Life Reimagined

Why Selfishness is Good

The power of failure and critical importance of self-love

While in grad school at Cornell, James Altucher realized that he didn’t actually want to be a professor of computer science after all. So instead of studying, he wrote novels. Goodbye grad school! Before long, he was asked to take a powder. Business failures, bankruptcies and divorce came later; he gained, lost and regained fortunes. To date, he’s started 20 businesses, become a renowned hedge fund manager and entrepreneur, changed careers 10 times and written 11 books, including his latest, Choose Yourself. It’s an ode to the powers of failure and the critical importance of self-love.

He came by his ideas by living them, hard. Out of the ashes of Altucher’s tortuous career path grew a conviction that choosing himself—prioritizing own his physical, emotional and spiritual needs every day—would generate not just happiness and health but fulfilling work and wealth too.

Sure, It’s easier said then done during extended periods of crash-and-burn failure, Altucher concedes. “We all fail in our lives,” he says. “We all feel depression, fear, anxiety for the future, and regret about the past. But working through failure can help you reimagine your life. Every time I’ve hit some kind of bottom—getting fired from a job or rejected from something I wanted—it ended up helping me."

After being terminated with extreme prejudice from grad school, Altucher combined his love of writing stories and computer code to become a programmer at HBO, and later launch Reset, a firm that made web shows for Disney, Sony and Universal. It was the first of several companies he started and later sold. Managing (and mismanaging) that windfall led him toward investing and hedge fund management. Altucher, who’s 46, stresses how important it is for midlife workers to embrace change in a way that suits them. “We have to be our best selves to adapt to the changes in our future.”

Altucher recommends doing a self-audit to see how healthy you are in the following 4 essential areas:

Mental. Do you read a lot? Altucher spends two hours each morning and another hour at night reading, browsing 10-20 books a week. His advice: Expose yourself to lots of ideas and write down your own, to exercise your idea-generating muscles. It’s your greatest superpower. Strive to come up with 10 ideas a day. To let the notions —good and bad—flow in an uninterrupted stream, Altucher refrains from listening to music while he works; that’s multitasking.

Physical. Do you exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep? Altucher knows he can’t come up with ideas and solve problems on four hours of sleep, so he gets 9-10 hours a night. Where does he find the time? He doesn’t watch TV, follow the news, or surf the web—and he shuts down his screens at 6 every night. “The choices you make today will be in your biology tomorrow.”

Emotional. Are you surrounding yourself with good people who support you? Ditch friends who don’t. Even if it goes against your nature, skip gossip. Be honest. When you choose yourself, Altucher says, you attract better people.

Spiritual. Spend 10 minutes a day practicing gratitude: for what you have, and what brings abundance into your life. Then, surrender to the things over which you have no control. Don’t suppress the fear, and notice your anger, he says. “Gratitude is the bridge between your world and the parallel universe where all creative ideas live.”

Okay, you already know you should be doing these things. Now do them for real—little by little and every day. “We all live lives with obstacles,” Altucher says, noting that Raymond Chandler didn't write his first novel until he was 52 and Henry Ford didn't start the assembly line until age 60. “Every day I know that if I take care of myself, everything else will ripple from that to distant shores.”

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