An Interview with James Altucher

Carving out your own path in life is difficult. Often you look for other beacons in the wilderness, someone to show you that you can make it your own way, even if failure and fear are inevitable. Just seeing another light out there, even if it’s far away, helps.Coming off of multiple failures, and fresh out of college, it was picking up James Altucher’s book “Choose Yourself” that was part of a critical turning point for me.

Altucher’s honest writing about his failures and fears, and his simple “daily practice” helped me move forward, especially on days where I just wanted to stay in bed and hide.

James Altucher is a successful entrepreneur, chess master, investor, author and most recently, stand up comic. He’s run hedge funds, VC funds, angel invested and his podcast “The James Altucher Show” has over 10 million downloads. 

I dug back through my inbox to see how long I’d been subscribed to James’ writing, and I found a post dating back to April 22, 2013, titled “I Want to Live.”

I sent James a reply to that email and asked him a few questions to share with the community.

Here are his answers below.

I Want to Live: An Interview with James Altucher

 

Do you still code?

I started coding in 1984. But from 1986 until 2005 I coded 8-20 hours a day (when I wasn’t writing).

I first began coding on large software projects for big companies. Then building websites. Then building my own software company. I had no business sense at all when I began coding so I wrote many tools to help me create websites. I didn’t realize that the tools themselves could have been huge businesses. I just wanted to make my life easier because my job was to create websites.

My final coding was when I wrote software to model the stock markets. I could take in large streams of price data and find patterns in the market that would suggest statistically significant trades. I still do this type of coding on special projects. And, more recently, I’ve been studying the code of all cryptocurrencies and, for practice, I’ve coded up simple currencies but have done nothing with them.

What’s something about the internet you’re nostalgic for or that you’d like to see come back?

The idea that the Internet is not just a commercial medium but an artistic medium. Before everyone had an online store, nobody knew which direction the internet would go. I feel there were was a much larger percentage of sites that were created just for the pure artistry of it. It was the modern fanzine. Fanzines were popular in the 80s and early 90s until they moved to the Internet (Boing Boing might be considered a modern fanzine).

We used to make sites just for fun. With no plan of commercial gain. I miss that.

 At this point, how would you describe the James Altucher Show? 

 

How to achieve peak performance. Featuring me interviewing my favorite peak performers in the world. People like Garry Kasparov (the best chess player ever) , Tony Hawk (the best skateboarder ever), Sara Blakely (creator of Spanx), Jewel (one of the best singers ever), Kareem Abdul Jabbar (the best basketball player ever), Richard Branson (one of the most successful businessmen ever), and so on.

I’m always striving to achieve my best potential. To be able to speak to my heroes and ask them directly how they did it has been a life blessing for me. I’m so proud of the show.

Tell me about your most Viral Post or show? 

All of my podcast shows do well. Perhaps Tony Robbins has been most popular because he has such a huge fan base but each of my guests are worthy of being the biggest show ever.

My most viral post: “How to Be the Luckiest Guy in the World in Four Easy. Steps”.

I had been financially successful AND THEN gone broke many times. I was so upset with myself. So depressed. I was a tangle of ideas, fears, creativity, neuroses, depression. “Why me?” “Why do I always go broke?”

So I had to ask: what was I doing right on the way up? And what was I doing wrong on the way down?

Ever since, I have stuck to what I was doing right. I still experience fear and trauma from all the times I’ve gone broke. But ever since I’ve stuck to what I call “The Daily Practice” in that post, I have done well.

Here is the post:

https://jamesaltucher.com/2011/02/how-to-be-the-luckiest-guy-on-the-planet-in-4-easy-steps/

A friend of mine told me afterwards, “The internet was created so that post could exist” which I guess is the best compliment about a post I have ever gotten.

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Visionary Quotes

Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part.

That is to say, I tend towards the roles of the planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.
– Brian Eno, Music Time and Long Term Thinking

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Think of cocaine. In its natural form, as coca leaves, it’s appealing, but not to an extent that it usually becomes a problem. But refine it, purify it, and you get a compound that hits your pleasure receptors with an unnatural intensity. That’s when it becomes addictive. Beauty has undergone a similar process, thanks to advertisers. Evolution gave us a circuit that responds to good looks—call it the pleasure receptor for our visual cortex—and in our natural environment, it was useful to have.

But take a person with one-in-a-million skin and bone structure, add professional makeup and retouching, and you’re no longer looking at beauty in its natural form. You’ve got pharmaceutical-grade beauty, the cocaine of good looks. Biologists call this “supernormal stimulus”; show a mother bird a giant plastic egg, and she’ll incubate it instead of her own real eggs. Madison Avenue has saturated our environment with this kind of stimuli, this visual drug. Our beauty receptors receive more stimulation than they were evolved to handle; we’re seeing more beauty in one day than our ancestors did in a lifetime. And the result is that beauty is slowly ruining our lives.

– Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others

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Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.

– General George S. Patton

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First, I had long looked for insight by inversion in the intense manner counseled by the great algebraist, Jacobi: “Invert, always invert.” I sought good judgment mostly by collecting instances of bad judgment, then pondering ways to avoid such outcomes. Second, I became so avid a collector of instances of bad judgment that I paid no attention to boundaries between professional territories.

– Charlie Munger, The Psychology of Human Misjudgment

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More and more, just like the last 20 years was focused on physical athletes, the next 20 years would be focused on mental athletes. These ways of thinking and compounding, Buffett, Munger, and polymaths have already used to a large degree and have been confirmed by academia…

You thought just because you own a brain you knew how to operate it right? Why do you think the drop out rates for STEM is so high. Most people attribute it to pipeline or professor, but perhaps it’s because people don’t know how to learn difficult subjects….

In conclusion, as the world becomes more and more technical and complex, most people don’t have the mindset nor tactical skills. In short, people have to re-learn the manual to their own brain. Just because you have a computer, it doesn’t mean you know everything about it.”

– Sizhao Yang

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As for those reading business books… If one more person recommends Ray Dalio’s b.s. book I’m gonna explode. So the guy made a lot of money, so what? Age and you learn that everyone is an individual, and you can only maximize what is special to yourself. To try to imitate the career of someone else is futile. But we’re all looking for answers in a world where there are fewer of them. We all want to believe we’re on the right path, when the truth is we’re in the wilderness, looking for exactly that, truth.

– Bob Lefsetz

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And here is the key insight from evolution. Our brains grew big long, long before we achieved civilization. We’ve had 1,200cc of intelligence for half a million years: even Neanderthals had huge brains. For 99 percent of that time we were just another hard-pressed species, as bottle-nosed dolphins are today, and around 75,000 years ago we teeter-ed on the brink of extinction.

What changed was not some bright spark of a new gene being turned on, but that we began to exchange and specialize, to create collective intelligence, rather than rely on individual braininess. To put it another way, dozens of stupid people in a room who talk to each other will achieve far more than an equal number of clever people who don’t. The internet only underlines this point. Human intelligence is a distributed, collaborative phenomenon.
– Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist
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”You can define a free person precisely as someone whose fate is not centrally or directly dependent on his peer assessment”

– Nasseem Taleb

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Attention

Shouting is not the answer.

We click the link but we don’t stick around.

We only stay for that which has a certain weight to it. A certain magic that comes from insight, context, and a sweet spot that’s hard to describe. When it hits you, you know.

As for finding that balance for yourself, it doesn’t come easy…

And “trying” to be something you’re not is counter-productive. On occasion, someone can bend the world to their will and force attention and awards, but it won’t last.

Best to be honest, share your perspective, and work you’re way forward.

And, as the landscape of your life changes, so does the work, and so does the depth of insight it provides.

There’s no shortcut; which is perfectly illustrated in the breakdown video of how Casey Neistat invented his style for his vlogging, which took 10 years to give his work the amateur look.

Don’t get me wrong, when you pay attention to those that go before you, insight abounds, and if you pay attention between the lines you can avoid many trappings as well as see the fresh powder.

The problem is we’ve attached counters to everything. Big data brings us metrics, IOT, and ultimately the score is being kept with everything we do in some manner.

Likes and downloads are easy to track, and we equate those to impact. Which to some degree is true. But in the early days of your work are you guiding your work or is the attention?

Because you can get sucked into sameness to compete for likes which pulls you away from your own path. The one that would ultimately provide a more lasting satisfaction for you and your audience. In the beginning, it’s not finding the right metrics but finding that “weight.”

So are we all competing against each other, or are we all in our own race?

And are we going by the metrics of social media culture or by what matters to you and your art?


Terry Crews on Tim Ferriss

It’s one of my favorite interviews of the past year.

I had tuned out from the Ferriss podcast about six months back; I’d felt sick of hearing too much logical thinking and mechanical approaches to living life.

But ever since Tim has started to become a bit more emotionally focused he’s hit his stride. Not to mention he’s put in his time and prep. We’re likely seeing the birth of the new era of interviewers, most of which will live in a world of Podcasts or on Youtube.

And Terry Crews is a talented storyteller, not because of any trained skill so much as the emotion he pulls you in with, and the fact that they’re all things that happened to him. Real-life stories, failures, vulnerability, victories, changes in thinking along his life’s timeline.

It makes you realize that people really can change and grow if they keep at it.

Never underestimate the power of stories, especially those that are true.

What we’re looking for today is a breath of fresh air. Someone to share struggle and triumph alike. And also someone who can turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Most of what we’re getting in the media is the opposite. Too many people acting infallible, ironically, at a time where we’re shining a light on infractions more than ever. But this may change, thanks to people like Crews, both for his vulnerability and for standing up to those in power in his own stories of sexual misconduct.

I don’t want to give everything away, but his story alone is fascinating.

He broke the mold.

He’s from Flint, Michigan: Yes, the place that didn’t have clean water for three years.

And he was a painter, before he was a football player, before he was an actor.

An artist, breaking through into sports… it’s not common.

He shares how a mentor changed his life in high-school, helping him apply for an art scholarship, unbeknownst to him.

And he talks about ending relationships. What do you do when you can no longer want to be friends with someone you’ve known for years?

And what happens when you miss a big shot?

Lessons from someone who’s experienced a life of breaking expectations; which makes you feel like you can too.

So if you can, it’s worth a listen.
Maybe you’re not hip to podcasts yet, let this be your start.

Terry Crews live with Tim Ferris on iTunes
or on Sticher

xx David

P.S.

I’ve linked you to iTunes, which has a surprisingly terrible UX.  Apple wants to make the switch from products to services, but Spotify will catch up to them in the podcast market if they don’t make some changes. Their latest update to the app store improved, but the latest iTunes one did not. I find it even harder to use.

Don’t let that dissuade you from starting to listen to podcasts. The tech will improve, as will the shows. But there’s already a massive back catalog waiting for you.The next wave won’t be interviews, but storylines, new worlds, fiction, and comedy. So if you can’t get into interview shows, start with “S-Town,” the breakthrough hit “Serial” or “This American Life,” which you probably remember from the radio.


The Seasons

Winter

It always lasts longer than you want.

I’ve spent long bouts of time here. Uninspired, stuck, feeling stir-crazy.

Mostly, it’s because I can’t see what’s keeping me blocked, and time and energy seem to be moving slowly.  It’s like the color is all gone and you forget about what it felt like to run and sweat and have your blood pumping with creative energy.

But in the back of your mind you know you can’t just quit. So the antidote is to grow stronger. Put in some roots, dig in.

But where to start? Without the right tool or option to implement, you’re better off staying put and sitting with it.

So mostly you just sit, begrudgingly. Stir-crazy.

Until you suddenly recognize precisely where you’re stuck and suddenly…

Spring

Discovery happens.

You’re ready to bloom again. You can feel the color returning to the world. It’s time to focus in on your creative revival.

But, you’ve got to have courage here. You’re still coming out from the cold and there are still a few days here and there where Winter returns.

The art pulls you back: A newly inspired song you written in 30 minutes, a quick draft of a design for a website. The muse is calling, and you desperately try and stay with her.

Action is key. As is bravery. This is your process: act, keep courage, glimpse the past and then refocus to the present.

Like Dorothy and Toto, the other side is colorful again, and you’re off to a new destination. It’s beautiful and filled with new acquaintances and experiences all the way along a yellow brick road.

Summer

You’ve reached the emerald city.

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Maximize your best self

“As for those reading business books… If one more person recommends Ray Dalio’s b.s. book I’m gonna explode. So the guy made a lot of money, so what? Age and you learn that everyone is an individual, and you can only maximize what is special to yourself. To try to imitate the career of someone else is futile.”

–  Bob Lefsetz

 


Mail, Re: 2018

I spend time that (I think) a lot of people waste looking at their phone or TV, doing absolutely anything else… reading, walking, digging, being outside, going to a class, cooking, writing, talking. Two years ago I made some big changes in my life and I’m still reaping the rewards of a changing mindset, perspective and lifestyle. I quit my job, went travelling to India for 6 months with my partner (returning this March for a little solo challenge/trip), relocated from big city to very rural countryside. These have made other changes come easier as there’s less temptation, life is longer and slower, I’m braver. If you’re not happy I’d recommend to anyone making a big change (quit your job, ditch a client, move house, go on a crazy trip, leave your phone at home). Break the cycle of phone > commute > phone > work > phone > commute (+ alcohol, TV, sofa.)

Sophie
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David, I loved your thoughts. Channeling your inner-Pressfield made me laugh. Steven came via my audiobook collection and shouted at me through my self-imposed creative boot camp early in 2017. He’s a great drill sergeant. May I recommend also Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic? She shepherded me with her gentle, wise voice through starting and finishing my first album. I couldn’t have done it without her.

 

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