James Altucher lied to get on television because he was afraid to fly on airplanes following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, where he lived.
His boss wanted him to fly south for a business meeting. Altucher needed a way out of it. So he lied to Jim Cramer—an investment advisor and TV personality—about how much investment money he managed in order to get on Cramer’s TV show.
I was reading this story last summer in the first post I ever saw by Altucher. I was struck by the honesty in the words. It seemed almost a little messy, like his unkempt hair. But the writing was still somehow more pure than anything I’d ever read before.
“Once Jim asked me to go on I couldn’t stop shaking,” he wrote. “I knew I was a fraud and I was finally going to prove it to everyone I went to high school with.
“I assumed they would all be gathered at the same place, eating popcorn and laughing at me.”
I laughed out loud when I read that. This guy’s awesome. He really gets it. He really understands how to communicate what it’s like to be a person!, I thought.
Altucher finished recounting his experience being on television with this:
“Afterwards two things happened.
“My dad wrote me an email congratulating me. Since we were in a fight and I tend to avoid people I’m fighting, I didn’t respond to him. Then he had a stroke and died.”
It took my breath away.
It was the first time I had ever seen someone express something like this. It’s as if he’s giving you permission to laugh at the tragedy. Of every paragraph I have read by any writer—ever—that is the one that stays with me.
That’s when I knew I loved Altucher.
That’s when I knew if I had any chance at all of being a legitimate writer, I had to choose bravery as he does. I had to bleed a little onto the page. I had to take off the mask. The one I wear out of habit and fear. The one I wear to appear smarter or more confident or more accomplished than I am. The one I wear to appear less fearful, less neurotic or less damaged than I am.
Why Don’t I Feel Brave?
Here’s a sample of what people write to me on my About page.
“Your bravery in laying yourself bare for all to see is commendable.”
“Your writing here requires some serious balls, and I gotta admire you for that.”
“Your ups and downs, your words of hope (even when stuff gets really bad), your honest words and struggles shared with us, they are priceless. Really priceless.”
“Have to say, your honesty is awesome.”
Nothing about what I write here feels particularly special or honest or courageous to me. But I also know my opinions are mostly irrelevant.
Sometimes I write things I like, but no one else does, and sometimes I write things I think are just mehhhhhhh and people seem to love it.
One time I wrote a post about how all the typos I was writing and publishing were getting emailed to people. I was mortified. The post was me apologizing to you for shoddy work.
At the time I hit the Publish button, I considered it just about the most-pointless thing I’d ever written. WordPress editors chose it for Freshly Pressed—a part of WordPress where blog posts are shared with thousands of readers. I think I tripled my daily traffic overnight with the post I was most embarrassed about. Fitting.
It makes me feel like a fraud. You think I bare MY soul? A James Altucher post often feels like voyeurism. Like the police just let you behind the yellow Caution tape to check out a murder scene.
Altucher says he studies great writing so he can write things 1/10th as well as the people he’s reading. Which is funny, because I set out to write things 1/10th as well as he does.
With each thing he writes, he has three goals: Entertain. Be honest. Help people.
For my money, no one has ever been more successful doing those things with a keyboard.
What Honesty Looks Like
Here are excerpts from a bunch of Altucher posts. Out of context, they might lack the impact they do reading them within his stories. But I want to share anyway.
“I was afraid this was my one shot and I was blowing it. I was even crying in my car. I was going broke and I felt this was my one chance. What a loser.” (from How to Get an MBA from Eminem)
“One time I bored Dave Chapelle to death. I kept talking and talking and finally he said, ‘Excuse me, I have to get out of here and find me a girl for tonight!’
“Another time there I asked Al Franken if I could interview him. He looked me up and down and said, ‘No’ and walked on. Fair enough. Now he’s a U.S. senator, and I just write random stuff on my Facebook wall.” (from Louis CK and the Hare Krishnas Used This ONE Trick for Success)
“One time I was at a funeral of a relative. There was a woman there I had a crush on. Everybody was hugging each other because it was a funeral. So I hugged her more than once. Every time I passed her I would hug her. Finally I got the sense that she thought it was weird and then simply because she thought it, it did become weird. Actually, it was weird. I can’t blame it on her. I was weird.” (from How to Hug)
“I’ve done everything to avoid being lonely.
“I pretended to be a psychic on Craigslist.
“I’ve spent ten hours a day on dating sites.
“I asked out girls in elevators, girls in laundromats, girls at ATM machines, waitresses, more waitresses, thousands of waitresses. Only one said yes. And then she didn’t show up.” (from How to Cure Loneliness)
You get the idea.
He’s the best.
I don’t know James Altucher. And he sure as shit doesn’t know me. He follows me on Twitter along with more than 10,000 other people, but I bet he doesn’t know it.
But I get to feel like I know him because he lets us in. We all do. Because he takes off that mask and lets us see all the messy human stuff that lies beneath the surface.
And now I get to try to write bravely like he does, and some people think it is brave and that it helps them somehow. I still think it’s a miracle that people read anything I write.
Thank You, James
Because almost half of all married people get divorced I sometimes think I’m being particularly lame whining all the time about my divorce last year.
I’m afraid people will think I’m weak.
I’m afraid men will think I’m a douchebag.
I’m afraid women will think I’m pathetic and never want to have sex with me.
I’m afraid my ex-wife reads every one of my posts with a satisfied smirk on her face, thinking: Now everyone can see why I left this coward!, just before jumping into bed with some hard-bodied guy she met at the gym.
All of this negative energy was building up inside me, and it continues to if I don’t take action.
But I do take action.
I write little stories here. And I’m able to take all of that ugly trying to grow inside me all the time and rid my body of it one sentence at time.
I don’t know how or why it helps. I just know that it does.
And maybe if I didn’t do that, I’d be dead.
And maybe if I wasn’t honest, it wouldn’t work.
And maybe if I never read James Altucher, I wouldn’t know how.
Thank you, James.
And thank you, people who read.
It’s no exaggeration: you saved my life.
Two of the smartest things you can do right now is visit James’ website and sign up for his email list and buy his latest book “Choose Yourself!,” which is currently on sale for Kindle for $0.99. Less than $1 for one of the most-important things published last year.