Success is a Sexually Transmitted Disease

Let’s be straight out honest: Success is a contagious disease. By the way, it starts out as a sexually transmitted disease. If you want to have sex with pretty girls or pretty boys then you need to at least convince yourself you’re successful in some way. This builds confidence and libido, which leads to more sexual encounters, which in turn increases the desire for more sexual encounters, so you need more success.

And when I say it’s a contagious, sexually transmitted disease – just to remove all doubt – I don’t mean this in a good way. It’s not like the pseudo self-help blogging advice you see everywhere:  “if you hang out with successful people then you will be successful.” I mean it in a negative way. That the negative effects of success will grow, tumor-like in your brain and body and you’ll pass them on to the people around you, the people closest to you. Even your children. And they will be stuck with the disease. And probably die of it. Since in most cases, its terminal.

It’s a sickness, doctors don’t diagnose it, psychotherapists deny it, and your children and lovers and friends and colleagues won’t understand what it is you inflicted them with. And its like AIDS – i.e. two people with AIDS still can’’t have sex with each other. It only makes the AIDS in both of them worse. Everyone dies faster.

Here’s symptoms of the disease. And these symptoms are unavoidable. Everyone I know who has been afflicted with success has felt these and might still be feeling these:

A)     Mental and/or physical pain. Along the path to success one will inevitably encounter much failure. Pete Sampras doesn’t win every tennis game. There’s much loss and suffering. Some of the suffering is headaches, lack of focus (you can only focus on the objects of your success but it’s hard to focus on other things that might be just as important  – like taking out the garbage, or taking a walk by the river).

Physical pain is obvious. If you are building a business, for example, you won’t sleep. And your body begins to break down. You gain weight. Your stomach hurts. I know executives climbing up the corporate ladder who gain weight every time politics rears its ugly head. And politics is an inevitability of all corporate success.You need to backstab or be backstabbed. That backstabbing is real. If its not a physical knife, it’s a mental knife. Either way it destroys your body. There’s so many ways pain is caused by success. What if you are sued? What if people are jealous of you and attack you in some way (could be mental, not necessarily physical). Can anyone who is successful tell me they haven’t felt extreme mental and/or physical pain at some point?

B)      Sadness. You’re not always going to win. Sometimes  the pretty girl will dump you. Sometimes you lose the chess tournament. Sometimes the business fails. Sometimes the investment was a scam. Sometimes you get fired or your job is made so miserable that you are forced to quit. Then you’re sad. You failed. Now you’re sad. You’re dejected. You’re down and out. Now you look around and you realize you’re on the floor and nobody wants to extend a hand to pick you up and once again, you’re going to have to start all over again and make it happen and you know how hard it was that first time, second time, third time, and now here we are, the eighth time, and you have to do it again. Bullshit. That’s sadness.

C)      Anxiety. Where is she tonight? How am I going to make payroll? Or, I got the message from my boss on a Friday afternoon and I have to wait all weekend to find out the “something serious I have to tell you”. Or, “will they buy my company, invest in my company, buy my product?” Anxiety is a terrible, terrible consequence of the success illness. Before I ever attempted any degree of success I had no anxiety. I didn’t care. What a blessing that was. Unfortunately it only lasts for a few minutes. Because Success is part of the American religion also. You have to have it. Or else you can’t have sex with anyone. You won’t have kids. You won’t have money. You won’t be able to watch movies whenever you want. So the anxiety hits again. My stomach still hurts from all the anxiety wracked up from years of striving for success that was pockmarked with shingles of failure.

D)     Ignorance. On the path to success it’s easy to become ignorant or delusional. There’s four ways you can become ignorant:

  1. Thinking that success lasts forever. For example thinking that money implies some immortality. And it might be true. Steve Jobs might be immortal.
  2. Cutting ethical corners. It’s ok to tell a little white lie when over-promising and underderlivering. Or if you really need that corner office, doing a little backstabbing. Or being so afraid of being fired that someone else needs to be thrown under the truck. Just this once. Or trashing the ex of the girl when she still might have lingering feelings for him. You know it’s a little bad. But everyone does it. That’s success.
  3. Thinking that “if I just get this, then I’ll be happy”.  I grew up that way. Every month, my dad had a deal that was going to close “next month”. Then everything was going to be good. Then all would be well again. If I just got the girl. If she just tells me “I love you”. If I just sell this company. If this one investment closes. If this one hedge fund returns 3% this month. If I can just get the “VP” title instead of the “Director” title. The “IF X, THEN HAPPY” affliction is a symptom of the success disease.

I know for myself, whenever I get “X”, though, then I want “Y”. You get Money, Now Sex. You get Sex, now Love. You get Love, but you lost Money, now I need Money               again. And now I need more Money. The stakes get higher. Success is a terminal disease and it only gets worse.  And so on. Not a vicious cycle. Why does every cycle                   have to be “vicious” or “virtuous”? I feel like those two words are media inventions. It’s just the cycle of success. Cycles are symptoms of this disease. Not natural.

          4. Forgetting who you were. You become friends with the people who will bring you closer to success. You become boring.  You go to the parties and make chit-chat with the people who will bring you closer to the dream. You pretend to like the right people. You fake hating the wrong people. You eventually forget who you hate and who you like. Weren’t they always hateful. It’s a distant memory. You’re now in the mental ward of people afflicted with the disease. You start high-fiving people you hate. You forget what you used to like. What used to give you the most pleasure. You smile because you read a study that people like smiling people. You shake hands firmly. You spend hours listening to people sell you something because that’s part of the dance also. To be a success you need to at least pay homage to the adventures in success and excess of others.

(a clown often forgets who he is deep down)

I went out with someone once who would cry at the end of every night. She had been married to someone who was fabulously wealthy and then she was divorced from him. “You’re never going to be able to take me out on that yacht in the Mediterranean,” she would say to me. She’d be curled in the fetal position, my mattress the only piece of furniture in my apartment so we’d both be lying on it.

“That sounds so boring to me, though,” I said, “why would you even want that?”

And she would cry more. Pull back the camera. We were in a room on 15 Broad Street, right across from the New York Stock Exchange. Pull back some more. New York City, big city of dreams. Pull back more. The frontier. The pursuit of happiness. Pull back more. We destroyed the Neanderthals. They didn’t stand a chance. Success!

One more time, pull back. I was about five years old. I was with my dad. We had one of those rockets that are fueled by water. Everyone in the neighborhood gathered around. “Stand back,” my dad (RIP) said. And the rocket took off. It must’ve gone one hundred feet in the air. Everyone couldn’t believe that it had actually worked. For a moment, we all tasted success. And never forgot how good it felt.

Related Posts: 

(Note: there is a cure to this horrendous disease. But that’s another post).

See Also: (or find me on twitter at, and if you find me there, please pull the needle out of my elbow.)

The Nine Ways to Guarantee Success


The power of Negative Thinking 


Ideas for a world out of balance… sent straight to your inbox!

My goal is to deliver to you a fresh perspective…

Something to help you make sense of the chaos.

Sign up below for Altucher Confidential, my tell-all FREE weekday e-letter.

By submitting your email address, you will receive a free subscription to Altucher Confidential. This daily investment newsletter delivers free independent financial forecasting and commentary along with carefully selected products and services that we think might interest you. We will not share your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Statement.

  • John H.

    Another fabulous post James. I’ve always understood that pursuing my dreams was a disease and could have terrible consequences for me and my friends and family. One of the only films that had a truely profound effect on my thinking was the brilliant “Apu Trilogy” by Satyajit Ray. Watching those 3 films left me with an understanding of the pain and suffering… and the few, brief moments of joy and enlightenment that comes to a life lived in a failed pursuit of a dream.

    If you haven’t seen them, I highly recomend that you find them, make some popcorn and spend an evening watching all three. Given your study of the Yoga Sutras I’d guess that you will enjoy these films immensely.

  • Paradigmetc

    I’ve had that stomach pain as well, James. What Skip said in response to your original post is true: the source of this is depression and anxiety. I still have those pangs when times get stressful. Not to mention the IBS.

     It’s amazing what people will do to reach the abstract notion of “success.” But success seems to be an entirely fleeting concept. Once you have achieved “success,” the success is logged and booked away. Perfectly leaving space for you to try your hand at more “success.” It’s a Sisyphus hoax wrapped up in romantic idealism.

    Real success is inner-peace and the funny thing is its something we already have as young children. Perhaps the real successful feat is the ability to maintain it.

    • Sooz

      “Real success is inner-peace..”


  • ksb4

    Sounds to me like failure is the transmitted disease, not success.  Especially if you measure success by money and not happiness.  

  • WB

    Great piece James…. I’m 54, a retired TV News Photographer from Texas, and have experienced many of the symptoms that you’ve described having been in the news biz, either as the culprit or a victim. Too many egos and NOT very much money except for an anchor or two, yet the vicious cycle is just as contagious with plenty of power, imaginary or real, that are far more disease ridden than tons of cash.  And it sickens me to see how the media today have used those powers against the FCC and SEC, by successfully broadcasting their agenda with scheduled pundits in their so-called reporting in financial news that is really just one big wet kiss for their sponsors. The same guys that missed the first crash in 08 and before. Success my ass!!  How about the deck is rigged by “The Market.”   

    Hey Knurd, I have an idea for you. Enslave yourself in Spain by shooting a documentary on how these dirty money guys are about to take your farm, and those of your neighbors, if something isn’t done soon to expose these greedy rumor mongers (Successful Market Makers; AKA: Money Makers) that are maliciously trashing the EU and their financial system in order to enrich themselves, short and long! It’s a freakin’ game dude. Talk about “Vicious Cycle.” 

  • azima143

    Find something your passionate about. It’s hard, but pick up books, talk to people, meet people and see if there’s an area you enjoy. Nobody wants to work for the man, but at the same time it helps finding out what you’re passionate about, and then you develop ideas to take forward and do work for yourself. You learn a lot of skills along the way. I thought i was the sh*t, but after working, a lot of that is broken down as well, and you notice things you need to improve on, so don’t throw that out of the window. It takes steps and time to find out what you’re good in. Try James’ 4 things be the luckiest person alive, write down different ideas and maybe you’ll find an interest that way.

  • Something I’ve been learning and practicing lately: intent versus attachment to outcome.  So, in this case, I know my intent, my effort and those are under my control.  Those I can give all and be ok knowing that.  Outcome, well, that’s a myriad of electrons colliding and faraway quasars imploding and butterflies in Japan fluttering their wings to all result in outcomes, none of which, I could’ve dreamed of.  

    So, am learning to focus on my intent and let go of attachment to any outcome.  That will be what it’ll be.  Next step, learning to appreciate whatever the outcome is.  

    • Its so hard to focus on and enjoy the process. And to know that if you put inthe right inputs, then regardless of the outputs, its “right” in some way. And from there, persistence. I’ve done my share of poor inputs, leading to weird outputs. Never too pleasant although superficially at first it might seem that way.

  • Anonymous

    It is important to differentiate between success and accomplishment. 

    What you describe above is striving toward accomplishment.  Many of us find ourselves doing things because we are supposed to be doing them.  It is what is done.  When we accomplish them we feel empty because the impetus was external.  Our motivation was not from within. 

    Contrast that with success which, as others have said, is working toward a set of personal goals.  For success to happen our beliefs and values must be well aligned with our goals.  When we are high-fiving someone we despise, or worse, despising the person in the mirror, then we are working towards goals that conflict with out values and beliefs.  We are working towards accomplishment.

    Add to that the fact that goals frequently conflict.  Being a good father and a good provider can often feel mutually exclusive.  That’s where a coherent set of values and beliefs comes in.  They tell you which is most important and guide you through the conflicting goals.    

  • KevinF

    There seems to be a lot of fear causing the disease. If we can learn to properly value our quality, we can detach our value from the disease and more clearly enable our real talents and purpose. At least, those are the most successful and interesting people I know.

  • KevinF

    There seems to be a lot of fear causing the disease. If we can learn to properly value our quality, we can detach our value from the disease and more clearly enable our real talents and purpose. At least, those are the most successful and interesting people I know.

  • MsMaryContrary

    You know, James, you might be able to find inner peace when you hit absolute rock bottom, perhaps though no fault of your own, and the only way out is to see the impermanance and the sheer frivolity of attachment—or put a bullet through your head. You seem to be on the right path, but you still have too much garbage racing through your head, 

    When you get there, and fully internalize this, much of this torture will finally end. 

  • Davidjohnhall

    Haha — this post is awesome!  I think every trait listed is part of the human condition whether you’re infected with success or failure or if you’re just sitting there eating dinner. 

    We want more.  Then when we have more we want less.  We want to go up.  Then we want to go down.  We want the hot girl.  Then the hot girl is too hot.  Then we want to be left alone.  Then we want everyone around.  Ahhhhhhhhhh!

    At least hunting after that goal gives us something to focus on.

    Anyway — if success is an illness, it’s a great illness to have.  Pimply warts and rashes and all.   :-)

  • Boo

    Thanks for instigating thought. Great post, as always. 

  • Ferrum26

    I think I’m going to quit my job.  This post has me on the edge.  I want to jump.  I’m behind in my career.  Moving forward, but still behind.  I want to climb the ladder. More power. More influence. More reporting to me and more money.  Yet I want to deliver good work.  I want to deal fairly.  Call things as I see them and be straightforward with clients, co-workers, managers and those I manage alike. Over deliver and under promise.  The game calls to me though.  The advice I get from the grizzled veterans.  The observations I make of the “winners”.  Business ethics vs personal ethics. Reading this blog. I’m already playing the game, why not play it well.  So I slip up on principles…and I get promoted. Is there any way out?  

  • kumar vivek

    Last night I was thinking the exact same thing, I was telling my fiancée that everything in my life right now is a “IF”. Its so bad that when the IF actually happens I don’t even enjoy it (even though few weeks back I thought that it was “THE” thing I needed) at that moment all i can see is another IF.

    If these are the symptoms I wonder when will I get the disease. This blog makes me feel nice in a I am not crazy sort of way.

  • mosketeer

    reading the title……and thought, wtf?  getting an STD is the goal?  hahaha

  • Concrete Dovetail

    And I’m starting to think the more successful you are, the harder it is to get a better job.  I can’t even find a job in the same time zone as my wife.  All I can do is work my ass off and continue publishing more papers, even though I feel like it’s making me overqualified.  I guess I’m afflicted, although at this point the disease is starting to feel more like failure than success.

  • Sussan

    “You pretend to like the right people. You fake hating the wrong people. You eventually forget who you hate and who you like. Weren’t they always hateful. It’s a distant memory. You’re now in the mental ward of people afflicted with the disease.”

    Brilliant, James!

  • Pete Sampras? Geez – when did you write this, in the eighties?

  • Where do you play chess online?

  • IF X, THEN HAPPY therefore [not X] = 1/HAPPY = the inverse HAPPY function.

    If I were a key on a calculator I would be represented as such – 1/HAPPY

    I have been content before, but not happy. I’m not even sure happy exists, my past contentedness was fleeting and awash in ignorance or detachment.

  • dude, you are awesome!

  • Anonymous

    After this and your previous post I am convinced you must hold on to Claudia. Funny stuff…crazy chicks…

  • Anonymous

    After this and your previous post I am convinced you must hold on to Claudia. Funny stuff…crazy chicks…

  • Well, as a wildly unsuccessful individual (in some people’s opinion anyway) I guess I can almost take this post as a compliment. 

  • Anonymous

    I retweet a lot of your posts but sometimes I feel like keeping this blog a secret because these posts are like ancient mysteries, some lesser mysteries, some greater mysteries.. I want the guy more successful than me to not read this post and while he’s in the corner crying his eyes out not knowing why I’ll pass him mentally prepared for the worst…..

    great post dude.

  • kingsef

    I am one that respected the ground more than the bicycle, so I fell off a lot less .  I don’t covet the sweetness of success, but I respect the crushing jaws of poverty because I was mauled by them one time too many Jay.   If this blog is about the downfalls of pursuing  financial success, then I hope you plan to write one about the virtues of being poor. Oh and you can start with healthcare because regardless of how much you “pretend” to like the hospital staff or doctors, if you don’t have the financial means or insurance you are going to get the gas face.

  • This sounds like someone who lacks balance… I like to look at my life as a balanced triangle of three areas of focus that all lean on eachother for support. Health, Wealth and Love. If you are not healthy you will not be able to boost your wealth and your love life will also suffer. If you only focus on wealth yet do not have any health or love your life will be completely empty without meaning as the above blog describes. And if no effort is put into balancing the wealth in your life you will struggle to live a healthy lifestyle and an inability to provide will hurt your love life.

    Life to me James is focus on these three things and they fullfill me. Because isnt that what we all want? Fullfillment? A continously growing experience in these areas with the most important ingredients APPRECIATION and CONTRIBUTION bring me fullfillment. If I had to put one of those areas at the top of my triangle it would be Love, because this life means nothing with out it. Focusing Love on Family, Spouse, Friends and Spirituality bring balance within love.

    I just got done reading your blog on self publishing a book, I would like to write one someday on those three focuses I will call “The Tri-Force of Life.” As I feel fullfillment in those areas I feel I need more experience to draw from as I am 24 years old.

    A good article tho thank you, its always good to keep ourselves in check through introspection and the greatest journey of all, self-actualization.

    -Russ Taylor
    Olympia, WA

  • Sorry I’m a bit late to the party here James, but I found your blog about a week ago and I’ve only just come to this particular post. I have enjoyed and learned a lot from what you write, but I find I have to speak up concerning one particular comment here.

    You wrote, “And its like AIDS – i.e. two people with AIDS still can’’t have sex with
    each other. It only makes the AIDS in both of them worse. Everyone dies

    Where on earth did you come up with that little gem? You seem to think that people who are living with hiv cannot have sex, not even with other people living with hiv. (calling us “people with aids” is just sooooo 1990s) All you need are condoms and you don’t have to worry about hiv.

    I’ve been poz for over fourteen years. I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I have peace of mind. Success, right? I also have a poz partner and our sex life is great and no, we don’t need condoms with each other.

    I have also, in the past, had an hiv negative partner. We were together for eight years and he remained hiv negative despite our full and satisfying sex life, through the simple use of condoms.

    To suggest that we poz people are going to make our “aids” “worse” is
    just silly scaremongering. We’re not dying faster because we have sex
    lives with other poz people, or negative people for that matter.

    Quite the contrary; those of us who have fulfilling sex lives, including
    with other poz people, are living longer and enjoy better mental health
    than those who believe such scare tactics and eschew sex altogether.

    You may have read some half-arsed sensationalist media article about something called reinfection, aka superinfection (not super as in super-duper, but as in superimposed; one infection on top of the other), but there have only been a handful of documented cases in the thirty years of this pandemic. These cases have only been seen in people very newly infected where their bodies had not yet come to terms with the initial infection.

    There has been no evidence to date that someone dealing with reinfection will become sicker or die faster than someone dealing with one infection. Today’s treatments can deal with a reinfected person just as well as they deal with anyone else. Haven’t you heard? Hiv is no longer a death sentence!

    Please James, I’m loving your blog and have become a faithful follower, but next time you decide to use a serious illness that affects many people – including some in your readership – to make a point, please, please, PLEASE make sure you have your facts right.

    To do otherwise is a disservice to everyone. To do otherwise when talking about hiv promotes the stigma those of us living with hiv have to face – and fight – on a daily basis. Thank you for taking this into consideration.

    By the way, you have inspired me to pick up blogging again. I have a blog at

    I haven’t posted in quite some time, but will be blogging again in the near future. My archives are still available although sadly some of the photos I posted in the past are now missing due to a server change or some such shenanigans beyond my control.

    Otherwise, thanks for the great blog and thanks for the inspiration.

  • Anonymous

    I have not had sex yet, but I still have discharge every single day except on my period and it itches very badly where I pretty much scratch it raw and then when I use the bathroom again it stings really bad. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know how to help it. I just want it
    to go away!!!! What can I do? @SARAH

  • I think a lot depends on what perspective you have.

    You can see pain as a sacrifice and actually enjoy that physical pain because you know you’ve gone beyond your previous limits. That physical pain can actually feel good when you are upto something you deeply care about.

    You can accept sadness and see it as one end of the pendulum swing; which will surely shift to the other end soon.

    You can see anxiety as a sure sign, that your lizard brain is at work and that you need to defeat it.

    These would be my cures to the STD. :)

  • If you think success is bad; try failure ….much worse…..bigger stomach ache.

  • Brigita

    This is growing like a wildfire out of control. Men always carry Rubbers for you never know when you will have sex) use rubbers at all times women use birth control and have a supply of rubbers also. Careless and uncalled to be spreading around these diseases. I have seen babies born.ed with defects from these STD.s This is a serious growing problem and we have to be responsible . For you never no if that person that you just had sex with doesn’t have any of these. Get Real and Wake up.