When You’re Feeling Lost… Do This

feel lost

“I hate James. I wish he would quit.”


I read that in an email of one of my co-workers. He accidentally sent it to me but it was intended for another co-worker. They hated me.

I wanted to quit. But I was depressed and I needed the money.

I asked my neighbor. Would your firm hire me?

He sort of looked at me like he didn’t know what to say. You need experience, he said.

And then I did get fired. And then I was cut off from everyone.

Oh, and if this ever happens to you, which it will… read this: The 100 Rules for Being an Entrepreneur


I would take long walks at 4 in the morning. Manhattan is bordered by Battery Park City, then Battery Park, then Water Street. Then Chinatown, then the Lower East Side, and then I would circle back to my house.

That took up two hours. What next?

I didn’t even want to spend time with my kids. Because I thought I would be nothing but a failure for them.

I came from nothing. I was going back to nothing. I was going back to worse than nothing, I thought.

And I felt specifically “lost” because I felt kicked out of the tribe. For millions of years, primates need to be part of a tribe or we feel lost. We feel unsafe, like the predators will catch us.

So our stress levels spike out of control, even though the only predators now are in our own mind.

The mind-predators are just as real.

I couldn’t change my reality in a day. If I’m lost today, I’m still going to be “lost” tomorrow.

But I started to realize it was my choice.

That the direction I was going in was my choice. And direction determines destination.

I needed to get back into the tribe. I needed to feel like I belonged to something, to anything.

So I made “being a member of the tribe” part of my habit.


LEARN

Every day I would read from four different books. A quality fiction book (to improve my writing). A non-fiction book (to learn). A book about games (because games and play are the foundations for almost all of civilization and learning). And a thriller (because sometimes I need to escape).

The newspapers would just make me anxious. So I avoided news. But reading 10% a day from each of the four books above means I’d finish 4 books (at least) every ten days. That’s 146 books a year.

Since most people don’t read anything, that’s 146 books more than anyone else. Which means I could then teach, sell, create, flourish, more than anyone else.

That’s also 1460 books a decade. Or 2,200 books since I started doing this.

Each book is the entire curated life of the author, put into 200–300 pages. All of his or her best thoughts.

I’ve now lived those 2200 lives, side by side with my favorite authors.


FRIENDSHIP.

When I was at my lowest I went to the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. It’s Warren Buffett’s meeting of his shareholders.

I’m not a shareholder. And my initial goal was to go there and write a negative article about it. But I wrote the opposite.

Initially I felt jealous of people there. So many rich, successful people. What was I doing here?

And then someone asked Warren Buffett what his definition of success was.

He said: Count the number of people who love you.

He said: And to be loved, you have to be lovable.

How can you be lovable?

Be more kind than you have to each day.

Help at least one person a day.

Reach out unexpectedly to a friend each day.

Touch someone.

I started doing all of these things. After a few months I realized I wasn’t by myself anymore.

And then more things started to happen. People were reaching out to me. They wanted to be part of MY tribe. To be my friend. To work with me. To share opportunities with me.

Just a few months earlier I had been sick in bed with depression and worse.

Now I was in a tribe. Now I had friends. Now I had people to talk to and learn from and exchange ideas with. And together, help the world.

Warren Buffett’s answer is funny because it’s a metric like any other (money in bank, Facebook likes, Instagram followers, etc) but it put me on the right path:

Love others in order to love yourself.


BE AUTHENTIC

Here are the guidelines I use for being authentic:

A) If it’s not a HELL YEAH, it’s a “no”.

If you can’t say “No”, then nobody will ever trust that your “Yes” comes from the deepest part of you. Which it must.

B) Write down every day things that I feel vulnerable about.

I was doing this forever but then Susan David, author of Emotional Agility told me something fascinating:

If you write down JUST ONCE, all the things you are vulnerable about, then six months later, when compared with a control group, the people who were vulnerable had higher levels of happiness.

I don’t know if I am a happy person. But I write down every day what I am feeling vulnerable about (stresses about jobs, love, children, friends, partners, etc) and I know my sense of well-being and what I can handle in life has risen considerably. It’s like a super power.

It’s a secret way of making yourself Graceful. Royalty is graceful. In our modern world, this is how you get modern royalty.

C) Choose the people who get to choose what I do.

I wrote a book, “Choose Yourself”. But along the way, sometimes other people have to choose you: for a job, for a promotion, for a sale, etc.

But always choose who you deal with. Who you give power to. This is the way of reclaiming power over your own life.

This takes time. But it’s not a goal. It’s a direction. It’s a theme of living life. I wanted to be a part of the tribe that “Chooses themselves”.

Now I’m part of that tribe.

But in a tribe, every day you have to contribute, and you have to stay healthy, and you have to learn, and you have to help people flourish.

And then by the time you die, the entire tribe will send smoke to the sun in honor of you.

(and, if nothing else, there’s a pile of 1 million balls in Washington DC you can jump in)

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  • IgnacioE

    Hi James,

    I’ve been inhaling your blog and podcasts since I got laid off at the end of December. Great stuff. #209 Bobby Casey was awesome. I did what you asked at the end of the podcast and subscribed to it via iTunes (a first for me & iTunes podcast subscription). I also bought your last 2 books and they should arrive any day now.

    Keep it up and thanks,
    Ignacio

    • George Green

      Good call, this is one of my favorite podcasts and I just started Reinvent Yourself last week. He’s got a really kinda blunt interview style that really works.

  • Angie Clark

    Another fantastic post, James. Your mojo is back. When your writing is genuine and simple like this, it goes a long way. The closing is much more optimistic compared to most of your work. I hope your message is sincere. Cheers

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  • Tracy Colley

    Your articles give me hope that I belong too and have a tribe out there. I love what you say about if it’s not a “Hell yes,” it’s a “No”! I have a jar I put a dollar in every time I do something or agree to something I really don’t want to do. Just thinking that I’m going to have to put a dollar in usually deters me and makes me think about the payoff. Life is too short and no one benefits from when we (continuously) show up to events, jobs or social outings with a heavy heart. There is some conflict if you suffer from depression, when you don’t want to do ANYTHING. But even at my most depressed, some ideas still sound at least a little fun, and pursuing those things can turn it around.

  • Kostas Avramiotis

    that is some kind of crazy motivation

  • Rachel Evelyn Nichols

    *Sigh.* I like this post James. For me, being lovable is very difficult. It doesn’t seem to matter how kind or considerate I am. Who I am is unacceptable. People have always found fault with me because I am introverted, too sensitive to painful emotions, overly thoughtful and eccentric. I would pay $1,000,000 (if I had it) to buy a new personality and be what I am not. I have to constantly act a part to be socially acceptable. Pretending to be extroverted, Polleyanna-ish, shallow and “normal” wears me out. I tend to avoid social situations because of this.

    • I can relate. But maybe if it’s someone you REALLY like and/or care about, it won’t seem so shallow. Those few people will be your true tribe.

    • Simon Lindgaard

      That’s okay sweety.. Cherish yourself and f**k what “normal” people thinks.. we are all different, and the free thinkers and the thoughtful must just find like-minded people.

      Don’t ever sell yourself short. Instead of focusing so much on where you don’t belong, focus on where you DO want to belong. What possibilities might be in store for you. :)

      In my life I’ve learned that no one is wrong, except when they try to be right.

    • Lee

      I really and truly feel your pain.
      What you’re saying here sounds a lot like my own inner monologue, almost to the word.
      I don’t have a solution for you because I haven’t found one myself.

      I can say though that you are not alone.

      This article says to love others. I say you need to love yourself first. :)

    • Sonia Garces

      Hi 5 Ms Rachel, I’m a certified introvert, I have set of friends I’m comfortable with,but I don’t like parties, weddings etc I prefer to read, cook, garden and bond with my pets is there something wrong with being Us?

    • Roger Andre

      Hi look I hear you but it’s fine to let more of the ‘real’ you shine through in social situations, be a little bold with this perhaps. If you believe you’re linked to other dimensions, for example, then say so……you’d be surprised how many come out of the woodwork in relief to connect with you.

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  • James – I have 67 emails to attend to, and I have so much work left to do today. Yet still, I couldn’t fight it – I had to read your post. Goddammit you’re so bloody good, it makes me sick. Will you adopt me?

  • MEL

    James, WHERE is that pile of a million balls in D.C.? I would love to jump into them!

  • Thanks for this, James. I like how being a member of the tribe was a goal or direct for you. I think you’ve transcended that a bit to creating a tribe. Congratulations on getting back on your feet after your setback. You’ve gone above and beyond just getting back on track.