ASK JAMES: WHAT IS SUCCESS, HOW TO GET RICH, ONLINE DATING, MEDITATION, OWS, AND MORE
- Posted by James Altucher
Every Thursday from 3:30-4:30 PM EST I answer questions on twitter. The questions can be about anything ranging from money to sex to stocks to love to startups to marriage to whatever. I answer the questions via Twitter but I then summarize and give expanded answers by Saturday.
I don’t think I know all the answers to anything. I’m not trying to be egotistical by saying I have answers. But it’s fun for me and I’ve been through a lot so I hope some of my answers are useful to people.
WHAT IS SUCCESS?
@texandcoda asks: In your opinion/experience, what defines success?
ANSWER: When I first made a lot of money I thought, “This is it. I succeeded in New York. I’m on top of the world.”
Less than three years later I was dead broke and lost my house. I was worse than dead broke. I was probably over a million in debt. And I had no friends. I lost them all.
“Success” was just the midwife to the worst failures a man can have. [See, “Success is a Sexually Contagious Disease”]
Then I did it again. And again and again. And each time I let it give birth to an uglier and uglier failure.
So I had to redefine it for myself. What does success mean to me now? Simply an ability to pursue the daily practice I outline. I don’t want houses, or boats, or big vacations. I want freedom. Freedom to get in shape, to stay emotionally healthy (which means 100% surrounding myself with uplifting people), mentally healthy (the ability and time to write this blog helps that), and spiritually healthy (the ability to read and have time and reduce my desire for all the toys that success in America usually implies). I want to die when I’m an old man knowing I was successful at these four items.
That is success. Am I there? I don’t know. But I hope I get closer every day.
SHORTCUT TO SUCCESS
@kehindabajo asks: if there was a shortcut to success.what would it be?
I can only say what’s worked for me: the only shortcut to success is by doing the steps outlines in the Daily Practice every day. I also provide modifications to it in my most recent book. In the post I say specifically that in six months your life will be completely different. I know this because it’s worked for me.
Why does this work? Because it keeps you healthy, it keeps you from being distracted by emotional intrigue, it keeps you smart, and it helps you reduce the passions and needs and wants that will ultimately keep success from ever being your complete grasp. And here are the nine obstacles to success. Avoid those and you are off to a good head start.
FAVORITE COMEDIAN, SHOW, BEATLES SONG, BOOKS, etc
Several people asked me my favorites on a variety of topics so I supply them here:
Favorite Comedian: Louis CK and Jim Norton couldn’t be more different from each other. But I love them both. Jim Norton I went to school with and I write a detailed post about here. The other, Louis CK, I’ve probably watched every episode he’sbeen on TV (in the HBO series, “Lucky Louie” which also featured Norton, and in his new series “Louie”, which is much better) and I’ve watched every Youtube clip with him.
Favorite Vonnegut book: “Slaughterhouse Five”. The most autobiographical – it details Vonnegut’s experiences in Dresden during and after the fire bombing that destroyed the entire city. It shakes up Vonnegut’s spirit to the point where the main character can’t even stay fixed in time. The book is surreal and I think represents Vonnegut’s purest voice and philosophy.
Favorite Freaks n Geeks episode: The 14th episode. “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers”. Specifically the scene at the end when Bill is crying because he can’t handle the fact that his mom is going out with the coach of the school. Bill is the ultimate geek and he scorned the coach and everything he stood for. I related to Bill and felt like crying when he was crying. Also, the first scene where food is falling out of his mouth while he is laughing at Garry Shandling (one of my favorite comedians) is classic.
Favorite book about software: You don’t have to be a programmer to appreciate “Joel on Software” by Joel Spolsky or “Hackers & Painters” by Paul Graham. Both guys are (or started as) programmers, built up successful business and learned how to apply their programming skills to deeper issues in both business and life. I recommend both.
Favorite business book: “The Rational Optimist” by Matt Ridley is the perfect book for business. It shows with science and sound reasoning why the doom-and-gloomers will always be wrong. Economic development has saved country after country from the disasters of infant mortality, illiteracy, war, terrorism, and so on. I also like “The Science of Getting Rich” written in 1900 by Wallace Wattles.
Favorite Beatles song: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – by George Harrison, the most underrated Beatle and perhaps thebest songwriter among the four. Even the title is like an entire poem by itself.
OCCUPLY WALL STREET: Several people asked about this.
ANSWER: I’ve written about this several times. But, here’s the thing.
That’s what the Occupy Wall Street people are feeling. They are in pain:
- They lost their jobs
- They lost money while rich people got bonuses
- They lost their homes
- Maybe they lost their families
All of the above happened to me. Specifically in 2008. I could easily be down there protesting for the same reasons.
BUT, I actually lived there for several years. On Wall Street. My roof overlooked the New York Stock Exchange.
You never saw a sorrier, sadder group of peple going to work every day than on Wall Street in March, 2009. The actual people who WORK on Wall Street are low-level people who are slaves of the banks. These people lost everything. Now, to top off their depression, the protestors are waving signs in their faces as if the Wall Streeters are the guilty ones.
Let me tell you something: the guilty parties live in Greenwich, CT. Work on Park Avenue and Washington, DC, and they are more than happy to see Occupy Wall Street all the way downtown on Wall Street.
Because of the lack of organization, the Occupy Wall Streeters think they are protesting something symbolic: the greed of Wall Street. The rich bankers are 5 miles north laughing their way to the bank.
Lets get the banks to start lending again. Lets let the stock market go up instead of protesting it. When there is more money in the system, more people will get hired, more people will find opportunities, more businesses will get funded. Being angry at the people who lost the most won’t help anyone.
@AnonSheen asks: What tips can you share about online dating?
I saw a sign the other day in a hotel I was staying at: The sign had a joke which is very typical for online dating: Richard goes up to a woman and says, “are you Linda?” Linda says, “Are you Richard?” Richard says, “Yes”. Linda then says, “Then I’m not Linda”.
In other words, if you date online, you have to put up with rejection, fear, humiliation, and massive game-playing. It’s a war zone.
The ONLY way to succeed at online dating is to treat it like you would a job. When I was getting my feet wet in online dating (and ultimately, I met my wife that way) I would spend 2-4 hours a day sending or responding to messages, then maybe another hour on the phone (some people want to hear your voice and make sure you can make them laugh before they agree to go out with you) then actually go on the dates. I got rejected probably 200 times. But in the beginning it’s a quantity game. Then you have to whittle down to get the quality.
The key is to cut losses. Make sure you have goals (my goal was to find someone who I could fall in love with, who had the potential for falling inlove with me) and then immediately cut your losses if you knew your goal wasn’t going to meet. If you keep on going (for instance, if you know your goal isnot going to be met but you keep on going until sex is involved) then you might miss the potential opportunities for your true goals to reveal themselves.
WHAT’s MY WRITING SCHEDULE?
ANSWER: I try to do this every day: Wake up at 4:30am. Coffee. 2 hours of reading. What do I read? I try to read strong autobiographical fiction.
That sort of sounds like an oxymoron: “autobiographical fiction”. But authors like Bukowski, Raymond Carver, William Vollmann, Miranda July, Mary Gaitskill, have strong literary voices precisely because they write about what they know best: themselves. They dive deep and even if they tweak their own biographies enough to produce fiction, it’s often the fiction that is heavily based on truth and their own lives that comes out the best. Jonathan Ames, Michael Hemmingson, Donald Ray Pollock, Don Carpenter, John Fante, Celine, are also in this category. I like to get my mind buzzing with their voices to get inspiration.
Then I write for 2-4 hours, then rewrite.
When I’m writing, I have to search the feelings in my body to see what ‘s bothering me. If something pops up, I immediately start writing what’s bothering me so much that my body hurts to think about it. Then I keep going and see where it takes me. [See, “33 Unusual Ways to Become a Better Writer“]
I also find that if I DON’T stick to this routine then I usually can’t write for the day. It’s the same time every day. And if I miss a day, it probably takes me two days to get back into the routine. I was busy this week in a lot of early meetings. It totally threw me off. Now I’m back!
WHAT WOULD I TELL THE 17 YEAR OLD ME IF I COULD GO BACK IN TIME
@JessADavis asks: what would you tell 17 year old you if you got the chance?
When I was 17 all I thought about was sex, money, and chess. What an idiot. And I had acne. I don’t even have any pictures of myself at 17 i’m so disgusted with what I was. But…
This book was on my parent’s bookshelf when I was a kid. I constantly would thumb through it. It had a lot of stuff about sex in it. So that turned me on. But I think I ignored the title and what it meant. This is what I would tell myself if I could communicate to my 17 year old self (if you can’t see the photo below then go to the original post at jamesaltucher.com):
WHO IS THE NEXT STEVE JOBS?
@bgin2end asks: Who will be the next Steve Jobs?
ANSWER: Probably the article I’ve gotten the most negative criticism on is “10 Unusual Things About Steve Jobs”. When it was on the front page of the Huffington Post all of the kind commenters there were convinced I was a blind idiot and a horrible writer. How could I admire a man as terrible as Steve Jobs? they wondered.
Every day we artists use the tools that flew out of his head onto the planet. Every day our kids watch the shows his persistence in Pixar allowed creators to develop. Every day students use the computers he conceived of starting in 1977.
But now he’s dead.
Is there another one?
Of course there is. There are many. Google, for instance, right now is wiring up Kansas City, Missourri to have 2 GB / sec super-wifi. That means you can download an entire movie in 2 seconds. Or the last season of Glee (every show) in about 20 seconds. Larry Page and Sergey Brin have a thirty year vision of what the world will look like: there will be Internet everywhere and blindingly fast, there will be cars driving without drivers, all information will be catalogued and at our fingertips or already in our brains. Mark Zuckerberg will catalog all of our social interactions, making it easier to effortlessly stay in close contact with our friends no matter how apart in space and time. Every day there are more Steve Jobs’ being created, growing up, innovating. He created the mold – but the mold is being filled over and over again. [See, “Why are Larry Page and I so Different?“]
WHAT PART OF THE DAILY PRACTICE IS BEST FOR CREATIVITY?
@JulioD asks: @jaltucher which of your daily practices is most important to your creativity?
I threw up all over the floor and my two year old said, “throw up”. I had just had a steak dinner with two investment bankers. I was trying to pretend I wasn’t quickly going poor. But I was sick. I was sick in body, mind, soul, and even then my marriage was probably falling apart and I was losing my house. My two year old was probably scared seeing me on the floor with puke everywhere.
How do you get off the floor? How do you keep the universe excited and surprised by your mere existence? Every time I would do so I would end up back on this floor. I hope now I’ve learned my lesson. I pray I learned it.
But everytime I’ve been on the floor I’ve applied the principles that I describe in this post. In order to be creative you have to be healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I describe this more in my latest book and provide some modifications that I don’t describe in the blog.
JulioD asks which is the most important of these four legs.
All of them are equally important. For instance, how you can be creative if you are so sick you are throwing up. Or if you are constantly arguing with wife or friends or colleagues (the emotional side) or you are mentally sluggish or if you are spiritually unable to surrender to the creative force inside of you.
Sometimes things are so bad for me I have to give up, I have to surrender. I have to say, “what the hell, I’ve done everything I can, now I need some help”. Who are you surrendering to? It might very well be that creative force inside of you that’s saying, “please let me out so I can run rampant throughout the universe.” It doesn’t have to be god you surrender to but everything inside of you (your creativity) that you never knew existed.
So everything is equally important. If one leg is missing then the chair will tip over and fall down.
[Also, see “Nine Ways to Light Your Creativity ON FIRE“]
@TodayTrader asks: how many minutes each day do you meditate?
ANSWER: The word “meditation” is almost a bad word. Americans don’t like to sit around and do nothing. They also, as a group, don’t like new agey-stuff, or Eastern philosophy or anything that puts a hold on the religious freedom which allows them to work hard, make money, and enjoy the fruits of their success.
But the brain whirs around all day long. It can’t stop: why did she says this? Why did he do that? How much money do I have left? Where can I get a new job? And on and on. What a drag that we are stuck in this constant stream of thoughts, unable to sit by the shore and just watch them go by.
Meditation implies a few moments a day where you can sit on that shore and watch the thoughts. But rather than limit it to a few minutes, how about a way to meditate all day.
In “The Power of Negative Thinking” I describe a meditation technique that I use to try and meditate every second of the day. I think it’s hard for most people to sit for 20 minutes a day and try to shut everything down. Better to train yourself every day to be mindful of what you are thinking and drain yourself like a wet dirty sponge of all the negative thoughts that plague us without stop.
HOW TO GET RICH
@jeredbare asks: How can I start a business and sellout it within two years while making lots of cash?
ANSWER: I can just say what the easiest method that I used was. I had zero business experience. But I started a service business (making websites for others) and I didn’’t leave my job until I had several clients (HBO, most notably), and then you build it until you sell it. Then repeat the process.
If I were going to do things a little differently I’d change two things:
A) I would start off as “service” but then productize the service. For instance, in my first successful business I would’ve changed the “service” to a “product” that made and built websites. Product businesses sell for higher value. I had written all the software that we used again and again to make the backbone of websites but I didn’t realize that the smart thing was to productize it.
B) Most important: I would’ve just kept the cash instead of trying to reinvest it in stocks to make more. My biggest regret is making that money and then losing it all that first time and then having to start from scratch again and again.
BIGGEST NEW BUSINESS MISTAKES:
@ajwahls asks: I’m a new biz owner and we are off to a great start. biggest mistake a new biz makes after initial success when lookin 2 expand?
#1: Don’t move. Wait until you are so packed you can’t fit another single computer and desk in there. Moving spends money, distracts you from your business, and gives you a false feeling of success. Don’t move until you are forced.
#2: Don’t hire people. You don’t need an org chart until everyone at the business is working 10 hours a day and workingon weekends. Then hire one person. Then repeat. Try to hire people smarter than you. Else, the culture of your business will start to slip.
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