Ask James: What Is Success, How To Get Rich, Online Dating, Meditation, OWS, and More

Recently by James Altucher: Ask James: Society, the Presidency, Eckhart Tolle, Love, Bubbles and More

Every Thursday from 3:30-4:30 PM EST I answer questions on twitter. The questions can be about anything ranging from money to sex to stocks to love to startups to marriage to whatever. I answer the questions via Twitter but I then summarize and give expanded answers by Saturday.

I don’t think I know all the answers to anything. I’m not trying to be egotistical by saying I have answers. But it’s fun for me and I’ve been through a lot so I hope some of my answers are useful to people.


@texandcoda asks: In your opinion/experience, what defines success?

ANSWER: When I first made a lot of money I thought, u201CThis is it. I succeeded in New York. I'm on top of the world.u201D

Less than three years later I was dead broke and lost my house. I was worse than dead broke. I was probably over a million in debt. And I had no friends. I lost them all.

u201CSuccessu201D was just the midwife to the worst failures a man can have. [See, u201CSuccess is a Sexually Contagious Diseaseu201D]

Then I did it again. And again and again. And each time I let it give birth to an uglier and uglier failure.

Lucky Louie - The Comp... Best Price: $3.09 (as of 10:55 UTC - Details)

So I had to redefine it for myself. What does success mean to me now? Simply an ability to pursue the daily practice I outline. I don't want houses, or boats, or big vacations. I want freedom. Freedom to get in shape, to stay emotionally healthy (which means 100% surrounding myself with uplifting people), mentally healthy (the ability and time to write this blog helps that), and spiritually healthy (the ability to read and have time and reduce my desire for all the toys that success in America usually implies). I want to die when I’m an old man knowing I was successful at these four items.

That is success. Am I there? I don't know. But I hope I get closer every day.


@kehindabajo asks: if there was a shortcut to success.what would it be?

I can only say what's worked for me: the only shortcut to success is by doing the steps outlines in the Daily Practice every day. I also provide modifications to it in my most recent book. In the post I say specifically that in six months your life will be completely different. I know this because it’s worked for me.

Why does this work? Because it keeps you healthy, it keeps you from being distracted by emotional intrigue, it keeps you smart, and it helps you reduce the passions and needs and wants that will ultimately keep success from ever being your complete grasp. And here are the nine obstacles to success. Avoid those and you are off to a good head start.


Slaughterhouse-Five: A... Kurt Vonnegut Best Price: $2.36 Buy New $7.89 (as of 01:00 UTC - Details)

Several people asked me my favorites on a variety of topics so I supply them here:

Favorite Comedian: Louis CK and Jim Norton couldn't be more different from each other. But I love them both. Jim Norton I went to school with and I write a detailed post about here. The other, Louis CK, I've probably watched every episode he'sbeen on TV (in the HBO series, Lucky Louie which also featured Norton, and in his new series Louie, which is much better) and I've watched every Youtube clip with him.

Favorite Vonnegut book: Slaughterhouse Five. The most autobiographical – it details Vonnegut's experiences in Dresden during and after the fire bombing that destroyed the entire city. It shakes up Vonnegut's spirit to the point where the main character can't even stay fixed in time. The book is surreal and I think represents Vonnegut's purest voice and philosophy.

Favorite Freaks n Geeks episode: The 14th episode. u201CDead Dogs and Gym Teachersu201D. Specifically the scene at the end when Bill is crying because he can't handle the fact that his mom is going out with the coach of the school. Bill is the ultimate geek and he scorned the coach and everything he stood for. I related to Bill and felt like crying when he was crying. Also, the first scene where food is falling out of his mouth while he is laughing at Garry Shandling (one of my favorite comedians) is classic.

Favorite book about software: You don't have to be a programmer to appreciate Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky or Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham. Both guys are (or started as) programmers, built up successful business and learned how to apply their programming skills to deeper issues in both business and life. I recommend both.

Freaks and Geeks: The ... Best Price: $6.94 Buy New $25.74 (as of 04:50 UTC - Details)

Favorite business book: The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley is the perfect book for business. It shows with science and sound reasoning why the doom-and-gloomers will always be wrong. Economic development has saved country after country from the disasters of infant mortality, illiteracy, war, terrorism, and so on. I also like The Science of Getting Rich written in 1900 by Wallace Wattles.

Favorite Beatles song: u201CWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsu201D – by George Harrison, the most underrated Beatle and perhaps thebest songwriter among the four. Even the title is like an entire poem by itself.

OCCUPLY WALL STREET: Several people asked about this.

ANSWER: I've written about this several times. But, here's the thing.


That's what the Occupy Wall Street people are feeling. They are in pain:

  • They lost their jobs
  • They lost money while rich people got bonuses
  • They lost their homes
  • Maybe they lost their families

All of the above happened to me. Specifically in 2008. I could easily be down there protesting for the same reasons.

The Rational Optimist:... Matt Ridley Best Price: $3.43 Buy New $3.79 (as of 09:10 UTC - Details)

BUT, I actually lived there for several years. On Wall Street. My roof overlooked the New York Stock Exchange.

You never saw a sorrier, sadder group of peple going to work every day than on Wall Street in March, 2009. The actual people who WORK on Wall Street are low-level people who are slaves of the banks. These people lost everything. Now, to top off their depression, the protestors are waving signs in their faces as if the Wall Streeters are the guilty ones.

Let me tell you something: the guilty parties live in Greenwich, CT. Work on Park Avenue and Washington, DC, and they are more than happy to see Occupy Wall Street all the way downtown on Wall Street.

Because of the lack of organization, the Occupy Wall Streeters think they are protesting something symbolic: the greed of Wall Street. The rich bankers are 5 miles north laughing their way to the bank.

Lets get the banks to start lending again. Lets let the stock market go up instead of protesting it. When there is more money in the system, more people will get hired, more people will find opportunities, more businesses will get funded. Being angry at the people who lost the most won't help anyone.


@AnonSheen asks: What tips can you share about online dating?


I saw a sign the other day in a hotel I was staying at: The sign had a joke which is very typical for online dating: Richard goes up to a woman and says, u201Care you Linda?u201D Linda says, u201CAre you Richard?u201D Richard says, u201CYesu201D. Linda then says, u201CThen I'm not Lindau201D.

In other words, if you date online, you have to put up with rejection, fear, humiliation, and massive game-playing. It’s a war zone.

The ONLY way to succeed at online dating is to treat it like you would a job. When I was getting my feet wet in online dating (and ultimately, I met my wife that way) I would spend 2-4 hours a day sending or responding to messages, then maybe another hour on the phone (some people want to hear your voice and make sure you can make them laugh before they agree to go out with you) then actually go on the dates. I got rejected probably 200 times. But in the beginning it's a quantity game. Then you have to whittle down to get the quality.

The key is to cut losses. Make sure you have goals (my goal was to find someone who I could fall in love with, who had the potential for falling inlove with me) and then immediately cut your losses if you knew your goal wasn't going to meet. If you keep on going (for instance, if you know your goal isnot going to be met but you keep on going until sex is involved) then you might miss the potential opportunities for your true goals to reveal themselves.


I Was Blind But Now I ... Altucher, James Best Price: $3.07 Buy New $8.00 (as of 11:55 UTC - Details)

ANSWER: I try to do this every day: Wake up at 4:30am. Coffee. 2 hours of reading. What do I read? I try to read strong autobiographical fiction.

That sort of sounds like an oxymoron: u201Cautobiographical fictionu201D. But authors like Bukowski, Raymond Carver, William Vollmann, Miranda July, Mary Gaitskill, have strong literary voices precisely because they write about what they know best: themselves. They dive deep and even if they tweak their own biographies enough to produce fiction, it's often the fiction that is heavily based on truth and their own lives that comes out the best. Jonathan Ames, Michael Hemmingson, Donald Ray Pollock, Don Carpenter, John Fante, Celine, are also in this category. I like to get my mind buzzing with their voices to get inspiration.

Then I write for 2-4 hours, then rewrite.

When I'm writing, I have to search the feelings in my body to see what u2018s bothering me. If something pops up, I immediately start writing what's bothering me so much that my body hurts to think about it. Then I keep going and see where it takes me. [See, “33 Unusual Ways to Become a Better Writer“]