Quotes: Choose Yourself (James Altucher)

James Altucher is best known for his radically honest and vulnerable writing. In his book, Choose Yourself, which seems like a compilation of essays from his blog, he communicates the following fundamental premise: waiting for others to “choose” you, whether it be employers, publishers, or any other so-called gatekeeper, is a recipe for failure — especially in our hyperconnected world.

Therefore, the wise individual must choose themselves and plot out their own course, make their own luck, and take matters into their own hands if they wish to thrive in this new world.

In other words, playing by the old rules of going to school for credentials, using those credentials to get a job for life, and hoping to inch yourself up the corporate ladder, are relics of a bygone era. In this book, Altucher gives some good advice and offers inspiration to individuals who want to exercise more sovereignty in their own lives and increase their optionality.

The following is a collection of my favorite quotes from James Altucher’s “Choose Yourself”.


For the past five thousand years, people have been largely enslaved by a few select masters who understood how violence, religion, communication, debt, and class warfare all work together to subjugate a large group of people.

There’s a saying, “The learned man aims for more. But the wise man decreases. And then decreases again.”

This is about a new phase in history where art, science, business, and spirit will join together, both externally and internally, in the pursuit of true wealth.

In this new era, you have two choices: become a temp staffer (not a horrible choice) or become an artist-entrepreneur. Choose to commoditize your labor or choose yourself to be a creator, an innovator, an artist, an investor, a marketer, and an entrepreneur.

Rejection—and the fear of rejection—is the biggest impediment we face to choosing ourselves.

What you need to do is build the house you will live in. You build that house by laying a solid foundation: by building physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

The only truly safe thing you can do is to try over and over again. To go for it, to get rejected, to repeat, to strive, to wish. Without rejection there is no frontier, there is no passion, and there is no magic.

Success comes from continually expanding your frontiers in every direction—creatively, financially, spiritually, and physically. Always ask yourself, what can I improve? Who else can I talk to? Where else can I look?

This book is about becoming the ocean. About choosing yourself to be the ocean. So everything that you do emanates out like ripples, everything you do moves the earth, and enhances your life and the lives of all the people around you.

“All I want is freedom,” a lot of people say. But freedom from what? Who is enslaving you that you can’t get away from?

Then we get burned out. Too much fighting for freedom. Who were we fighting all of that time? When all that time we were free without realizing it. There are no chains on me as I write this. But the feeling is immense: all I want is freedom.

Only think about the people you enjoy. Only read the books you enjoy, that make you happy to be human. Only go to the events that actually make you laugh or fall in love. Only deal with the people who love you back, who are winners and want you to win too.

Every time you say yes to something you don’t want to do, this will happen: you will resent people, you will do a bad job, you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life will be used up, burned up, a smoke signal to the future saying, “I did it again.”

The only real fire to cultivate is the fire inside of you. Nothing external will cultivate it. The greater your internal fire is, the more people will want it. They will smoke every drug lit by your fire. They will try to ignite their own fires. They will try to light up their own dark caves. The universe will bend to you.

Every time you say yes to something you don’t want, your fire starts to go away.

The best way I have ever found to fill that hole is not to seek external motivations to fill the emptiness, but to ignite the internal fire that will never go out. To light up my own inner sky.

You can never get enough exercise really, and no creative person has ever complained about too much walking.

Set a goal: I’m going to come up with ten ways I can have more time for myself. Or I’m going to come up with ten ways I can make my job better. Or ten business ideas. Make sure the list you plan to do is a hard one. You need to make the mind SWEAT so that it gets tired. So tired that it’s done for the day. It can’t control you today. TIRE IT OUT! Then do it again. Ten MORE ideas.

Come up with ten ideas a day.

When you surrender and accept the beautiful stillness around you, when you give up all thoughts of the past, all worries and anxieties of the future, when you surround yourself with similarly positive people, when you tame the mind, when you keep healthy, there is zero chance of burnout. How do you surrender? By trusting that you’ve done the right preparation. You’ve done all you can do. All that is within your power, your control. Now, give up the results. The right thing will happen.

The reason they’re stalled is because the axis of the world has changed. We can’t rely on the job, the marriage, the relationship, the house with the white-picket fence, the college degree, the anything external for that matter. Nothing counts. Everything we dreamed for was an illusion.

And it’s not as if our bosses will help us. They hate us. No matter how nice they are to you, they actually hate you.

“I’m having a problem with my reporters. They all get Twitter accounts and then the ones with a lot of followers suddenly want raises and promotions.”

A corporation wants identity to go away. He wanted his best and his brightest to be mediocre so that the corporation, not the individuals inside of it, would burn bright.

WRITE THE BOOK. Kamal wrote his in a few weeks and made it forty pages (nobody had to give him permission to make it a smaller book). For my last two, I took some blog posts, rewrote parts of them, added original material, new chapters, and created an overall arc related to what the books were about to give them a trajectory, or a direction. It doesn’t matter where you get your ideas or how you write them, just do it. That said, you probably already have the basic material.

I did a bunch of different things. I gave away the first twenty copies or so to readers of my blog who asked for one. Many of them then posted good reviews on Amazon to get the ball rolling. I handed out the books at speaking engagements. I wrote a blog post about how the book is different from the blog and why I chose to go the self-publishing route. I wrote guests posts for blogs like Techcrunch, which helped immensely and for which I’m very grateful. I used my social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Quora, and Pinterest.

If you have a story to tell or a service to offer (it doesn’t matter what), love yourself enough to choose yourself. Take control of your work, your life, your art. The tools are out there. Now you just need to use the tools inside yourself.

Meditation Exercise: Picture yourself in a brand-new identity. Truly homeless. A vagabond. A nomad. Imagine you have enough in the bank. Imagine your prior responsibilities are all taken care of. You can go to India and live there for twenty years on almost nothing. Nobody knows who you are. You are brand-new. It’s as if you woke up in a new body. You have no connection to the past and no goals for the future. Really picture every detail of it. When I visualize it, I feel a great weight lift off my shoulders. I want to feel that way all day long. Tell me the truth: how do you feel?

The key is to make money off the grid, to make money outside the imprisonment of corporate America and out of the reach of the powers that choose or reject us. To be able to work from any location. As we move toward the employee-less society, where ideas become currency and innovation gets rewarded more than manual or managerial services, you will have the opportunity to live a life you want to.

Well, you might ask, what if you have a job? Get rid of it. You ultimately don’t need it. You ultimately will be pushed out of it. We’ve already talked about it. We’re already living it. Cubicles have become commodities. Whoever sits in a cubicle becomes replaceable. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Technologically, we have the tools to make a living anywhere we want. And most of those tools fit inside a device that fits inside our pockets. Being physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy will allow you to combine the spiritual with the technological and sculpt the life that most satisfies you instead of the life that most satisfies society.

MAKE MY OWN HOURS. There’s the myth that entrepreneurs work twenty-four hours a day. This is horseshit. Most people, entrepreneurs or not, waste time. After starting up several businesses, I can tell you this: I have never made one dime by traveling. And yet, I’ve traveled to most continents for business, cross country many times, meetings all over the place. No money from any of them.

Much more value is created when I do the things I enjoy, when I work on my own creativity and continue to build the foundation for health. Rushing around the world trying to capture every piece of business will only result in financial and spiritual poverty. It’s much better to work smarter, not harder.

BE ARTISTIC. Being an entrepreneur means you’re going to create something in a way that a customer can’t get anywhere else. Creation is art. It’s how ideas collide in your head, then how materials collide to make your ideas real. Then it’s how people collide to bring your creation to life in the real world with real users. Then it’s how so much value is created so people are willing to spend money on it.

MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. A lot of money. Let’s be real. That’s the main reason to be an entrepreneur. “But the economy?” someone might say. There is more money floating around than ever before. And a lot of that money is buried and hidden from you. Time to reach out and touch it. The stock market has a capitalization of several trillion dollars. There’s another $2 trillion in private equity funds. There’s $50 trillion in transactions in the global economy every year. If you make money, someone will buy your company. Or, even better, you’ll make so much money so fast you don’t have time to sell your company.

DEAL ONLY WITH COLLEAGUES I LIKE. There’s that test: only hire someone you wouldn’t mind sitting next to on a plane ride across the country.

COME UP WITH IDEAS. When you work at one job, you come up with ideas for that one job. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. I’m not criticizing working for a big company (although I will. Stay tuned.). But when you have your own company, it never stops. If you have a product company, you come up with additional features to put on your product. Every day. Then you spec it out. Assign it to someone to do it. Put a time line on it, and check in every day until it’s done. Then you roll it out. See how people use it, tweak it. Build a fan base around it. It feels really good to see someone using what you made.

NOT BE AT THE WHIM OF ONE DECISION MAKER (i.e., if you have a boss. Or if you have only one big client, who then basically becomes your boss). I hate to beg. I hate to look at someone and think to myself, “If only they say ‘yes’ my entire life will be better.” I hate to be nice to someone just so they like me and say yes to me and whatever I’m offering. I bet there are some prostitutes out there who like their job. I don’t know. But I’m not one of them. I hate having sex with people I don’t love. And that’s what happens when one decision maker has control over your financial future at any moment.

BE AROUND LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE. In every business, I’ve loved meeting my competitors. The reality is there’s no such thing as competition. The world is big enough for two people in the same space. If it’s not, then you are in the wrong business. Your sector should be big enough for a hundred competitors. That’s great news. It means you’re probably going to make money.

Even now I’m not in any one business, but I like to meet successful bloggers, authors, and angel investors. I learn from all of them and build good friends. This is how you build your “tribe.” Your tribe, in part, is defined by you (you seek them out) but also defines you (you’re in the tribe of entrepreneurs or you are in the tribe of cubicle people).

BE AN EXPERT. When you start a business and you have a service or product that is good enough for people to use over other similar products or services, then you are now an expert in your space. Even if you are new to the space, you’re an expert. I like that feeling. I like giving talks. I like writing about the areas that fascinate me. I like starting businesses or being involved in sectors of industry that fascinate me. Sometimes you shouldn’t be an expert and yet you still are.

In other words, don’t stay at the job for safe salary increases over time. That will never get you where you want—freedom from financial worry. Only free time, imagination, creativity, and an ability to disappear will help you deliver value that nobody ever delivered before in the history of mankind.

5) Count right now how many people can make a major decision that can ruin your life. I discuss this in the chapter “And Then They All Laughed.” I bring it up again so you can’t escape it: how many people do you have to kiss ass to in order to achieve career goals? One? Two? The point here is to not kiss ass at all. To know that there are at least twenty people who independently can help you to achieve the success you need.

You build up this list of twenty people the old-fashioned way—you help them. The only way to create value for yourself is to create value for others.

Are your physical needs, your emotional needs, your mental needs, and your spiritual needs being satisfied? The only time I’ve had a job that did all that, I had to do very little work and I had time on the side to either write, or start a business, or have fun, or spend time with friends. The times when I haven’t is when I was working too hard, dealing with people I didn’t like, getting my creativity crushed over and over, and so on. When you are in those situations, you need to plot out your exit strategy.

The only real retirement plan is to Choose Yourself. To start a business or a platform or a lifestyle where you can put big chunks of money away. Some people will say, “Well, I’m just not an entrepreneur.” This is not true. Everyone is an entrepreneur. The only skills you need to be an entrepreneur are the ability to fail, to have ideas, to sell those ideas, to execute on them, and to be persistent so even as you fail you learn and move onto the next adventure.

Be an entrepreneur at work. An “entre-ployee.” Take control of who you report to, what you do, what you create. Or start a business on the side. Deliver some value—any value—to somebody, anybody, and watch that value compound into a career.

Make the list right now. Every dream. I want to be a bestselling author. I want to reduce my material needs. I want to have freedom from many of the worries that I have succumbed to all my life. I want to be healthy. I want to help all of the people around me or the people who come into my life. I want everything I do to be a source of help to people. I want to only be around people I love, people who love me. I want to have time for myself.

When every day you wake up with that motive of enhancement. Enhance your family, your friends, your colleagues, your clients, potential customers, readers, people who you don’t even know yet but you would like to know. Become a beacon of enhancement, and then when the night is gray, all of the boats will move toward you, bringing their bountiful riches.

Sometimes it’s nice to make a million dollars, be your own boss, and use that financial success to catapult to freedom.

Rule #1: Take out the middleman. Instead of going back to the company he used to sell for, Bryan cut out the middleman and went straight to a credit card processor, worked out his own reselling agreement with them, and did all of this BEFORE leaving his job at Sears.

Rule #2: Pick a boring business. Everyone is always on the lookout for “the next big thing.” The next big thing is finding rare earth minerals on Mars. That’s HARD WORK. Don’t do it! Bryan picked a business that every merchant in the world needs. He also knew that it was an exploding business because of the e-commerce explosion. You don’t have to come up with the new, new thing. Just do the old, old thing slightly better than everyone else. And when you are nimble and smaller than the behemoths that are frozen inside bureaucracy, often you can offer better sales and better service. Customers will switch to you. If you can offer higher touch service as well, they will come running to you.

Rule #3: Get a customer! This is probably the most important rule for any entrepreneur. People want to find and take the “magical path”: get VC money, quit their jobs, build a product, and then have millions of customers. It NEVER works like that.

Someone suggested that I needed to blog. And to blog well you need to be totally transparent or it won’t work. So I started blogging about what was really happening in the credit card industry including all the unscrupulous practices and how merchants were being taken advantage of. Then I’d put my posts on the top social sites at the time–Digg, reddit, and StumbleUpon–and sometimes the posts would get to the top of these sites and my website would get so much traffic that it would crash.

Rule #5: Blogging is not about money. Blogging is about trust. You don’t sell ads on your blog (rarely), you don’t get the big book deal (rarely), but you do build trust and this leads to opportunities. My own blog has made me a total of zero cents but has created millions in opportunities. In Bryan’s case it led to more inflow and his biggest early opportunity.

Write a book. I have never made $1 million writing a book. But I have a number of friends who have made millions writing books or information products of some sort. This is a tricky area, so the key here is that you have to be legit. Don’t write a book on a subject you know nothing about.

Remember: when you write a book, it’s not all about book sales. Books give you credibility in your area of expertise or interest. Credibility gets you: consulting (Tim Ferriss has done this very well) speaking (the authors of Freakonomics have made a career out of this) other media opportunities (TV show, radio show, etc.) other writing opportunities. Most authors I know, even bestselling ones, don’t make millions from their books. But then they get paid to write for big-paying magazines or corporations or whatever. These add up. And if they add up enough, you can outsource a lot of your writing to people whom you trust, as long as you triple-check their work. When I was writing finance articles in 2005, I was writing up to five articles A DAY with the help of a team of cheap labor (high school students) who knew more about stocks than just about any hedge fund manager I knew.

Books also allow you to build an e-mail list you can sell other products to. I have never done this but several of my friends (see Ramit Sethi’s book or John Mauldin’s book) have done it very successfully.

The Mental Body: People have lots of ideas, but they are mostly bad ones. The way you get good ideas is to do two things: 1) Read two hours a day. 2) Write ten ideas a day. By the end of a year, you will have read for almost one thousand hours and written down 3,600 ideas. One of these ideas will be a home run.

To succeed at something: Know every product in the industry. Know every patent. Try out all the products. Understand how the products are made. Make a product that YOU would use every single day. You can’t sell it if you personally don’t LOVE it.

If you have an idea, don’t focus on the money. Don’t focus on how you will make a living. Do this: Build your product. Sell it to a customer. Start shipping. Then quit your job. Sara didn’t quit her job until she was already well on her way to selling her first million in orders. Most entrepreneurs write me before they have a product even built.

He made the very good point that if you don’t promote yourself, nobody else will.

She promoted herself down every avenue. That’s what you have to do to succeed. You can’t have any shame. I have a lot of shame in promoting myself, which I have to get over. She had no shame. Not to over-repeat a catchphrase, but Sara didn’t wait for anyone to choose her. She chose herself in every way.

But YOU are the best promoter of your product.

Don’t be a hater! Ninety-nine percent of people are haters. Bless that which you want.

Luck is created by the prepared. Never think that someone is undeserving of the money they have.

When you add value to people’s lives (for instance, giving away quality content for free), the opportunities that come back to you cannot be quantified.

Don’t forget the client is a human, not a company. That human has a boss. And that person wants to look good in front of her boss. If you give her a way to get promoted, then she will love you and always hire you back. Don’t forget to always give extra. A simple effort will get you a customer for life.

If you become a reliable source, then everyone comes back to you; if your knowledge has value, they can only get that by having access to you.

They get access by buying your product or services.

You can only make money doing what you love. If you work a 9 to 5 job that you hate, then you’re on a leash that gives you just enough lead to get by and stops just short of real freedom and happiness. And money. If you love something, you’ll get the knowledge, you’ll get the contacts, you’ll build the site with the features nobody else has, you’ll scare the competition, and you’ll wow the customers.

The idea muscle must be exercised every day. Even if you’ve come up with ideas every day of your life, it will atrophy if you give it a two-week rest.

Every day, read/skim chapters from books on at least four different topics.

Shake things up. I have a very strict routine every day. I wake up, read, write, exercise, eat, attend meetings (phone or live), then reverse the process: eat, write, read, and sleep. Some days I have to work on something that’s just not coming. And in those instances, I need to rejuvenate a little bit and shake things up. Do something different. Maybe I take a walk at 5 a.m. instead of reading.

We only ever remember the things we are passionate about. Ultimately, these become the fields where ideas bloom and are harvested.

Three things I do when struggling for idea topics: 1. Twitter Search. I’ll search phrases like: “I wish I had”, “I just paid someone to”, “is the worst product”, “is a horrible company”, “has a terrible website”, “is my favorite website”, “does anyone know how”.

At one workshop, I asked people to come up with book titles, then combine their book titles with a partner and come up with a table of contents for the first book title on their combined list. I have yet to hear of a book from the people who went through this process that I didn’t instantly want to read.

“Nobody should go to elementary school anymore because it’s a brainwashing concentration camp posing as a glorified babysitting service!”

Procrastination is your body telling you that you need to back off a bit and think more about what you are doing.

“Never underestimate the power of a long, protracted silence.”

Out of silence comes the greatest creativity.

Dishonesty never works. Honesty is the only way to make money in today’s world.

HONESTY COMPOUNDS. It compounds exponentially. No matter what happens in your bank account, in your career, in your promotions, in your startups. Honesty compounds exponentially, not over days or weeks, but years and decades. More people trust your word and spread the news that you are a person to be sought out, sought after, given opportunity, given help, or given money. This is what will build your empire.

The Choose Yourself era means you have the confidence to be honest. The confidence to go up against the big corporations that refuse to choose you. The confidence to direct traffic to those people who might have more resources than you have.

The universe has limitless resources. You have limited resources and limited time. The only way to create abundance is to behave more like the universe.

A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. —Gandhi

Why is the story of Superman so appealing? It’s of course the idea that we are all Superman. We are all shy and awkward and IF ONLY PEOPLE KNEW the real us. The one underneath the suit, the glasses—the one who spreads the plain, white shirt apart to reveal the bright colors, the superpowers, the unbelievable intelligence, kindness, the moral and physical strength.

Start off by realizing you still have a secret identity. Acknowledge it. Wake up every day and say to yourself, “I’m a superhero—what can I do today to save the world?” And there will be answers. And you’ll see opportunities. And you’ll figure out next steps.

The only superpower you really need is the one to constantly cultivate the attitude that forces you to ask, from the minute you wake up, to the minute you fall asleep, “What life can I save today?” It’s a practice. Often we forget it. We resist it. Instead of saving lives, we worry about saving ourselves too much. “How will I pay the bills?” “What do I do about my boss saying bad things about me?” And so on.

But money means nothing to a spiritual leader.

Nobody can tell you what to do. No matter what they pay you. No matter what obligations you feel you owe them. Every second defines you. Be who you are, not who anyone else is, or who anyone else wants you to be. An entrepreneur, for instance, has investors, customers, partners, employees, and competitors. Everyone wants his input heard. But only you can act to change the world with your ideas.

“If you work only three to five hours a day you become very productive. It’s the steadiness of it that counts. Getting to the typewriter every day is what makes productivity.”

So what can we learn from Woody Allen? Wake up early. Avoid distractions. Work three to five hours a day and then enjoy the rest of the day. Be as perfectionist as you can, knowing that imperfection will still rule. Have the confidence to be magical and stretch the boundaries of your medium. Combine the tools of the medium itself with the message you want to convey. Don’t get stuck in the same rut—move forward, experiment, but with the confidence built up over experience. Change the rules but learn them first.

A creator can’t ever rest. No matter what you do, no matter what your creation is. Every moment is the audition. Every time you create is a chance to go on the roof and do something new, in a way that hasn’t been done before, in a way that is potentially disruptive, playful, unique, and vulnerable. People will hate you, people will love you, people will climb on the rooftops to see you before the police arrest you.