Suicide, and 13 Other Ways to Deal with Failure
- Posted by James Altucher
I’m really scared to stand in one place in Grand Central. Because then you hear all the people who are doomed rushing around you. But that’s where I was yesterday. Two older guys in suits, red and brown ties, gray hair, glasses, balding, big noses, big guts, walking faster than they normally walk so they were out of breath, and saying, “hopefully Neogenetics will buy us after they meet us.”
Trust me, they won’t.
Another pair, two women, were saying, “one day he will be Secretary General of the UN” and the other girl said, “we can only hope.” Well, don’t hope anymore. He won’t be.
When a man and woman kiss in Grand Central and then head for different trains I can tell you one thing: they are both cheating on their spouses. Don’t worry, none of it will work out. As I’ve mentioned before, Most things don’t work out.
I might’ve mentioned in this blog before. I’ve had one or two things I’ve failed at. It hurts. It’s painful. It’s really hard to come back from. But listen: failure is actually two arrows. The first arrow is the failure itself. That first arrow is a horrible impact. Knocks you down. Knocks the breath out of you. Makes you bleed. But that arrow won’t kill you. The second arrow is how you react to the failure. That arrow will blind you, infect you, and eventually kill you.
Most important for success is to dodge that second arrow. Here’s 13 ways you do it:
A) Cleanliness. I’m not a naturally clean person. My desk is a mess. Given a week of no meetings, it might mean a week of no showers. But after a failure, you must bathe, you must clean your work space, you must wear a suit, nice pants, a tie. You are going to WORK. And the work is now your true calling, the whisper of God that demands now to be listened to. Now that you have no more meetings that last for hours that ended up accomplishing nothing. No more bosses, clients, pimps prostitutes. Now you need to clean for the real work in front of you. And if your office is cleaned, clean your house. Clean your breathe. Take deep breaths. Not the short anxious ones that slid you into failure. Don’t even curse.
B) GO to work. Leave the house in the morning even if you have nowhere to go. In 2002, having nowhere to go in the middle of winter, after losing home and dignity and crying like a little baby, I’d at the very least go at 6am and swing on a swingset. In my suit. Then I’d shoot baskets. Then I’d go for coffee. Bring a pad. Your ideas are more valuable per idea than ever.
It used to be you were a slave, and all of your ideas were owned by someone else. Now, the gift of failure has bestowed on you a weird sort of freedom – your ideas are for nothing now except for yourself. So start generating a lot of them. The first 200 or so will be bad so you need to get through those quickly. Now, you own them. So they are valuable to you. Create as much value as possible.
C) Where is the pain? When I fail I feel pain. It might be that I’m shaking. Or that I feel pain in my stomach. Or my chest. My heart. My head. But I definitely feel pain somewhere on my body. Identify that pain. Where is it? What does it feel like? Can you move it around a little by thinking about it? Can it go from your throat to your chest, for instance? Or from your jaw to your stomach? Again, what does it feel like? Talk to it. No joke. Ask it, “how long do you plan to stay?”
If it wants to stay for a long time then say hello to it. Get to know it. Do you remember feeling this physical feeling before? What was that like? Make the pain of failure feel at home in your body. I know when I sit at home doing nothing for long periods of time eventually I get bored and leave. If you make the pain of failure feel at home, eventually it gets tired of you. “Why is he so friendly to me?” it might think. It doesn’t like that. So it packs its bags and takes off. This sounds stupid. But its not.
D) Mourn. Failure is a loss. You’re allowed to mourn for that loss. You don’t have to pick yourself up the next second, or the next day, or even the next week. But after a week its too long. Cry when you fail. Something has died. Don’t deny it. Get it out of your system.
E) Sleep. The only way to overcome failure is to sleep eight hours a day. Failure wants you to wake up at 2 in the morning and think about it. Its a jealous lover. “We NEED to talk about this RIGHT NOW!” at 2 in the morning is what failure is trying to shout at you. But you need to sleep. You’ve got more important things to do. Like training for the Olympics. How do you sleep though when all of this is going on? One way is meditation but thats not practical for 99% of people. Another way is medication.
Go to a psychiatrist and say, “I just failed at something important to me and I can’t sleep more than 3 hours a night and need medication until I can sleep again.” They will give you medication.
If you want to try meditation here’s a real good one that works at 2 in the morning. Its the same meditation your parents told you when you were five years old. Visualize lambs jumping over a fence over and over. Believe it or not this is all the meditation you need to become a Buddha. Which is why it also causes most people to fall asleep. Here’s another one, take a deep breath, then exhale. Mid-exhale, hold your breath, then continue the exhale, then hold again. How many times can you do that before you have to inhale again. Repeat. Whatever you do at 2 in the morning, DO NOT turn on the computer. Failure loves looking at that computer screen.
F) Funny movies. There’s two aspects of failure. There is surviving RIGHT NOW, and then there is “WHAT NEXT?” The first thing of surviving now is remembering what it feels like to laugh. Watch a funny movie that’s going to make you non-stop laugh. Watch two of them. Don’t watch Schindler’s List! That’s depressing! My favorite? “Superbad”.
G) Anger. When you fail there might be reasons external to you. Like a crappy boss. Or family that is harping on your failure. Or partners that screwed you over. Some people will say “feel compassion towards them”. This doesn’t work. Why feel compassion towards people who suck and just screwed you over? BUT, Anger is the Second Arrow. Your only job right now: feel non-anger towards them. If you feel anger, catch yourself. Go back to non-anger. They set you on fire and let you burn while they laughed. That feels really bad. So get up and walk away. Don’t carry them with you.
The more they stay in your brain, the more they are still doing it to you. No more mental conversations with these evil people! And if you run into them and they bring stuff up then TRAIN THEM. Walk away, or say, “ok, well, I have to go now” and walk away. If you have to stay right with them, then just turn your brain off. Get them out of there. As long as you are the slightest bit angry then you are still in anger mode. You don’t need to love them. You’re not Jesus. But Anger will kill you. Read my post, how to deal with crappy people.
H) Spiritual. I hate that word. It has so many negative connotations and I don’t even know why. Probably because religion was so boring when we grew up. I remember hebrew school class, some girl telling me “beggars can’t be choosers.” I was the beggar in that metaphor. I can’t even remember what I was supposed to be choosing. Her? Also, sitting for hours on end while random teachers taught us science fiction stories as if they were fact. So and so split the red sea. Another guy walked on water. Another guy floated into space and now we set a seat for him at the dinner table. Oh, he needs coffee too to digest. Another guy got every animal in the world to fit on his boat. And then later in life, all of the annoying people who went new age and spiritual on us in rebellion to these science fiction stories. Only the stories kept getting more and more science fiction. So FINE! Lets take it to the max.
Picture your body is a vessel. And THE FORCE from Star Wars is filling it. Tell the force, “whatever you need, baby, I’ll do it for you today.” And then everything you do that day keep checking back, is this what the higher power wants you to be doing? The way to overcome failure is steady practice of surrender to this higher power. Has to be steady and consistent. And it takes a long time of practice to build the communication with that higher power so that you know whatever it is you’re doing is in conjunction with what it wants you to do. I bolded steady everywhere. That’s the key word. You always have to bring yourself back and ask: am I surrendering. Steadiness will block that second arrow. This is the second most important item on this list of 13. It works. I know because it’s worked repeatedly for me.
I) Write to people. Write to your wife, write to old bosses, professors, childhood friends: tell them how much they mean to you. It’s almost like you’re writing a suicide note. Tell them why they meant something to you and how that helped you later in life. Write without wanting anything back in return. Be honest. Be so honest that you bruise yourself. Be so honest that they are bruised also with those memories. Not in a bad way, but a way that makes an impression. A raw bruise opened. Return unread emails from 5 years ago. Apologize to people. Write every day to people who never expected to hear from you again. This is part of the cleansing.
J) Worst case scenario analysis. At any given point in the past 15 years I’ve had a worst case scenario: I lose my home, my family, my friends, my pride. I have to scale down, scale out, go to jail (I’ve never had to go to jail for anything but we’re talking possible worst case scenarios). I think my article about Yitz, where he did go to jail for 19 months while he went broke, sums it up. Its never as bad as you think. If you have to move, maybe you move to a place by river. If you have to go to jail, you exercise and read. If the people around you cant handle the worst case scenario, I get it. But they either leave or get more flexible. Picture very clearly the worst case scenario. 99.99% chance its not going to happen.
It never really does, which is why waking up at 2 in the morning is so bad because that’s where the beast called “worst case scenario” lives. But picture it and realize it’s never as bad as you think. People say, “you get what you visualize” but this is new age crap. By practicing awareness of the worst case scenario you build an awareness that it’s never as bad as you think. This is a good practice. My worst case scenario is having a stroke like my dad and being locked into my body for three years while the body is dropped on the floor a million times and I have to blow my nose but can’t. If that happens to me, Claudia, give me a lot of morphine and let me just die. If somehow I lose everything I own, I’ll move to smaller place and get a job in a gas station. I know myself. I’m an idea machine. I’ll get out of any bad situation
K) Prepare in advance. Make a lot of friends. Email people and keep in touch. Help people today so you can be helped tomorrow. One of my first posts on this blog is a philosophy I live by: Give and You will Receive. I always tell people that the only thing I ask in return is that if they seem me in the gutter with a needle in my shoulder than at least help me take the needle out. Have lunch or breakfast with people. Read a lot (see the Summer Reading List, its filled with failures). Exercise every day. You’re in training for the olympics of failure. Every day get rid of one person who brings you down and bring on one person who brings you up. Stop reading the news. Its depressing and filled with failure. Stop watching TV from 8-10pm. Its the worst shows and wastes valuable sleeping or idea time.
L) Follow the Daily Practice. If its too hard, then modify it until it works for you. And keep the idea muscle stretched and flexible so that when you need it most, its there for you. And part of that includes Surrender. Surrender to the fact that you’ve done all you can. And so only good things will happen. When an athlete knows they have done all they could to prepare, then they are ready for anything in the Olympics, even failure.
M) Read this. If you were fired yesterday. Its the quick fix.
One person asked me, “but if I have a track record of failure, how do I go about raising money for the next thing?” I say this with compassion: if you are thinking that way then you aren’t ready yet to raise money for the next thing. You need to do the above. Then you will be ready. #12 is most important. Within six months of doing #12 your life will be completely different, almost by definition. #12 is most important on a list of 13 equals.
13 is supposedly an unlucky number. I’m going to look it up on my brain-extension, wikipedia, so hold on a second…ok, I didn’t know this: 13 is the smallest emirp (a prime which is also prime when reversed).
Oh wait, I now have a #14: Analysis. The only way to improve is to analyze your failures. Every competitive athlete knows this. Every chessplayer knows this. Every coach knows this. What went wrong? What could you have done differently? How could you have communicated better? At what point should you have changed directions before things got as bad as they did. The key here is to never blame others. Remember: its your fault. But you have to be a student of your own life. Take responsibility and analyze.
Nine years ago, when I lost my house in the city, I felt like I was forced into a miserable exile. I moved about 70 miles north. It was like moving to the Arctic Circle. The sound of the train across the river at three in the morning were like the gates of hell opening up to let all the demons out and into my head. The clash of metal against metal, river, motion, the death of night. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t breathe. The first time I traveled back home from Grand Central I was horribly depressed. I had never even been in Grand Central before. Everyone in fake suits pushing, rushing, panicking, hurrying. This was my life.
I’m typing these words. This is my life.
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PS – Note on Suicide: Suicide is no good and I’ll tell you why. Its really hard. Believe me, I’ve looked it up in every way. A friend of mine with two kids tried to kill himself once. He put a rifle in his mouth and fired. He blew out one eye and half the back of his head. He damaged his brain so he can’t walk. He’s totally disfigured now. And guess what? He married his nurse. He’s actually happy! But if he had succeeded, imagine the regret and pain and despair he would’ve left all around him. Particularly those two kids. My own two kids are probably the main thing that has stopped me at my worst moments.
Other ways to kill yourself don’t work. Pills can leave you brain damaged. They make pills pretty good now. If you take 1000 of them they don’t kill you, they just eat at your brain so its like you’re a permanent stroke victim. What else? Jumping out a window, you can just end up breaking every bone in your body and never walking again. Same for getting hit by a car. Only the lucky can kill themselves. And you’re a failure. So don’t think your luck is coming back so fast just so you can kill yourself.
What about death by hanging? Here’s what can happen: you can break your neck and just sit there suffocating for 20 or 30 minutes. Thats a pretty slow painful death and if someone finds you then you’re in big trouble, you might be brain damaged and you can’t walk anymore. And your pants might be down if you were masturbating at the same time so that’s pretty embarrassing. Don’t be one of those statistics.
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