How to Deal With Burnout, Get Rich Quick Schemes, Stage Fright, and Brain Explosion
- Posted by James Altucher
[Some expanded answers from my regular Thursday Twitter Q&A session]
HOW TO DEAL WITH BURNOUT?
Lemuel Goltiao @suburbandude: Any advice for someone who’s experiencing burnout?
I have to confess something. I am feeling a little bit of burnout. I’ve been doing this blog for a little more than two years. I probably write, on average, 3000 words a day seven days a week. If I am not done with my 3000 words by 9am I start to feel a little bit tense (it doesn’t happen often but it happens). I’ve published 464 posts. Five I’ve had to delete for various reasons after I published them. So 459 posts are published averaging about 2000 words each. 136 posts are in my Drafts folder because I didn’t think they were good enough to publish.
My entire Daily Practice revolves around this blog. I stay healthy so I have the energy and drive to wake up early and work on the blog. I started the blog shortly after I got married and began eliminating various negative relationships in my life. That elimination worked magic in my productivity. The blog itself is usually the way I come up with the ideas to exercise my idea muscle. I also read every day to either help with the ideas or to get inspiration from different writers I enjoy. And for me, this blog is about how to combine the spiritual with the secular, the soul with success. Every aspect of the daily practice I have outlined comes full force in how I do this blog.
And most of the time, I love doing it. I feel creative. I’ve made lots of friends through this blog. It’s been such a pleasure.
But I know myself. Two years is sort of my time limit on anything. I’m not the sort of person who spends 50 years doing something (more on Mick Jagger in a future post). I was at HBO for 2 years before I started my first company, Reset. Two years after that, I sold the company. Stockpickr from beginning to end was about two years. I traded for hedge funds about two years. I only stayed in graduate school about two years before I was so burnt out they threw me out.
Does this mean I should stop doing the blog? No, of course not. But the feelings of burnout are natural. They are natural for me. They are natural for you. It’s the body’s way of saying, “Whoops! Time is up. You need to make a change.” Something has to happen. If you stay doing what you are doing, you will regress. If I stick with this exact routine, quality will go down. I know it. So something has to change.
I don’t know what it is. You don’t know what you have to change either. That’s why we are experiencing burnout.
When you say “burnout” it really means you have two problems. One is that you have high expectations of yourself to achieve something. Two is that you did not meet those expectations so now you are unhappy. So the answer is, stop being so hard on yourself. Why the high expectations? Did someone teach you that life would be bad unless you always set yourself up for such high expectations that you were bound to be ultimately disappointed?
Don’t be upset at yourself for experiencing burnout. Be thankful.
If a child didn’t have nerves in his fingers then he wouldn’t know that the barbecue was hot. A child is thankful for those nerve cells. Burnout is your mind touching a hot stove and the mind’s nerve cells are reacting. Hence: “Burn” out. Pull your hand a way. Stay healthy. Continue the Daily Practice. Don’t be afraid of change. Change doesn’t mean loss. It doesn’t have to mean stepping back. It just means “change”.
And then wait. Take walks. Stay away from the computer as much as possible. Eat well. Change your routine. Your routine is designed (correctly) to make sure the unconscious stays out of your process. You didn’t need it. Now you do. So by mixing up your routine, you let your unconscious come in and tell you what it thinks you need to be doing now.
If you respect the burnout, trust that you are not in total control of your universe, be grateful that you live in a world that allows for change and continue all aspects of your daily practice (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual health), then only good things will happen. They might be small changes. They might be rejuvenated energy and creativity. They might be 180 degree changes. You and I just don’t know what they are yet. Surrender to it.
COLLEGE AND YOUR DAUGHTERS
Matt Henterly @matthenterly: Because of your view on college, are you preparing your daughters for “post high-school” life? Steering them in any direction?
So I rant a little bit in this video about why kids should not go to college and why my kids shouldn’t go. Then my daughter Mollie points out something I hadn’t thought of. And she does it more articulately than me. As she explained to me afterwards, she’s been practicing tongue twisters so she can be more articulate. I, unfortunately, always speak as if I’m totally drunk.
Then, for the sake of my kids, I wrote a book, 40 Alternatives to College, that they refuse to read but maybe they will later. The other day, my kids and I were in a restaurant where we knew the owner. He said, “I bet you kids are excited about college, right?” And then he remembered, “Oh wait, your dad doesn’t want you to go to college.” And fortunately he said, “you two girls are very lucky to have a guy who will support other decisions you might make.” But I don’t think they were listening to him.
My gut is this: they will put up a fight. All of their friends will want to go to college. But at some point they will read my posts and my book on the topic and develop a little common sense of their own. The alternatives I offer are ALL cheaper than college and all more valuable as life experience. They are ages 13 and 10 so we’re already having these discussions. I will help them in any other choice they can possibly have EXCEPT college.
What if they really want to go? one might ask. At some point we all grow up and become adults. If they really want to go, then I don’t prevent adults from doing what they want to do. But my hope is that at some point they see the prison-like bars that society has imposed – the myth that college is a prelude to a good job, a good life, good luck for future generations, etc. The things you remember and learn are not from textbooks but are taught by the things you are passionate about, that then become metaphors for everything in life so that life itself becomes your university. And from that university alone, you get to conquer the universe.
CAN YOU GET RICH QUICK?
Jerry Wigginson III @jwigginson: can I actually earn a living through currency trading?
Sure. If you are smarter and have more money to spend than these guys who are manipulating the currency markets EVERY SINGLE MINUTE with trillions of dollars:
I don’t mean to make light of your question. I am a fool also. I’ve tried to trade the currency markets. It’s a sucker’s game. There’s that saying in poker, “if you can’t spot the fish at the table, then it’s you.” None of the above guys are fishes. We may hate Soros, or Bernanke or Chavez or whoever, but they have a trillion dollars they use to set targets on every currency in the world and unless you know exactly what their agendas are TODAY (because it will change on a moment’s notice), then you will not be able to beat them.
But, my friend, you are not alone. At least once a week I get asked this question. And more if I count emails about this.
So why is that? I think there’s the smell of “get rich quick” in currency markets. And it’s a beautiful smell. I don’t deny it. I like the feeling of “get rich quick”. The idea that one can cut all the corners of our friends, our ancestors, our bosses, everyone who has ever kicked sand in our face in front of the pretty girl. I get it completely why one would want to trade forex.
And many people are thinking, “He’s wrong. You CAN get rich trading currencies.” I’m not wrong. I’ve analyzed over 700 hedge funds. I’ve traded for funds. I’ve run a fund of hedge funds. Yes, I’ve seen multi-hundred million dollar hedge funds go broke trading currencies. Very smart people who knew that Soros was on the opposite side of their trade. There are no shortcuts. Charts don’t tell the story. Fundamentals don’t tell the story. Only inside information, luck, and manipulation can result in any profits trading currencies. You don’t have to believe me. But I know it’s true.
How can we resist the allure then of the myth of “get rich quick”? And not just of trading currencies but any get rich quick scheme. I’ve certainly fallen for many. If not currencies, then reverse merger IPOs, Internet startups in the 90s, and probably a dozen other schemes at various points. I always have the curse of wanting to cut corners.
The only way I’ve been able to exorcise this curse, unfortunately, is by losing a lot of money. By being burned. By watching liquidity drain out of me like blood drains out of a man who has been shot by the police in the middle of a crime. I also thought I was smarter, better, faster, had a trick, a gizmo, a weapon, that would get me what I wanted. But I had to learn that wrapped inside the meager succcesses of my small victories were massive failures waiting to burst out.
The one question I always ask now, on any opportunity at all, ANY, is: WHY IS THIS OPPORTUNITY REACHING ME?
I am a nobody. And even among the people who know I am a nobody, half of them dislike me and half of them like me (a little). But nobody is giving me opportunities for free. Many times it looks on the surface like someone wants to give me money for free. Just like that. But it never happens. It never works. One company, in fact, did have Soros as an investor, and even Bill Clinton was going to go on the board, and all sorts of other good things were about to happen. But first they needed to raise their five million dollar round and they needed a final $50,000. So, of course, when you have almost five million in the bank and Soros and Clinton are on your speed dial, who do you call for help?
I don’t think so. Always ask, on every trade, investment, even in relationships, even before meetings, no matter how much an opportunity wants to spread it’s pretty legs for you, “why am I being given this magical blessing?”
Usually the answer will disappoint you. But if you ask it enough it will allow you to quickly sift through to find the opportunities that will consummate.
Shark K. @SharkHacks: You do lots of speaking engagements and go on TV and shows. How do you overcome stage fright? #QA
I have to give a talk on Saturday in Las Vegas. It’s to a sort of audience I’ve never had the opportunity to speak in front of before. And despite my own advice that I give on this post (11 Unusual Methods of Being a Great Public Speaker), I have no idea yet what I want to talk about. The guy running the conference told me I could talk about whatever I want. I have no idea yet. And not only that I’m traveling between now and then as of the moment I publish this post. So I’m not even sure when I’m preparing.
I also have an event this Thursday. I hope everyone in the NY area can make it. I write about it here and you can sign up for it here. I’m a little less nervous for that one because it’s not talk but more of a chat I will be having with my friend Jerry Colonna, who is a superstar venture capitalist-turned-Buddhist-Life-Coach. I’m very excited for it. I have no idea what we will talk about yet but going to start thinking about it today (I promise, Jerry!).
A couple of quick tips, though, that I find very helpful:
A) if you aren’t experiencing stage fright then something is wrong. I find a little bit of nervousness gets my adrenalin going.
B) Slur your words slightly. This hypnotizes your body into thinking it’s slightly drunk and you’ll have less inhibitions.
C) Be self-deprecating.
D) Be funny. People will remember very little from your talk in the years to come. But they will remember if they laughed or not. It’s hard to be funny. I practice by watching standup comedy on youtube for the hour or so before any talk. Lately I’ve probably watched every Louis CK and Daniel Tosh video.
E) Use slides if you can. But use very few words per slide. No more than 5-10 words per slide. I have a slight idea in the back of my head for the talk I’m going to give on Saturday and I think the slides will actually have no words on them (unless you count the tattoos of words on women as “words”).
Start with those tips. Then read my post I mention above. Then assume you’re going to have to prepare at least one or two hours for every fifteen minutes of your talk.
BRAIN EXPLOSION ON THURSDAY
Jen Maidenberg @JenMaidenberg: how does your brain not explode during your Thurs night Twitter Q and A? Lots of post twitter party yoga?
When I was a kid (and, uhh, up to the current day) I used to go to Washington Square Park to play blitz chess, right near NYU. There was Sweet Pea, Russian Paul, Flash, Junior, and for some reason, an entire crew of Hispanic guys that were all excellent blitz chess players. One of them, Elias, was a nationally ranked master and we ended up being roommates for awhile. I paid $300 a month to have the bed. He slept on the couch. We had a kitchen that was disgusting. And the shower and faucet never turned off. I had a garbage bag next to my bed which I kept my one suit in that I would change into to go to work. We played blitz chess every night for hours.
In blitz chess you don’t have time to think about your moves. Your fingers just move. Hopefully your fingers know how to play chess. Else you’ll be bad at blitz chess. In these Q&A sessions, I get that feeling again of the fingers being smarter than my brain. I love the stimulation of seeing them type out answers. It fuels my entire week. And then, on the weekends, I let my brain join in the fun with these expanded answers.
The other thing about these Q&A sessions is that I realize there is largely one question and largely one answer. The basic question is that people are upset that they are unhappy and they want to avoid that condition.
The basic answer is that we all have high expectations for our lives. We all develop elaborate schemes and mythologies by which our outer life can be transformed so as to also transform our inner lives so we can be happy. There is nothing wrong with having a great business, a great family, great relationships, prosperity, success, and all the trappings of modern life.
But painting the outside of a house won’t make the livingroom look any nicer.
And when you are cleaning the livingroom, to actually make your life more comfortable, you don’t care what the color of the house is. The basic answer is making the distinction between the two.
Two things I remember about living with Elias in that room.
One: the girl across the hall had a fiance who worked on Wall Street. Sometimes at 10pm, when her fiance was working late, she would knock on the door and I would open it and she would say, “is Elias here?” And I would say, “no” and she would say, “oh ok, I was just looking for some salt” and she would go back to her apartment without asking me if I could get her some salt.
Two: one time I had the flu. I was new to New York and hadn’t yet built up my immune system. New York is disgusting. If you move here, you will get sick. People are just gross in general and there are more of them packed in here than anywhere else in the country. So I was running about 102 temperature and was staying home from work. Elias woke me up at 3 in the morning at the peak of my fever. “Man, I’m really sorry, but the landlords don’t know I’ve been staying here. We have to be out of here by 8am tomorrow.” So the next day I moved and I don’t think I ever saw him again. Or my 300 dollars.
[Please follow me on Twitter. And if you wish to answer any of the above questions, feel free to do so in the below comments.]
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