What Are Your Plans For Your Death Bed?

Do you know what you are going to say on your deathbed? Everyone wants to know what you are going to say.  People say things like, “on your deathbed are you going to wish you spent more time at work than with your family?”

Well, are you? Are you going to say that? When you have tubes sticking through every orifice. And you have an artificial heart and maybe even a partially artificial cylon brain, are you going to suddenly pull the tube out of your mouth and say, like the King’s Speech, “I wish I had spent more time with my family than at work?”

(Dream and Death from the Sandman comics. I always had a crush on Death and I wanted to have a punk look like Dream).

Or perhaps you’re going to say, “I’m glad I found my purpose in my life (to save more dolphins from being mixed with canned tuna) and now I can die in peace. Or in pieces. Because of the amputations. Peace out.”

Why is everyone so concerned with the death beds. Why do they call it a bed? What if you die in the street? Is the bed made? Did you pee in the bed? Did someone clean your bedpan?

Presumably they say these things because they think the most important point in your life, the point when you look back on everything and make a judgment on it, is the moment you die. This moment has so much expectation aimed towards it that I think it will be very stressful. Like, holy shit, I am about to die. What should I say? Did I become President of the United States? (Obama and Bush maybe will have very pleasant deaths?) Did I create robots? Did I discover dark matter? Did I discover some dark matter on my death bed?

Oh man, I hope I don’t feel that pressure then. I don’t want to feel it now either. In between birth and death we’re supposed to do something called “passion” or “purpose”. What’s your passion? Did you do it today? How are you supposed to find it? Is it buried somewhere in your backyard?

I imagine when I’m older I’ll have a big photo album. “And here what I looked like before I found my passion.” ….”And then if you look over here, here are pictures of me post-passion? See the new shirt I have on? It’s more colorful. And I have a beard. I don’t know, something about getting my passion made me feel like growing a Van Dyke beard.”


(maybe I'll regret never being able to do this yoga move)

I’ve done some things in my life I’m very proud of. I’m doing this blog, for instance. I interviewed lots of hookers at three in the morning. I have a roof over my head. I ate fish yesterday. I listened to my daughters over the weekend. I haven’t been to jail yet, except to visit friends. That girl I was really angry at I eventually forgave. Or, if not forgave, at least forgot about her. Until this moment. Now I’m anrgy at her again. Where is she? One second while I google.

Let’s put your “passion” aside for a second. Nobody gives a shit anyway. And 100 years after you die, even if you figured out that whole “robot” thing we were talking about earlier, nobody is going to care.

Here’s what you should do today. If you do some variant on these things every day, they build up. And on your deathbed you are allowed to die without being stressed about anything, passion or not. You don’t have to say anything on your deathbed. You can just be quiet. Jesus, it’s your death, stop talking to people for once in your life. I give you my solemn permission on that.

A)     Don’t  do anything you don’t want to do. Think about this a bit. There are a lot of case examples: “I don’t want to go to my job”, “I don’t want to go to Thanksgiving at my inlaws”, "I have to stay with my husband", “I don’ t want to go to that meeting in Moscow”, “I don’t want to have sex with that particular john”, etc. We can go over these cases one at a time. But trust me when I say: there is a solution to each and every one of them.  You say, “no there isn’t. I have to go to my job and I don’t want to.” Trust me – there’s a solution.

B)      Make something easier. A lot of people write to me and say the Daily Practice I recommend is often too hard. I KNOW this. It’s too hard for me!

I’ve never exercised before in my life, for instance. It’s hard for me to do it every day. So make it easier. Do it for ONE MINUTE today. Just get down on the ground and do five pushups. Park your car one block further from work and walk. You can’t get 9 hours of sleep? No problem! Do 8. You don't have 5 people you are grateful for today? No problem, be grateful you were able to pee into a toilet with good plumbing this morning. People 200 years ago would KILL for that.

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I wish I could print a “Can’t Dollar Bill” and start printing them. The Federal Reserve can make them redeemable for a dollar bill. The “Can’t Dollar Bill” would be spent every time you think the word “can’t”. It would save the world economy. “I can’t get any better at the piano”. “I can’t write today”. “I can’t stand my boss.” “I can’t handle the fact that my husband doesn’t pick up his dirty laundry”. Can’t can’t can’t. “I can’t paint unless I’m in Paris”. “I can’t not go to college”. Blech. I can’t stand you saying that to me. So I’m going to go into this room here and put my headphones on and listen to music that you can’t stand.

C)      List the things you are currently a failure at. Maybe you don’t have kids and you always wanted them. Maybe you haven’t written a novel. Maybe you’ve written a novel but not a bestselling one. Maybe you wrote a bestselling one but then the sequel fell flat or you can’t figure out what to do next. Maybe you had sex with ten girls but not Wilt Chamberlain style 10,000. You really suck then. Maybe you don’t make enough to send your kids to college. Maybe your kids take drugs. I can keep listing. I’ve certainly listed my failures all through this website. You think I give a shit about them?

Did you make the list? Ok, email it to me. Or better yet: throw it out (same thing). Today is a fresh start. You think a baby cares what it failed at? A baby is less stressed than you AND it shits in its pants and can’t speak English. Go ahead and top that! Babies are total failures. Do you think a baby says on its deathbed, "I wish I had spent more time cuddling and less time shitting in my pants"? No, babies don't care.

D)     Don’t Care What People Think. Blah blah. I’m going to google this right now. I bet I can find a good quote to steal from someone famous about this. …<about to Google>….Ahem <clearing throat>, as I was saying:  Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.

I always care what people think. Too much. I hate myself for it. On my deathbed I might say “I spent too much time caring what people think and in about three seconds I’m going to be dead. I hope after I die people like what I said on my deathbed.”


E)      Turn off the Amygdala. This is the part of your brain that runs interference for the rest of the brain. It protects you from all danger by triggering your fight or flight reaction to just about everything that can destroy  you. Unfortunately, we’ve evolved from the people who ran away from galloping elephants instead of the people who didn’t have amygdalas who got trampled by the elephants. So we are constantly on the look out for danger. So that’s why the world always seems like it’s falling apart (confirmation bias of the danger we see all around us). Hence the need to save the world that always seems like it’s falling apart around us either on a macro level (global warming) or a micro level (I’m feeling fat today). We need to evolve past the amygdala starting RIGHT NOW. So if you feel that part of your brain lighting up too much today, try to think of something positive, like me. Because I care what you think of me.

(I would like to take out my amygdala, please)

F)    Picture yourself as a useless Nothing. Because you are. You think if you invent a robot that can eat an apple and says “this tastes good” that you did something with your life? Who even cares? God has to worry about that unexpected supernova in Quadrant A87B. You think he has time to read your shit?

Blah blah blah, I’m going to have to use that website, Google.com (it’s on the World Wide Web) and steal a famous quote again. ….Like I was saying, If you are content with being nobody in particular, content not to stand out, you align yourself with the power of the universe. What looks like weakness to the ego is in fact the only true strength. This spiritual truth is diametrically opposed to the values of our contemporary culture and the way it conditions people to behave.

The other day I wrote down a list of the expectations I had in life and still currently have.  Some are really hard to cross off the list. For instance, I like when people read my blog. I want my kids to love me. And so on. It’s hard to eliminate all expectations. But every day I’m trying and I feel like I get closer to crossing off the hard ones.

Most of all, I hope that when I die it’s very fast so I don’t have time to regret anything. I hope people say, “man, I want to die that fast. That’s the way to go”. But then again, I guess I care too much of what people will think of my death.

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  • I’ve been watching Six Feet Under non-stop for about a week now so I have been inundated with death. Death is something that all of us will experience but few want to think about. It’s a natural process and the more we do the things that make our life better (see: compassion, generosity, selfless service, etc..) the more prepared we’ll be when it’s our time to physically die.

    Buddhists and Hindus believe that whatever is held in your mind at the moment of death determines where you will go after you die. That’s why it’s important to dwell in a space of peace and kindness while living. Think of it like training for death.

    Nice post, James.

  • Love this! Particularly love “I hope after I die people like what I said on my deathbed.” I hate that I care that much what other people think. It’s a little better as I get older, but not all that much. Someone I don’t even know and will probably never meet made a comment about my comment on a FB post about the Penn State scandal, and I got my knickers all in a bunch. Stupid!
    And yeah, fast sounds great.

  • Adam

    You cracked me up today James. I laughed out loud (while alone, so it was genuine) a few times. Nice comedic interjections to clearly demonstrate your points. Enjoyed it.

  • DN

    James, you are very refreshing to read in the narcissistic world we live in.

    I am 16, live in the middlest of the middle class new jersey, and, honestly, I don’t know what to do with my life.

    On one hand, my parents did not go to college. They take college seriously, wanting nothing more than to see my brother and I go to college to get this “good job” that I always hear about. I told them that I don’t want to get into debt to go to college- they said they would take care of it. This shocked me, because I didn’t think we had enough money for both my brother and I to go, with rising tuition rates (my parents both work at a small foodstore you may know, whose main competitor is wal-mart. both blue collar jobs). I asked how they would pay for it. They said “WE’LL get loans if we have to”!

    That scares me. But I don’t want to disappoint them, because they are very good parents and work hard. If I was 100% sure I wanted to go to college, this would not be a problem. But I am not sure.

    Second, I have no idea what I really want, thanks to society telling me what is good and what is bad. Narcissism runs high among people my age, but I have the opposite problem: low self esteem, some social anxiety, things like that. I’m told that a large house, nice car, big nest egg are all desirable things.

    The thing is, I’m not sure I want to work at some BS “investment bank” or whatever to have money. I hate the thought of being a loser. Having my narcissistic peers telling me how great they are and how they are always right, and I am wrong.

    I feel like if I don’t get a good job, as they say, then I will be a loser, because I honestly don’t have that much going for me. I’m 6’1 130 lbs and pale white (wimp). So, looks and strength are out. I don’t feel very entrepreneurial. I am no good at computers/tech whatsoever (it seems like every successful and profitable business is online these days), and I only have one business idea, and it is basically a copy of an already existing small business that I go to, but I would expand it more (it is a music lessons place). And I’ve read how even for someone with as much experience as you, only like 1/20 ideas are successful. So I’m no Zuckerberg. Or Altucher.

    There are only two things I really excel in, and that is drums and critical thinking. Drums, I admit, I’m pretty decent, played for 6 years, in a somewhat serious band. I always thought I was smart, but not in a real useful way. But I’m not that smart. At least above the 50% percentile though. Not sure why I wrote this paragraph, but I figured I should put something positive.

    I can’t enjoy anything without thinking about the future. If I am playing video games, trying to relax, I think to myself that “this isn’t what *winners* do”. At night, I either get depressed or infuriated when trying to fall asleep. Usually it is depressed at how pathetic I feel, and angry at how narcissistic (sorry for using that word again) and apathetic everyone else is to everyone.

    So, Mr.Altucher, how can I find what I really want? How can I find this passion, or purpose, I always hear about? How do I know what *I* want, and not what the establishment wants me to want? What would you suggest someone in my situation do?

    Sorry for the long post, I don’t get to vent much in real life, or on the internet for that matter. It is therapeutic in way.

    In short: I have no idea if I want to go to college, start a business, work a minimum wage job and play videogames all day, move to the city, the country, or even what field I am interesting in working in. On top of that, I don’t want to be seen as a loser by others.

    Even if you don’t respond, thanks for your blog. It is really a breath of fresh air.


    P.S. I would have asked this on twitter, but I don’t have one.

    • Aaron Garth Smith

      It is evident that you’re a better writer than about 98% of the American population. Seriously. Effective communication skills are invaluable. Use this to your advantage.

      • DN

        Thanks bud. I scored in the 99th percentile for both reading and writing on my PSAT’s. Only 80th percentile on math though.

        • Great thoughts, DN.

          I’m with James on this one–do not spend 300K on a degree that you hate. Do something you love. Then think, “How can I make some cash here?” Can you write about drums/music–you are close enough to the action in Jersey. Can you think about sound production/editing? Write reviews?

          In the mean time, maybe you can take a couple courses in things you think you might love. One of my favorite courses ever was a course by a scholar in Hinduism–totally unrelated to any of my careers, but the most valuable experience ever, and it reshaped my approach to many other things.

          Things connect themselves in so many ways, and it’s really natural to feel we’re not good enough at anything. I spent my life feeling I was awful at sports, while my high school sports-god friends spent their 4 years being jealous that I didn’t study for tests. It’s all relative.

          Look at your scores and your assets–you have an unlimited potential. 80%? 99%? You’re ahead of the curve. Trust me. I know this because I now teach about 150 of you a year… I cycled through three careers myself. No decision you make career-wise glues you in there–it gives you experiences to know yourself better and find the next big thing.

          I have worked for large corporations, restaurants, roadside hotdog joints, I own (and fired myself from) my own business, I have freelanced, photographed fights, lost fights, chickened out of a ton of opportunities… the list goes on.

          No decision you make (except for indecision) is wrong. You will uncover a passion. In the mean time, get a job, work hard, and dedicate a good fraction of your free time to something you love. Then, spend the cash on college if and when you feel it and it makes sense!

          • Doing something you love should pay you though. Suppose you love Jersey cows. You don’t have to be a farmer or a Vet to work with them. Maybe you are an accountant for a livestock company. Viscerally, you get to work with them, and then come inventory time you get to go to the fields and freezers. Think different isn’t just an ad slogan.

          • True. You are right! One can’t just sit and wait for the muse–you’re right. But people SHOULD be thinking “what can I do with this?” There are so many ways to learn and explore passions. There are equal amounts of innovative people converting passions to businesses, industries, and changing our lives for good while they make a living. I’m with you on that one. “Think different,” isn’t an ad slogan, but it’s a way of being–if you constantly look for opportunity and do it within a field of passion, learning to control fear, the direction will come. I tell my students this, “I wish for you that you will love coming going to work every day as much as I do.”

            And I tell them that life won’t always be a success–I’ve failed at careers, failed then succeeded at business, and wandered around until I found my present career/passion. It happens to all of us. But we should never forget the things we love. Sometimes we need a harsh reminder, I dare say.

            But, if people are constantly thinking about chasing the dollars and not incorporating the passion, that’s going to be an epic fail–took me a decade to figure that out in my first career. Now, I co-own an business that incorporates my passion (teaching, learning, health/fitness) and my full time job is teaching. I try to think of a thousand things to do that would incorporate my passions–writing, teaching, consulting, training… We all have to take the schlep jobs and work our way into our vision. We just have to make sure we don’t forget the love, passion, and vision. Unfortunately, so many of my friends have. They are not happy.

          • I love that, chasing dollars. Check out Hackman-Oldham theory of motivation. I went into trading because of the money. I loved trading because of the competition and ability to be my own boss. Now I love start ups because of the personal touch, the competition, and the ability to be my own boss. But there is a part of me that wants to move to a farm, start a bunch of boutique food businesses and hang out. Just need a little more money….. : )

          • Ironic…I left corporate America, went into teaching, and am currently moving–maybe I’ll succeed in getting of the grid. If you ever start your boutique food business, you let me know! I’ll work as a taster!

        • DN, With your PSAT scores you have “low self-esteem” ? When I was 16, I’d have traded places with you in a nano-second. Maybe even today. ;-)


    • murali


      You are still very young. It is perfectly fine if you do not have any idea on what to do with your life. One of the alternatives James suggests is to take a year off and travel. I think you might have come across that. Also, try not to think what others might ‘label’ you as. We need to live our own lives and only that can lead to contentment. Most ‘winners’ I know are as unhappy as the rest.

      Btw, I commend the fact that you are thinking about these things when you are 16 years old. I wish I had done that myself.

    • anonseitse

      Hey DN,

      Thought I’d take a moment to share some of my thoughts with you. But before
      doing so, a (very) friendly suggestion – don’t talk down on yourself. You are
      special. We are all special in our own unique way. As Einstein said: ‘’Everybody
      is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by
      its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is
      stupid.’’ I think Einstein was correct. Unfortunately, as you yourself pointed
      out, our self-appraisal and confidence is largely formed by society (which
      doesn’t really do any good). I used to think the exact same way as you do – I need
      to have a huge house, many cars, prestigious job, etc in order to matter. In
      order to be somebody (i.e. other than a failure). That’s utter nonsense. What a
      waste of time. Trust me on this.

      I am in my mid 20’s and believe it or not, I never enjoyed my late youth
      (especially my high school and college years). Although I’m not exactly old, I’m
      old enough to participate in all those teenagers parties down in Florida. I
      never had those. I never had a real college party, as I was too busy worrying
      about my future. Worrying about educating myself, making some money, building a
      career. I was out building connections, getting ideas, etc. I wanted to be a
      grown up – spend my time working, not partying. And now I regret it. Why?
      Because I still don’t know what I want to do… I still worry about all those

      Long story short… do what YOU want to do. Not what your parents, peers or
      other people you know are saying you should do. If you don’t want to go to
      college, don’t go. Or go later. Travel, get to know yourself. Work in different
      places (be it McDonalds or whatever). Party and have fun! If you like drums, go
      and play them. Form a band in your parents’ garage. See how you like it.

      Further, if you are unsure about college, you shouldn’t go there especially
      when your parents are about to go into debt because of this. Trust me, you will
      feel much-much worse after graduating because 50/50 chances are you still don’t
      know what you want to do. Ok I’m lying… it’s more like 80/20. College doesn’t
      help you figure out life. It sure didn’t help me. If anything, it made it much
      more confusing. My parents paid for my college, so now I have this extra pressure
      to do something with my life. I feel like I need to repay them by becoming
      successful. By doing something meaningful with my life. Despite the fact that I
      don’t care about building a business or working. I just don’t care. Sure, I use
      Apple products, but I wouldn’t want to run the firm. Or worse, be another Steve
      Jobs. Would I really want to work long hours, which are required to build
      another Apple? No, I wouldn’t.

      So if you really don’t care about things, go travel. Go to Indonesia. India.
      Thailand. Cambodia. It’s cheap down there, so you can figure out what it is you
      do want. Maybe you just want to wake up, watch the sun rise, eat, and go back
      to sleep… then maybe you should stay down there. That’s my plan anyway. Just
      need to figure out how to explain it my parents.

      • DN

        The tough part is figuring out what I want to do.

        Also, one reason I like talking with older people (25+) is that they are usually passed “I know everything and am always right” phase. Seriously, seeing some of the things people my age say and write, you would think that they are trying to be philosophers or yogi’s or something. But they don’t have any real world experience, and I’m not about to take advice from some 17 year old “film critic” who thinks The Beatles are overrated and the taste is objective. OR from an edgy “nihilist” kid who *hates* humanity and believes he has mastered the social sciences and knows why people act certain ways.

        Seriously, I can’t go on facebook anymore without becoming enraged by these privileged kids still in/just out of high school saying how everyone should go to college for “gainful employment” while making fun of older people who work at McDonald’s by calling them failures.

        Older folks can walk in others shoes at least. I know very few kids who I could say the same for. I don’t know the details of every situation, so I am not going to judge. They shouldn’t either.

        Thanks for your comment.

        • SPS


          I’m soon to be 60. Still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up…

          Take the time, do it now. Turn off the TV, skip the movies, live some (real) life. Hopefully, you will find your “thing” to do. If not, you will have done a lot of things you KNOW you don’t want to do again!
          (skip the Army!)

          Don’t sweat it too much. Save a live today – to quote James.

          • I have a question. Where you always worried about finding a passion as a kid? And also, how much different are you now than back then? Thanks for the insights.

        • anonseitse

          True, we
          (that is, people over 25) have figured out that we don’t really know
          everything. That we are vulnerable and not perfect human beings. And we are
          okay with that. Having said that, it is important to keep some of that ‘’we can
          change the world’’ attitude that young people generally possess. When I look at
          my father and his career, I can certainly see how he has become more conservative
          over the years. He used to be very bold and venturous in his 20’s and 30’s –
          building some amazing companies and earning A LOT of money. But as he got
          older, he stopped taking risks. He stopped putting himself out there; he
          stopped innovating. So it’s important to keep some of the Steve Jobs attributes
          with you.

          Further, it doesn’t matter what other people think or do. If they dislike the
          Beatles or think they are the center of the world… let them. It’s not your
          place to set them straight – you can’t do that anyway. Trust me, I’ve tried.
          The Tibetans have a saying that it is easier to move the Himalayas than to
          change a man’s mind. People like to feel superior – they want to feel
          all-powerful. They want to think they know it all; that they have the answers.
          I used to think so (I still do sometimes), but it’s all a lie. We are lying to

          You can’t figure out what you want to do by thinking about it. The answer will
          find you once you’re ready. So stop worrying and life your life. Cheers! :)

      • D.A.

        @anonseitse I’m in your same boat. In my mid 20s, just graduated from college with a finance degree after spending the last 4 years of my life studying my ass off to get good grades and a “great” job. I never even bothered to ask myself all four years why I was studying finance. I always just looked through one peep hole and never looked around me, I just needed to make money because “that’s what being successful means”. Now that i’m in the workforce i’m finding myself asking “what the hell am I doing”. I don’t think Indonesia is the answer for me but i’m trying to figure it out everyday.

    • DN,

      Reading your comment reminded me of myself. My parents also didn’t go to college. They wanted me to go more than anything, for fear that I’ll be ruining my life. So I did go, but I left after one semester.

      I too was always trying to find my place. I did really well in school, was always in the top 1 percent of my class. but I could never find that “area” that I was really passionate about. When I was in school, every single one of my friends excelled in some area. But they used to tell me, “You’re not really great at anything. You just do all the work.” So in my senior year of high school, everyone asked me what I was going to study. I had no idea. And what scared me the most was that all of my friends seemed to know exactly what they wanted to study. I felt like I was behind everyone else. I did end up leaving college. My friends told me not to. My parents were angry at first, but once you make that jump, you know it in your heart that you made the right decision. Never do things to please others. I am still only 19, and I asked James the same question you have. “How do I find my passion? Is it bad that I still don’t have one?” And he replied:

      “You are 19 and don’t have a passion. That’s a blessing. Make finding your passion your passion. Read everything. Remember that at 19, your passions and interests will change 20 times by the time you are 40.”

      That semester off I took, was life changing. I did only things I wanted to do. I played in a soccer team. I was the youngest one, at 18. Everyone else was in their mid or late 20s. I even scored in the final game. Ended up winning 3rd place. I also wrote down ideas I had. Anything. I started a blog and realized I really love to write. I wrote down business Ideas and videos I could shoot. I love art, so I wrote down ideas of artworks I could make. And just stuff like that. For the first time, things do look a little clearer. My life is completely different than a few months ago when I was in college. So don’t worry too much, things work themselves out. Just learn to say no to things you don’t want to do. And just, make finding your passion your passion.

      If you ever want to talk just email me!

      • DN

        Might take you up on that offer! I always like to talk to someone who is “chill”, as the kids say these days.

    • DN

      Anyone who is interested, my email is DeprivedNinja@gmail.com

    • JP

      Well, with respect to college, you can always move to North Carolina for a year to gain residence if you want to go to college on the (relative) cheap.

      That’s a great excuse to avoid college for a year and go to a cheaper college if you want to go to college. Chapel Hill or NC State both seem like relatively pleasant places and they don’t cost that much in-state.
      And if you want the beach, you can try UNC-W.
      Mountains? UNC-Ashville.
      Apparently tuition is $7,000 a year this year at UNC-CH.

    • Remelda

      DN. More advice. You are probably overwhelmed by it, but here goes. Sometimes you just fall into things. There doesn’t have to be a path. Just try something.: a job, a trip. See what happens. Go from there. I never had any strong talents or direction in life. I just read the want ads and tried stuff. I traveled, taught English in Japan, got jobs in different cities all over the U.S. Everything just sort of fell into place, or didn’t; then I would try something else. Keep reading James’s posts and learn from him. There are some other great thinkers/writers on the interwebs, too. Try raptitude.com. Best of luck to you.

    • DN I love your views.
      The only formal written plans I have now are two plus one I’m working on:
      1. World conquest and domination (of a kinder sort than we are experiencing now).
      2, Creating a regional Nano Technology enterprize zone on my part of the planet to kick ass across the globe.
      3. As for death, it will have to wait, meanwhile back at the ranch I will pass the keys to my data on to some folks I can trust by way of a Healthcare Directive and Will.
      I figgure there are a few good 30 years left in me at the least and would love to have more folks who play drums around as I play guitar butt, you would have to give up for a time the thought of being a lost soul and trying to understand your ultimate endpoint for a bit.
      Critical thinking is such a value to me, and I sneak it in all the time to people by asking questions so they may learn, only three people have this perspective in my world and two are much older than you, one much younger.
      I can’t give you the answer about what you really want, but would like your help figguriing out some fun problems and can pay a little for your input. Drop a line if you want to chat. Michael

    • Bill

      Great post, young man. I’m in my late 50’s and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. Well, maybe that’s not true. I think that if you close your eyes and reach a quiet (honest) place within yourself, you’ll really know what you want. And if you don’t, it is probably because you haven’t looked for it yet. I’ve known all my life what I really wanted to do, but I never had the courage to pursue it. First I didn’t follow because I was worried my dad wouldn’t approve (he didn’t). Then I’d gotten myself under too many (financial) responsibilities to follow that desire. So, I kept saying that I “didn’t know what I wanted to do.” I did. I just lacked courage or confidence in myself.

      You are an amazing writer/communicator… especially since you are only 16. You write better than most of the people in this country.

      I wish you well and hope you follow your heart.

      • Chuck

        Bill, so what do you want to do deep inside?

    • bmagic23

      If you have not heard of it already, I would strongly urge you to read Cal Newport’s blog Study Hacks. He is a computer science professor who studies the psychology behind success. He addresses the idea of following one’s passion. There does not seem to be much data to suggest that doing that necessarily results in a happier life.

      I must say, I was very impressed by your writing. Your calling might be in writing although it ain’t the easiest field to earn a living in. Good luck to you.

    • Do yourself and your parents a favor and don’t let them guilt you into going to college. From how you describe yourself I think I can deduce that you don’t like school that much. So you probably don’t want more of that.

      Get some job, maybe with some customer interaction and move out (and away) from your parents. This is going to help you grow as a person much more than college would. At least it did for me. You can still go to college later if you want to, and then you are also a year or two older and wiser than the other freshmen.

      It’s better to get some of that “not knowing what to do” out of your system before you decide on your first career.

    • I think you can be a writer, like a blogger perhaps on the music scene. You sound incredibly mature and self-aware for a 16 year old! Give yourself some time, it took me playing a computer game at 17 to get me to change from wanting to be an accountant to a computer geek……… had a great successful career with that and got to work in Europe and start my own company.

      So just take each day at a time and trust that you’ll find your way. I always say you don’t know if you’re going in the wrong direction until you actually take a step – then decide whether to go forward or backwards or sideways……… but just move somehow somewhere and keep asking questions, curiosity is great!

      Knowing you can do anything you want to do is key. Persistence is key to succeeding. Good luck!

    • DN, You are young so you can still leave NJ and the east coast. Seriously though don’t let your family suffocate you and always remember that the only approval that you need is your own. http://www.theguyintheglass.com/gig.htm

    • Hunter

      There is no way you can communicate at this level at 16 and not be an acceptionally intelligent person. Being 28 and just breaking free from a mountain of student loan debt I can tell you your intuition is right about college. If you decide to go to school wait until you have vision and purpose. Worse thing you can do is join the masses of youth who stumble through years of college without focus, arriving at the end of it no surer of their “passions” than you are now. Despite societal myth, college is not a place for “finding yourself,” but an expensive program for attaining a specific field of employment. One thing I can tell you man, just keep moving forward doing productive activities and seeking knowledge and life comes together.

    • DN – what about blogging as part of your financial strategy? As many
      people say on this blog, you have a fantastic command of the English
      language for your age and obviously a very active mind and your reply on here would make for a great blog post in itself! I bet tonnes of
      young people (and old!) would get great comfort in your blog knowing
      someone else is going thru the same pains as them.

      There are many ways of making a blog provide you with a residual income over time if done right and with the right platform. I’m sure if it’s something of interest to you, you will easily be able to research into it more online but do feel free to get in touch if you would like some pointers.

      p.s. I still don’t really feel I have found my passion but I really do love learning all about internet marketing and sharing what I’ve learned with others – not quite sure when we totally know that something is ‘the’ passion – maybe we know that when it hits us between the eyes! ;)

  • Tscarborough

    It’s amazing how you keep cranking these posts out. The daily practice must really be working for you. Please keep them coming, they motivate me to keep mine consistent. Thanks by the way for introducing it.

  • me

    The list of things I failed at… now that made me pause. I can look at my failures in the face? And they won’t matter? Huh. Today is a new day. You just inspired me to go exercise.

  • Anonseven

    Amazing post, James. Simply breathtaking. A true Altucher Classic. Thanks for lighting up my day. I’ve had a depressing day… despite following every advice you’ve ever given. I’ve managed to be positive for weeks (if not months) in a row, but somehow I didn’t make it today. Today I’ve been a huge failure with not enough income (nor financial safety net), no girlfriend, no kids, no close friends (because my strong introversion pushes them away), no interests, etc. Today I’ve been a total failure, but after reading your post, I don’t feel that bad anymore. Tomorrow can’t get any worse… it will be a better day. Thanks James!

  • murali


    I wonder if you have read the ‘Tibetan book of living and dying’? The author is Sogyal Rinpoche. It is a wonderful book, btw. Great post, again!

  • CtReporter

    Passion isn’t something you look for.
    Passion is what you inject into everything you enjoy doing….like writing this post. It is obvious you are passionate about writing and expressing your ideas and feelings.
    Pick something you enjoy doing, and then put your full self into it 100%. That is passion.


    Deathbed statements? This is a where the redneck truly has most all of us beat:

    “Hey, ya’ll watch this!”

  • Derek

    An officer on Band of Brothers, cannot recall his name, got through the war by deciding at the start that he was already dead.
    I also read somewhere that no matter what we do as individuals nothing we do or don’t really matters in the grand scheme of things, again cannot recall who says it. Brain fritzed today, with good things not bad!

    Trying to live my life by these two seemingly diverse but actually almost identical tenets. Takes me to some strange places but always more good than bad.

  • Rodrigo Galvão

    ” If you are content with being nobody in particular, content not to stand out, you align yourself with the power of the universe. What looks like weakness to the ego is in fact the only true strength. This spiritual truth is diametrically opposed to the values of our contemporary culture and the way it conditions people to behave.”


  • AnonNat

    James, I’ve just discovered you (maybe a month ago) and can’t believe how much I look forward to your posts. LOVE this talk about death, b/c now that I’m on the far side of 50, I find my mind turning to death often, even though I believe in my heart of hearts I will live to be 88. And (like one of the commentators below) I too read your post and pulled out my notebook and started a list called “Things I’ve failed.” It was oddly liberating. Who cares that I haven’t trained my dogs to be police dogs, or to stop barking when the bell rings? They are still great pets and keep me warm in bed at night. Or that I haven’t finished my novel (granted, only begun last year)? or…well, you get the drift. BTW, I am having a b**ch of a time figuring out how to do The Daily Practice of yours. But I’m doing my level best, and the biggest help has been working on my mind to get it thinking rightfully. Thanks for all you do and keep it up.

  • kamalravikant

    You’ve done it again, James. Humor and fundamental truths. Love it.

    • MA

      And by the way your book is extremely comforting. In a strange way.

      • kamalravikant

        Thank you, MA.

  • JP

    You seem to have “basic blogging skill” so people should keep reading your blogging as long as you keep blogging in the way in which you blog.

    Plus, you have hit on a good one with The Daily Practice. It’s pretty basic to human growth, so it’s a good thing to keep hammering and hammering over and over again.

    With respect to death, the best deaths take about six months to complete because that’s the length of normal terminal decline.

  • Kevin Redick

    You’re absolutely right! Get over fear and life will immediately change for the better.

  • Mike

    One word: detachment.

    It’s a VERY old concept. Stumbled on it at age 40 or so and wondered why I had never heard of it before.

    Death bed? Forget about it. The game is over then. But the game is on now.
    Life is a race towards wisdom. Get it as fast as you can, then live it. Do not discover it in old age or on your death bed. Do not be Quoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes, who figured out, late, that many things in life are a chase after the wind. Figure out, as soon as you can, what’s not a chase after the wind.

    DN, a lot of people are going to tell you to do what YOU want to do. But how does a 16 year old (even a perspicacious 16 year old like yourself) know what they want to do? How does a 16 year old know what is important in life and is not a chase after the wind? Do not discount what your elders are telling you just because they’re old. There is much wisdom to be obtained from those who have lived, and from the past in general. Listen to your elders, and the past, and then sift, using your critical thinking.

  • Maria Zannini

    Ref: I hope that when I die it’s very fast so I don’t have time to regret anything.

    Having sat by the dying several times, most are grateful for a slower death. It gives everyone time to say goodbye–and more importantly, I love you.

  • Remelda

    The word “can’t”, in most cases, really means, “I don’t want to”.

  • Randle

    I hope to die like my late grandmother (in-law). She died earlier this month.
    She was lucky to be told how long she had to live (a few hours) and was completely awake and aware. She was at peace and confident. Why? Because she had a strong faith that where she went on death wasn’t something she could earn. She wasn’t trying to prove anything or win approval. She was literally glowing with confidence – beaming as she comforted those around her. Her confidence was that in death she would be with Jesus because of what he had already done for her.

  • Fermi Level

    This bit (below) is hilarious. It had me and my husband laughing out loud.

    Today is a fresh start. You think a baby cares what it failed at? A baby is less stressed than you AND it shits in its pants and can’t speak English. Go ahead and top that! Babies are total failures. Do you think a baby says on its deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time cuddling and less time shitting in my pants”? No, babies don’t care.

  • Poppakooker

    Yep, you just landed prime bookmark real estate. “A baby is less stressed than you AND it shits in its pants and can’t
    speak English. Go ahead and top that! Babies are total failures.” You crack me up – thanks for the GREAT post!

  • Keep on writing your blogs, you aren’t the only one it makes happy.

  • i like the Eckhart Tolle quote a lot. i must say, i used to knock him for wearing cardigans and looking like a german schoolboy, but now i realise he was/is on to something. truth attracts without effort.

  • Jose Goldberg

    16 yrs. old 6’1 130 pasty white male…… maybe you get a some gigs doing ‘zit’ commericials …Or wait till your 18 head out to the west coast and do porno.
    Good Luck.

  • fgd

    I agree with

    We will
    reach a crossroad if we take on a commitment (e.g. job) to please others (e.g.

    The longer it
    goes on the more we begin to tell ourselves that this is NOT me, then the question
    arises, if this is not me…then what is?

    So we riffle
    through our juke box of memories listening out for the times we really felt in
    the zone (e.g. drawing), so we now we focus on drawing/art and it could be the
    making of us or we realise it does not grab us as much as it did in the past.

    What we have
    to remember, is that we existed before we first started drawing. Therefore
    ‘passions’ do not really exist.

    an idea or whim will lay a pavement slab on the ground in front of us and then
    once we plant our foot down and move forward more ideas will come and we’ll lay
    the next pavement slab. Before we know it we’ve walked quite a distance.

  • Travis Peoples

    “You think a baby cares what it failed at? A baby is less stressed than
    you AND it shits in its pants and can’t speak English. Go ahead and top
    that! Babies are total failures. Do you think a baby says on its
    deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time cuddling and less time shitting
    in my pants”? No, babies don’t care.”

    I was attempting to think of one-word to describe my feelings about this passage. A word that would impress myself and others. I couldn’t. Feels good.

  • Andreas Moser

    I know what nobody ever thinks on the deathbed:
    http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/deathbed-thoughts/ – If only people would realize this sooner!

  • James, I can’t thank you enough for the many wise words over the past many months. Even though I have heard the concepts before, you were the writer/person able to present them in a way that reached me. I don’t have it all figured out just yet – but I am well on my way. It feels good. So chalk this up as a life you helped save and know what you write is meaningful. Have a great day.
    Sharing this quote with you and your readers:”All personal breakthoughs begin with a change in beliefs. “-Anthony Robbins

  • Daniel Kemper Lubben

    Another great article. Thanks, James.

  • When I die, I want to go in my sleep just like my grandfather. Not like the scared screaming passengers in his car.

  • Sonali

    Love this post, great writing, good humor..oh and great philosophy! :-)

  • James – wow great blog style – your personality really comes over in your writing – very amusing and very true!

  • A couple of years ago I sat next to my mother a little everyday while she slowly withered away over several weeks. She had dementia but there was still part of her that was very much there.

    Looking at it now… her room should have been filled with people. It should have been filled with cards and flowers and stories about her life. But it wasn’t. She’d burned so many bridges. Not that she didn’t have people who cared about her. But they weren’t close enough to be by her side on her deathbed.

    I loved my mother. But at the end of the day she spent most of her life investing her attention in people who did nothing but abuse her. And those of us who needed her love most got little real attention. And in the end that left her lying a bed with no one but me by her side. And honestly, I’d only recently grown close to her again after having to step up and help take care of her.

    When I die I want to know that I’ll be surrounded by my family. I want a room full of flowers and cards… I’m going to live my life to earn that. If I earn that then I know I’ll have done it right.