• How minimalism brought me freedom and joy

    I have one bag of clothes, one backpack with a computer, iPad, and phone. I have zero other possessions.

    Today I have no address. At this exact moment I am sitting in a restaurant and there's no place for me to go to lie down.

    By tonight I will find a place to lie down. Will that be my address? Probably not.

    Am I minimalist? I don't know. I don't care. I don't like that word. I live the way I like to live no matter what label it has.

    At any moment, you are exactly where you want to be, for better or worse.

    A lot of people get minimalism confused.

    james
    This story is from James Altucher's website
    . He let us run it after we asked nicely.

    It's not necessarily a good way to live. Or a free way to live for many people. It's just the way I like to live.

    I like to be a wanderer. Without knowing where I am going to end up. To explore with no goal. To love without expectation.

    For now. Maybe not for later. Maybe not yesterday.


    "Does minimalism mean not having a lot of possessions?"

    No, not at all. I think minimalism means having as little as you require. That means different things to everyone.

    For me, having little means I don't have to think about things that I own.

    My brain is not so big. So now I can think about other things. I can explore other ways of living more easily.

    Some people don't like that. I know many people who love roots. Who love being sentimental towards items. This is fine. Who am I to judge?

    The other day I threw out my college diploma that was in storage. I threw out everything I had in storage. The last objects left in my life.

    At 48 years old I have nothing and nowhere. Other than the people I love and the experiences I love.

    A friend asked me, "You worked hard for that diploma. Are you sure you want to throw it out?"

    Yes. I've worked harder for other things since then. I don't keep all of these things around either. They are gone.

    Society tells us a diploma is a special life achievement. It isn't. It's yesterday. I don't hold onto all the things society tells me to hold onto


    "How do you deal with kids if you are a minimalist?"

    Like 50% of Americans or more, I'm divorced. I have two beautiful children with my first wife. I love my children very much.

    I miss them almost constantly. I'm not minimalist if minimalism means having zero attachments. I'm attached to my kids.

    I see them as much as I can. Sometimes they visit me (wherever I am) and sometimes I visit them. And some times they stay with me for an extended period of time.

    I hope to talk to them every day for the rest of my life. If they lived with me I probably wouldn't be able to live the way I do and I probably wouldn't want to.

    But life has delivered me to this shore. So I pick myself up and explore the jungle on this new island.


    "Do you have to get off the internet to be a minimalist?"

    Sometimes. For four million years we were "disconnected." For 20 years we have been "connected."

    I have 238,795 unread emails in my inbox. Emails are a suggestion but not an obligation.

    Love and spirituality and gratitude are found in personal connection. Not in an email response.

    Sometimes I might return an email ten years later. Those are fun. I pretend like I just got the email a second ago and I return it, "Sure I'll meet you for coffee tomorrow!" I get fun responses.

    I never answer the phone. I have no voicemail. My phone number is 203-512-2161. Try it and see.

    I go on Twitter one hour a week to do a Q&A every Thursday from 3:30 – 4:30 EST. I've been doing that for six years.. I post articles on Facebook but don't really use it for anything else.

    I have a kindle app on my iPad mini and read all of my books there.

    I understand real books are beautiful. So I go to bookstores for hours and read them. But I won't own them because they won't fit in my one bag.

    I never read random articles on the Internet unless they are by people I know. Mostly I read books I love.

    A friend asked me, when he heard all of this, "But aren't you afraid you're going to miss some information?"

    I asked him, "What information?"

    99% of information we read, we forget anyway. The best way to remember is to "DO."

    Otherwise, I look at nothing online.

    Experiences happen when you disconnect. And I choose experiences over goods or information.


    "Does minimalism mean having few emotional attachments?"

    I love my friends. I love my children. I love talking to people at a party or a dinner or an event and learning from them.

    Love is minimalism. Desire, possession, and control are not minimalism.

    Minimalism of things? No. Minimalism of fear, anxiety, stress, mourning.

    I don't like any intrigue. I don't like to gossip about people.

    When I do that, I feel like I am carrying those people in my backpack. So the more I gossip, the heavier my baggage is.

    I don't like feeling bad if someone doesn't like me. That's also baggage. I try to leave that behind.

    And we're all different. You never really know why someone is doing the things they are doing.

    Sometimes its for deeply sad reasons. Sometimes they are projecting. Sometimes they had a bad day, or a bad life. Sometimes It's for reasons we'll never understand.

    "Why did they do this?" or "Why is this happening to me?" won't fit in my one bag.

    Did I check the box on physical health, emotional health, creativity, and compassion today?

    Those items don't need to fit in my bag. They are gone by end of day. I'll find them again tomorrow.

    How do you get rid of an attachment that is in your baggage? I don't really know.

    I certainly carry around extra baggage. So I just get back to the four items I said above starting with physical health.

    Then I always find my baggage is a little lighter.


    "Does minimalism mean having no accomplishments?"

    No. If anything, the more you accomplish, the more you can afford to get rid of the things society uses to hold you down.

    Or, the reverse. Either way.


    "Is minimalism healthy?"

    Yes. Sometimes. For instance, I don't like to eat more than I need. Although going extreme on that becomes an obligation to carry around.

    I don't like to have experiences that are unhealthy.

    For me, experiences are always more important than material goods. A story is more important than a gift.

    A material good might not fit in my bag. But a joyful experience is lighter than an atom.

    I get to look forward to it beforehand. I get to have it. I get to remember it forever afterwards and learn from it and love it. And it weighs nothing.

    What if an experience is not so joyful.

    One thing I know: joy is a choice inside and not an emotion given to you.

    Sometimes I make the wrong choice. I can't help it. But sometimes I make the right one. I hope today I will.


    "What are minimalist emotions?"

    Love, joy, wonder, curiosity, friendship connection. These are things you give away. Not take from others.

    Emotions that can't fit in my bag: possession, control, anxiety, fear.

    I don't include anger. Anger is just fear clothed. When I'm angry I try to find the underlying fear. Get naked with it.

    Am I good at this? Not really. I try to get better.

    If I judge myself for something I did wrong then I just did two things I don't like to do: the wrong thing, and the judging.

    Minimalism is about not judging yourself or others.


    "You have to have goals to succeed! How can you be a minimalist with goals?"

    Goals are ways the mind tries to control you. "I need X to be happy."

    When I feel like I need something outside of me to be happy, I have to make room in my bag for it.

    I don't have enough room. I have some shirts and pants and toothpaste and a few other things. Goals don't fit.

    I have interests and things that I love to do. If I get better at those things each day (or try to) I feel good.

    When I have less things in my bag, I feel more free. Did I get 1% more "free" today, whatever free means?

    When I spend time with friends, I find joy in the connection. Sometimes the only thing we need in life is not a goal achieved but a hand to hold.

    These three above items catapult me to achieve every goal I never had.

    It's magic.


    "Should I sell my house and get a smaller house?"

    No. Or…I don't know. Don't do it for a label. If you like your house, keep it. If you like your job, keep it.

    Figure out the 10-15 things you want in your bag before you die tomorrow.


    "What's the first step I should take? Should I throw things out?"

    I have no clue.

    This is the problem with self-help books. They seem to be written by someone on a pedestal giving advice without having any blemishes.

    I have too many blemishes to give advice. I am a homeless man with no address, with some failures and some successes and no possessions.

    Today I can start over. Or today I can ask too many times: "Why?"

    But there's one thing I can do: I can always help someone else. That makes my day and life lighter.

    Anyone can have miracles in their life.

    Miracles don't happen. Miracles are given.


    "If you are a minimalist how come sometimes you have really long articles?"

    Because I don't care what you think about me.

    [Read James' follow-up post, where here reflects on the feedback he's received so far on this essay.]

  • How do I handle people who have a bad opinion of me?

    I've had four death threats. I've had several major media outlets write articles trashing me (with hundreds of comments agreeing. Even two rap songs composed just to bash me). I've had people show up at my door ready to argue with me.

    Maybe the worst was exactly four years ago today. I wrote an article on July 4 on why I was against all wars.

    I don't know enough to have a real opinion. All I know is that there is nothing that I would ever feel strongly enough about where I would allow my 16 year old daughter to take a gun to another country and shoot other little kids.

    james
    This story is from James Altucher's website
    . He let us run it after we asked nicely.

    That's what war is. That's what all wars have been. The history books with the justifications get written later.

    I was afraid to publish the article anywhere. So I went to a website devoted to yoga. I wanted to be loved and I figured I'd be safe on a peaceful yoga website.

    There were about 500 comments to the article. Maybe more. One person said, "if you were right in front of me I'd cut off your penis and force you to eat it." Or people were saying, "you're worse than Hitler." Or people were saying, "you are the worst scum of the Earth."

    And it wasn't just strangers. After a few months I realized one of my best friends wasn't calling me back. Finally I got ahold of him. I said, "what's going on?"

    He said, "I read that article. You must be for slavery."

    I said, "We've known each other 20 years. Why didn't you pick up the phone and just ask me. Of course I am not for slavery or anything remotely like that."

    But he said, "Let's just wish each other well and not speak anymore."

    Another time I wrote an article about my family. I wrote about my father and my fears of how the direction he seems parallel to many situations in my life. The article was about my own fears.

    My sister wrote me and said she would sue me unless I took it down. She said, "I never want to speak to you again for the rest of my life."

    So now I haven't spoken to one of my best friends, or my sister (who had really been my best friend all my life) in years.

    Yesterday, someone wrote me and said I was probably the dumbest person alive. I get those at least once a day.

    I'm not trying to brag. I'm just establishing credentials. It's very painful to get hate mail. From friends or even from people you don't know or from relatives. No matter who it is. I don't like it.

    So I had to learn to deal with it.

    Here's how:

    A) LIVE LIFE LIKE IT'S YOUR LAST DAY.

    This doesn't mean, "Ok! Eat cake! Party all day!"

    This means, when I see my wife, or my friends, or my children, or people who I love, it may be the last time I see them or speak to them.

    I treat them with the full love that those last moments will require. Some day it really will be the last time I see them. Will I spend those moments agonizing about people who hate me, people stuck in my head shouting at me in my imagination?

    Or will I give the people I love my full attention. Because I will miss them. Because nothing is better than being around people you love.

    It's my choice always in those moments and I know exactly what I will choose.

    B) THIS TOO SHALL PASS

    Whenever there is "outrage porn" directed in my attention I learned one rule: if I don't deal with it for 24 hours then it goes away.

    If I respond to one hateful comment. Or one outrageous statement against me. Or one completely insane outburst, then I have to restart the clock and it's another 24 hours.

    Not only will it pass for me, it will pass for them. Often people who are upset at me one day, completely forget it the next. For them it was just sport and then it's over. They move onto the next sport. Unless I engage them and play their game.

    I'd rather play games I enjoy.

    C) THEY ARE JUNK STATUS BINGING

    When someone lashes out at me, I quickly realized what was happening, as painful as it was at the moment.

    They were afraid.

    I only know this because I look at when I get angry at something. It's usually not because what the other person did. It's usually because they said or did something that triggered some fear inside of me.

    I don't like fears that are touched. So I clothe it in the armor of anger and I lash out.

    And that's what other people do. To me, to you, to everyone. We are all victims on both sides of this.

    Sometimes the most confident-seeming people are the ones the most afraid, the ones with the most armor surround them, the ones who need to be cradled the most but prevent that by lashing out at those around them.

    When someone is afraid and angry like that, they want to feel they are better than you. So without earning that "better" status (whatever that might mean), they try to get status over you by trashing you.

    This is similar to "eating our fears" when we binge on junk food. Ultimately, we are tribal animals, and all mammals earn their rank in the tribe and know very well where they sit on that ranking.

    With outrage porn, it gives people a chance to think they can move up or down in status by junk-trashing you.

    And when I get offended by it, I also have to be aware of the same thing. They are dealing with their fears but I'm also dealing with mine.

    My fear of not being liked. My fear of losing some status. My fear that if I lose status maybe once again I will l go broke, or lose my marriage, or go homeless, or start drinking and taking drugs. Or whatever has happened to me in the past that gives fuel to my own fears.

    So now I say, "thank you". Because it is ONLY in those moments where I can relax and release and let go. These are the moments we are given to spiritually grow.

    D) HAVE A VISION

    Every day I get emails from people who are in pain. People who feel stuck in life. Stuck in their careers. Stuck in their passions or their relationships.

    Or even worse, lost and perhaps suicidal. People who were climbing a ladder and for a moment, at least, have lost their grip in the dark and don't know how to find it again.

    I've been on that ladder many times. I've also lost my grip. I've fallen all the way down.

    I like to think that I want to help. But I don't know if that's possible. You can't tell people how to find light when the room is pitch black.

    All I can do is tell what works for me. How I have gotten back onto that ladder and kept climbing. What practices and have worked for me.

    I never write to hurt anyone. I only tells what happens to me. I never give advice. I only say what has worked for me.

    I have confidence that this is what I do. And I have confidence that it works based on how not only I feel, based on how not only the outcomes in my life, but all the many kind emails I get also from people who have decided in their own lives to try these methods.

    When you write and work from the heart, from your own personal vision, that is your safety net.

    Don't go from your safety net into someone else's spider web. They will poison you and then suck the blood out of you.

    Ultimately we're a single drop of water that is dropped into the middle of a deep ocean.

    What is that single drop of water then? It disperses throughout the ocean, rippling to all shores. If the ocean is your safety net, no storm can rock you for long.

    E) COMEDY

    Laughter cures all. Laughter is a very primal sound we make that is older than human language – perhaps millions of years older.

    What does it signify? It signifies that there was danger, but now the danger is over. There is relief. There is joy. There is celebration.

    And yes, there are fart jokes.

    When I feel my body reacting to someone else's opinion of me (I feel it in my chest, my

    stomach, my head), and I want to react, I want to argue, I want to make the call and find out why, who, when, WHY – I watch comedy.

    I laugh. It's ok. This is more important for my survival than arguing. And, in fact, medically that's true also. Anger will cause stress, inflammation, heart attacks, strokes.

    Laughter has been demonstrated to be life-healing. It's an inner massage of the body.

    And given all of our choices in our short lives, while we are all trapped here together spinning through space at 4000 miles a second until we flame out into a mist of nothingness, what would you rather do – laugh or cry?

    ***

    People say, "it's none of my business what other people think of me". This is one of those statements that are both True and Not-True. Intellectually it seems true.

    But we're not all intellectuals. Sometimes we feel that animal urge to respond, to react, to cry, to be in pain.

    So this is all a practice. A practice for growth. And the people who lash out with their opinions about us are our greatest teachers.

    Sometimes it feels horrible. But running a marathon is hard. Flying through space on a tiny planet is so hard it's a miracle.

    Don't waste the miracle living inside other people's fears. Be the drop of water that disperses through the infinitely wide ocean.

    Image: Shutterstock

    (more…)

  • What I learned about leadership when I interviewed the biggest drug dealer in history

    We want you to come out here and interview "Freeway Rick Ross" on stage.

    Who?

    I was talking to Jayson Gaignard. I don't really know anything about anything so Jayson had to explain and then I looked up Rick. And then I got obsessed.

    Rick Ross sold about a billion dollars worth of crack cocaine during his "career."

    I read every book. I read his autobiography. I read about a dozen articles. I watched three documentaries.

    I flew out to Jayson's Mastermind Talks in Napa Valley.

    james
    This story is from James Altucher's website
    . He let us have it after we asked nicely.

    Seth Godin has great advice about speaking at conferences: If you speak at a conference either do it for free because you love it, or charge FULL RETAIL.

    I flew out to Jayson's conference for free.

    I was really nervous because I knew I had nothing at all in common with Rick. Maybe he would hate me. Some nerdy Jewish guy who thinks he knows everything.

    I had written down about 100 questions but I knew I wouldn't look at my notes during the interview. I then rewrote them from memory. And then rewrote them again.

    I knew the questions I rewrote the most were the ones that were probably most interesting to me.

    There were many things I didn't care much about: politics, legal issues, the Iran-Contra situation (Rick was fooled by the CIA into providing drug profits to the Contras).

    The rise of gang violence was an issue so, before the interview, I had lunch with Rick and asked about that.

    He told me that while he was there, everyone worked for one cause: making money, and they knew that if homicide police came in then that would be the end of the money.

    "There was less gang violence when I was in charge," he said, "because we were all getting rich".

    We had a great interview that lasted an hour and the result will be on my podcast within the next few weeks.

    Rick Ross's most active years were from 1981-1988. Basically a billion dollars worth of crack went through his organization. His connection was from Nicaragua. His distribution were all the gangs that he grew up with in South Central LA.

    His family broke up when he was four. He grew up amidst non-stop violence. He watched his uncle kill his aunt. Gang violence was every day.

    He didn't learn to read or write so when he was 18 he was kicked out of high school and kicked off the tennis team where he was an aspiring champion. That was his one chance, he felt, to get out of the ghetto.

    He was on the street and needed to make money without an education, a family, and the ability to read or write.

    He asked an ex high school teacher for advice on how he could make money. The teacher suggested he sell drugs.

    So he sold drugs. And instead of spending his profits, Rick kept doubling and doubling until all the other dealers were now buying from him and Rick was using his scale to drive his own costs down.

    Eventually he was the main connection in all of the United States, buying up to $5 million worth of cocaine A DAY.

    The podcast will have the guts of the interview. But I was impressed how soft-spoken, ready to answer, and humble Rick was.

    He had spent, in various periods, close to 20 years in jail. Now his main goal was to lecture kids in jail and school how to avoid the situation he was in.

    Here's what I gather were his main rules on leadership. How to lead a billion dollar organization where many of the people below him ("all of them", Rick said and the crowd we were in front of laughed) carried guns.

    A) TRY TO GET THE PEOPLE WORKING FOR YOU TO BE MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN YOU

    "I wanted the same for them and for them to even surpass me."

    They might not always take it. But give them the chance to be as successful as you and they will take that example to the people below them.

    B) HONESTY

    This sounds strange coming from a drug kingpin but there aren't any lawyers or courts to track down liars. Honesty is the law in that game.

    When there are lawyers, people lie and deceive and betray. When everything is based on your word and everyone is carrying guns, honesty is the rule.

    "If there was any funny business, I'd rather not deal with them anymore, or be very careful with them in the future."

    C) BE VERY LOW KEY

    Nobody ever saw Rick being flashy. He was so low key that even when he was running almost a half billion dollars a year, the police had no idea what he looked like.

    Part of this was a decentralized structure. People several layers below him in the organization would not have any contact with him and would have to deal with conflicts at their level.

    "I had to show by example how to manage, so the people underneath me would know what to do instead of me being always involved."

    D) ONLY DO THE ESSENTIAL

    Rick arranged the top level contacts between his sellers and his buyers. Then he stepped back.

    Everything else had to be dealt with by the people who worked for him and the people who worked for them.

    "Everyone knew what they had to do." And if they didn't, they stopped being part of the food chain.

    E) DON'T MAKE IT ABOUT THE MONEY

    Again: odd advice from a mega drug lord.

    Rick poured many of his profits back into his neighborhood.

    This was in part to give back, to contribute. But at the same time, it was strategic.

    When he went to jail at one point and his bail was set at over a million dollars the million had to come from legitimate enterprises. So Rick could not supply his own bail.

    Instead, every household on the block he grew up on, put up their own homes as bail in order to get Rick out of jail.

    When you make it not about the money the benefits never stop since money is only a tiny byproduct of the reasons we live, we do things, we strive for success.

    F) REDUCE CONFRONTATIONS

    When things have the possibility of getting incredibly violent, reduce confrontation as quickly as possible.

    Often Rick would simply pay off or write off any losses on people who were no longer fitting in with the organization, rather than have a confrontation with them.

    Violence could bring in a whole new set of problems. Better to take a loss and move on and now worry about it.

    G) FREEMIUM

    It's almost a cliche, but Rick told how he went to Cincinnati. Stayed with a friend and told him to invite ten of his friends over.

    Then when everyone was there he gave everyone a free supply and told them if they were interested to come back in a week and buy the next batch.

    Everyone came back. Sometimes the sooner you charge in a business, the quicker you put a ceiling on your potential for expansion. This is true whether your business is drugs or when Facebook was waiting to charge for ads.

    H) ASSUME THE WORST

    "I always knew I was going to go to jail," Rick said.

    But he wasn't going to sit around and wait for it to happen. He owned over a dozen houses so nobody knew where he was.

    He barricaded the houses with multiple iron fences so that it would take the police over an hour to smash their way in and by then everyone would be gone.

    He would leave town for months at a time. He would put extra profits into "legitimate" businesses like a car parts company and hotels.

    He always assumed the worst, so that's how he was able to diversify all the potential ways he could succeed.

    ***

    At the end of the interview Rick described how he learned how to read and write in prison.

    He said that the US jail system spends $45,000 a year per prisoner but refuses to buy prisoners books.

    He recommended the books, As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, and The Richest Man in Babylon by Og Mandino.

    He said that when he was broke and his mother was broke and his community was broke and he couldn't read or write and had no education or prospects, this seemed like the only way out.

    When asked what he could've have done differently he paraphrased, The Richest Man in Babylon.

    When I was young I asked the most successful person I knew how I could make some money, he said.

    He looked down for a few seconds. Looked back up at the audience. Paused.

    "I asked the wrong person."

    Image: Patrick Bastien Photography. Copyrighted free use

    (more…)

  • The only technique to learn something new

    Someone stole $90 million from a company I was involved in. I'm a poor judge of people. The company collapsed.

    Some things I can't learn. I tend to like people too much.

    So it's hard for me to be a good judge of people, no matter how much I try. So I find other people who are good at judging people and I ask them to help me.

    Don't force yourself to learn something if you don't want to or it's not a natural talent.

    What's the role of talent? Very small. But you have to start with it. Talent is the seed of skill.

    How do you know if you are talented? If you loved it when you were ten years old. If you dream about it. If you like to read about it. Read the below and you'll know what you are talented at.

    Trust me when I say: everyone is talented at many things.

    james
    This story is from James Altucher's website
    . He let us it after we asked nicely.

    In the past 20 years I've wanted to learn how to do some things really well. Writing, programming, business skills (leadership, sales, negotiating, decision-making), comedy, games.

    So I developed a ten step technique for learning.

    1. LOVE IT.

    If you can't start with "love" then everyone who does love will beat everyone who "likes" or "hates".

    This is a rule of the universe. The first humans who crossed the arctic tundra from Siberia to Alaska in -60 degree temperatures had to love it. The rest stayed in the East Africa Savannah.

    The very first day I wrote a "Hello, World" computer program I dreamed about computers. I woke up at 4am to get back to the "computer lab" and make even bigger programs.

    When I first started to write every day, I would write all day. I couldn't stop. And all I wanted to talk about with people were different authors.

    When I was 10 years old I wrote a gossip column about all my fellow 5th graders. I read every Judy Blume book. I read everything I could. I loved it.

    Most of my friends got bored with me and soon I was very lonely. Except when I was writing.

    2. READ IT.

    Bobby Fischer wasn't that good at chess. He had talent but nobody thought much of him.

    So around the age of 12-13 he disappeared for a year. He did this later in his 20s.

    But at 13 when he came back on the scene he was suddenly the best chessplayer in the US, won the US championship, and became the youngest grandmaster in the world.

    How did he do it? He barely played at all during his year of wandering.

    Instead he did two things:

    a) he studied every game played in the prior century. In the 1800s.

    When he came back on the scene he was known for playing all of these antiquated openings but he had improvements in each one. Nobody can figure out how to defeat these improvements.

    In fact, the final game of the World Championship many years later, in 1972 when he was playing Spassky, he brought out his 1800s arsenal to become World Champion.

    Spassky desperately needed to win to keep the match going. Fischer needed to draw to win the title.

    Spassky started with a very modern attacking opening ("The Sicilian") But then around 13 moves in, all of the commentators watching gasped.

    Fischer had subtly changed the opening into an old-fashioned very drawish 1800s opening called "The Scotch Game." Spassky didn't have a chance after that.

    b) He learned enough Russian to read the Russian chess magazines. At the time, the top 20 players in the world were all Russian. The Americans didn't really have a chance.

    So Fischer would study the Russian games while all of the Americans were sitting around with openings and styles the Russians already knew how to defeat.

    Consequently, when Fischer competed in the US championship in the early 60s it was the first complete shutout, all wins and not a single draw.

    Studying the history, studying the best players, is the key to being the best player. Even if you started off with average talent.

    3. TRY IT. BUT NOT TOO HARD.

    If you want to be a writer, or a businessman, or a programmer, you have to write a lot, start a lot of businesses, and program a lot of programs.

    Things go wrong. This is why quantity is more important than quality at first.

    The learning curve that we all travel is not built by accomplishments. It's only built by quantity.

    If you see something 1000 times, you'll see more than the person who sees the same thing only ten times.

    Don't forget the important rule: the secret of happiness is not "being great" – the secret is "growth".

    If you only "try" you'll get to your level that is natural for you. But growth will stop and you won't be happy.

    4. GET A TEACHER (PLUS THE 10X RULE).

    If I try to learn Spanish on my own, I get nowhere. But when I go out (and now marry) someone who is from Argentina, I learn more Spanish.

    With chess, writing, programming, business, I always find someone better than me, and I set a time each week to ask them tons of questions, have them give me assignments, look over my mistakes and tell me where I am wrong.

    For everything you love, find a teacher and that makes you learn 10x faster.

    In fact, everything I put on this list, makes you learn 10x faster. So if you do everything on this list you will learn 10 to the 10th power faster than anyone else.

    That's how you become great at something.

    5. STUDY THE HISTORY. STUDY THE PRESENT.

    If you want to learn how to be a GREAT programmer (not just good enough to program an app but good enough to be GREAT, study machine language.

    Study 1s and 0s. Study the history of the computer, learn how to make an operating system, and Fortran, Cobol, Pascal, Lisp, C, C++, all the way through the modern languages of Python, etc.

    If you want to write better, read great books from the 1800s. Read Hemingway and Virginia Woolf and the Beats, and the works that have withstood the test of time.

    They have withstood the test of time. versus millions of other books, for a reason. They are the best in the world.

    Then study the current criticism of those books to see what you have missed. This is just as important as the initial reading.

    If you want to study business, read biographies of Rockefeller, Carnegie, the first exchange in Amsterdam, the junk-bond boom, the 90s, the financial bust. Every Depression. All the businesses that flourished in every depression.

    Read "Zero to One" by Peter Thiel. Watch "The Profit" on CNBC. Read about Steve Jobs. Read about the downfall of Kodak in "The End of Power".

    Don't read self-help business books. They are nothing. You are about to enter a great field, the field of innovation that has created modern society. Don't read the average books that came out last year.

    Step up your game and read about the people and inventions that changed the world into what it is today.

    Read how Henry Ford had to start three car companies to get it right and why "three" was the important number for him.

    Read about why Ray Kroc's technique for franchising created the world's largest restaurant chain. Read how the Coca-Cola makes absolutely nothing but is the largest drink company in the world.

    Write down the things you learn from each reading.

    6. DO EASY PROJECTS FIRST.

    Tony Robbins told me about when he was scared to death on his first major teaching job.

    He had to teach a bunch of Marines how to improve their sharpshooting. "I had never shot a gun in my life," he said.

    He studied quite a bit from professionals but then he came up with a technique that resulted in the best scores of any sharpshooting class before then.

    He brought the target closer.

    He put it just five feet from them. They all shot bullseyes. Then he moved it back bit by bit until it was the standard distance.

    They were still shooting bullseyes.

    Richard Branson started a magazine before he started an airline. Bill Gates wrote BASIC before his team wrote Windows.

    E.L. James (and yes, I'm including her) wrote Twilight fan fiction, before she wrote "50 Shades of Grey".

    Ernest Hemingway never thought he could write a novel. So he wrote dozens of short stories.

    Programmers write "Hello, World" programs before they make their search engines.

    Many chess grandmasters recommend you study the endgame first in chess (when there are few pieces left on the board) before you study the other parts of the game.

    This gets you confidence, it teaches subtleties, it gives you greater feelings of growth and improvement – all steps on the path to success.

    7. STUDY WHAT YOU DID.

    The other day I threw everything out. Everything. I threw out all my books (donated). I threw out all my clothes.

    I threw out old computers. I threw out plates I never used. I threw out sheets I would never have guests for. I threw out furniture (four book cases) and my TV and old papers and everything.

    I wanted to clean up. And I did.

    I found a novel I wrote in 1991. 24 years ago. It was horrible.

    For the first time in those 24 years, I re-read it. I studied what I did wrong (character unrelatable. Plot too obvious. Deus ex machina all over the place).

    Someone told me a story about Amy Schumer, one of my favorite comedians. She videotapes all her performances.

    Then she goes back to her room and studies the performance second by second. "I should have paused another quarter-second here," she might say.

    She wants to be the best at comedy. She studies her every performance.

    When I play chess, if I lose, I run the game into the computer. I look at every move, what the computer suggests as better, I think about what I was thinking when I made the bad move, and so on.

    A business I was recently invested in fell apart. It was painful for me. But I had to look at it and see what was wrong. Where did I make a mistake. At every level I went back and wrote what happened and where I might have helped better and what I missed.

    If you aren't obsessed with your mistakes then you don't love the field enough to get better.

    You ask lousy questions: "Why am I no good?" Instead of good questions: "What did I do wrong and how can I improve?"

    When you consistently ask good questions about your own work, you become better than the people who freeze themselves with lousy questions.

    Example: I hate watching myself after a TV appearance. I have never done it. So I will never get better at that.

    8. YOU ARE THE AVERAGE OF THE FIVE PEOPLE AROUND YOU.

    Look at every literary, art, and business scene. People seldom get better as individuals. They get better as groups.

    The Beats: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and a dozen others.

    The programmers: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ted Leonsis, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak and a dozen others all came out of the Homebrew Club

    The art scene in the 50s: Jasper Johns, De Kooning, Pollack, etc all lived on the SAME STREET in downtown NYC.

    YouTube, LinkedIn, Tesla, Palantir, and to some extent Facebook, and a dozen other companies came out of the so-called "PayPal mafia".

    All of these people could've tinkered by themselves. But humans are tribal mammals. We need to work with groups to improve.

    Find the best group, spend as much time with them, and as a "scene" you become THE scene.

    You each challenge each other, compete with each other, love each other's work, become envious of each other, and ultimately take turns surpassing each other.

    9. DO IT A LOT.

    What you do every day matters much more than what you do once in awhile.

    I had a friend who wanted to get better at painting. But she thought she had to be in Paris, with all the conditions right.

    She never made it to Paris. Now she sits in a cubicle under fluorescent lights, filling out paperwork all day.

    Write every day, network every day, play every day, live healthy every day.

    Measure your life in the number of times you do things. When you die: are you 2 writing sessions old? Or are you 50,0000?

    10. FIND YOUR EVIL PLAN.

    Eventually the student passes the master.

    The first hedge fund manager I worked for now hates me. I started my own fund and his fund went out of business. My evil plan was ultimately to be better than him.

    But how?

    After all of the above, you find your unique voice. And when you speak in that voice, the world hears something it has never heard before.

    Your old teachers and friends might not want to hear that voice. But if you continue to be around people who love and respect you, then they will encourage that new voice.

    There's that saying, "there are no new ideas." But there are.

    There are all the ideas in the past combined with the new beautiful you. You're the butterfly.

    Now it's your turn to teach, to mentor, to create, to innovate, to change the world. To make something nobody has ever seen before and perhaps will never see again.

    Subscribe to the James Altucher Show Podcast here.

    Image: Shutterstock

    (more…)

  • I stopped a ten million dollar robbery

    I stopped a ten million dollar robbery recently.

    A few weeks ago, a guy claiming to be related to Middle Eastern royalty, (call him "M"), had a representative (a friend of a friend of a friend) call me and ask me if I knew anyone who would lend M ten million dollars.

    "He has collateral," the rep said: "$25 million in restricted shares of [well known private Internet company]."

    So I called a fund I used to be an investor in. They were interested and made an offer. Call the fund manager, "Bill".

    Bill said, "We'll lend $10 million IF we get the full $25 million on any default." Here were the other terms Bill said.

    – 15% interest, paid quarterly
    – the full loan is due back in two years
    – $600,000 fee paid to Bill up front.
    – Bill wanted 25% of all the upside on the full $25 million in shares for the next ten years.

    I had never seen a term in a loan like that last one but I give Bill credit. Why not ask for it? In a negotiation it never hurts to ask for anything.

    M said, "yes". He needed the money fast for some real estate he wanted to buy.

    Bill began his due diligence. M sent a fax picture of the shares. His lawyers sent over all the contracts M had signed to get those shares. M even wired $15,000 to Bill to pay for Bill's legal fees. M wanted no hurdles to getting the deal done. Lawyers on both sides were busy every day all day, working out the details.

    Bill said to M: I need permission from the internet company that I would be the potential shareholder if you default.

    It took a day but M sent over a letter. It was written on the Internet company's letterhead, signed by the company's "Director of Investor Relations" giving Bill permission to control the shares in a default and "call me at XYZ phone number if you have any questions."

    By coincidence, I knew the Director of Investor Relations but hadn't spoken to him in a year or so.

    Finally, last Friday, Bill calls me in the morning. He was about to wire ten million dollars to M.

    "I don't know," Bill said, "I have to tell you, James, something seems funny."

    "What?"

    "The letter from the head of investor relations at the company. It almost seemed too simple. Why didn't he throw in a line indemnifying the company?"

    "I don't know," I said. I had no clue. "Is that standard?"

    "I don't know either," Bill said and he sort of drifted, "I just don't know. But something makes me feel funny."

    "I have an idea," I said, "I know the guy who wrote that letter. I'll write to him and ask him if he wrote that letter. This way he independently verifies."

    Bill said, "ok, do it." So I did.

    I didn't hear back. Bill called again two hours later.

    Bill said, "look, let's call up the number on this letter. You stay quiet."

    So Bill called and someone picked up and said he was "X", the head of investor relations for this company. I've spoken to X a few times before. The voice did not sound like X but it had been awhile.

    Bill and X started talking about the letter. Then Bill said, "hey, by the way, I have your friend, James Altucher on the line to say Hi."

    CLICK.

    Dial tone.

    "We got disconnected," I said.

    Bill started laughing.

    "JAMES!" he said.

    "What?"

    "This is a total fraud! That was a fake phone number. That guy was an actor! Do you think it was an accident we got disconnected the second I said you were on the phone?"

    I felt like an idiot.

    "I don't understand. Why would they go through all of that?"

    Bill said, "Holy shit, I almost wired $10 million. That's why they did it!"

    "I don't get any of this," I said. I was in denial. I had never seen a $10 million robbery in action.

    Then X, the ACTUAL head of investor relations at the company, wrote back to me. He said, "Stop by for coffee next time you are in SF. Meanwhile, I will contact your friend Bill about this letter you sent me." Nothing else.

    I called Bill.

    "Yeah, X is all up in my grill about where I got this letter supposedly signed by him. He had never signed it. He wanted to know who was involved, etc. The shares were forged. That guy we called was fake. The contracts were forged. Signatures were forged. This is a total fraud. Authorities are being notified. It's all bad."

    Meanwhile, M, and his lawyers, had all disappeared at this point. No more contact. Nobody picking up their phones according to Bill.

    "Ugh," I said. I felt sick. "I'm sorry I even introduced you to these guys."

    Bill said, "Don't worry. We're in the business of looking at all opportunities. You helped figure this out. Without you I probably would've wired. But I'm glad I had a hunch."

    So I have to give Bill credit again. I've ignored my hunches many times and paid the price. When your body whispers to you, you have to listen.

    There's a lot of bad people in the world. All they want to do is destroy and vanish. They roam the world like pirates.

    A network of lawyers, escrows, fake shares, bank accounts, bogus corporations and banks, all set up to hide them in the shadows. A network of relationships and lies. The dark side of the force.

    Sometimes they are fake royalty. Sometimes they are your neighbor. Your friend. Your family. Your whatever.

    Sometimes the fraud is your bank account. Sometimes your heart.

    I had to go. I went to my daughter's high school play. I sat outside in the parking lot of the school for a few minutes. I was shaking. We had spoken to Evil on the phone.

    I went into the school. I hate plays but I liked watching my daughter on stage.

    Then I wrote this post. "Maybe don't publish it," Claudia said. "It could be dangerous".

    Sometimes people ask me what I do for a living.

    I solve crimes.

    (more…)