How to Buy Low and Sell High

buy low sell high

I thought I would feel ecstasy when I made a lot of money. I thought I could cut my heart out and eat it for breakfast and be hungry for lunch later.

I thought that everyone would love me. I thought I would walk in the middle of the street and cars would pass right through me.

Much later, when a psychic advised me to throw a coconut in the middle of the street at midnight in order to make my money back, I realized I might have been wrong all along.

I was miserable and sad and lonely because I was afraid to tell people that my entire self-worth had turned to zero.

After rubbing it in their faces. Look at me!

This was a long time ago. Or it was a few years ago. Or it was before and after (insert “IRS letter” in between). Or it was another before and after (insert: divorce).

Or…And…But!

BUT I realized something. And everyone already knew it.

Buy low and sell high.

And I don’t mean stocks or oil or houses or whatever. All of those things are mostly BS. It’s hard to predict.

Some things are easier to predict. That’s what I realized. Life is too hard. Some women won’t like me. Some babies cry when I hold them.

The other day I was asked to leave a restaurant. Don’t ask. Who could predict?

But other things are easy to predict. A lot of things are free. And the benefits are huge.

And they are so free I can do all of these every day.

1) Books

I can buy words for a few dollars, even pennies, from books.

And then I can take what I learned and turn them into something that has a lot of value.

Like a business. Or a good conversation. Or a new friend.

Or live my life better. Hallelujah!

Here’s a start:

  • “The Evolution of Everything” by Matt Ridley
  • “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed
  • “Antifragile” by Nasim Taleb
  • “Where Ideas Come From” by Stephen Johnson
  • “Quiet” by Susan Cain
  • “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari
  • “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • “The Surrender Experiment” by Michael Singer
  • “Mastery” by Robert Greene
  • “Improv Wisdom” by Patrician Madsen
  • “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes

And about 500 more. If you want my particular full list of my top 200 or so books, I’ll put it here (everyone has a different list. What’s yours?)

2) Friends

A few months ago one of my closest friends did something horrible to me. I cut that person off immediately despite years of friendship.

In another case, someone I had been barely friends with came through for me in a way that surprised me and I would do anything for this person now.

Friendships change. That’s ok. Every day I try to figure out how to improve the friendships and relationships I have.

Sometimes I find an email I haven’t responded to in years. I respond to it. BAM! A friendship re-established.

This was free for me. And yet the benefits of every day trimming your bonsai tree of friendships allows you to build a beautiful forest.

3) Sleep

Sleeping is free. An extra hour of sleep costs me nothing except maybe one less hour of TV at night.

And yet sleep rejuvenates the brain, reduces inflammation, cures anxiety and depression, raises libido, and lots of blah blah blah.

What would you pay for a smarter brain and less sickness? Well, it’s free.

4) Bad Habits

Stopping smoking is free. This is an extreme example. I use it because we all know smoking kills people.

I have other bad habits. I dwell, for instance.

Spending a little bit of time each day stopping a bad habit is not only free, it makes money because bad habits are always replaced by better habits.

You just have to do a tiny bit every day. And then you live longer and make the people around you happier.

5) Ideas

To create something, you have to do something old in a new way.

You have to take everything that’s been done before and find a twist (Facebook requiring “identity”, Google making a driverless car. Gandhi conquering a nation without fighting).

If I play the piano today I’ll be bad compared with any musician.

So if I play the piano it will disappoint me. “I’m no good!” I’ll say.

I have to practice every day. First I have to practice the scales. I have to get my fingers used to the motions. I have to learn basic music theory.

And then I learn easy songs. Then harder songs.

Ideas are songs. First you come up with bad ideas. But every day practice. Write 10 ideas a day. Throw them out. Ten more.

The best way to have one good idea is to have 1000 bad ones;

Before Marc Andreessen developed Netscape, the first really robust commercial web browser, he and Jim Clark would meet for hours every day brainstorming what would be a good Internet business.

And this was AFTER Andreessen had already developed the first graphics browser, Mosaic.

So even after he had a good idea, he had to keep coming up with dozens or hundreds of ideas to turn his idea into a viable business, sold later for billions to AOL.

To come up with ten ideas today is free. But one good idea over the next five years is worth millions or more to you.

6) Grateful

Last October something really bad happened to me in my personal life.

For awhile I kept asking “Why?” There was no answer. When the shitstorm happens, nobody will tell you “Why?”.

That’s why it’s a shitstorm. Because “Why?” disappears and you are left all alone and confused and scared.

I had to switch. I had to follow my own advice. I had to check the box every morning on what can I be grateful for in this experience.

I read an article. Google it: the physical benefits of gratitude.

Spending three minutes a day trying to find something to be grateful in a difficult situation will reduce anger. Will make you sleep better. Will make you live longer.

It’s free. But what would you pay for the results?

7) Experiences

In 1976, Terry George was in prison in Belfast. His fellow prisoners dug a tunnel to try and escape the prison.

It was a horrible experience. Years later, George wrote a play about the experience called “The Tunnel” that did well on Broadway.

And that experience, plus the suffering experienced allowed him to find the art, the humor, the pathos, in pain and suffering.

In 2004 he wrote and directed “Hotel Rwanda”, one of the greatest movies of all time, about the genocide in Rwanda.

In 2016 I called him on the phone and he came over my house and we did a podcast about the creativity one can find inside the agony of suffering.

I had an experience just by talking to him and learning. Maybe that experience changed my life.

And he took his experiences and transformed them into many works of art and an entire career that’s included an Academy Award.

Don’t let a day happen without turning it into an experience you can squeeze the magic out of.

Stretch the day out to find what was hidden in the secret folds that we often ignore.

An experience is often free. And what you get out of it can stretch a lifetime.

8) Laugh

Kids are always running around and laughing so someone, of course, did a study.

Turns out kids laugh 300 times a day. Adults laugh on average…five.

Google “benefits of laughter”. Laughter reduces stress hormones, increases immune system. Blah blah blah.

Oh, and it’s fun to laugh. And yet we forget to do it. Or how to do it.

A month ago I had the opportunity to do my first standup comedy ever. It was something so uncomfortable for me I thought I would throw up for the five days before hand. I was going to quit the minute before.

But then people laughed. And I had fun. The podcast episode for it I think is coming out this week on “Question of the Day”.

Here’s the standup I listened to this past week:

  • Anything by Amy Schemer
  • Anything by Louis CK
  • Anything by Jim Gaffigan. (or his book “Food”)
  • Miranda Sings teaching Jerry Seinfeld “how to be famous”.
  • Andy Samberg’s Harvard Commencement Speech
  • Bo Burnham’s final 7 minutes of his special: “what.”
  • Anything by Gary Gulman
  • Anything by Marina Franklin
  • Louis CK on “Opie & Anthony” interviewing Donald Rumsfeld (“Are you an alien?)

9) Notice

I ran into a friend the other day that I hadn’t seen in 4 years. He was even surprised I remembered his name since we had only met once before.

It turned out we were working on similar projects. So he came over and showed me more of what he was working on.

I was feeling excited by it. So I came up with a business idea. I pitched the business idea to another friend who loved it.

Now I am waiting for a call back. I’m anxious. I notice I’m anxious (noticing is free).

So now that I noticed it I can turn it into something else. It reduces the anxiety and gives me a plan: pitch someone else, come up with more ideas, follow up in a different way, etc.

Noticing stops anger, anxiety, fear. And it’s free.

10) Question

We take so much for granted. We think we have to go to college. Or buy a home. Or get a job. These are things that are just “done” without questioning.

But the world changes every day.

The world doesn’t owe us answers every day. But everything can be questioned.

In Adam Grant’s book “Originals” he talks about how he rejected investing in eyeglass seller “Warby Parker”.

All they did was ask: “Why not sell glasses for cheap and online?”

Nobody had asked that before. Now the company is worth over a billion.

Asking a question is free. But the results are often worth billions. Or worth new friendships (I called Adam to ask him more about Warby Parker). Or worth new ways of thinking.

Or maybe it’s just practice. Questioning everything around allows you to expand the brain.

For instance, do we need a President? Or…what are better ways to educate an 18 year old? Or…why can’t I do standup comedy? Or call whoever I want?

It’s just practice.

Practice makes perfect.


Read More: How To Be The Luckiest Guy On the Planet in 4 Easy Steps. 

  • I thought I would feel ecstasy when I made a lot of money. I thought I could cut my heart out and eat it for breakfast and be hungry for lunch later.

    I thought that everyone would love me. I thought I would walk in the middle of the street and cars would pass right through me.

    Much later, when a psychic advised me to throw a coconut in the middle of the street at midnight in order to make my money back, I realized I might have been wrong all along.

    HAHAHA how did you ever get this sense of humour?!

  • Melanie Wendel

    Take everything that’s been done before and find/give it a twist – now how cool is that?

  • Josh Kallmeyer

    Can you post your top 200, James?

  • Micah Lee

    Another great post. I’ve only been following your posts for about a week, and I’ve already listened to about twenty podcasts. Adam Grant liked my tweet the other day and I squealed like an obsessed popstar fan. For anyone else who might be reading this post, this is what a former drunk’s reading list looks like and only if I could express how much it’s “turned my life around”.

    1. Rich Dad Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki

    2. Mindset – Carol Dweck

    3. Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

    4. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

    5. Think like a Freak – Stephen J. Dubner

    6. Applied Economics – Thomas Sowell

  • Don N.

    You dwell?

  • Chris Clark

    James, you seem like you know a lot. I have been reading a few things that you have wrote up. It is very interesting.