I’m Scarred

They lied to you about that fire part. There’s the “Great American Child Fire Myth”. Here’s how it goes although you’ve heard it. A child puts his hand on the stove for the first time and it hurts because it’s hot. And then he pulls it back and screams. And then HE NEVER DOES IT AGAIN.

That’s a lie.

(the Human Torch, drawn by the amazing Alex Ross)

Of course he does it again. Many times. He keeps touching the stove until it cools down and it’s no longer hot. That’s what people do. We touch things. We hurt ourselves. We hurt others. Then we get used to it. So we do it more.

If I touch something enough ( a woman, a bed of hot coals, a drug) I can even develop a tolerance to the pain. Touching can even cause something to be pleasurable.

We get scars along the way. Our hand might get scarred. Our emotions might get scarred. We might get afraid to pursue an idea because of fear of failure (the mental equivalent of getting burned by the fire), we might be afraid to pray because what good would it do anyway?

Soon we are scarred all over. We are afraid to take off all the clothes because of the scarring. It’s embarrassing. That scar on our face, on our hands, on our backs, our legs. We hide inside ourselves. We lie. Nobody can see the scars.

We remember when we were once young, unscarred, free from worry. No bills to pay. Nobody to run from. Nothing to avoid. No embarrassment that can be revealed. No past crime that would cause people to run from us.

We start to read the self-help books (and I’ve read them all). What can allow us to go out in public even with all these scars?  Oh, if we stand up straight! If we think positive! If we try to clear our mind. If we smile even though we’re really sad.  If we use “the Secret”!

All of these things are hypnosis to convince us our bodies and minds are not scarred forever. There’s no way to clean up. We were born, we get scarred, we die.

We each have the scars. I’m divorced. I have two kids that I hope will turn out ok. I suck at yoga. I have businesses that have failed. I have books I couldn’t publish. I have people I hurt. I have people who have hurt me. I have dreams that turn into nightmares. I have other dreams that I’ll never fulfill. I would’ve had a 17 year old child. I’m scarred.

(we're all scarred)

So I try to keep my back straight. To smile. To think positive thoughts.

But those are just hypnotic suggestions to fool my body and mind that it’s something its not. I’m tired of the hypnosis hocked on bookshelves and on the non-stop self-help aphorisms that fill the twitter stream.

The truth is: I’m worthless. I’ve touched the fire too much. I’ve scorched every pore of my body. The only way to deal with it is not to smile but to say, “it’s good to be scarred.” Nobody has my particular scars. Here is me, I am a painting of pain.

Today, scars and all, I’ll go outside. It’s a weight off my shoulders to not think of the scars.

I’ll meet and greet people. I’ll make my own choices instead of having them thrown at me by everyone else’s agenda (owning a house, going to college, getting married, having the right friends, voting, having a political agenda, having a spiritual agenda, having a theory of what might make me happy).

I’m scarred, I’m naked. I’m scared. I’m stripped. I’m the real me.

Hi. My name is James.

Enjoyed This Post? Get Free Updates

  • http://twitter.com/ClaudiaYoga Claudia Azula

    What a great post James, It  brings me cold into the present moment.

  • L Petersen

    Hi James. LOVE THIS!

  • Dave

    I actually watched a kid touch a hot coffee pot in the office kitchen. He put his finger to it, and yelled “Ouch!” and then quickly pulled back his finger.  He did the exact same thing again, and one more time. It was literally like watching a video loop. I figured he would stop, but he kept doing it. Perhaps I should have intervened, but I did not.  His father (the highest producing stock broker in the office) finally came in and yelled…”Hey! WTF are you doing?” to his son.  Lesson well learned from watching that whole scene.

  • Topdown93

    jesus, who isn’t? and we keep doing the same shit over and over.

  • Andrew_ferri

    I believe the term is “waxing poetic.” I never put my hand to the stove, it was forced there by those I trusted.

    Beautiful work sir.

  • Lee

    Excellent post.  Really hit home with me.  I think a lot of people (myself included) are constantly going the route of the self help books/blogs/forums, but need to come to terms with themselves instead.  

  • http://kymira.blogspot.com/ Chimera Swa

    this post is spot on for me. I was feeling low about the different scars I have, although I did not use that term. Thanks for the inspirational post. I do not read self-help books but your posts are definitely  self-help for me. Thanks, James.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amit-Srivastava/1219258591 Amit Srivastava

    Its our choice of reference frame.
    Change the last line from “My name is James.” to
    “The Name is James. James Altucher.”NIce as always.

  • http://ideafaktory.com ideafaktory

    James, I really admire how openly you expose your innermost thoughts.  I imagine it’s incredibly liberating. I am also a writer/author who writes with brutal honesty, but I still hold back a little to maintain that professional sheen and humorous veneer. “Nobody get too close, or I’ll offend!” Who knows, maybe I’m still a bit too concerned with what others think or haven’t yet found the right venue to dump my baggage on the world in it’s raw, unfiltered glory. 

    • http://twitter.com/jaltucher James Altucher

       The key is not to publish something UNTIL its at a point where you are afraid what people will think

  • Alok K Shukla

    So, no escape at all.

    • http://twitter.com/jaltucher James Altucher

       No, the ultimate escape. Wipe away the brainwashing and the hypnosis and show the real you, scars and all.

  • gb74

    James, this was an amazing post. It reminds me of the retreats I have gone on in my Church where people get up and deliver their life story. It is truly amazing to hear what people have gone through (myself included) but still having the ability to share with others in the presence of God. Even though so much has happened to a person, an individual is still here on the earth for so many reasons and it is truly amazing and wonderful. I believe that everyone should do what you are doing and what I had to do for one my retreats: Sit down and write your life story. It should be 30 minutes long and you will be surprised about what you find out about yourself. 

    • http://twitter.com/jaltucher James Altucher

       Thats a good idea about putting a timeline on it. in 30 mins you can really get out the bullet points that drive your life forward the most, for good and bad.

      • gb74

         As I am sure you can attest as you bleed on these pages, it is amazing what you remember about your past and specific things that stick out when you write a life story. At the same time, understanding where you came from gives you a different perspective on the present and should, in turn, give you so much hope for the future. it is for this reason that I come to your post everyday hoping for something new to read.

  • Patrick Wayodi

    Thanks for your openness. Thanks for this post. You’re my hero.

  • Peterclemenza

    Love it.  Lots of ancient wisdom put into a hip medium in a brief expression.  A lot of religions and stricter observance of well known religions emphasize a lot of unlearning.  The unlearning of the value or meaning of epxeriences, propaganda and other things.   Its like James is plugging us all in to Roscicrucianism or it reminds me of friends who became Kaballaists or who went on to Hasidism.    

  • CTJones

    “Now what?”  All the self-help stuff is simply there to help you answer that question.  That’s all.  Nothing more.  They keep you from staying static or stuck.

    We keep creating answers to “What’s next?” to create change for the rest of our lives…..until you’re too tired or too old and “What’s next?” gets answered for you, instead of by you.

    The reason why successful people are so successful is because they always come up with an answer to “Now what?”  Corny, yes, but that’s the Power of Now.

    My own scars don’t bother me.  I have a hard time moving forward when I see other people fail at the same things I want to accomplish.  I watch other people limp along, and I try too hard to prevent more scars for myself.  I wish I could overcome that.  

  • John

    this was amazing

  • Montybandial

    Love it ! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/tarung1793 Tarun Garg

    As Bob Dylan once said:
    “All i can do is be me,
    whoever that is”

  • http://www.RiskyStartup.com/ Mr Risky Startup

    Wow, very dark. If you ever feel scared, I have exercise that may work for you. I lived through the war in Sarajevo in the 90’s (all nine yards – snipers, deaths, hunger…), and there I discovered the ACTUAL worst thing that can happen – being a parent and watching your kids go through the war.

    Now, whenever I have a bad day at work, or in my personal life, all I have to do is ask myself – what is the worst thing that can happen? Then, I recall my parents eyes from those terrible days, and by comparison, all other problems become tiny annoyances. In fact, I often laugh out loud when I realize how stupid I was to be scared or worry about something so insignificant as my career, how much money I have in the bank…


    • http://Www.brookefarmer.com/ Brooke Farmer

      I didn’t think it was dark at all.

      The walk away on this post, as I read it anyway, was to find happiness in your own skin. To realize that just because you are scarred does not mean you are defective. There is no escaping the fact that we all carry certain things from our past with us. I think James is saying there is a way to carry it without it making us feel worthless that does not involve simply pretending it does not exist (which never really seems to work).

      • http://twitter.com/jaltucher James Altucher


  • http://spleeness.blogspot.com/ Hm

    Damn, I love your writing. “Here is me, I am a painting of pain.” I feel like I will walk through the street now and imagine everyone as a painting. What a beautiful image. And one that makes me (and my own scarry swirls) feel less alone.

  • Kate

    we all have scars, it shapes who we are and how we react to that “stove” – all of us choose different paths. 

    in your own words:  “We each have the scars.” and then “The truth is: I’m worthless.” so are we all worthless?  or, does your definition of self worth need to be updated to discuss how you deal with the scars you have and those you have caused?

    to be with out those scars is to be nothing.  that would be worthless.

  • Kkchristy

    Hi James. I’m weird and kind of an asshole, but I’m trying to make a contribution as best I can.

  • Fear


  • http://en.gravatar.com/petrd1 Peter D

    Cheer up. It only gets worse. Beats the alternative though. For now.

  • Robin Heinen

    there’s nothing wrong with being worthless. I think everybody experiences these moments every once in a while. Hopefully, those people will greet you back.

  • http://twitter.com/harshathlete Harsh Desai

    Great post James….I have, like you pored through a great deal of self help material.

    The only way I was able to make personal breakthroughs was to not approach the books with a point-of-view of “I am broken and this book will teach me how to fix myself”…but more of “Here is where I am now and this book teaches me the steps to get to where I want to be”….

    I feel that change cannot come from a negative frame of mind but a more of curious/lets-see-what-happens/I-might-burn-my-hand-on-the-stove childlike attitude.

  • Sb

    Thanks for this post at this time. Perfect. I have spent the last 3 days seething with self-loathing for reasons unknown. This is unusual for me. I usually have a better, more positive attitude. But I have been feeling like a dark pit full of nothing but junk and crap, unable to see that I have done anything worthwhile. I’m not sure why it is such a relief to hear from someone facing the same demons and scars, but it is. So thank you.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2FFL75ITG4S7N6YYYRVSXAS6NM BigRockr

    Jeez James!!  I just got rid of all the crappy people in my life (well most of them) and was feeling things were a LOT more manageable….then you write this. Hmmm…. The stove only got me once. When I was 10, I did however use a defective power drill that gave me a nice electrical shock whenever I used it. I needed to drill some holes in a mini-bike part so I kept trying it and getting a shock. It was punishing! I wrapped it in a shirt among other things trying to avoid the shock I knew was coming. I was still getting a shock but I wanted to ride that mini-bike. Finally I stood on a piece of wood instead of bare feet on a wet basement floor. Worked like a charm and I was off riding in no time, happy as a lark. Wonder what that says…….perhaps the scars are sometime worth it?

  • http://Www.brookefarmer.com/ Brooke Farmer

    I’m scarred too.

  • Ginger_gal

    Excellent article.  The fire that scars is not on the stove, its all around us. People inflict fire on each other and all around them in the name of e.g., greed, jealousy, money, power. As a result, some are more scarred than others. The key is to find a way to go from being scarred to being cleansed. In nature, fire ultimately cleanses and renews.  That is what happens with forest fires.

  • Guest

    i think this was really great to read and truly touching and motiviational, except it is so difficult to be like your true self without being laughed at or be viewed as an idiot by people who you interact with in your daily life

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/YLWDMX5HXBBLBRB43HPMFF7HQQ Pegaso

      Then you deserve to be in such company.

  • Pgant

    I don’t know about you but I’m deeply apprehensive of the seemingly flawless who only bury their scars thinkiweakest revealing these is a sign of weakness. In fact, scars are the roadmap of a life explored and examined.

    • http://twitter.com/jaltucher James Altucher

       Nice way to put it. As a roadmap.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Connor/100000284561197 Peter Connor

         But, as in the process of learning to play chess, people only really learn by doing, and thereby suffering the inevitable defeats and scars to the ego that result. No amount of good advice is going to replace that process, in my experience.

    • http://planetoplano.blogspot.in/ Leonardo

      True, but be careful not to repeat tragic mistakes others have made. The good thing in the human experience is that we have the ability to communicate to future generations. Many people before us have explored and examined life. The risk, when you set out to explore and examine, is that you’re tempted to think that everything you do is okay, everything goes, (especially in these times of moral relativism). Afterwards, the scars may make you look very experienced, but they may also make you look like a reckless fool. 

  • Donald Cea

    Absolutely amazing…..raw naked truth…wow

  • http://twitter.com/fzeng96 Feng

    Dude, I bet you don’t have any tattoos.

    But that’s okay.

    Scars are sexier than tattoos.

  • http://www.PriscillaPWood.com/ Priscilla P. Wood

    This was dark but probably because today I’m feeling somber. Walking the path through yoga and meditation is a scary horrifying walk, it’s a mirror with a huge fluorescent light bulb on top, you get to see your scars, your fears, your issues, your emotions face to face, right there, things you had no idea there were there, crappy stuff coming up, now deal with that. I’ve been burned so many times by these two, sometimes I run away because I can’t even trust myself to walk the path, sometimes I go back and just keep walking. Today I ran away.

  • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

    I am scarred as well. Mentally physically and emotionally.  This past year I learned of some of the scars that I was denying (the invisible ones), and WOW – just wow….how that denial messed me up for years.  I am free of that now, I understand more of the “why?” and I feel free.

    As for the physical scars ( which I have never tried to hide) this passage from the book “Little Bee” brought me comfort.

    “On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was
    thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the
    moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you
    right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is
    what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an
    agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will
    be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the
    dying. A scar means, I survived.”

    Chris Cleave,

    Little Bee

  • http://twitter.com/socrates1998 socrates

    Wow, this is just bleeeeeeeeeeeeds.

  • http://twitter.com/mgherron Matt Herron


  • Chip

    An old wise man once told me tatooes don’t prove you have lived, only scares can tell your story before they close the casket.

  • http://twitter.com/kamalravikant Kamal Ravikant

    Beautiful and honest, James.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Connor/100000284561197 Peter Connor

       Yes, absolutely great post.

  • JH

    No No No you are wrong.  If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.  Maybe time for some therapy?
    One time I was cleaning one of those meat slicers they have at the butcher shop, anyway never mind; better not to think about it.

  • kcastagnaro

    The truth is: You’re worthy. Scars and all.

  • Thomasgoodson

    The story of Jesus is written here. We are all scarred, but the One for and through whom all of this crazy beautiful world was made substituted Himself and was scarred for us all … so that our scars would be swallowed by His, and His righteousness becomes ours.  This is the story of redemption, and why James’ post here struck many. It is the story that is too good to be true… but is! God Bless!

    • Searx

      yeah, and your Momma will always look after you, even when she’s been dead 20 years and you’re 75 years old.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=722162381 Tomas Vetrovsky

    And that is why for a while my business card said:

    “Winners got scars too…”

  • trendslate

    Interesting post but isn’t it really about being who you are not about what someone else or society wants you to be?  Regardless of your “scars”, which everyone has, just be you.

  • Searx

    James, after 71 years i settled on a simple motto– my own: “on this i can rely, i’ll live until i die. nothing else is certain but the final curtain.”

    go with the flow. if you’re lucky you might have an OK life. it’s just a matter of luck, chance, fortune–whatever you want to call it.

  • Expat99

    This is one of my favorite posts. I enjoy your posts on specific experiences you have, but this one nails the proper balance between the individual and the universal, IMHO. You bled, and you got us bleeding with you.

  • Rachael

    Hi James – Nice to meet you – My name is Rachael and I have scars too! :)

  • http://www.preemptiveplacebo.com Preemptive Placebo

    Be careful with that.  It is easy to become the scarred one.  The scar-clubs and scar-charities meet regularly to hold their scar-fests where they celebrate scarring.  This entices people to continually make the mistakes that created the scars rather than avoiding or confronting the behavior.  Immersing oneself in scar-culture can turn a few character enhancing flaws into defining characteristics. 

    Wearing scars on our sleeves day-in and day-out may feel good and may help us to find others like us.  It may also become who we are. 

    • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

      Can we get a ribbon for our scars?

      All kidding aside, I think I understand what you mean. I have seen it happen to people. 

      I consider my scars like ingredients in a cake, they are there but not necessarily visible. They are important but still only fraction of  the whole.

  • Chouaib Maallem

    Hi my name is chouaib 

  • Summer Berkeley


  • Cindy

    Awesome post;) Your honesty is inspiring.

  • Shanti

    So James , is this blog a hypnotic suggestion too ? Another self help website ?

  • Jamesconman

    James you are a stock pumper

    he’s a conman
    He now makes his money peddling a penny stock called 


    down 13% today..i presume the lawyers will be summoned if it falls more

    • koderrickk

      agree.. something smells rotten

    • TraderGang

       are you legally retarded? James wrote that $VRNG article over TWO WEEKS AGO. the stock went incredibly up FOLLOWING the article.period.  Today is called a PULLBACK.

      dumb piece of turd. If James wrote me a check for disposing your body properly..I would.

      • Ride7i9

        So 1st degree murder is justifiable because someone wrote something you didn’t like in the comments of a blog? serously, you should get help. ppl get arrested for posting comments like that ..no joke

  • MandaMitchell

    I like you. I think I’d like to be your friend. Even with your scars. *hugs*

  • http://www.hobodrifter.com/ HoboDrifter

    I immediately think of one of my favorite movies, Fight Club…

    Tyler Durden:
    “This is chemical burn.  It will hurt more than you’ve ever been burned and you will have a SCAR…

    The first soap was made from the ashes of heroes. Like the first monkeys shot into space. Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing…

    It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything.”

    Maybe it is only now that you, or anyone ready to expose their true self, are finally free to do anything.

    Could you pass the vinegar?

  • Tablarasa

    Altucher post from April 2011: BAC to double by the end of the year (when it was 17; it’s now 8). How do people trust this guy with their money?

  • Ipbubba

    James, suggest you spend an hour with a homeless mom or dad, or someone in a burn ward. You will instantly feel better, I promise!

  • Francisca Gusmao

    So true, difficult to put it so clear.

  • http://techbrahmana.blogspot.in/ Brahmana

    Once again, great post James.

    I agree with most part of what you have written here. Acceptance of truth is the highest quality according to me and also one that would save all of us a lot of troubles, arguments and headaches.

    However the idea put forth in the last paragraph has always been confusing to me. You say that you will make your own choices instead of going with someone else’s agenda. What would you do if that someone else is a near and dear one, like your parents, or a spouse or a sibling or your children? How does the concept of “sacrificing for the family” fit here? To give you an example – Considering that you are dead against owning a house, what if your wife wants to own a house instead of renting one? Would such demands make the dear ones – as you put it – “crappy people” whom one should  not be dealing with? From what I understand being part of a family definitely involves sacrifices, but the question where do we draw the line between putting ones own interests/ambitions first and putting the interests of the family first?

    Would love to hear your opinion on this.

  • Paul Hakel

    Yes, James! I was thinking of how people say, “Silence the inner critic”. Instead, I say that we should either live up to the critic’s demands or admit defeat. Not listening to the inner critic sounds more like living in denial, right? But that’s what a lot of New Agey books try to preach.

  • Subramanian Ganapathy86

    I feel the same way always. Everyday I have a non stop conversation with my father about how worthless I am , how my life has come to nothing, everyday he asks me to think positive. I ask him how, it really pisses him off. Thank you nice post. It feels good to see that someone share the same way i feel

  • http://www.facebook.com/inna.hardison Inna Hardison

    I read this first it seems months ago, and yet I am compelled to keep coming back to this one piece… For what it’s worth, James, I am jealous of your courage to lay it all out there for us strangers, no matter what we may think of you in the end, and more importantly to lay it all out for you.  Few in this vast madness have the courage and the ability to sublimate their egos to still be human.  Some day, I’d very much like to be able to let go in this spectacular (albeit, possibly less eloquent) way.  Thank you for every word.

  • Mickeydee432

    James. speaking of scars, did you ever consider demabrasion? Being in front of the camera like you are, maybe it would help with your low self image?