Whoa! What just happened? I woke up the other day and I was forty-seven years old.
I remember when I was seven years old. FORTY YEARS AGO.
I ran to the bathroom but I was too late. I peed all down my pants, and everyone laughed and I had to sit in class wrapped in towels.
They all made fun of me.
“No hard feelings,” but all feelings are hard.
It’s the hard feelings, good and bad, that we remember, that define the moments of our life.
I was an amateur.
Another time I was involved with a company where I didn’t realize one of the founders was a criminal.
I figured, “It’s because he’s crazy that I have this opportunity,” else who would give me an opportunity. Why me? I had no confidence.
That was amateur hour.
I was greedy.
The second you think about the money, you stop being a pro.
Here is what I think it takes to be a pro. Be simple, be humble, be curious, be fascinated, be passionate, have a vision.
All of that is good as you rise from amateur to pro. But none of it will bring you to the other side. Where the dragon hides the gold.
A) DON’T OWN THINGS
I don’t mean, “throw everything out.” Recently, Claudia and I did that. It’s not like it’s so great to do that.
But suddenly, objects don’t have as much hold on us, holding us to the ground, to a place, to a memory, to a fantasy.
I think it was Einstein who made the joke, “If a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind then what does an empty desk mean?”
I’m fine with that. I’m fine with having an empty head. Leaves me weightless.
Let’s me fly.
B) NO POLITICS
I was talking to Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, and he told me that he likes to write about topics where if you take either side, then both sides will hate you.
For instance, pro-choice vs pro-life. If you can make a reasonable argument for both sides, then both sides will hate you.
War vs “No war has ever been justified.” I have lost friends over this one. If you say, “No war can ever be justified,” then almost every race and ethnicity will hate you.
Global warming versus no global warming. Both sides will hate you if you argue a reasonable case for both sides.
C) DROP BAD FRIENDS
I kissed her even after she cheated.
I shook his hand even after he stole.
I cried because I cared about her after what she did.
It’s hard to give up on people.
But we’re each on our own path. The paths intersect but they never merge.
Intersections are powerful explosions but some of them burn out. The pros know when to move on.
D) LOOK SHARP
Seems stupid but it’s true. Seems stupid coming from me, but it’s true.
I once called Steve G when I was in tenth grade. On a scale of one to ten, I asked him, do you think any girl will ever like me?
I had glasses, braces, acne, I never brushed my hair, and for some reason I liked to wear two button down shirts at the same time. Maybe to bulk up.
He refused to answer. He said, “Maybe wait until college.”
“No hard feelings.”
I don’t know if I ever improved. But looks also convey confidence, happiness, laughter, freedom.
You want to look in the mirror and see freedom.
E) A JOB IS A SMALL PLACE
So many people fight for that last promotion. It’s like the last helicopter out of Vietnam. The jobs are going. But one leap and…Assistant VP of Sales while everyone else is left behind.
Only… it’s a myth. You can’t get wealthy at a job. Everyone hates you. Your only friends are people you meet at a water fountain. And then there’s the next promotion…
And then there’s entrepreneurship. Don’t be fooled by that myth either. Eight-five percent of businesses fail. And those are the ones started by pros.
So how do people make money? By coming up with ten ideas a day. And out of 3,650 ideas a year, trying a few of them each year and never stopping.
F) FIND WAYS TO LAUGH
Today: Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer, and an episode of “Episodes” and a book by Kurt Vonnegut.
Everyone who lives over the age of 100 says, “I laugh a lot.” I prefer that advice to the people who cry a lot and die young.
My father cried a lot. He would call me while crying. He would cry in the super-market. He would cry at parent-teacher conferences. And he died young.
I miss him. I would call him when everything was going wrong. His optimism was so creative and stupid.
He always knew how to build me a fantasy path from the wreckage I was in, to a rainbow. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you your last six months. But you always gave me a reason to believe in hope.
Nothing wrong with crying. It’s just not as good a habit as laughing.
G) BE CREATIVE
Creativity is double-edged. If you are creative for awhile and then stop, it feels very painful. Your brain feels constipated and it hurts.
You can only be creative when everything is working right on all cylinders: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.
If you are emotionally blocked, you’ll be creatively blocked. And so on.
But when the spigot turns on the whole world is filled with art.
This is how you sharpen the knife. The world becomes soft clay. You cut into it.
H) NEW PEOPLE
A week ago, I spent the day on the set of a new TV show being filmed. I learned from the director, the writers, the actors, the extras, the assistants.
How did I get there? Because of a friend of a friend of a friend. I forget how I even met the first friend. I just kept pursuing new people, and then their friends, and so on.
I watched how the director set the tone of the entire show by how he shot the scene. I felt like a little boy with a new toy. I was giddy. I watched for seven straight hours the director filming the same scene over and over.
I’m forty-seven and that was a brand new experience. Today I’ve already had one brand new experience. It was actually a horrible one.
And I expect tomorrow I will have another one. Maybe it will be better. But it will be new.
I) BE A CLOSER
People think “Closing” is the same as “Selling.”
That’s amateur hour. When you sell an idea, a product, a concept, a company, then the work truly begins. Then you go from selling to closing. A totally different skill.
You have to hold hands every step of the way. You still have to keep the big mutual vision alive. You have to keep everyone hungry.
And you also have to handle all the tiny dotted “i”s and crossed “t”s. You have to be big picture and microscopic picture.
Amateurs do one or the other and are blind to the other side. They don’t even see it exists. Pros do both.
I think after twenty years of trying to learn to do this I’m probably a “six” on a scale of one to ten, although every day I’m shown more areas where I’m an amateur.
J) NEGOTIATION IS A MYTH
Most people have no clue what negotiation is. It’s not about getting more money, or a higher percentage, or extra perks.
Negotiation is the art of making both sides equally happy (“1+1 = 5!”) and equally nervous (“there’s a lot of work left to do. This is just the beginning!”).
When you negotiate with only one side in mind (“I want to be happier than the other side”) then both sides will lose. A pro is a good negotiator.
K) ABH. Always be Honest
One time I pretended to be nice to an entrepreneur I didn’t like – Josh J. I told Mark K. I didn’t like Josh.
Then I had to go to dinner with Josh but he had already spoke to Mark.
So that was awkward. He brought it right up and was smiling. Laughing at me. “No hard feelings.”
When you lie, here’s what happens:
a. everyone finds out anyway and you’re the fool in the middle.
b. your life splits in two and it’s hard to keep track
I used to live a triple-life. Women, jobs, drugs. Much easier to suck the drama out of the outside world and put that creativity into your inner world.
Then the seeds blossom.
I) DON’T BELIEVE IN STORIES
Kim Kardashian is famous because 70,000 years ago we needed to commit genocide on Neanderthals.
Humans were moving from Africa to Europe in bigger tribes than ever and there was no way we could know everyone in the tribe.
So gossip was invented. “Mark says Jack is a good hunter so since I trust Mark, I now trust Jack.”
That’s the invention of gossip. 70,000 years later…Kim Kardashian.
But when tribes got bigger than 150 we needed something bigger: storytelling.
If you and I believe in the same story, then we are more likely to trust each other.
Religion, nationalism, corporatism (“Go IBM!”), and even rooting for the same team, make us more likely to trust each other. They are all stories. Almost everything is a story.
But we’re still learning that. It’s only been about 30,000 years of storytelling and 3 million years of being a species.
So an evolutionary blip. And when storytelling breaks down, wars result. The trust breaks down.
Better to understand from the beginning that everything is a story. Live the real life and not the story life.
The only real story is being around people you love. Helping them with their dreams.
Pros help others. Pros make the team better. Pros score the points.
I’m mostly an amateur. There’s nothing wrong with that either. There’s too many things to be good at to be good at all of them.
I’m still learning. I hope. I no longer pee in my pants as much. I learned how to wait and be patient.
But I’m always going to miss my dad. The best amateur I ever knew.
James Altucher has built and sold several companies, and failed at dozens more. He’s written twelve books, and The Power of No is the book to RULE THEM ALL. (Although he is also fond of Choose Yourself.) He’s an investor in twenty different companies. He writes every day. He doesn’t have enough friends. Still interested in knowing him? Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of K. Praslowicz.