|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:
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.
How do you explain the success of that post or show?
It’s hard to succeed. But we live in this sugary culture where we feel success is a given and not something we have to work hard for.
But failure is inevitable. It happens in everything worth striving for. To be great at something worth being great at is very difficult. Ups and downs are inevitable.
And, at the same time, the economy is quietly doing rectal surgery on the workforce. The workforce is being shoved into a smaller space with more restrictions, less opportunities to be creative, less opportunities to find happiness and well-being.
The post itself is not about financial success. Any kind of success is like running in the Olympics. You need to be physically ,emotionally, creatively, and spiritually healthy. That post doesn’t give a “how to” but tells how I DO IT. And then others can decide how they want to implement their own daily practice for success.
Which network has the nicest commenters? How should one deal with trolls?
Three types of trolls:
I get anonymous hate mail every day. This is a great thing. If I get one anonymous message, it usually means 100 others like my writing but are more sane and not as vocal. The anonymous trolls are the “vocal minority”.
They. are very hateful. They say anything to insult me because they are protected by anonymity. I always wonder, what sort of people are they? Does a spouse kiss them to sleep at night? Do their kids hug them and then they go upstairs to the attic and write me a letter: “Hey, you ugly jewish kike. I wish I could slice you up and anally rape you!” And then they go downstairs and mow the lawn? I always wonder.
B) People who know you
This is the worst. Someone who might have known me briefly five or ten years ago and feels comfortable to talk to me will start trashing me before I realize what is happening. Sometimes this is painful. I think, “but…you KNOW me! How could you think that?”
People say, “Always ignore.” But often I get triggered by the people who should know better than to think these hateful things about me. Again, though, if they are bothered enough to be jealous and feel the need to reach out and trash me even if they know me, then I know I must be doing well.
Strategy: Ignore. But it’s harder.
C) Famous trolls.
or..”Internet micro-famous”. Sometimes a writer might have a platform of followers and use that platform to spread their own prejudices or vicious hate. About once a year this happens to me where someone will target me. They do this hoping I respond because then the “battle” itself can go viral, at least in their vision of things. I don’t know why anyone would care about a stupid Internet battle. But this has caused me a lot of pain when I realize some people I’ve admired often have the most vicious ways to come up with lies and misrepresent things just to get an audience.
Strategy: Ignore. But it’s even harder.
In general, all networks have nice commenters. I feel very blessed to have the readers and listeners I have.
Yesterday I was sitting in a restaurant. A reader of mine saw me through the window. She went into the restaurant, didn’t want to disturb me, so wrote me a nice note and gave it to the waiter to give it to me.
Again, I feel very blessed and grateful that so many people have responded so positively to my writing.
I hope everyone can get the chance to write with authenticity and sincerity and thoughtfulness. Don’t be afraid to write about the difficulties you’ve dealt with in life. Don’t be the hero. Be the sad, scared person who wants a way out. Tell us about the ways you try to get out of that spot. Be fearless in your writing.
What creators do you admire right now? Who’s doing something interesting?
I think the cultural philosophers right now are comedians. I don’t trust news pundits at all. The pundits are paid to fill up the time in between commercials. They have admitted this to me over and over.
And I don’t like non-fiction writers who write only to get speaking or consulting gigs. These books are no good. And the best writing talent no longer writes in my favorite form: the beautiful short story or poetry.
Often the best writers have now gravitated towards television because of many of the new outlets opening up. But TV has so many gatekeepers: Writer –> Manager –> Agent –> Producer –> Production company –> Television station or streaming service –> Producers there –> etc.
So many gatekeepers! It’s hard for the final product to contain the artistry all the way through.
Standup is like a heroin injection of culture right into the audience. It’s visceral. It’s immediate.
Jerrod Carmichael, Bo Burnham, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Marina Franklin, Gary Gulman, Mike Yard, Godfrey, Bonnie McFarlane, Rich Vos, Yamaneika, Neil Brennan, Ari Shaffir, Dante Nero, Geno Bisonte, Aaron Berg, I can go on forever listing the top 100 comedians that have real things to say about our culture and where we are heading. The only problem is…nobody is really listening.
Leave a tip for content creators. What should we be doing more of? What should we be doing less of?
A) Be honest. Not with others but with yourself. I mean, be honest with others as well. But true honesty comes from the core.
B) Be unique. Don’t repeat what others have said. Don’t pander to an audience. Say the ideas and opinions that you can express in your own unique fashion.
C) Read a lot. Not news, which is BS. But books. A book allows you to be like a vampire on the author’s soul. You suck it in and now all of his or her ideas are yours. Read enough books, combine them, think about them, inject your own sincere thoughts into the soup that develops in your brain, spice it up, and deliver.
D) Publish Publish Publish. Write down, do podcasts, go on stage. Just get out there. Don’t be perfect. Be beautifully imperfect.
E) Be open-minded. Don’t just say an opinion and assume you are right. Be open-minded to every point of view possible, even ones you think might be vile. Allow it to really swim inside your consciousness before your judge it at the gates of your brain. Every idea is worth listening and understanding so you can at least address it in an intelligent and respectful way. I am pro-choice, for instance, but my business partner is pro-life. I always pay him the respect of listening to him and understanding the point of view of someone who sincerely thinks lives are being destroyed. Do I agree with him? No. Zero. But I listen to everyone.
F) The Daily Practice: Every day, “Have I checked the box on Physical, Emotional, Creative, Spiritual health”. The core of your soul always needs to be fed. Physical health and emotional health gives you energy. Creativity every day builds the muscle. And Spiritual health allows you to understand that some things in life you simply cannot control.
G) No toxic people. This is “Emotional health” but deserves repeating. Even ONE toxic person will bring down any venture.
H) Combine content. You love writing? You love podcasting? You love TV? Do a podcast focusing on TV writers while you write scripts. Heck, write a script about a podcast interviewing TV writers. That might be a bad idea but it gives you a sense of the permission you must give yourself. You have permission to do anything. Give yourself that permission. Do many things. One thing will be good.
You’re bullish on Cryptocurrencies, why shouldn’t we ignore this?
Every form of currency in history has solved the problems of the prior forms of currency.
Precious metals (gold, silver, forged into coins) solved the severe problems of barter (1000s of exchange rates, hard to transact, hard to store wealth, little understanding of how to price things).
Paper money solved the problems of precious metals (not dependent on a declining resource or geographic dependency on where the metals were mined. Easier to transact big purchases easier, to store wealth, and for countries – easy to manage complex fiscal policies).
Data-based currencies (I don’t like the word “Crypto-currency”) solved the problems of paper money:
– human error (why let a small group of people devalue the money in your pocket by printing up trillions of dollars. This has been the downfall of all of South America, Asia, and many other countries over just the past 30 years).
– fees (if I send a wire to another country, at least six banks are involved, plus the international wiring system, with fees every step of the way.
– privacy (remember the six banks above? Every bank, and every data collection company, and every government agency, is watching your transaction all along the way)
– forgery (there’s over $200 billion in forged money circulating).
– double spending
– contract law and escrow issues
– nothing backing it (with data-based currencies there’s over 1000 man-years of technology backing the currency)
And these are just the basics.
So eventually, either data-based currencies or the technologies behind them will replace paper currencies.
Some people ask: is it too late?
You tell me:
Price is a function of supply and demand.
Demand is $200 trillion (the amount of paper money in the world)
Supply is about $200 billion (the amount of legitimate cryptocurrencies in the world).
Supply and Demand are roughly fixed. So what has to change if data-currencies replace paper experiences?
Price has to go up.
Why should we be afraid?
– volatility. It’s so new that it’s still very volatile. Just like Internet stocks in the 90s.
– pump and dump schemes that are unregulated.
– even some of the biggest and most widely known coins might be scams.
So it’s important to be careful. Read a lot and understand monetary policy. This seems like weird advice. Not everyone needs to be an economist. BUT…the change from paper currencies to data-currencies is the biggest tectonic wealth shift in our lifetime and is worthy of some study.
You’ve lived in Airbnbs, Started doing standup.. Any new experiments you’re working on for 2018?
Standup is the most valuable and difficult skill I’ve ever started learning. There are so many micro-skills that need to be mastered that are mutually exclusive of each other. Structuring a joke, crowd work, likability, story-telling, stage work, acting, etc. So I still plan on doing standup.
But this year I bought part of a standup club to combine my interests in business and standup. I also bought part of an ad agency that uses comedians to create viral videos. This agency has helped many of the companies that I am invested in (always connect the dots on your network so everyone helps everyone else – this creates exponential value in life).
Because of the standup club, my partner, Dani Zoldan, and I also started a production company to create our own comedy specials. We also started an education company that helps comedians teach aspiring comedians. So combining my interests and skills in a new area is once again a way I can show that this concept of “idea sex”…works to make money and creativity.
I also am a technical adviser on a popular TV show (my role will be announced shortly) and this has helped me develop some more skills in my writing. Currently using those skills to write my own TV scripts. We’ll see what happens! I love to learn and write but I surrender the outcome (Spiritual Health in the Daily Practice described above).
I’ve been quietly doing more and more charity work for the past 13 years. It’s based on what I think is an innovative idea towards charity. I plan on writing about it and formalizing it this year. I’m very excited about this. I also am invested in many businesses that I view as socially responsible with enormous enormous ENORMOUS benefits to society.
Additionally, (just being honest and open), I’d like to fall in love, get married, and have more kids.
Ok to finish…Insert the first quote that comes to mind on January 15th, 2018 (yours, or someone elses):
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
Thanks so much to James for sharing.