I Need a Check For One Million Dollars

The psycho-pharmacologist asked me, “so what can I do for you today?” and I said, “The only thing you can do for me is write me a check for one million dollars but I doubt you are going to do that.”

He laughed. I had been sent to him by a psychologist who couldn’t write prescriptions and was perhaps overburdened by my stress, my stomach aches, my constant complaining about money and lost love, my insomnia, and on and on – things I can’t even talk about here.

(one MILLION dollars)

The psycho-pharmacologist (note: I hate typing out that word but for the life of me I cannot remember my name which would suck if I ever needed him again) said, “how about we talk for a little while”. He was very nice. I remember thinking  how comfortable I felt talking to him. In the end he prescribed for me several drugs. “Try them all,” he said, “and we’ll figure out which ones work best.”

Drugs are very specific. Are you suffering from anxiety? That’s one drug. Depression? That’s another. Bi-polar? Another. ADHD? ADD? PTSD? Borderline whatever? Another. And if you are really anxious, one doctor once prescribed what I think was an elephant tranquilizer (Seroquel) which would knock me out for a week (I only took it once).

But after a few weeks (the average time it takes to figure out what drug might help you is eight years but it was pretty clear what was bothering me – money) we concluded it was klonopin, which is like a long-lasting xanax. Xanax is an anti-anxiety drug that lasts about 2-3 hours so people take it all day long. Klonopin (I’m making this all up without taking the two seconds to look it up on wikipedia) seems to have a half-life of about 8 hours. Because I’m a medically licensed doctor (not) I decided to smooth it over with some Amitriptyline which comes advertised  as a muscle relaxant that has a side effect of being an anti-depressant (with the weird warning (in good faith) that some people who take it kill themselves.

In any case, it all worked. I would sleep 12 hours a day. Sleeping a lot has the mixed benefit of raising IQ but also shortening your lifespan depending on what scientific study you believe in. I’m opting for the first one.

Klonopin is extremely addictive. Within a year my tolerance had gotten so high that even though I didn’t need the drug anymore, I couldn’t get off of it. Nor was it doing anything for me. I was able to reduce but not get off of it. And no matter what dosage I took it no longer had any effect on my body or mind. I simply couldn’t stop taking it. Or else I would go crazy. By day three (it stays in the blood about 48-72 hours) I would just be sitting in the room in the middle of the night crying for no reason. I was stuck. More on this in another post. It sucks to be addicted to something that is not even doing anything for you and you sincerely want to get off of it.

(image I got when I searched “klonopin addiction”)

But it did reduce my anxiety in the short-term. I wasn’t really depressed. Clinical depression happens when, for no real reason, you are depressed even though things seem like they are going well. Your brain chemicals are misfiring. Mine were also, but more because I was obsessively thinking about money and my responsibilities surrounding my need for money.

I was really scared.

Nothing changed. I didn’t suddenly make a lot of money. But I got sleep. I stopped waking up at two in the morning and scribbling numbers on napkins.  Everything would be abbreviated and I would never be able to piece together whatever mystery I had written down the night before that would’ve finally calmed me down enough to get me to sleep. For an hour. So the next night I would repeat.

Until I got to sleep. I wish it hadn’t taken a drug to get me to sleep but it did.

But here’s what I learned. And here’s what enabled me to finally take a step back and get some money.

It was the first thing I said up top: “Write me a check for a million dollars.” I thought that would help me. It wouldn’t. There are plenty of times money has made things worse for me.

I’ve written, half-jokingly, on this blog that “money doesn’t solve all of your problems, it just solves your money problems.”  This is not really true. It does allow you to pay your immediate bills but that’s it. But then suddenly, if you are half-insane like I often have been, it only creates new problems:

– you worry how you are going to suddenly keep your money

– you worry about inflation. You would think that broke people would worry more about inflation than rich people. Whenever I’ve been broke I could care less about prices. I was broke! Who was spending all this money? It’s only when I’ve had money that suddenly I would worry about inflation. Because inflation triggers this need to put your money to work so you can stay ahead of it. And guess what? When you put your money to work, you could lose it! That sucks.

– you worry more about your health when you have money. What’s the point of having money if you die?

– your libido is out of control when you make money. Trust me on this one.

The only times I’ve ever made money (and I’ve been on this roller-coaster quite a bit) is when I switched from “goals” to “themes”. Instead of having a goal: “I need to make money”, I switch to a theme: “I want to help people with this product”. Or…”Forget about money completely. I want to help people by writing a blog about honesty, failure, myself, entrepreneurship, and whatever else I can write that people will relate to.”

Many people write me and say, “I have no goals”. Or…”I have a goal but I can’t seem to make progress towards it.”


Write down your goals. If you don’t have any, make some up. Now cross them out. Replace each goal with a theme.

Remember a goal is usually something you achieve only once. “Make a million dollars,” for instance. Or “write a novel.” Or “get a job at a bank”. But a goal is fleeting. You get there, you feel happy for a second, and then the worries begin again. Or you lose the million. Or the million creates new worries. Let’s say you want to date the most beautiful person in the world. You get the goal. Now you are worried you will lose him or her. Or you get jealous or insecure or whatever. Or you have a goal of a specific great job. You get it. Now you are worried you will  lose it. Or you have to kiss ass to your boss. Or you have to impress your colleagues. And you go to bed stressed on bad days. Even though you achieved your dream goal. Goals are only the seeds that grow into problems.

Having goals is no good.

Goals, in an extreme, mean you aren’t happy until you get your goal. And then what? How can you reduce suffering right now. The suffering of striving, of fear, of worry, of the pressure that you have no goals.

Have a theme. You can build your days around your themes. I want to learn more. I want to be healthy. I want to be good to people. I want to help people feel good about themselves. I want to be creative. I want to depend on my inward self instead of the outer events that throw from shore to shore.

An important theme for me is to every day focus on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health as much as possible. For me, I know that works. Works for what? Who cares. It just works. Whatever your theme is, check it throughout the day – Ask: am I living by my theme?

In the short blink that thins out your life, when you reach the point where  goals matter no more, the themes of your life will still shine bright. And when it comes time to measure your immortality, it’s the themes you leave behind that will have more impact than the goals, money, loves, lives you’ve lived.


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  • http://444express.blogspot.com/ the444

    I’ll corroborate it.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I’ll let the444 describe.

      • http://www.pointsandfigures.com pointsnfigures

        Agree with James. what’s the444’s number? Just kidding about the number part.

      • http://signup.divinerenergy.com/ Anthony Dixon

        James i just explained this theory to my Girlfriend and she thinks its stupid. I think its brilliant though.

  • Liri PbP

    So do people love the money they have made or is it that they love themselves more for the sake of preserving the money?

  • MGavs

    hi James,
    Im from Sydney, Australia and I want to say that Im addicted to your writing. I see you will be busy organising a workshop( per yesterday’s blog) good on you, but my selfish self is worried that this will reduce your blogs. Please keep writing as you are my daily addiction & I cannot start my day without you.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Haha, I hope I don’t lose the ability to continue. I’m trying not to but I have to be honest that it’s a fear. I’ve written over 500 posts in the past 2 years. More than 700 if I include my draft posts. But so far so good.

      • http://twitter.com/runningdmc Dawn Casey-Rowe

        The ideas seem to come:) I don’t think that it’s a glass that you pour out and then empty. I think it’s a well…water pours through and more fills up to the water table. When you care for your body, mind, and soul, they replenish themselves. The water rises back to the right level. Same w creativity, in my opinion.

      • Daniel

        James, Asimov wrote more than 500 books. you should start writing more books, you should write a book on entrepreneurship, one on education, one on sex, one on yoga, etc… you can take each blog post and see which can be developed into a book. there are a lot of interesting subjects out there!

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.martin.98622733 Christian Martin

    Thanks James. Great Post! Ha, I think back to the time when I used to make a list of goals….like you said, it’s fleeting feel good thingy (my words) when you accomplish them, then what? Or, in my case, I don’t quite reach all my goals for the said year and that sends me into the pit. Wind up beating myself to a pulp for not being good enough, work hard enough, blah blah blah enough to have reached “that goal”. Themes sounds like a better approach. :)

  • mikeyhell

    David, if you’re concerned about your libido you might consider having your testosterone levels checked. Low T is all too common these days.

  • mikeyhell

    Themes and not goals. James, this is brilliant!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thanks Mikey!

  • Small Bets

    James, thanks for this and all you share. Was there anything in particular that helped kick the Klonopin?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Tiny reductions in dosage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.alfatah.3 Don Alfatah

    Nice James !

  • Kat

    Themes or feelings I think. Like if I think about it, it’s not that I want to reach a particular body goal and do a bikini photo shoot, it’s really that I want to feel proud of my body and how I treat it. Or it’s not about earning a certain income it’s about wanting to feel I can afford to relax and engage in the things I love, and that me and my loved ones will be taken care of as well as able to experience adventure, beauty, love and fun.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Yes, I agree. “themes” and “feelings” in this context can almost be interchangeable. Although maybe “themes” is broader. Like you want to have a theme of learning from everyone you meet. Or a theme of being generous to all the people around you. As opposed to a “goal” of being “having the most knowledge” which could be a superficial goal.

  • http://twitter.com/socrates1998 socrates

    Interesting idea. I will have to try it. Having specific goals hasn’t really worked for me. I always feel unfulfilled when I reach them, or I get close and stop because I feel unsatisfied with it.
    So, I like this “themes” idea, hopefully it sticks. I have to try something else.

  • http://twitter.com/alberthartman Albert Hartman

    Shit dude, you’re not preparing to scintillate and vanish like Yoda did in the end are you?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Maybe. We’ll see!

  • Srikrishna

    James you are super. Goals are actually killing. What I found the problem with goals 1. (as you mentioned ) Unhappy until achieve it 2. We force ourselves to achieve it, in the process lose health, relations, Good time etc.

    I have a stupid goal, to make some money. I am obsessed with one idea, and in the last 3 days, I hit a road block. What I assumed is not possible at the cost at which I thought it would be. So I was looking for alternatives and forced myself to somehow get it done. Guess what, I was feeling uneasy and went to doctor, and my BP shot up badly. For the time being the idea is in cold storage, I do not want to stress myself, I would rather live than kill myself. :-)

    And if some how the goal is achieved, I wont withdraw or take rest. Now I have bloated ego and set on another goal, and I keep going until I destroy myself and I die.
    I will try this theme approach.

  • smedleyb

    Getting to bed early tonight. Me gots themes to think about in the am.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I hope they are fun ones.

  • http://www.rossgreenspan.com rossgreenspan

    Good one. I needed to read that tonight.

  • Joe Choi

    James, how do you realize when your themes change? Or when you should shift them? For example, you might want to learn more today but tomorrow you want to be creative. While you’re in the moment you might not recognize what you want exactly. With goals the progression is more linear. Get hired as analyst > associate > VP, etc. With a theme you are more or less in an open space.

    Also, your “How to be the Luckiest Guy on the Planet in 4 Easy Steps” should be edited now. You said you have 3 goals in life. Strike through goals and insert themes?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Your themes can change every day. They should change every day. Or be reaffirmed. Every day you wake up as a brand new you, here and now, with only the barest connections (tiny spiderweb-like threads of memory) to the past and the thinnest link to a future that is 99.9% uncertainty.

  • Igor

    I guess it depends on how you percieve a goal.

    For me, goals merely give me directions. I have no expectation whatsoever to reach my goals. I don’t get unhappy when I don’t reach my goals. And it doesn’t make me exteremely happy to reach them either.

    Once upon a time, I set out to drive to a small town in Siberia on my motorcycle. This goal was some 4000 miles from my home. However, the goal only served to give me bearings. To be able to go somewhere. Because merely driving at random doesn’t do anything for you. Going places, on the other hand, brings you in contact with other people and you’ll come across places and situations that never cease to amaze. So you need to go somewhere, even if that somewhere is completely at random.

    In the end I wound up in Istanbul. Which was perfectly ok. But here’s the thing: If I hadn’t set out to go to a small town in Siberia, I would never have have visited Istanbul.

    In other words, you have to ask where your priority is: in reaching the goal, or in travelling the journey towards the goal?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Yes, its the “journey’ that i am calling a “theme”. But it’s always good that at a fork in the road you can make a choice and sometimes end up in a completely different place.

  • C. Martin

    Thanks James. You have no idea how much I needed this right about now. Thank you a ton. You’re doing a great thing, keep up the great work.

  • http://twitter.com/HopePerlman Hope Perlman

    NIce post. Reminds me of Stephen Covey’s talk of creating a mission statement for your life. You’re talking about being aware of your principles or values and aligning your life to those.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Interesting Hope. It’s almost like a mission statement for every aspect of your life. Many people make BIG MISSION STATEMENT. Sometimes we need micro ones as well, and ones for the different sectors of our life: our emotional relationships, career, mental, spiritual, and a theme for how they weave together.

  • Greg G

    James, I think your differnetiation between goals and themes is merely semantic. I believe that when you write “An important theme for me is to every day focus on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health as much as possible” you are describing a goal of yours.
    Humans are telelogical, we are drawn toward and become like that which we think about. By setting the goal to everyday focus on TDP, you achieve a healthy life. By having the goal of a healthy life, you take many steps along that path and achieve other sub-goals along the way.
    Typically, our problems aren’t in goals themselves. Our problems usually are created by goals that don’t align with our belief systems. For instance, in your previous experience, you did not truly believe you were worthy of having a million dollars. Chances are, you set a goal to earn a significant amount of money to prove someone wrong (likely your father based on your previous postings). After earning that money, it conflicted witrh your deeper belief of not being worthy. This dissonance created the conflict and irrational behavior that led you to divest yourself of your wealth.
    By creating a larger goal, than all of the other subgoals get accomplished along the way without creating significant stress or having energy stop when the goal is reached.
    There’s more to this than can be covered in a blog comment, so I’ll stop here.
    Thanks for the writing that you do. It has made a significant impact on many lives. I believe it has made a greater impact than you will ever fully realize.

    • SpecialK777

      I think perhaps the difference between a goal and a theme is a goal has an ending…a point where you could reach it (i.e. I made a $1m dollars). A theme as James describes is a life long pursuit (i.e. I want to write a blog, focus on my health).

  • Max Skowron

    Excellent post James.
    Very pragmatic approach to a really important issue in human life. The lack/need of something is inherent to all of us. The key is how to approach that. And you’re right. Psychoanalysis (which I read often), shows the importance of focusing on the process (theme) of going towards a desire (goal) and not in obtaining the desire per se (which as you imply is almost impossible because a second after – or before – we are empty again).

    Short true story: 2 violinists (kids A and B) studied together in the same academy in Berlín, and they were both great promises. The father of kid A seriously wanted his kid to play some day in the Philharmonic of Berlín (and that was the goal he set for his kid). The father of kid B (a violinist too), transmitted to him the love of playing the violin, the joy it would bring to him to become a better violinist every day (not better than others, but in his own evolution), to master the violin.

    Imagine who ended up playing in the Philharmonic? Of course kid B. Kid A was only focused on the goal. Anxious (anxiety = fear of the future), he learned by focusing on what was needed to become someone and not by enjoying the process, with passion, of what makes a great violinist great.

    If someone likes the comment, I invite you read this post that precisely talks about the reasons why we don’t focus on the action and why we should.


    Thanks James. You are just great.

    Max Skowron

  • Elrond

    Excellent post. But achieving goals worked out for Aragorn and Samwise, they got to live out their ‘themes’, not so much for Frodo.

  • Kyra

    James – such a timely post, thank you. I just returned from helping my little bro out. He is addicted to xanax and vicoden and decided to quit “cold turkey” about 1.5 weeks ago. Last Tuesday he had a seizure; I was out to help on Wednesday. He started hallucinating Friday morning and on ER trip #3, he was admitted in a full psychotic episode. It took them over 4 hours to sedate him and he ended up getting 60 mg ativan, 60 mg xanax, a “B-52” cocktail of anti-psychotics, and a mega-dose of benadryl. All this to get him still enough to have a CT scan to check for bleeding on the brain. He started the “DTs” and once stabilized, was entered into the ICU for two days. The addiction stemmed from anxiety and stress, mostly over money and a worry over the future. He owns three properties (downtown parcel, home, and large acreage), with a cumulative worth of at least 1 mil. between the three. He is only 38, has a wonderful and amazingly well-adjusted 18 mo. old son and beautiful wife. He almost died twice last week and is now in rehab. Over the time I was there helping out, I told him about your blog and the 4 things to work on each day; physical, emotional, mental and spiritual; I think it is starting to sink in that things HAVE to change or he will die. I will keep repeating them and will urge him to downsize to reduce stress and live simply. Thanks again and I think your blog is great. Kyra

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

    klonopins…..in our house we call them “clothespins”

    Anyway, I still cant get a handle on things. Seems that when a person is in the thick of a bad situation, that it is just too hard to see/ to focus and to move ones self forward.

    Back in your dark and down days, do you think you could have done the daily practice? Do you think you could have written down ideas, every morning? ….or maybe you did do these things-idk. I believe people have to see some, if ever slight, glimmer of hope in order to make those first baby steps to move forward.

    What exactly got you started on your road, journey, or theme to recovery?

  • http://twitter.com/mirellatrimboli Mirella Trimboli

    This has been so clarifying for me. Here I’ve been focussing on what sort of outward symbol would be representative of me having achieved my goal, when the key is in living within a theme or themes. This notion even feels more right – the achievement of a goal actually feels intangible or outside myself while living in an overall theme feels like living in a overall aura and is encompassing. This has given me such great visuals :)

  • jennifer

    I am 15 months off of 1 mg of klon I took every night for 19 years. I deathly sick. Unable to work, and in horrid mental and body pain. Dont mess with benzos.
    benzowithdrawalhelp.com Posts my story.

  • Anmol

    James, you are THE man. I think all the readers of your blog should devise a prize which is more prestigious than the Nobel Peace Prize (coming to think of it, it has lost its prestige, so it shouldn’t be too hard to beat) and award it to you. Or probably run a campaign to rename the Nobel Peace Prize to the James Altucher Prize.

  • Bill

    Thanks for this,James. Themes… yes…

  • http://www.readysetstartup.com/ Susan Jones @ ReadySetStartup

    Congrats on this post James.

    What you call themes, I would call purpose. Goals don’t motivate me that much… but purpose that I really believe in – that’s worth getting out of bed for!

  • chidananda M R


    Money Money Money ….! Everyone Want
    money. Living like a Millionaire is everyone’s dream in this world.
    Yes, My also. Please anyone make my dream come true.