Tag Archives: Choose Yourself

How James Altucher Saved My Life

This guy is my writing hero. Not because of how he tells you. Because of what he tells you.

This guy is my writing hero. Not because of how he tells you. Because of what he tells you.

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. 

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How to Not Choose Yourself

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I've never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher's wisdom.

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I’ve never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher’s wisdom.

It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself.

I do it all the time.

Because I lost my wife. Because my son’s gone a lot and I really miss him. Because I don’t have as much money as I used to. Because I have expensive bills and repairs. Because my home needs more than I can give. Because I never meet single women, and when I do, there’s always a glitch.

We can all do it if we want.

We can point fingers at circumstances. Bad luck!

Other people. Unfair!

And we can never, ever, look in the mirror and ask the really difficult questions. The ones that make us squirm. The ones that make us want to run and hide and never see our reflections again.

What choices have I made that led me here?

What choices can I make today to improve my life?

Your reflection should have his/her eyes narrowed. Studying you. Judging you.

You should always love and respect yourself. But you should also hold yourself to higher standards than everyone else does. And when you fail to meet those standards, it seems worth evaluating what you can do differently to change that.

“I’m a Member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves’”

That was the headline of a Huffington Post piece one of my friends sent me this morning.

And when I first started reading, I just kept nodding. Yes. Yes, that’s me! Yes, that’s me too!!!

But then, the writer started pointing fingers in every direction but the right one.

And that’s where she lost me.

Because she used to have money. And dine out. And take vacations.

And now she doesn’t anymore.

It’s Corporate America’s fault.

It’s the politicians in Washington DC’s fault.

It made me sad to see someone who appears to believe deep within her heart and soul that she’s doomed to a life of poverty despite her education and previous success in the professional world. That there’s no future but a bleak one of living off government aid until she dies one day, sad and alone.

I’m not trying to pick on Kathleen Ann, the author of the HuffPo piece.

She is a human being with a story. A story with a bunch of details and context to which I’m not privy.

But she’s well-educated. And indicated she used to earn $100 per hour, which is a metric shit ton more than I make. So, I’m defaulting to the position of believing she is INFINITELY more capable of choosing herself than she displays in her woe-is-me piece.

Let’s dive in.

“I used to have a house. I used to go on vacations. I used to shop at department stores, get my hair done and even enjoy pedicures. Now, I don’t. I’m a member of the American “Used-to-Haves.”

Now, I’m renting an apartment and I’m desperately awaiting a check so I can pay the rent. Yet, I’m lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. Despite my college degree from a prestigious college, and solid employment track record, I can’t get a job. It’s been so long since my corporate days, I now feel unemployable.

My age doesn’t help. But I’m as healthy as a thoroughbred, I appear quite young and would gladly accept a basic salary. I’m a bargain! But no. I’m freelancing for $15 an hour these days, but I used to earn $100 an hour. In fact, all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour. To make ends meet, I also work as an aide ($13.75 an hour) and run a small local company. And my annual earnings are under $20,000.

On “I’m a member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves.’”

I understand what she means. The middle class has gotten squeezed HARD. And it’s painful. My life is not subsidized in any way. I pay for everything myself. And I sometimes feel like people who work less have a better life than I do. I am responsible for my choices. But I do believe that, fundamentally, hard work should be rewarded. In my experience so far, that hasn’t really been the case, financially.

On “I can’t get a job.”

I want the author to define “job.” Because she said she will “gladly accept a basic salary.” And we don’t have any context here for what that means. What is a basic salary? $40,000 annually? $70,000 annually? Is she willing to relocate? Or no? Regardless of the answers to those questions, who is responsible for the outcome of those choices? You? Me? The government? Businesses? I submit only one person is.

On “all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour.”

Nonsense. Charge whatever you want. Choose yourself. I charge $60 an hour for my freelance work. And people pay it, or they don’t. They either think my work is worth it, or they don’t.

The market has never, and will never, dictate what my time is worth. If someone is unwilling to pay me an amount in which I can afford to do the job, I decline the work. The author can make that same choice.

On “my annual earnings are under $20,000.”

She works three jobs, she said.

1. She writes freelance.

2. She works as an aide for $13.75 per hour.

3. She runs a small local company.

I don’t know what any of that means. But I know that if you work full time at a fast-food restaurant for $9 per hour, you earn $18,720 per year, which is pretty much what the author said she earns working THREE jobs.

CHOOSE YOURSELF.

“I’m lucky to be in Massachusetts, where my health care is paid for, and fortunate to be of sound health and mind. But on days when I feel hopeless, I can envision myself 20 years from now, living in hardscrabble poverty.”

On “where my health care is paid for.”

The author doesn’t pay health care expenses. I pay $400 per month to cover my son and I, and that’s with the VERY generous more-than-half contributions of my employer. Maybe that doesn’t sound like very much to you. $400 per month for something I almost never use but MUST have is a lot to me.

And it decreases my sympathy for the plight of the author who recalls making more than $100 per hour at her last full-time job.

“Watching John Boehner and the Republican Congress during the past few years has been a stunning confirmation of their seeming disregard for the “Used-to-Haves.” As they pull down salaries of $174,000 a year, unparalleled benefits and the option of voting themselves a raise, their selfishness is unrivaled as they barricade health care reform, knowingly shut down the government, cut SNAP benefits and eliminate extended unemployment payments.

Congress doesn’t have the stones to call up their lobbyist buddies and corporate honchos and insist they hire more unemployed Americans for the American companies they celebrate and boast about.

The press calls it “The Great Recession.” It actually was the “Great Theft.” In the wake of this very public, often-glossed-over theft from the middle class, the perpetrators have been revealed. We know the American corporations without the courage, scruples or heart to help us, the ones responsible for the recession and the politicians who put the toxic policies in place. We “Used-to-Haves” aren’t stupid.”

On “John Boehner and the Republican Congress.”

And that’s when she lost me. Grinding a political axe.

Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re a politician in Washington DC, regardless of political party, you’re a greedy, egotistical, power-hungry maniac who ALWAYS puts your own needs ahead of your constituents. And I’d even be okay with that if you weren’t so smarmy and dishonest about it. It’s beyond corrupt, what happens at the highest levels of our government.

But choosing sides? As if one is good and the other is evil? That’s laughable.

They’re all assholes. Each and every one of them. And if they cared about you and me, they would—at minimum—put partisan politics aside to AT LEAST fix all the apolitical things that ail our nation and world. But they won’t even do that. It’s all about reelection and campaign contributions. If they worked together, they would be forced to not say ugly things about one another all the time. Without all the lies, no one could ever get elected!

Blaming politicians is too easy. All the Sean Hannity fans can hang on his every word and hate all the people who love Bill Maher and hang on his every word. Knock yourselves out.

Respect one another. Be pragmatic. Work together. Serve something greater than yourselves.

Do that? And I’ll vote for you no matter which side of the aisle you stand on.

“As a “Used-to-Have,” I’m beyond angry. I’m not a “Never Had.” I know what it’s like to pay bills on time and have a little left over. I remember vacations and pedicures and going out to dinner. As a “Used-to-Have,” I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me. The “Used-to-Haves” and the children of the “Used-to-Haves” won’t forget. The “Used-to-Haves” are educated. Many of us and our children have amazing talent and academic honors. We know how to get things done. And though all of the odds appear to be against us, we must refuse to give up hope.”

This was the end.

And I got a little upset about it. So I wrote my friend back expressing my disappointment in the author’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for any of her current life circumstances.

This girl is A LOT like me, my friend. I joke that she’s the Girl Me. Because we think similarly about many things.

While our big-picture philosophies align closely, we sometimes diverge on the details.

“This is just an example of what ails the human race. Finger pointing,” I said. “It’s less about politics and more about self-empowerment.”

I wrote that the author of this HuffPo piece REALLY needs to read my favorite writer James Altucher’s most-recent book “Choose Yourself.”

She is frustrated like so many of us with struggling to make ends meet despite being college educated and having a relatively good job in the professional world. She recently started working part-time to supplement her income.

She replied.

“While I agree with lifting up and self-empowerment, I am also beginning to realize that not everyone can make everything they want to happen come true here in America anymore.

“Not everyone can have a successful business. It’s a fact. You can work your balls off and still lose. And that goes for a lot of different industries.

“There is no guarantee.

“You know I am the first person to dream big and believe in making shit happen. However, I’m starting to realize it sometimes isn’t in the cards.

“Will that stop me from trying? Probably not, in a lot of cases. But is it true? Probably.”

I liked my response. And the sheer power of the truth in these words prompted me to write this post today.

“Of course,” I said. “It’s all a risk. Most successful people fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail at first.

“Remember the line about Edison’s trials in creating a functioning light bulb?

’Mr. Edison, how did it feel to fail a thousand times?’

“I didn’t fail a thousand times,” Edison said. “I have simply found 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”

Fortitude.

We have no chance in this life if we believe other people get to decide who we are and who we can be.

We have no chance if we spend our lives waiting for someone else to give us a shot.

We have no chance if we sit around waiting to be granted permission.

Choosing yourself means you don’t need permission.

Choosing yourself means you manufacture your own opportunities.

Choosing yourself means you—and ONLY you—get to decide who you’re going to be today, no matter how many times you’ve fallen, how many mistakes you’ve made, and how great the odds against you might seem.

Choose yourself.

That’s where hope and opportunity live.

And you deserve it.

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The Overdue Library Books

overdue-stamp

I’m coming unraveled.

And I’m angry.

At myself. At my ex-wife. At my life.

But mostly, it’s just me.

Own your shit.

I make bad decisions. And when you make more bad decisions than good decisions, the net sum is a shitty life.

And make no mistake, my life is shitty. And it’s my fault.

And I have two library books sitting on my passenger seat right now which represent just how ill-equipped to be an adult I really am.

The two books are Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, and Your Money Ratios by Charles Farrell.

I borrowed them from my local library several months ago and never returned them. They’re books designed to help me make better choices about my life.

I haven’t read either.

I got a bill a while ago charging me for the books. Replacement charges and stuff.

I haven’t paid it yet.

I see the books every day. And I just leave them there. Like a masochist.

I get phone calls from unknown numbers on my phone. Maybe a collection agency wanting me to pay the $50 for the books. I have the money. I should pay them.

But I don’t. And I don’t return them either. The library is nine blocks from my house. I drive by it at least twice a day.

A Bit of a Mess

That’s what I am. I’ve admitted to it here and there—talking about how I now let dishes pile up in the kitchen. How I let my laundry pile up in my bedroom.

But it’s really worse than I let on.

I haven’t vacuumed up the pine needles from putting up my Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. I haven’t organized my son’s room from the chaos that ensued after his mother moved out on April 1.

I haven’t completed a project for one of my very best friends. It should have been done six months ago.

I left the office a half-hour early on Friday and drove straight home. I didn’t leave my house—literally—until this morning to come back to work. A job and a life with which I’m growing increasingly dissatisfied.

Because this can’t be what life is supposed to be.

The Daily Grind

I wake up every day at 6:30 a.m., sleeping in because I don’t work out.

I take a shower. I stand in there a little too long. Maybe I shave. Maybe I don’t. I don’t really care.

I get dressed. Many times, I have to go down two flights of stairs to my basement laundry room to get a new shirt because I don’t always put my laundry away once I’ve hung them up in my laundry room. It’s not uncommon that I have to re-run the dryer for several minutes to eliminate wrinkles from my shirts I left in there overnight and refuse to iron.

Business casual. Always, business casual.

Half the time, my son is home. I suck at getting us both ready in time to leave at 7:50 a.m. which gets us where we need to be stress-free, even if there are weather or traffic issues.

I clock in like a chimp between 8:15-8:30 a.m., writing copy that sells stuff for other people.

I don’t eat lunch because I don’t have time to pack, and I want to write here, so I don’t go out for food, which is good, because then I’d really waste a lot of money.

I’m generally a little lightheaded when I leave around 5 p.m. every day, because I haven’t eaten since 7:30 a.m. and because I stare at two computer monitors all day—three, if you count my phone.

Then I drive home, half the time picking up my son, and the other half coming home to the quiet, empty, disorganized house.

I sometimes make food. Sometimes, I get takeout.

I take care of the chores I can’t ignore—all the ones related to “owning” my house. And then I go to bed and start it all over the next day.

What the Hell am I Doing?

I’m serious.

I need someone to explain to me the merits of what I’m doing here.

Because I make more than 150 percent of the median household income in my town, and I, quite literally, can’t afford to do anything besides pay my bills and eat food and drive to work.

I do this shitty, depressing routine every day. The only reward is my paycheck. And I spend my entire paycheck on all of the stuff I “need” to maintain this lifestyle I don’t even like.

A house. A car. A mobile phone. Daycare for my son. Food. Gas. College debt.

I spend 40-plus hours per week in a cubicle so I can do this same shitty routine every day for the next 30 years, when I might be able to retire and maybe just have enough money to maintain this standard of living for as long as my tired old bones stay together—assuming the market doesn’t crash and wipe out my life savings.

There’s got to be more to life than this.

There’s got to be better choices I can make.

There’s got to be a better way.

The Daily Practice

I’m rereading James Altucher’s Choose Yourself.

He’s the only person I know of that has felt worthless and horrible and couldn’t get off the floor, and then found a way to pick himself up, and then tells the story so other people can try to follow suit.

He employs something he calls The Daily Practice.

And I’m thinking it’s time to start baby-stepping my way there. It’s too big of a bite to chew all at once. But I have to take some kind of action.

Otherwise, I’m just going to die sad and alone with no friends and a son who can’t respect his father.

The Daily Practice is hard. Really hard. I’m highly unlikely to be able to do it all in one day once, let alone every day. But if I can knock out 75 percent of it, I have to believe my life will be infinitely better than it is now.

It’s going to start today.

I’m driving to the library as soon as I leave the office. I’m going to walk in and explain what a bad person I am and apologize. Hand them their books. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Most likely, I’ll have to pay them about $50. I probably own them now.

I could buy Rich Dad, Poor Dad today for $6.83, and Your Money Ratios for $11.39 from Amazon, which would have saved me more than $30.

If I don’t make a change, I’m going to die. Or I’m going to want to, which is basically the same.

I’m wasting my life.

It’s time to stop.

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