The Ultimate Guide To Changing Your Life

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Ugh, then there are those times when I feel dead inside. I wake up early and swing on the pre-school swingset like a pervert.

The sun rises and instead of being orange and blue and beautiful it’s white and glaring and it’s a terrible terrible sunrise, burning everything inside of me.

Another day.

This is what happens to me when change is being born. At least for me: I’ve never avoided any of these steps.

A) SOMETHING’S MISSING

You don’t know what it is. But it’s like you left something at home. Maybe the stove on. Or a book you were supposed to read. Or a key that opens a door you forgot about.

It’s a bloating. A constipation of life that just won’t get digested until it wears you down, makes it hard to move, forces your face closer to the grind that will kill you.

When I spoke with David Levien he told me about his commute to work. Seeing the people asleep or reading the paper and he felt that sense of being bloated.

The feeling of “Will I fall asleep?”

So on the commute he wrote a page a day of what became a bestselling novel.

Albert Einstein was dying from the rigid eight hour day at the patent office. He was so bored he was even denied his first attempt at getting a promotion.

He would try to dig out the crevices that time had carved into his routine so he could work on his own theories of magic, since the magic of today always becomes the science of tomorrow.

I was told all the time in my 20s, “you have to pay your dues”. I was told this by people with some higher rank than me. As if they had paid their dues.

But one man’s rank is another man’s stank.

You pay your dues when you finally come to that realization that something is missing.

That whatever they told you in the past: your religion, your parents, your friends, your bosses – is wrong. Not for them. Since who knows the price of another’s life.

But for you.

The “dues” are when you find your authentic voice. The singing voice that stands out in the world chorus. “Paying the dues” is when you open up that voice to its full range.

When you sing.

B) DESPERATION

I realized something was missing but didn’t know what to do.

I thrashed. I would read books. I would see which people I would want to model myself after. I would study them.

I’d write ideas down each day.

I’d cry because these were the times I was most lonely, when one group was disappearing and another set of friends and colleagues had yet to find me.

Trust that the desperation will go away. You’ll find people to love. You’ll write ideas down every day. I finally learned to be grateful for my desperation. This is the egg that will crack open and give birth to new life.

It’s going to happen many times. Even every day.

Go forth and multiply.

C) TOTAL CONFUSION

When you speak in that authentic voice for the first time, you say words you never said before. Maybe nobody has ever said them. You’re going to scare the people around you.

You’re going to scare yourself. Because people close to you will react.

You might be wrong. When you write the first page of the novel, you can’t possibly know how it will end. When you start a business, not a single person in the world can predict the outcome.

Odeo is always my favorite example. Started by a guy who had built a hundred million dollar company previously. Everyone trusted his idea was good. A platform for podcasting. Huge idea!

Many great investors invested. But no customers. One of his employees started a side project. Sending messages back and forth. He got 10,000 users. A small amount.

The founder offered all of the investors a chance to get their money back. 100% of them accepted. The founder then changed the name of the company to the side project.

All the best investors in the world missed out on investing in Ev Williams’ new project, Twitter.

The world is changing very quickly. In a few years, your 3D printed car (your 3D printed food) will be dropped off at your house maybe every month.

Companies like Coursera and Khan Academy and Udemy will destroy overpriced colleges. AirBnB will end the need for hotels. New technologies in batteries will end our reliance on the pervasive “grid”.

There’s no answer. There’s no guru who can say what will happen. I’ve started 20 businesses and watched and cried while 17 of them failed. I’m divorced and have lost two homes. Many friends I love, no longer love me.

When the tide shifts, it’s too hard to figure out what companies will go down with it. I’ve seen many billion dollar companies fail within a matter of weeks or months. The only thing common among all of them: lack of character at the top.

You build character by remaining calm in the confusion.

Sometimes I haven’t been able to do this. One time my mother said to me, “I can’t believe you are my son.”

Character is a hard thing to cultivate. At least for me. But it’s possible for everyone. This is also called, “Paying your dues”.

D) SELF-SABOTAGE

Two different friends of mine are self-sabotaging themselves right this second in two very different companies.

I can’t tell them because what do I know? But they will do it.

When I was a kid, the world’s record for losing the most amount of money in one day was held by a young man named Ross Perot. If I remember right, in 1969 he lost a billion in a day when the stock market fell.

He said much later, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.”

I didn’t used to believe in self-sabotage. I thought that was an excuse. But now I see how it happens.

You’re so close but you’re afraid to take the chance and disappoint people. You say later, “I was just being honest” or “I couldn’t take the chance”.

I self-sabotage myself all the time when I’m afraid to disappoint someone else. Or when I’m not honest about my real feelings and desires I tend to mix them up so badly until it’s all a big mess. Or when I think I don’t deserve the good fortune that I’ve worked for.

Why wouldn’t I think I deserve it? That seems fake. I have no clue. But it’s true. Somewhere deep inside there’s a hole and it can’t be filled except by sabotage.

Recognizing it, noticing it, working around it, is the third step on the path to change.

E) ANXIETY

The other day I had to give a talk. Everyone was smart and successful and knew more than me about the topic of the conference.

What could I teach them? How could I start to get their attention?

A friend of mine is working on a company that has a technology for detecting what part of the country every strand of marijuana comes from. He explained some of the science to me. I mildly misinterpreted it to start my speech.

“Did you know marijuana plant has both a penis and a vagina,” I started my talk with. And then explained what I meant. Then related it back to the topic: marketing. People laughed. But I had been afraid.

I died in another talk. Everyone in the audience was very successful. So I gulped down a can of coke but didn’t swallow the coke. Instead I walked on stage and pretended to throw up. Dead silence.

I have to go to a big meeting next week. I am helping a company and maybe millions of dollars are at stake. Will I look too weird? Will I have nothing to say? Will I say the wrong thing?

Anxiety is the doorknob. The doorway leads to change. But you have to open the doorknob first.

F) SOMEONE LISTENS

David Levien wrote his book on his commute. His best friend read it and loved it. Kay Cannon wrote her script on the subway over three years. A studio then made it into a movie.

Einstein slaved away in the patent office and wrote “e=mc squared”. A physics journal decided to publish that equation from a third level patent clerk.

Frank McCourt, now a bestselling author, wrote his first book in his 60s. His memoir, Angela’s Ashes. Someone agreed to publish it.

Guess what? 35% of entrepreneurs last year started their first business at the age of 50 or older.

Lisa Gable had never started a company before. At the age of 70 she got disgusted with her falling bra-straps. She made a bra strap that help everything up. Strap-mate, now a multi-million dollar company.

Coolio wrote lyrics every day for 17 years in a row before having a single hit. Someone finally listened. Somehow his voice stopped imitating others and became his own.

At some point you’ve paid the dues and everything begins to pay off. You begin to get that return. People listen. You stood out and everyone hated you but then fight through that and now you begin to have an impact.

G) SLOW DOWN

When you find your voice, slow down. There’s no rush. Out of six billion people, you’re the only one with your voice, your experiences, your ideas, your wisdom. There’s no competition to be you.

Someone once complimented Arthur Rubinstein on his piano playing. He said, “It’s not the piano playing. I handle the notes no better than anyone else does. It’s the pauses – that’s where art resides.”

When your change kicks in. This is the moment not to plan for the future, but to find the pauses in the present.

This is what makes or break the person who surfs the world of change. Too often I rushed into the future and fell off the cliff, with all my limbs broken.

I wish I had done this: respect the pause, respect the people around me, respect that I have to write down ideas every day, be grateful that I got to this step.

Gratitude fights the gravity that tries to pull you down and prevent you from taking the next step.

When you slow down, everything lasts longer.

H) EVERYTHING CYCLES

When I follow my own advice, my life changes almost completely every six months.

But often things go really bad. A few months ago, a company I was involved in fell apart. There was corruption. Things got ugly.

I was so disappointed. I didn’t see it coming. I hit a low point. Low points and high points happen in every creature on the planet except in our Facebook feeds.

You have to know in a low point that it’s time to rest a bit. At a high point you act. At a low point you rest.

This doesn’t mean turn on the TV. Turning on the TV turns off the rest of the world.

Do the opposite. Turn on the rest of the world by being with people you love, finding the gratitude that is ALWAYS buried in difficult situations, writing down ideas every day (one in 100 might even be good).

I was at a low point and had a hard time getting out of bed. Until finally I told myself, this is the perfect time to follow my own stories.

And so I did. And then things got better. I wrote 20 things I learned from the experience. I figured out how to turn the death of this psychic murder into the birth of a new life for me.

I) FIND YOUR TEACHERS

When you change, it’s like you’ve walked through a portal and entered a new world.

In this new world, you need teachers to show you the way. You can find your teachers in real life. You can find them through books. You can spy on them and model your life after their examples.

Everything that happens to you, every person you encounter was sent specifically by the mad scientists who created this virtual reality to teach you. Their methods are insidious and not out of the standard textbook so you can’t be fooled. But learn.

Eventually you pass them as you further develop your voice, as the world now becomes something not that you entered but something that you impacted and changed. Now it’s your world and you are the teacher.

J) REPEAT

It never ends.

“Paying your dues” has nothing to do with working hard. It has nothing to do with the failure porn so common right now.

It has everything to do with that terrible white sunrise. The one you didn’t want to happen. The one that wakes you up while everyone else is still asleep.

  • Zencha

    At what point do you realize something isn’t working and switch trajectories?

  • Chris Kreider

    Slowing down is the most difficult thing to do, especially when times are tough. I tattooed the words “SLOW DOWN” across my knuckles as a daily reminder. Even after doing something that drastic and being forced to look at it daily I can’t always keep that perspective. A professor of mine once told me “we try to rush through the deserts of life, but it is in the deserts that we learn the most about ourselves.” There’s so much truth in that statement.

  • These are all great suggestions and I will definitely steal some of them. Right now, I use the following loop: Learn, Think, Act, Tweak, Teach.

  • Sometimes, I just need to get out of the cycle. Being in nature is what does this for me. I settle. Problems are suddenly less overwhelming. Then I drive home and start over.

  • A common theme in your writing is “write your ideas down daily”. I am following that advice and its working.

  • James, your guide is remarkable in its raw authenticity. Tell me something: how did you learn to go down so deep inside and find out what makes yourself tick?

  • Joanne Manelli

    I think everyone should take the time every so often to really look within. You could appear to be doing everything you need to be doing on the surface but oftentimes the things that hold you back are baggage and negative beliefs that sit below the surface of the conscious mind.

  • Remaining calm in the confusion is the precious little nugget I take away from this post. Some days I think my stress-addled brain can’t take it any longer. I feel like I want to crawl into a hole and die, honestly.

    And I know, we all feel like that from time to time, but when I realize I’m too caught up in it all, the trying… then pause and reflect is when I’ve had my best moments, in business and in life.

    p.s. I’m still writing down ideas daily :)

  • Thank you James for being so open and honest. Reading your posts make me feel so much happier and more peaceful, it’s like coming back home. Slowing down helps me a lot. One of my practices that made huge difference for me to get rid of anxiety and embrace change is an hour of doing nothing. I literally plan an hour when I do nothing, Just sit by the pool or on the bench or on the beach somewhere. Let the thoughts come in and come out, people, ideas everything. I am just me at that time, no goals, no connections, no future, no past. That practice heals everything.

  • wirerocket

    Very poignant, raw and personal, James. You’re an influence to more people than you know. Thanks for the inspiration, insight and humanness you bring to your blog.

  • David Mares

    Thanks James , it would be awesome if you could add the audio version of the articles, so i could keep them on my mp3 like your podcast.

  • This post right here!!!

    I follow you on Medium, but this is the first time I come to your actual website. And I’m a little torn. Half of me hates that I did not come here sooner and the other half is happy that I came and stumbled right into this post.

    Your story resonates with me as it is part of the journey I am on and have been over the last few years. Thank you for the inspiration and you have a new fan!

    http://Raymmar.com – if you are interested in exploring the path of another lost soul who is finding his own way.

  • Ken

    I just started reading The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing (PDF). There is great stuff there, but I think you have hurt your message about self-publishing by having so many errors in the few pages I have read. They were so glaring that I skipped to the Editing
    section to see if perhaps that was not a high priority with you. Your words say
    differently, but your errors speak louder than your words. I want to respect any author who self publishes, but that is hard when it seems as if they did not pay attention to quality. I don’t know—I really want to embrace your message like I would a beautiful woman, but she has garlic breath. I’m honestly disappointed.

    • palmeria

      Okay, bud. Whatever makes you feel better about your $80k English Lit degree.

  • kainkaze

    Your posts always inspire me to look deeper at myself. Thank you!

  • lynn

    i slowed down .. Idont know what will happen .. but the feeling is ” gratitude “

  • Bill

    A year ago I was in desperation, today I am in total confusion. Not so much my own, but those around me are having a difficult time understanding. Reading through this article and knowing that someone else out there understands gives me faith that one day someone will listen. Thanks James.

  • James,

    I just got done reading a post of yours on Tumbler “What a 20 year old needs to know about money and finance”. I am 28, but the advice is better late than never. I had an awakening recently and am finally trying to live life by design instead of following the herd and the conventional path.

    However, I didn’t find you through Tumbler. I actually found you in my inbox from Early To Rise. Let’s just say I accepted the offer and you are one of my teachers as I lean into my newest project. You say no one knows if your idea will be a success or not. However, deep down I know that if I am consistent and persistent I will find success. I will likely pivot and twist along the way, it will be key to not give up just shy of success.

    Now after buying your newest book and subscribing to your new monthly report, I come across this timely guide.

    I just wanted to say thank your for the right words at the right time.

    This also reminds me a lot of Seth Godin’s the Dip. Too many people give up in the Dip when the rewards are just at the top of the next peak. This is the time to lean in, not let off.

    Looking forward to reading and learning more from you.

    Cheers!

  • Gustavo Tanaka

    Awesome text James! I found you out few weeks ago and since then, I’m exploring all yout material: texts, podcasts, talks and interviews. It relates to me a lot! Gratitude for your efforts and sharings.
    Greetings from Brazil

  • Hans Cox

    Another great post. Thanks, James Altucher!

  • Great article. It left me wanting more (the rest of the alphabet).

  • Great post as usual!

  • jessica

    Man do I love you.

  • Denis Borborisov

    Hello . Thank you very much James . Could you please recommend some books about self improvement ? I want to widen my mind

  • Emily West

    I guess the biggest problem is, figuring out what point you are even at. I gave up coffee last week because i was pretty sure it was skewing my perception of the world. Now I have a headache that lives in my eyebrows and an expensive Keurig I want to drop kick.

    Maybe I am on the verge of something? It is the first time in the last ten years I haven’t been caffeinated.

  • Dollar Flipper

    “Or when I think I don’t deserve the good fortune that I’ve worked for.”

    I feel like this all the time. Like I’m faking it and can’t believe no one is noticing. Or everyone is noticing and they’re just nice enough to not mention it. Sometimes I actually feel like I’m getting the praise I deserve. Other times, not so much.

  • Breeliant

    Ross Perot was also a legitimate contender for the Presidential election, and the closest independent we have ever had.

  • Johann Galati

    Wow.
    It felt like talking to a friend. The article was so true and honest and I felt so related.
    So far I’ve been circling around from A to E, but while circling between these I’ve learned to do something productive when I hit a low point.
    Yes, sometimes its hard to get out of bed but it works for me to send a mail, write something, DO something productive.
    I’m moving forward and I’m saving this article for when I hit F.
    Thanks a lot.

  • Zach Evanish

    Great post. Thanks for being so open.

  • Deb

    I feel like I just got a life coach. I am very happy I found you tonight. Thank you for understanding what I am going through….

  • I have been a fan of your blog for many years, and it has had a big influence on my own style of writing. For the first 5 years, I kept my blog about my various business adventures, but around 6 months ago I published a much more personal posting called How I Found My Voice: http://www.impulsecorp.com/how-i-found-my-voice . I wrote it with you in mind, giving me the courage to take a risk and put myself out there. So, thank you for all that you have done.

  • Tudor Pangal

    Chris McCombs emailed his list about this post. I need to reply and thank him. Worth reading at least twice. My favourite part – “Anxiety is the doorknob”.

  • Chirag Rankja

    Amzing… Jst amzing !!

  • Samir Touat

    I’ve enjoyed reading every word, every sentence, and every paragraph. I’ve been going through a long and profound change. I’ve been looking for my own authentic voice, and I have started hearing it grow in clarity and confidence. Like Gustavo Tanaka, I’m grateful to discover you and your work. You will be one of my heroes and companions on my growth journey. Thank you for sharing all that you’ve learnt from life.

  • Go Irani
  • Elizabeth Houser

    I have chosen my teachers since I was a child, always been a big reader and an idealist. It saved me from an abusive childhood and marriage. I chose who to be, who to follow, the character I wanted to develop. You are my newest teacher thank you.

  • Thank you James for your raw, honest, realness and for sharing it all with us/the world! As always, your posts come into my life (and I read them) at the right time.

  • Mitch Powell

    Quotable quotes run rampant through this masterpiece. Thank you for having me stumble onto it.

  • Thanks for the great article. I’ve purpose, definition of success and a plan but lack of action. How do I beat this? Do you’ve anything related to taking action?

    One thing I would like to share is the way I saw my life: I’m 23 computer programmer and I read 15+ books last year. I wanted to build an online business and that’s why I taught myself programming, marketing, product development and many more. How I did it is very strange. I had no laptop, no money, no electricity (4 hours a day) and lots of troubles.

    Somehow I managed to come out all of those troubles and prepared myself to start. Now I’ve enough skills, few resources related to those early days and a team. Now the another trouble I’m facing: I got stuck while developing my business, stuck at taking action. Can’t start — if i do start i get stuck in middle of anything (not due to lack of skills or confidence but lack of passion/motivation any more).

    Now, I feel all of the things I’ve done and succeeded were useless. Nothing comes in my way. I was asking if this is my bad luck but I got an answer from your post.

  • This one hit home. Especially the part that says” one group of friends leaving while the new friends have yet to find me.” As a recent college graduate, this is a very real feeling. And i’m sure it’s felt at any of the big “transition points” in life.

  • Paul Ramsek

    Soon to be fifty year old virgin seeks corporate sponsor for kickstarting a specialized catering entertainment company in Orange County,CA ie virgin companies. Willing to take lie detector tests.

  • Raghav

    Join the discussion…

  • Ankit Girwal

    James, I just love your articles and I read them daily. Part of me wants to write something now and this is completely inspired by your thoughts. Thank you for writing. I will also read all your posts – YOUR FAN.