by James Altucher: I
Woke Up Scared and Angry Today
can’t do that,” my parents told me. I had just gotten
back from my 9 to 5 job. I was 17 and still a senior in high school.
I had gotten a job as a telemarketer selling newspaper subscriptions.
I had beaten out two African-American women who had a ton of experience
for the job. Nobody asked me my age (17, senior in high school),
qualifications (none), resume (what’s that), social security
number (huh?), or how I would do this job while attending high school
(I hadn’t thought ahead that far). Looking back on it there
must’ve been some racism involved in me getting that job.
I skipped school
that day by hiding in the backyard until I heard the garage door
open and shut twice. A standard technique I had been using since
I was 12 (I hope my 12-year-old is not reading this). Then the public
bus would either go to NYC or Princeton and my direction would be
determined depending on what flavor of trouble I was getting into
that year. (The year I was in a cult I would head to NYC. But most
other times it was Princeton for pizza, video games, X-rated movies,
and comic books).
that was the day the school decided to track me down. It was my
30th absence. That’s the legal limit in New Jersey. So my parents
were frantic. “You can’t do that,” they said to me
when I got home. I’m not good at listening but I went to school
the next day and never returned to my job or returned the boss’s
phone calls. I was horrible at cold calling and sold zero subscriptions
on my first day at the job anyway.
can’t do that,” one of the VPs of Marketing at a major
media company I worked at told me. I had just told her I had a company
on the side and was hiring myself to do the job for the major
company I worked for. “And you can’t just walk into the
office of the CEO and tell him what to do.” But I have a hearing
problem in my right ear where I can’t hear the letter “T”
very well when it’s used in a contraction. Maybe I need a hearing
device. She was beautiful but I still only listened to her with
my right ear.
She was right.
I couldn’t do that. So I quit my job to run my other company
full-time. Then sold it. Then switched careers 9 other times since
then. Some of those careers crushed the soul out of me, where you
consistently google all the methods of suicide, where everyone that
previously had your back now stabs your back.
The VP and
I recently became Facebook friends. I see now, 15 years later, that
she got a promotion. Good for her. She deserved it.
can’t do that,” the policeman told me. I didn’t
want to leave my house. I was lying down pretending to be asleep
but both policemen were in my room. They stood there. “Wake
up,” one of them said. They ended up forcing me to go downstairs
with them and sit in the back of their car. The back of a police
car is small and uncomfortable. My knees were up against the back
of their seat. I ended up staying the night in a motel. Sometimes
when you disobey the rules, the consequences are unpleasant. But
even then, five hours later, wakening in a room filled with cheap,
blue colors, a post nuclear fake blue sky with irradiated flowers
painted into the wall, all I could think of was not what I had done
wrong but, “this is a new life.” New new new.
We are told
from an early age to be “obedient”. There’s a
lot of actors involved in that word. There’s “me”
– “the obedient one”. Then there’s parents,
teachers, siblings, bosses, wife, children, friends, employees,
partners, investors, clients, customers, neighbors, citizens, the
police, the law. We have to be obedient to all of them. Or else
there are consequences. We get punished. Or people hate us.
Or people get angry and want to argue. Or people think you’re
I feel like
my chest is constricting even as I type this. So many people won’t
speak to me anymore. So many people think I’ve broken some
rule I didn’t even know about. And sometimes I screw up. A
lot of times I screw up. I can think back to a thousand people I’ve
disappointed. But I’m scared to death of slowly dying throughout
life. Of living a life of complacency until death. The only way
to not be handcuffed and jailed by all the rules set by the people
around you is to fight for the disobedience that will set you free.
Mediocrity follows the rules. Unfortunately, both success and failure
Google started there were already 20 search engines in the
process of going bankrupt. I even rejected investing in a search
engine company (see, “The
worst VC decision I ever made”) because I was obediently
thinking, “the whole search engine thing is a done deal”.
I was being too obedient. Google was disobedient. They won. I
lost my home.
to a band like U2 or the Beatles or any band that withstands
the test of time. Can you think of any bands that came before
them that sounded like them? I’m not a music expert. But
sometimes I can’t even figure out what instruments these
groups are playing. They have their own styles unique to them.
Although influenced by the past, in some important way they were
disobedient towards their musical past and came up with something
utterly new and astonishing.
Vonnegut is a very disobedient writer. Sometimes he completely
steps away from the story and characters and enters the book as
the omniscient author. I never saw that done before. In the middle
of a novel he might say, “ok, I’m the author so now
I’m going to make these two characters which sprung straight
out of my head meet each other in this imaginary bar.” (See
his book, Breakfast
of Champions as an example).
Warhol is classic disobedience. He would take brand names
and completely abuse them and then use his “factory”
to mass produce his art. Disobedient to the art world and the
commercial world (where he got his start) in every way.
Einstein. You can’t get more disobedient than Einstein.
He’s almost a fractal of disobedience. Meaning, no matter
how closely you examine his life, no matter how minute you take
apart his history, those moments you look at will be examples
of disobedience. For instance, he renounced his citizenship to
Germany in 1895. Then he opposed the war in 1914 despite the fact
that almost all his physicist friends supported Germany (!) in
the war. Politically, scientifically, and even in his romantic
relationships (see the excellent biography, Einstein
in Love) Einstein blazed his own path, often against the
straight path followed by colleagues, family, and the governments
which desperately wanted him for their own insidious purposes
(Germany, America, Switzerland, Israel were all eager for their
own political purposes. But Einstein was a nation of one).
Jesus, Abraham, and so on, were all disobedient to their family,
teachers, and peers. All three of them had to leave and fight
the standards of proper behavior in their own communities. Buddha
abandoned his father’s wishes that he be king, abandoned
his wife and just-born son. Jesus went against the wishes of the
ruling class of Jews at the time and Abraham left Ur and his father
in order to follow his own religious path. (See my post, “Was
Buddha a Bad Father”)
has consequences, most of them not good. You have to fight for your
life. You’ll end up a nomad. You have to fight the critics.
You’re going to cry. People are going to abandon you. I just
found out two people formerly very close to me are no longer speaking
have to fight the people who will laugh at your attempts. Thomas
Edison had to try 1000 times before he figured out the lightbulb.
JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was rejected by over
20 publishers. People hated it. Hated her. Her friends laughed at
her attempts as a middle-aged single mom to become an author. Now
she’s a zillionaire. Who’s laughing now?
you want to be like one of the people above? Or any of the other
countless examples I can give? (please give more examples in the
How To Be
If you google
the phrase “How to Be Disobedient” there are ZERO results.
The only results are things like “What to do about a disobedient
teen” or pages on how God does not want “disobedience”.
I personally searched about a trillion web pages using the most
disobedient search engine of all, Google.