think in constructive ways instead of the destructive we often see, it would certainly be better.

  • http://steamcatapult.com/ Dave

    Years ago, my sister got in a massive argument with my father at a Father’s Day brunch. I was giving her a ride home afterwords, and just before she got in my car, she turned back to my toward my parents, who were getting in their car, and yelled, “Dad, I love you.” When she got in the car she said she was still pissed at him, but she said that in case we or they got killed in a car accident on the way home.

    • Anonymous

      I try to do that. I never leave the house in the morning without kissing my wife and daughter, ever. I try to never leave a situation with an unresolved argument

  • Sooz

    She also has a very great sense~of~humor.
    It plays such an imperative part in survival and at times(although under~rated for the serious folks out there)most valuable!
    She gave me that gift too..:)

    • Sooz

      and in regards to post above..
      Yes, Steve, you are the man..:)..and we are counting on you.
      Of all people who have taken it on the chin..you stand tall!!
      A ‘Brilliant Mind’..

      • Sooz

        all humor aside..

        • Sooz

          with humor..a few inches taller..:)

  • threwforth

    I see a mate in four, assuming black defends his queen. Is that the relevance of this particular position?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for being honest. It’s refreshing. Not enough people cut through the facade like that.

  • Gina

    What is the number of moves to win?

    I can stave off attacks until the tide turns. My college buddy said he knew exactly when I was in for it because my head and shoulders would droop. I never thought to study like you did, so a match against an unskilled player ends in a chase me, chase me stale-mate. I haven’t played in a while so I am going to try to get in some study time before I challenge my father.

    I am so so sorry got your loss. I am always in dread of the day when my parents and much older husband get hit by the karma bus.

    If I have to be implanted with something called an iDefibrillator, slap an apple sticker on my butt, and download charges from the proprietary iHeart store, I am just going to vestry around a car battery with some paddles.

  • http://www.timschneider.org/ tim schneider

    Wow.. that was an abrupt ending.. didnt see that coming.  I liked it though

  • tedd

    You are an good writer, that’s for sure, an excellent mind, no doubt and the underlining lessons in most of your writing (except those you basically are screaming and tearing off your hair) have most useful implications. I do however find you too satirical sometimes and if the thing about your father is true, you are a disgrace of a son!