Finding Your Goal And Purpose In Life

When I was  twelve years old I had one purpose in life. I wanted to be a Colonel. And not just any colonel. I wanted to be an Honorary Colonel in the Kentucky State Militia. Just like my hero – Colonel Sanders. I had to start off slow – Kentucky was the glamor state to be a colonel of. First I started off with Mississippi. I called the governor, Cliff Finch, and interviewed him because for some reason that I still can’t figure out he was running in the primaries for President against another former Southern governor, incumbent President, Jimmy Carter.

Cliff Finch invited me down to Mississippi. His campaign and my dad split my air fare, about 60 dollars each. It was the first time I had ever been in a plane and I was scared. When I landed everything looked the same but people talked differently. It was a weird feeling. As if I had landed in an alternative universe. The main things I remember from that trip was getting the certificate that made me an honorary colonel of the state (I better get an 18 gun salute the next time I fly there!), presenting to Governor Finch how he would the “youth vote”, and a lot of people asking me what it was like to be Jewish.

Then I wrote to the governor of Alabama and I said my family was moving to Alabama, I had read everything about Alabama and I loved the state and now I wanted to be a colonel there. The governor there sent me back a huge certificate: James Altucher was now a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama State Militia. With Texas I became an honorary citizen. With North Carolina I became an “honorary tarheel”. But with Kentucky, I couldn’t crack the code. They knew how valuable their colonelship was. They needed references, background checks, etc. I was twelve years old and decided for the first of many times to quit while I was ahead. Still, if anyone wants to call me “Colonel” (MIssissippi) I’m totally fine with that.

Which brings me to an important point. Probably the most important person in Kentucky history is Harlan Sanders, the man himself, the colonel, the “inventor” of Kentucky Fried Chicken, one of the most successful franchise operations in history. Extra crispy kentucky fried chicken still has to be one of the best foods on the planet. You might get sick afterwards but who cares. Buddha says live in the now!

A lot of people say to me, “I’m 25 years old and still have no idea what my purpose in life should be.” When Colonel Sanders was 25 he still had yet to be a fireman, a street car conductor, a farmer, a steamboat operator, and finally he ran a service station where he sold chicken. The chicken was great and people love it  but he didn’t start making real money until he started franchising at the age of 65. That’s the age he was when he found his “purpose” in life.

I don’t like the word purpose. It implies that somewhere in the future I will find something that will make me happy. And until then I will be unhappy. People fool themselves into thinking that the currency of unhappiness will buy them happiness. That we have to “pay our dues”, go on some sort of ride, and then get dropped off at a big location called our “purpose” where now we can be happy.

It doesn’t work that way.

You can find the tools to be happy right now. I still don’t know what my purpose is. I’m afraid I will never know. That makes me very happy. Maybe I can have lots of adventures between today and the day I die. Maybe I can do lots of different things. And if I dont – if I die even tomorrow – that’s fine also. What does purpose mean when we are dead? We might as well choose to be happy now.

Other people who found success after changing many careers: Rodney Dangerfield didn’t succeed in comedy until his 40s. One of the funniest guys ever, he was an aluminum siding salesman. And then he had to start his own comedy club, Dangerfields, in order to actually perform as a comedian. He chose himself to succeed! But not until his 40s.

Ray Kroc was a milkshake salesman into his 50s. Then he stumbled onto a clean restaurant that served a good hamburger run by two brothers with the last name McDonald. He bought McDonalds when he was 52.

Henry Miller wrote his first big novel, Tropic of Cancer, at age 40.

(Anais Nin was considered Henry Miller's muse but I much prefer her diaries to his books)(Anais Nin was considered Henry Miller’s muse but I much prefer her diaries to his books)

Raymond Chandler, the most successful noir novelist of all time, wrote his first novel at age 52. But he was young compared with Frank McCourt, who won the Pulitzer for his first novel, Angela’s Ashes, written when he was 66. And, of course, Julia Child was a young 50 when she wrote her first cookbook.

One of my favorite writers of all time: Stan Lee, created the entire universe for which he is known for: the Marvel Universe, when he was 44, inventing the characters Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, the Avengers, etc.

If you don’t like to kill people but still need a weapon, consider the Taser, invented by Jack Cover when he was 50. He didn’t sell a single one until he was 60.

If you like restaruant reviews you might have read Zagats. Started by Tim Zagat who quit his job as a lawyer in order to create the book of reviews when he was 51.

Harry Bernstein was a total failure when he wrote his best selling memoir, “The Invisible Wall”. His prior 40 (Forty!) novels had been rejected by publishers. When his memoir came out he was 93 years old. A quote from him: “If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book,God knows what other potentials lurk in other people,if we could only keep them alive well into their 90.”

Peter Roget was a mediocre doctor who was finally forced to retire in his early 70s. But he became obsessed with words that have similar meanings. Was his “purpose” as a medical practitioner or as a guy who could play with words? Do you know him as a doctor or as the author of Roget’s Thesaurus which he wrote when he was 73.

When I was in college I ate Ramen noodles every day. One time in a grocery store a woman tried to tell me they were the worst thing I could eat. Really? Like worse than eating a brick, for instance? That was when I was 19. Now I’m 45. It didn’t hurt me that much that I ate Ramen noodles for an entire year because it was the only thing I could afford. If something costs 25 cents and has a few slivers of peas in it then its ok by me. Meanwhile, the inventor of Ramen noodles didn’t invent it until he was 48 years old. Thank god for him!

(I would have died of starvation if not for the guy who invented this).

Charles Darwin was a little bit “off” by most standards. He liked to just collect plants and butterflies on remote islands in the Pacific. And then he wrote Origin of Species when he was 50.

To top it all off, Henry Ford was a failure at his first Model T car, invented when he was 45, because he didn’t yet have the productivity efficiencies of the assembly line, which he developed when he was 60.

This is not meant to be inspirational. You might never have your “great” thing that you do. I’m not even saying “it’s the journey that one should love”. Because some journeys are very painful. And nobody says you get special marks in death if you wrote a great novel at the age of 50. Or came up with a great chicken, or a way to stuff lots of people into factories.

I’ve stumbled and fallen and got up and survived enough that I’m sick of goals and purposes and journeys. I want to cut out the middleman. The journey. The desperation and despair that thinking of a “purpose” entails. It’s ok to not have a purpose.

The word “Gratitude” equals “Abundance”. If every day you can be grateful for even the small things abundant in your life than you have reached achievement. It’s a common myth that we have to “pay our dues”, sometimes for decades so we better start your…or else!

Unhappiness and stress are not the currencies of happiness.

Meanwhile, Harlan Sanders made such a great chicken that even though he had barely made a dime off of it (that would happen 15 years later), at the tender age of 45 the Governor of Kentucky made Sanders an honorary colonel.

Meanwhile, when I was 45 (I’m 46 now), I also became an honorary colonel of Kentucky. So there’s hope for anyone.

[For many more posts about purpose. and success, and life from James, sign up for his email list, because more articles are there.]

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  • http://twitter.com/LiamWinder Liam Winder

    Hi James, we share a birthday. Today I turn 30 and am about to incorporate my second company after my first failure, or success depending how you look at it :)

  • reader

    Happy Birthday, James!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1621123045 Jeffrey S. Spofford

    Happy Birthday, Colonel!

  • linus

    Happy Birthday James!

  • Tina

    I don’t know you, but Happy Birthday! Treat yourself to something special today. And great article (it WAS inspirational anyway).

  • Socratic1

    Happy Birthday James :-)

  • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

    Happy Birthday, James! Come to Austin again — maybe during SXSW? — and we’ll yoga it up! Bring your lady!

  • John H

    Happy birthday, Colonel!

  • http://reportinglife.typepad.com/ Carmen

    I read this great article yesterday from The Atlantic…There’s More to Life than Being Happy… Enjoy! and Happy Birthday.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/

  • Nadeem

    Many happy returns of the day.. enjoy the journey

  • http://twitter.com/bryantmward Bryant Ward

    Reading this while sitting in a grey cubicle with another seven hours ahead, this stirred me. Made me feel light-headed. Great post & happy birthday!

  • Tracy

    Happy birthday!

  • Sunil Singh

    A very Happy Birthday James :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/spongeeyou Bingkee Sing

    Happy Birthday!!!

  • Michael Kim

    Happy birthday james! I’ve always looked to your posts for life advice. Thank you for all that youve done

  • Wendy Merron

    You are SO right! You can choose to be happy just because. Trying to find a “purpose” can be frustrating so it’s much easier to simply enjoy. I’ve had more careers than most, from stockbroker to freelance artist. Now I’m a certified hypnotist and author. The key to happiness? Who knows. For me, it’s enjoying what I’m doing.
    Happy Birthday Colonel!

  • Kevin M

    Happy birthday JA! I love this post, and its very good timing as I just read Drive. A whole chapter on purpose that left me wondering what mine is. I’m rearranging my office today – mostly out of boredom and to get away from a drafty window. All I know is I don’t want to be sitting here doing the same thing in another 2, 5, 10 years. That is enough purpose to keep me moving forward on other projects.

    Thanks for reminding me we don’t need to have it all figured out.

  • Steve

    I’ve been on the verge of really moving forward this year — for too long. This is a big boost. Thank you.

  • http://www.chamberspivot.com/category/find-new-business-blog/ Greg Chambers

    Excellent journey so far. Happy Birthday!

  • http://twitter.com/vivspace Vivienne

    Happy birthday to you, James! Thanks for a post that encourages me that I’m not too old to accomplish something with my life!

  • Kevin Redick

    Make excellence a goal in everything you do and purpose will be forgotten.

    • John

      That’s pap, Kevin.

      But thanks, the internet had been running low.

  • Susan

    Happy birthday. I will be 60 next month, and I’m still on the journey. I hope your day is dazzling.

  • rachel

    but I think your purpose is to bridge the gap between the old patriarchal world and the new paradigm, and to bring esoteric spiritual truths to the mainstream in a way that demystifies them and makes them amusing and accessible. And I “know” that because I am so, so old.

    • Zak Arthur Klemmer

      I just turned 61 last month. James Altucher is an inspiration and this blog gives me some hope for the future that not all American are brain dead.

  • Isabella

    Happy birthday!

  • Michael Shortland

    Finger lickin’ good…and here I was worrying about losing absolutely everything i owned in this world . I knew I did it on purpose….’cause I too just want to be a colonel.
    I’m starting to grow a goatee today…

  • Thierry

    Very inspirational Mr. Altucher… I have learned something new today. Thank you! Oh, and Happy Birthday! Cheers to being happy! TL

  • http://www.equitiesresearch.com/ tom renna

    Happy Birthday James great post James, I turn 48 today. here’s a blog post possibly explaining your brillance http://newsgrade.blogspot.com/2013/01/this-explains-i-guess-why-im-early-and.html

  • A-ron

    Rodney Dangerfield was a failed comedian in his early 20s, then decided to quit and get a “real” job. He became somewhat of an alcoholic and coke head during that time, and was clinically depressed. Then, in his mid forties, he said “screw it” and threw himself back into comedy, and the rest is history. I don’t think he ever got over his addictions and depression, but he didn’t let it stop him from pulling himself out of the gutter.

    • Paul_Morphy

      Dangerfield also sold gutters, but they were upsells to his aluminum siding biz. It was annoying if somebody wanted to buy only the gutters, hence Rodney’s strident determination to get out of the gutter.

  • Kerry

    Happy Birthday. And thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hunterartist Hunter Clarke-Fields

    Happy birthday fellow Aquarian (my birthday was yesterday)! And thank you for sharing your ideas with us during the wonderful weekend at Kripalu.

  • Denise

    Happy birthday! Thanks for your truthful and insightful posts

  • Denys

    The author of Ecclesiastes would be proud of your, Colonel.

    On your 46th birthday, write a piece about why Colonel is pronounced kernel.

  • tvn_vn

    HBTY !

  • Anders Pedersen

    I have read this line of thought before, and probably will read it many times more, but for some reason I’m still struggeling to understand the concept and relax and enjoy the journey.

    Why do I on the one hand believe you but on the other deny that this will happen – with the result that I keep on being stressed over not being the next big great inventor/entrepreneur/business man/father/husband etc. etc?

    When will I ever learn, or is this so hardwired into me that I will never let go?

    Although only 41, I wonder if I have time enough to get there….

    • A-ron

      No, you don’t, and neither do I at 40 have time to get anywhere. If you knew that to be 100% true, how does that change your perspective?

    • david west

      hey Anders, I was going through the same torment as you are until about 3 years ago…My turning point? The final realisation that all my “problems” were controlled by my mind/ego…stress is simply your mind/ego fighting reality, not excepting what is!!! The quicker you fully accept that “right now” EVERYTHING IS PERFECT, even if you are not a great business man/entrepreneur/inventor, the quicker you will find true peace…you will then be able to start enjoying the journey and start living and working in the present and that is the place where everything worth while is created…good luck Anders…

  • Brian Tigeraso

    Great post my friend. I’ve spent years searching for my “purpose” and have just recently decided that I don’t have one solo purpose. I’m like a diamond with multiple facets. Each facet requires the other to radiate a perfect shine. Your concept of living in the Choose Yourself era has encouraged me to move past my excuses to live my own life by eating what I kill. I’m in the middle of creating my desired reality at timevo.com if you’re interested. Thanks for your words.

  • Kyla Houbolt

    Another awesome article. Thanks so much for the inspiration. Have a splendid birthday!

  • Karl Tur

    Just so you know; you are living your purpose. Thank you and wish you the best on your birthday.

  • Uzma

    Happy Birthday and Brilliant words.. Maybe the most honest article on purpose i’ve ever read. Loved it. What we’re looking for happiness, isn’t it. And it isn’t in purpose, its in today adventure. Its in our ability to just be. Good stuff. Thank you for sharing.

  • Sooz

    Here’s to Ramen noodles(ahh yes..:) and another 45yrs. The best is yet to come.
    Happy ((HAPPY)) Birthday, J.A.!!

    I hope the girls baked you a swanky cake.

    Have fun..

    ~Sincerely

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.furth Alan Furth

    Happy birthday James!

  • Joe Choi

    Happy Birthday!

  • dguilder

    Despite what the business media would have you think, most *successful* businesses are started by people in their mid-40’s. So cheer up James, you are just entering your prime.

  • fb_stockpro

    i don’t understand what you’re seeking James. What validation of success are you looking for ? You wrote in your 2013 resolution post that in 2012 you lost $800k in a house you never slept in. I dunno about you, but for most people you age they only have one home and making $800k, let alone losing that much is a small possibility. You probably have more influence though this blog and money than probably 99.9% of people. This is pretty damn good. You made it. There is hope, that you will recognize what you have instead of continuously seeking more. We can’t all be Larry, Cuban, Zuck, or Bezos.

    • jem

      Quit drinking the haterade. The message I get here is: continuously seek more, but enjoy it along the way and appreciate what you have in the present.

      There are a lot of ass holes out there, I don’t think the colonel is one of them.

      And Happy Birthday James! (your blogs inspire me to continuously seek more)

  • http://www.facebook.com/la.cheraqui Alexandra Leh

    happy birthday to a fellow january baby, a fellow writer, a fellow seeker, a fellow fried chicken lover…

  • http://www.facebook.com/yuhuan.xie Yuhuan ‘Mike’ Xie

    Happy birthday James!

  • Elizabeth Harper

    Happy Birthday, James … hope your day is filled with sweet surprises.

  • lo@unhouseholding

    Happy birthday, James! Yesterday, I had a birthday myself and hit yet another significant number, so your post was timely encouragement for me. It *is* kind of a relief to let go of a set-in-stone purpose, but I will continue to do things that I (and not the people who set expectations) find meaningful. Cheers!

  • Stephen Bruington

    As usual, well said, James. I love the idea of scrapping the term “purpose” and just living your live.

    • Stephen Bruington

      *life, not live. Doh.

  • Jerry

    Happy birthday James. Thanks for all of your writing. You may not have meant this to be inspirational but it is.

  • michael deathless

    Happy Birthday and thank you for everything! You have really helped me change my life.

  • amorda

    Happy Birthday James! Thank you for another great post. I certainly needed to read something like this with the way I started the day feeling. Enjoying the struggle is very hard to do but certainly makes us who we are.

  • rogie ylagan

    Happy birthday James. I’m 31 and i feel like a teen reading your blogs.

  • nategismot

    Good stuff.

  • http://innovationimitation.com/ Mike Polischuk

    Happy birthday James, thank you for this post and for this blog. Even though you say it isn’t meant to be inspirational, it is.

    You talk about happiness as something we can have at every moment and not something we need to work hard to get. You also disregard purpose as something worthy of looking for. And you make some very good points there.

    But what about meaning? The one Viktor Frankel talks about, the one you find in love, in doing work you believe to be important, in journey in which you find stuff about yourself, in the narrative that you create that give sense to your life.

    I was in a relationship that was comfortable, but I wasn’t happy. I could find happiness in little moments, but I couldn’t convince myself that I am happy. So eventually I ended it. And I was alone for some-time. And I dated. And then I went to travel. And then I met an amazing person that became my wife, whom I love and respect more than anyone I ever met. I find meaning in this narrative, in the idea that you shouldn’t settle, but you should work towards a happier life.

    Being happy in the moment, whatever it is, is a good aspiration, but isn’t it empty and a bit self-delusional when it’s completely devoid of a larger “structure” of meaning? Surely there are situations in life when acceptance is the only sensible choice, but more often then not it’s struggle that makes us who we are.

    Would love to hear what you think.

    • Michael Kim

      mike, I was totally thinking the same thing just now. Focusing on happiness in just the moment does feel shallow and empty in of itself. I do agree with much of what James has said but I still do find that meaning can act as a source of happiness for me. Just the sense of having worth and purpose in life is something that I feel is an inherent emotional need in people. People should strive for it up until the point that you don’t sacrifice your happiness for it

      • http://innovationimitation.com/ Mike Polischuk

        Thank you Michael :)

  • Joel

    Happy Birthday!

  • http://www.toddandelin.com Todd_Andelin

    A few decades ago, you could be successful and feel like you made a difference in the world, because your local community actually needed you.
    There are no more local communities. So unless you are the worlds best at something you are nothing. In the 1800’s every town had celebrities. Now there are no local celebrities. No one cares if you are the strongest man on your block today. Who cares???
    Unless you are the internet king or queen at something you are a no-name joe blow.
    Unless you are a global leader you seem irrelevant.
    And to be a global leader in anything you have to be a MUTANT. You have to be a mutated person with some kind of 6 sigma something about you. The world has naturally selected you to survive and thrive.
    * * *
    I just read an article about a high school in Texas founded by Deion Sanders, the retired football star. Wow. My future kid will compete against those kids who eat drink sleep sports 24/7. My uncle went to Stanford in the 1950’s….I think he played 3 sports..soccer football and track. Today, his athletic abilities would barely get him onto a rural high school team.
    Whatever.
    Its like we are all shooting to be 6 sigma people at everything we do. Thats statistically impossible for us ALL to be the extreme talent.
    And anytime there is a book written about this or that, the examples of who to follow are crazy. I just read a book about treating yourself like a startup.
    The whole book was filled with examples of mutant people….Zuckerberg, Bezos, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, etc etc….
    As if those are people I can relate to?
    Thats like writing an exercise book and expecting me to train like Michael Jordan or Usain Bolt or body build like Arnold Scwartzneggar.
    How about we all have a little empathy and enjoy some of the banalities of life.
    But maybe its human nature to weigh ourselves against the outliers.
    Maybe I need to find out what kind of mutant I am and exploit myself for fame, fortune and satisfaction.
    In the meantime, if I could sleep and pay my bills I would be happy : )

    At the end of the day, I think if you can pinpoint your god-given talents and use them to help the global body around you, you will be happy.
    Finding talents is an iterative process which is filled with successes and failures.
    The process takes time but ultimately works because you have all your lies and delusions beat out of you by time and by the nasty cruel world. The only thing you have left is your own honesty reminding you of the things which can’t be beaten out of you.

    • Otaddy

      So true. Everything is way overdone today, so no wonder most people (myself included) feel overwhelmed and unsatisfied.

      And G-d help you if you don’t spend excessive effort trying to look and act young!

      • http://www.toddandelin.com Todd_Andelin

        yeah theres a fine line between competing in the world and going insane trying to do everything.
        People keep talking about that book by Taleb, I think its called “antifragile”….
        maybe thats what we should be shooting for, or maybe its just good old fashioned resilience.

        • Otaddy

          Taleb’s book is interesting for sure, but it doesn’t provide a lot to help solve this problem.

          James is right, stop waiting for that one success that’s supposed to magically make you happy and make your life worth it.

          • Michael Kim

            Couldnt agrree more with you. You summarized the moral of this post very well

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

    HB JA.
    Journey may not be the right word. Maybe the word “life” would work better.

    I had such awful nightmares last night I awoke feeling fear and stress. That is a very crappy way to start any day. What do you do with the moments, the “now” that isn’t good? It appears easy to live in the moment when you feel good – but no one feels good everyday.

    Another point you say purpose isn’t important. Then go on to list people who supposedly “found” some purpose. ( we know they found successes ) but do we know they were fulfilled , at peace? And do we care? Should we care? Judge?

    I don’t know. I am only asking.

  • Mervyn

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JIM. THANK YOU FOR BEING SUCH A GREAT AND INSPIRING PERSON.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bartek.kachniarz Bartek Kachniarz

    Happy birthday, Colonel (Mississippi)!

  • Hilary Lindsay

    Happy Birthday to you. Thanks for giving the world a birthday gift with this post. Not feeling so old and useless after that. :)

  • Lupe

    James, it is amazing to me how, when I am pondering what to do next, I read your post and it inspires me … Thanks!

  • varese

    Happy Birthday James… this was a really nice post… thanks for writing it.. we should be giving you a gift on your birthday but you have gifted all of us instead! Peace brother!

  • http://www.goprimalcostarica.com/ GoPrimalCostaRica

    Well first, belated happy birthday Colonel Altucher! Secondly, you have done it again! You keep painting the picture clearer and clearer… Just do what you feel like doing right now… that may be different 10 years from now but live in the now and you do not have to pay a ton of unhappiness for some illusive happiness in the future… I LOVE that quote James, Brilliant! The more I analyze what is my “purpose”in life the more I realize “just do something” what is it you enjoy? bring that joy to others and you are “successful” I have watched others doing what they love, where they love, for too long and thinking… wow I wish I could do that! Well then, it’s time to make it happen!

  • Marc

    Good stuff as usual, Colonel. But I have to disagree about the most important person from Kentucky. I’d go with Muhammad Ali.

  • Murali

    Happy birthday, JA!

  • ajaxjones

    so what you mean is that there is ‘still’ hope?

  • mike fernandes

    Thomas Edison sold newspapers and snacks on a train, then spent a large part of his early adulthood perfecting his morse code/telegraphy technique. His purpose as a prolific inventor only came to be later in his life…Steve Jobs was a no-good hippie, communal-living apple farmer who wasted his parents $ for much of his youth before he started on his path to being one of our generations most admired entrepreneurs…Truth is “purpose” and “mission” are easier to explain after the fact than at the start. Nice job on this post James. It’s really about having the courage to take action instead of sitting on your butt trying to define your “purpose”. If you’re interested, I wrote a couple of posts about this a while back as well. They’re on strategymakers-forum blog.

    PS Happy Birthday!

  • Robert San Luis

    Thank you Colonel James, for another insightful article! You continue to be a source of inspiration to me and many others.

  • don

    In my 45 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the happiest when I’m doing things. When I have plans and when I have a reason to wake up. When I go to bed early and wake up very early with things on my mind I want to accomplish. Having the money to assist me and my plans is invaluable.

    RecentlyI was driving my 2002 Kia when the frame broke. I thought it was odd that a frame would rust out in 10 years. I did a little research and found that Kia had recalled the frame in 2009. The good news is kia is replacing the frame on their dime. The bad news is I was out of a car for a few days. I thought they should provide a rental but that’s another story. This happened on a Friday afternoon. I had no cash on me and my phone had stopped working a day earlier.

    No car, no phone and no cash from Friday until Tuesday.

    I thought to myself, this sucks, this must be what it’s like to be poor. I did’nt like it at all.

    Money matters. Money matters a great deal. Don’t’ ever discount the importance of money.

    I understand that this piece is not about money but money plays a huge part in whatever way we define happiness. As Van Halen’s David Lee Roth once said, Money may not buy happiness but it can buy a yacht big enough to go look for it. He said around 1985. After 25 years away from Van Halen they reunited and recorded a new album. He penned another lyric in 2011 that says ” I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, Rich is better, totally better”.

    You may not need to be rich to be happy but I thinks is near impossible to be poor and happy.

    • werbtheherb

      How about being neither rich nor poor and just having enough (relatively to the masses)? Where does that put you on the happiness spectrum?

      My stomach rumbles at the idea of owning a yacht. When I imagine myself owning a yacht the first feelings that come to my mind at this point in my life are injustice, waste and disgust.

      Of course money is sweet, oh so sweet, it allows you to fulfill your ambitions into tangible things. It’s wholy awesome. But what’s often times disappointing is the means to acquire money.

      Some people get rich because they just want to do good, contribute, better humanity, express themselves and money happens to flow to them. That’s great. WIN for them. WIN for us. All WIN. Some WIN more I guess. Meh, I don’t feel any envy for founders of google and I enjoy the hell out of their product, it has bettered my life. It has bettered humanity. Answers at our finger tips. COOOOOOOOOL let’s keep going.

      Others with the same intent end up starving artists. Yup, that’s true. Life just sucks like that, thousands of new born turtles attempt to cross the beach to get to the water, only a few make it. The rest get eaten alive. Check it out on youtube.

      Others squash every person around them to reach their goal. They justify it by claiming that’s what we are, animals. That we are competitive by nature. That the best wins. That external inputs have no bearing on free will. That any man can do it. I don’t buy it, I can’t. When people I love need me by their side, I can’t let go. I can’t do it. I need to be there. I care for them, I love them. It’s too hard to do. I’m a weak animal perhaps.

      I prefer the idea of remaining poor than utlizing any means possible to attain money at the expense of being good, honest, kind and caring. I probably do my share of not caring (I don’t really look into the problems of the world, I’m not involved with charity and stuff like that). But there’s an amount of not caring I can’t tolerate. I just get sick to my stomach, nothing can help it.

      I like to win when it does not entail people’s basic needs. I enjoy competition when I win and someone’s loss isn’t his lively hood and stability. I enjoy the idea of competion on ideas and implementation but not at the expense of someone not having food to feed his kids. God damn. That’s too much *me* to handle. .

      • werbtheherb

        Don, I’m not really adressing your post. Your post inspired me and I went off on a tangent. I have no qualms with anything in your post. I agree with the importance of money. lol.

        • Don

          I understand completely. I used to work for a Jeweler many years ago, Actually I worked for two Jewelers. One of them was probably the most successful hi-end Jeweler on Long Island.. the other was a small Mom and Pop store. The owner of the Mom and Pop store made a good living but not a great living. The owner of the very hi -end store was/is a multimillionaire. He turned down an 13 million dollar offer on a piece of property which cost him 3 million a year earlier

          Both owners were hard working and there every day. The biggest difference that I could discern was that the hi-end owner charged three times as much for everything. His clients were more than able and happy to pay it.

          Does that mean the millionaire who charges more is more selfish? Is the owner of the mom and pop store a better person because he charges 1/3 the price and makes himself far less?

          I don’t know the answer.

          I used to make about $1500 per week installing marble and tile in my younger days. I thought I was doing very well until I discovered that others where charging twice as much or more for the same work. If I raised my prices and made $3000 a week, would I have been a selfish person?

          I don’t have any idea how to calculate an honest day’s pay for an honest days work. I once paid a doctor $300 for a 5 min visit to get a prescription. He literally looked at the back of my throat, wrote a prescription for pain medicine and I was out of his office within 5 minutes and the secretary said, that will be $300 (he was a specialist ya know). Mind you the $300 was for the office visit not the prescription. Does anyone deserve $300 for 5 minutes of work?

          I don’t have any answers just questions.

          I’m in the middle of building a log cabin. My brother quit a relativity high paying job and joined me to take a log building course and build a cabin. The land cost $50,000. We are about 60% finished with the cabin. Total cost will be around $100,000.( it’s amazing how much you save when you use your own trees and do your own labor) From start to finish the cabin will take about 12 months.. We have no building experience at all outside of this project.

          My other brother and his wife are realtors. They estimate that the house will be worth $375-$400,000 when finished. If that turns out to be accurate I’ll clear perhaps $150,000 for a year of busting my ass. Is that a lot of money for a year of hard labor?

      • Kannan

        IMO, best post !!! I am sure you will be happy as such, no need to reach any distant targets.

  • http://twitter.com/cesartrujillo Cesar Trujillo

    Señor Altucher: your articles have served for a noble, wonderful purpose in my life: I get fresh perspectives every time I read them.

    Just a little story: About half a year ago, separated from the woman I had been married for over 9.5 years: found she had been swindling me in secret over the last years, willing me to left me out of nothing. I left home, left my 3 y/o kid, at the same time broke my small business, and went into a deep life hole. Over all that dark time, I only felt something inside: There must be a purpose for all of what’s happening.

    Your books and writings were more than inspiring and supportive then. They felt me with hope and energy. “If he did it, I can too”. And gosh I did. I am way better now. Have a good job, found somebody I love and who loves me and thinks I’m worth a lot, have a great time with my kid, etc. And today I find this jewel of yours. I value happiness over purposes. It’s good to have one, but also good to love the day you live. I will turn 39 in a few days. And for those who tell me “man, you’re getting old” I just think to myself: “that’s why you don’t know my best days are ahead”.

    Thanks for the perspective.

    • Sajjad Haider Janjua

      Same sort of thing happened with me :) I can simply understand what you are going through . There is no doubht purpose of life is denfined for everyone, even the dead ones like me who thought life is just ended after the family life broken and kid departed from a sweet home, This is time to rethink and look ahead past has gone with the wind no can change it but future is ahead and life still left in me and you :)

  • PJ

    Happy Birthday James! What I respect most is you live by your terms. Many people fear the unknown as if they “need” or “have to have” someone body or something (corporation) take care of them. While we know the world can bring a person to their knees…it’s those who can get back up, dust themselves off and keep walking and living…thanks for the great posts.
    PS – Screw Colonel…how about General James? Sounds better!

  • Gluten Dude

    Man…did I need to read this today. I’m 47, have been self-employed for 6 years, but am still searching for my “path”. It’s been nagging me lately that my window may be closing. Thanks for the reminder that it’s not. Happy Birthday.

  • http://www.pointsandfigures.com/ pointsnfigures

    Happy Birthday. I think the most important man in KY is one of three people. The owner of Churchill Downs; Louisville’s head basketball coach: UK’s head basketball coach.

    45 is young. I am 50. Going through the same shit. We still have hope. We are alive. Some of my friends aren’t so lucky.

  • randolph13

    I grew up in Mississippi and I remember Cliff Finch. He was a character to say the least. I think I heard him speak in person at a youth government convention in Jackson once.

  • Jesse Farrell

    Happy belated birthday, James!

  • Mano

    Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, began drawing and painting at the age of 63 with no formal training! He’s the first Indian artist to exhibit his works across Europe, Russia, and the United States of America, earning him critical acclaim in the West !!

    A very nice post, James! Happy Birthday (belated)!!

  • http://selfstairway.com/about/ Vincent Nguyen

    Thanks for the great article James! Good to know I’ve got plenty of time left to “figure” it all out. Currently PR is my plan and CIS is my backup. Maybe I should just travel for a year or two.

  • brad parkes

    I plan to live to 120…you can’t even imagine all the shit I plan to figure out…70 is the new 30

  • Gregg

    This post is da bomb ! I have never commented on anything in the cyber world….felt compelled to chime in. The message hit home regrading not living a deferred live….that it’s perfectly fine to be happy now …whilst on the path of further enlightenment. Whatever that means…cheers Gregg

  • http://www.facebook.com/silviu.petrescu.9 Silviu Petrescu

    Happy Birthday!

  • Andreas Moser

    Why does life have to have a purpose?
    I found it liberating when I discovered that this needn’t be.

  • John

    Happy Birthday James,

    Great job on the blog – as a friend told me – our purpose in life has been with us since the day we were born. For me, it has been about service and excellence. When I am not doing my best or helping others, I don’t feel as happy. It’s definitely not about making a lot of money, but doing for others and showing you care.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Jeffrey

    Happy Birthday, James! And thanks for all you do for us with your blog!

  • Crash

    Well this piece along with the “loser” piece just proves my theory that our “purpose” is only to learn and create that next generation of ideas that we learn more from. Forget about success

  • swathi

    Awesome! Just when I look at the silicon valley prodigies and feel that I’m old!

  • j

    I don’t know if I’ll ever end up doing what I really passionately want to do. I just have to many people telling me it wouldn’t be a good career. ( going into art)
    I would love just listening only to myself but Im to young what do I know. I don’t know what this world is really like….

  • Jonna

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It brought tears of joy to my eyes. I’m 38, mother of two, wife and dog owner. And sometimes I feel I should be doing more with my life because I haven’t had the “ideal” accomplishment of a successful career. It’s probably because I’m avoiding what brings me joy in life because it doesn’t bring home the bacon every two weeks in a timely fashion and because I’m afraid of failure or how great I can be. But it’s reassuring to know that I have time, God willing, and right now I should focus on what brings me immediate joy – my family, especially my young boys that need me. Like Cesar said “my best days are ahead”.

  • Ashish

    The first one I’m saving to Evernote – thank you, Colonel! This is much better than thinking to myself “when Galois was my age, he’d been dead 22 years.”

  • Elizabeth Tabanao

    You really made my day.. this is my first time I am reading your articles and i would say.. i will keep reading all of them bacause i like your style, very direct !

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neha-Sharma/590496566 Neha Sharma

    Having a purpose in life the most unsettling thing for me. How can one have just one purpose? I think its purposes and we need to constantly be trying out new stuff to realize what is that makes us happy and move quickly enough to discover more about ourselves!

  • Sayre

    One of the best things I’ve ever read: I’ve stumbled and fallen and got up and survived enough that I’m sick of goals and purposes and journeys. I want to cut out the middleman. The journey. The desperation and despair that thinking of a “purpose” entails. Fuck purpose. It’s ok to be happy without one. You don’t need to pay with lots of unhappiness to buy happiness.

  • http://www.greig.cc/ James Greig

    Finally, I have an idea how old you are. Looking at your photos I thought you might be 25 or so which has been freaking me the fuck out.

  • Roger

    Finding Your Goal And Purpose In Life…
    Goals are good…but who says you have to have a purpose?

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.hetherington3 Karen Hetherington

    REwerbtheherb: You sound very confused and have too many moral messages around money Listen to : “The Science of Getting Rich h by Wattles”- underlining science

    I’ve done things in my life. I went right to college after high school majoring in Philosophy. Boyfriend talked me out of it said I should model. Well, started modeling in Philadelphia and New York then went to Italy, living there for 5 years and traveling throughout Europe. catching the view and working. It wasn’t easy putting up with the banal side of the business. Came back to the States, continued modeling and was not happy.

    I went back to school, got a degree in Social Work, did that for a number of years and got out. In between, the whole time. there were slices of opportunities that opened up that I never took. Looking back now, I should have taken them. I think it’s in those other things life presents is where I would have found my happiness. Going after something is worthwhile too but reacting to this or that is not good. You have to know what is in the core in your heart as to what you REALLY want. Listening to those unwanted and random thoughts in your head is a good start. By the way, this website is really great.

  • Art Bitrage

    James, I recently started reading your articles and find this to be one of your best. Not too long ago, amidst a bout of soul searching I completed an exercise similar to the subject of this post.

    Henry Ford (mentioned in your post) did not even found the Ford Motor Company until he was 38. Cornelius Vanderbilt didnt begin buying ferry lines until his late 30s; railroads another 5-10 years after that. Andrew Carnegie didn’t complete the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi until age 39 (Carnegie Steel founded thereafter). Walt Disney’s first two animation studios went Bankrupt. Construction began on Disney Land (California) when he was 53. Disney World didnt open until years after Walt passed away. Perhaps the most interesting example is Steve Jobs. Though he co-founded Apple at a young age and gave consumers the first GUI he was fired from the Company. Without Jobs Apple almost went out of business. His real crowning achievements: the iPod/iTunes, iPhone and the iPad, came after his return (1996) and weren’t released until he reached his 50’s.

    Despite many successful, young entrepreneurs in the last decade, most successful people don’t truly accomplish greatness until well past 40.

  • Mark Welch

    “The Balinese say ‘We have no art. We just do everything as well as we can.'” — Marshall McLuhan

  • Nasir

    First time an article force me to read it full. Lovely <3

  • Finger lickin’ chicken plucker

    I saw a documentary on Colonel Sanders that said when he headed off to sell his fried chicken recipe he “took to the road in a battered car”. I still think that’s funny.

  • Mansal

    Fantastic James. No idea why I haven’t read all of your most recent work

  • http://www.yepiclip.com/ yepi

    Very good article! I love it. I will share with my friends. I hope that many people prefer to read the same information as me.

  • http://www.dadverb.com/ Roger Williams

    Happy Birthday! And happy Father’s day to all the dads out there. Our kids won’t think we’re cool, but I think you are.

  • craigwilson

    From age 3 to 17 my purpose was to be a good student, son and athlete. Age 17 to 30 I was very selfish and was the most fit body at any pool in Las vegas. The best or 2nd best runner in my USMC unit. But after age 32 I realized this was not a good “purpose in Life”. I got married to a very good woman, German citizen, we had 2 fine kids now grown. Age 33 to 61 now, my purpose was to be a good dad, husband, try to be unselfish. Very blessed by God. I am still one of the most fit 61 yr olds at the pool in Vegas. Ha, Now retired DWP Hydrographer

  • Jo M.

    This is such an awesome post. 1) I’m glad that I (age 48) am not alone in having these same thoughts and struggles. Thank you. (2) It also occures to me that many mega-successful athletes, movie stars, and singers ALSO have these same thoughts and struggles, in spite of fame and fortune. I once knew a Trust Fund Baby on Park Avenue in NYC, who was married to a Corporate Raider, who ALSO had these same thoughts and struggles. And that is what I find so humbling and thought-provoking–the fact that people share the EXACT same fears and struggles whether they have achieved wealth and greatness, or whether they are tirelessly trying to figure out their purpose.

  • Amelia

    Brilliant post.
    Amelia http://www.chaiacupoflife.com

  • Eduardo

    Hi James,
    I wonder, how a shy guy like you interviewed a governor and even tried to interview the US president (all that as a young kid..)?
    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • sealiz

    THANK YOU! This is such amazing timing for me. Much appreciated!

  • Praskova

    I also ate ramen noodles for a year. I balanced it out with cocoa Cheerios, which had just hit the shelves at my local CVS. They were pricey too, but I loved them and splurged. But back to the ramen noodles, I remember being sick and wanting some chicken soup; all I had was chicken-flavored ramen. Ate it anyway, and then, surprisingly, felt better and recovered magnificently. Which made me realize something so profound that , for a moment there , I thought the world was about to end simply because it no longer needed an explanation…of course, I prevented myself from fully comprehending so that we can all live to see another day. You’re welcome. But yeah, ramen.