How To Diversify Your Life

One time I wanted to sell my company to HBO. The CFO was looking at the numbers. They were willing to buy it for a tiny amount but it was an amount that would’ve taken me about one billion years to save because that’s just the way I roll. I figured I would quit after a decent amount of time and spend a year doing nothing but writing a novel.

They said no.

All I had been thinking about for months was whether or not they would buy the company. And it took only one or two decision makers to say no. To ruin my life, I thought then.

One time I had an idea for a TV show for HBO. I wired up a restaurant with video and audio. A good friend of mine who was very pretty and funny put an ad in the Village Voice looking for a blind date. She would then go on the dates being fully aware they were being videotaped but the guy wouldn’t know. We did two dates. On the first one the guy told her he wasn’t sure if he was gay or straight and was debating the pros and cons of both right in the middle of the date. On the second date the guy received a phone call. From his wife. He then refused to sign the release form unless my friend would sleep with him. Which she didn’t (I assume).

As they say, it was good TV.

I showed it to HBO Independent Productions. They “Loved it!!” I had all sorts of fantasies about how I was going to spend the money. I was definitely living in the future. I was going to be a big TV guy. BIG.

And then suddenly I couldn’t get in touch with them. The guy in charge, Dave B., wouldn’t return my calls. He was always in a meeting. He would “call me right back”. I couldn’t get in touch with him. Not knowing this meant “no”, I called him 15 times a day until finally he confessed, “you know, you have another project going with [he named another division within HBO] so they got upset at me for looking at this project. So I can’t touch it.”

I eventually had lunch with the head of the other division. She said, “your idea seems a bit mean to me.” Her division had just aired “Hookers at Hunts Point” and other family-oriented features so I sort of understood.

Another time I started another company. I wanted Google to buy it. I mean, I really wanted Google to buy it. Google was like some sort of Internet Disneyworld to me. People were riding around in skateboards (technically I signed a contract saying I couldn’t say what I saw in the building. They accidentally had me sign the wrong document  so I actually had to GO BACK a day later and sign the right one. But, fuck it, everyone was skateboarding in there while eating fusion lasagna). Everyone was smiling. Everyone was SMART. We all sat around this big conference table and when I say “we all sat around” half of us were in NYC and the other half was web-exed or whatever in from SF. Everyone asked smart questions. I felt like I was in graduate school again.

That night I woke up in the middle of the night sweating. I literally felt like I wanted to call Google at 2 in the morning and asked her if she still loved me. And  then say, “but are you SURE you love me?” I wanted them to love me. I wanted to buy a skateboard. I wanted to say “Google bought my company”. I wanted to sexually harass the other employees there. I couldn’t help myself. I was in Google Fever.

They said “no”.

I’m permanently sick of it!

I got sick of one person, or one company, or one decision-maker having any power over me. It’s an internal choice, of course, but also an external one. You can set up your entire life to be diversified in every way so a “no” turns from shit to fertilizer.

Everyone knows this in investing. One time, with my last dollars left, I bought a bazillion shares of Sonus Networks only to watch it go from $7 to 18 cents before it rebounded (long after I sold it for a mega-loss). I got crushed and left on the floor. My 3 year old wanted to play with me. There was zero chance I was getting up off that floor to take her to the park. She had to bounce a ball up and down right next to me. It was annoying me so I picked her up and put her on the pool table so she could’t get off until someone came and got her.

The only way to survive, to get off the floor, to build, to have ideas, to create businesses, to have flourishing relationships, is with diversification. And with the greatest invention since the wheel, the Internet, it’s easier to do it now than ever before.

9 Ways To Diversify Your Life

– Start more than one business. Start many businesses. Or jobs. Or careers. Start them at the same time. Eventually one will stand out as the one flourishing. I’m watching this happen to a good friend of mine right now. He has his hand in ten different businesses. He also has at least one fulltime job. One is bursting through and he’s able to make his decision as to where to go – the one that will make him fabulously wealthy while having fun.

Well, what if you have a job? Get two jobs. Apply for more jobs. Always figure out what your value is on the job marketplace. I just went on the board of a temp-staffing company called “Corporate Resource Services”. I don’t know what I can legally say about it (it’s a public company). All I can say is: it fits my idea that the 21st century is moving towards an “employee-less economy” because of all the regulatory and economic uncertainty. Companies are not hiring permanent employees. So you’re going to need to diversify your sources of income starting right now.

– Diversify the way you meet people. We are no longer limited to just our coworkers and neighbors. Life is global. We can meet people through the Internet, through travel, through classes on every topic possible. Pick the people who will be the most positive in your life. People who you can look up to, who can look up to you. Eliminate everyone else. Not in a cold or cruel way. But in a way that makes sure you put the importance back on yourself. Make sure you are your own center of gravity. Anyone whose gravitational pull becomes too great needs to be put on “Halley’s Comet” status  – once every 76 years and that’s it.

– Diversify ideas. Many people ask me, “when I’m working on my list of ten ideas for the day so as to build the idea muscle, should they all be business ideas, or ideas around one sector?” No! Write ideas about anything you can. Then mate them. Here’s an exercise right now. Make  two columns. At the top of each column, write an interest.  Then write down five ideas for each that has to do with each idea. Now cross-fertilize them. Come up with many ideas combining the two columns as possible. You will never be the best in the world at anything (unless you are, then ignore this), but you can be good at many things. The beauty of that is that you then become the best in the world at the intersection of all these things. It’s at that intersection that you can completely direct traffic and change the world.

– Creative output. Everyone wants to create their “masterpiece” whether it’s a business, an article, a book, a speech, whatever. Here’s the problem: you can’t do it. It”s not going to happen. The only way you have any control over it is by sheer output. You have to crank it out. Woody Allen has written over 46 movies. A good chunk of them I’m sure he would never want to look at again. Isaac Asimov has written over 500 books, some of them outright boring and yet he created The Foundation series and I,Robot.  Thomas Edison has 1093 patents but we remember him today for just one of them. Einstein wrote 245 papers but we remember  him for one equation. Buddha taught every day for almost 60 years and we remember him for his “eightfold path”. Bukowski wrote 71 books and probably only three or four of them stand out as truly stunning. I can go on and on. The list is endless. being prolific means you diversify your creativity, means you create the platform by which people can find you. Gives you more stop signs you can put up  in front of people’s lives to direct them back to the home  where you live.

THIS MEANS  YOU WILL FAIL A LOT. Failure is an acquired taste. You have to really experience it quite a bit to savor it. And then your roll with it without the extra burden of disappointment. When you are disappointed in a failure it’s as if you’ve not only paid the price but you got nothing for it. Eventually you learn to get something for it.

One more note: reading this one makes me feel stressed out. You don’t have to do it all in a single day. Isaac Asimov took 40 years to write his 500 books. So did Bukowski and others. Take your time. But mark the “X” each day that says “I did it”, even if it was only a little.

–  Diversify your platform. If you are trying to build a presence in social media, then you can’t just blog. You can’t just be on Facebook or Twitter. You have to self-publish on Amazon, you have to blog, you have to tweet, you have to be on Facebook and have a fan page there, you have be on Quora, Pinterest, LinkedIn. And you have to be there repeatedly. If you self-publish once, do it twice. There’s two schools of thought: wait until you have your masterpiece, or just do it. In this world, “just do it” works best. Because what you do will be forgotten ten seconds later so you’re going to need to do it again. Hopefully better.

I did this because I got sick of waiting around for mainstream media (or mainstream anything) to “pick me”. I wanted to choose myself and not  wait for some unhappy college graduate to say no to me.

– Diversify the people you meet and the people who inspire you. I’m shy. And I like to sit at home and not answer the phone or return emails. So here’s what I do.  I try to meet three or four people a week to see what I can learn from them. I usually schedule it Monday-Tuesdays so I stay overnight in the city and schedule the meetings back to back in the same place. This is a little different than “Diversify the way you meet people”. That above  one applies to going places and just throwing yourself in situations where you are bound to meet new people in your life.

– Diversify what you read. Or learn. When you go out today for a cafe take four books with you: one about your top career, one about your top interest or hobby (unrelated to your career), one thriller, and one book about spirituality or history. Read a little from each. Is there a reason to do this? I have no idea! But I know after about twenty years of doing this trick every day it’s helped me to come up with better ideas (and also some pretty bad ones).

– Diversify your health. Just because you eat well, doesn’t mean you’re healthy. You need to be honest with yourself here. List the things you do that you KNOW are not the healthiest for yourself. You don’t need to cut everything at once. But figure it out. It’s got to be painful to be 90 years old and know that if you had done just a few things differently it wouldn’t hurt so much every time you went to the bathroom.

– Diversify your thoughts. I spent too much of my life thinking about money. And then thinking about women. And sometimes thinking about money and women at the same time. I don’t know how they counted this but someone once told me we think 60,000 thoughts a day. All 60,000 of mine would sometimes be about money and women, with a little about food and defecation. Meanwhile, there’s 100 billion other fun things to think about each day. I live 100 feet from the Hudson River. Across from me on the river is West Point. Mountains and leaves surround all of it. It would be so easy for me to diversify into pleasant things but too often I’m obsessed down one category. Obsession and Anxiety is equivalent to Subtraction of thoughts. It makes you a counterfeit person instead of an authentic person. 

Diversification of thoughts is the only way to slow life down, to let the thoughts simmer instead of boil, to marinate instead of just lightly spice the insides of our spirit.

When properly diversfied, nobody can say “no” to you anymore. Disappointments and failures become a natural part of life that you learn from, in the same way you learn from success and opportunity. Intelligence springs forward from the additional creativity. Love comes from the most blossoming part of the social tree you build for yourself.

Your center becomes a powerful gravitational force, drawing people, success, and presence you haven’t felt before. Nobody can hold you prisoner. You don’t need “fuck you” money to fly away. You just to spread your wings.

  • Walter

    Great post! In my top five list of your posts.

  • Every time you write I realize how much more things I can do every day. And then I do one. Thanks a bundle’n’a’half

  • robertBG

    the last step : don’t buy any of the stocks James recommends. ever.

  • Josh112

    This article is just sexy

  • “You don’t need “fuck you” money to fly away. You just to spread your wings.”

    Best line ever. (add “need” or “have” after just ) :)
    I just found: another choice for self publication

  • Another great post! Can someone (me!) be too diversified? I tend to have too many ideas, go down too many different paths, and can’t seem to focus on one until I reach some sort of completion to find out if is a success or failure?

    • the problem is this Susan: 95% of everything we do can be labeled “failure”. That’s just the nature of human activity. But like every success contains the seeds for later failure, every failure contains the seeds for later success. In other words, the more failures you have, the greater change for huge success: just ask Thomas Edison, Joyce Carole Oates, Albert Einstein, and on and on.

  • Carlos

    You should also diversify in the sense that if you’re a business owner, you shouldn’t have all your net worth tied up in one company. When you’re starting out, it makes sense to keep your expenses low and invest everything back into your business. But once you start to make good money, you should always put a part of it on the side and invest it in something else. It doesn’t matter whether it’s cash, a stock index, or gold – all of them can go down a lot, but they never go to zero from one day to another.

    But your company can go to zero very fast, and it’s always better to have at least something to fall back on. Some business owners who could afford to buy a house in cash, take out a mortgage instead because they can reinvest the money that would be tied up in the house more profitably in their business. This theoretically makes perfect sense, but practically they’re very fragile because if they’re business fails, they lose all their net worth and probably their house too.

  • Capitalistic


    My professor told me, “You have to be focused and confident in your ideas, but nimble and humble enough to pivot when every opportunity knocks.”

  • Timely advice for many reasons:) Well said, and tku.

  • Anonymous

    I love how your image says “do not copy, print, save or download”.

  • Please help me figure out other ways to diversify.

    • Kevin Hutto

      Diversify your location… I the last 5 years we have lived in Atlanta, Laguna Beach and now a small town in South Carolina. Like living on Earth, Mars and Pluto.

      Other ways to diversify –
      Your schedule. Have days where you do nothing and are cool with it. Or days where you just watch like 5 movies back to back to back…

    • Ingemar

      Pick someone you admire and try to be like him/her as much as possible. Like what I try to do in this video.

    • Derek

      Upset at least one person a day with your honesty. Makes them think.

      Try desperately to never give advice especially to someone who is pleading for it.
      You are not them and you cannot possibly know what is best for them so don’t try and tell them.

      Deliberately test the continuing efficacy of your early to bed early to rise hypothesis once in a while, deliberately mind not accidentally.

      If you are shy as am I speak to strangers walking past. A simple hello, morning or good evening will do. Do it with a smile. Most people are shy with strangers and to them you are a stranger too something we all forget.

      Surprise someone who has done something well or nice for you with a gift straight after they have done it. This one forces the mind to take stock of other people and why they are doing what they are doing.

      Surprise someone who fucks things up for you by apologising for putting them in a position where they made a mistake. This one is hard as anger and annoyance are on hair triggers but the feeling you get knowing you have have helped someone off of the floor is fantastic.

      Need less and have more. Which is The best, most simple, easiest and yet at the same time hardest way to diversify every aspect of your life.
      If you can embrace and practice Need Less and Have More then you’ve cracked it in my humble opinion. For me it is a…work in progress, ahem!

      • dubld

        My Twin! Nice to finally find you. My name is Derek too and everything you’ve said reads like my life plan. We must have been separated at birth.

        Kevin adds a nice point below. Living in different areas of the country, or even different countries, provides a perspective on all things that few have. Having lived in Ohio, California, Florida and North Carolina, I’ve seen just about all sides of everything. I enjoyed every minute in every place and have gathered tremendous clarity on that which is innately human versus that which is environmental. Its a huge help in understanding and dealing with all people.

        Great stuff per usual from James, and my newfound twin. Best!

    • kevin faul

      pick something that you’re intimated by and try it, knowing that you’ll probably fail…you’ll find that in doing said thing the brick walls of intimidation and fear come crashing down. I recently did this with google ad words. posted my first google ads. didn’t understand it very well, now I think it’s easy and I’m intrigued by it. let your walls come crumbling down!

  • This message is the exact opposite of what many people ask you to do
    :Focus. I am just confused.

  • I love this. I’ve long since learned the need to diversify income and jobs. You just made it sound like I knew what I was doing when I’ve changed “careers” three times. So I appreciate that!

  • Another great post! You truly are a superhero!

  • Don

    For god’s sake dude…please stop… are speaking right in to my brain and it hurts…a lot…does this comment make any sense to you?

  • Don

    I mean really…” It makes you a counterfeit person instead of a real person.”…truer words have never been written…..

  • James, I like the article. My personal experience in trying to run many things at once has been a great learning experience, but I came away with (the same) and a differing conclusion. I’m 33 now, and every since I was 20, I’ve had multiple small businesses and ventures going at once. I’ve learned a lot, but not really made it anywhere financially. I was finding that putting 15 percent effort in here, and 10 percent here, and 5 percent there was really holding me back as I could barely make normal monthly expenses, let alone debt. I try to focus it more now, and it’s better than the past, but I actually live (not love) your advice above as I’m always starting new things or trying to delegate them better. Ideas are not so much the issue, it’s what to do with them. (I give them away.) – It’s just hard when you are at the bottom and everything must be paid, and paid now. I actually have about 5 or 6 current ventures when I think about it. I’ve not found people to delegate them to, nor has any money been there to make any of them jump. Either way, I found the article interesting, as my internal debate is always one between locking in on one thing, or slowly building 5 or 6 things until the 10 percents equal 100 percents and can be delegated to people who actually care and believe in what they are about to be doing.

  • Working on a post myself called, “Finding Your Focus Online”

    Needless to say you covered a lot of similar areas. Thanks for this, James!

  • Chimera

    James – this post is very inspirational.I think diversity also helps because most often we think we know what we want but when we do it, we realize that this is not something we like. Doing multiple things at the same time, makes us get to the one thing we are passionate about quickly.

  • Precariously Employed

    I hate to agree with you about the inevitability of a future “employee-less economy”, but it’s true.
    I just finished a one-year temp contract with Johnson & Johnson Research and Development in Skillman, NJ. J&J contracts a small army of temps to do everything and then fires them exactly one year after they are hired. It’s cheaper to keep re-training people and firing them than add a full-time staff member to their head-count.
    I don’t believe they actually create more marketable products when managers outnumber full-time technicians 3-to-1, but it is cheaper.

  • AdminMan

    There’s a neat series very related to this topic titled – “The growth hacker and continuing value proposition” – . It is being syndicated at the url to the left.
    Hackers are the new business owners.

  • mikeyhell

    James, you’re probably done reading comments by now, but all I could think of throughout this post was the sushi chef Jiro from the docuflick “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Jiro is a guy who has had but a single passion in his entire life and that is all that he’s ever wanted to do (it’s to make sushi of course). No diversity, no nothing, just sushi, sushi, and more sushi. He is considered the greatest of all Japanese sushi chefs despite the fact that he’s not diversified his life in any obvious way. And how could he become the greatest if his attention and time had been splintered across a dozen different projects? Are you sure that a pre-occupation with diversity won’t lead to a schizo life?

  • kevin michael

    Great article, informative and entertaining. One of the best I have ever read.
    Thank you so much!

  • clark

    Is it ok to comment 3 days after everyone else? Ha. Anyway, here’s a
    small-time example of Diversify the way you meet people and Diversify
    the people you meet: Just about every Thursday morning I stop at a few
    garage sales or estate sales – via car or bicycle – as I go through them
    I try to “meet people” or just talk to them. I’ve learned a lot this
    way about a wide variety of things I never would have on my own, a.k.a.
    Diversify your thoughts.
    The Great Depression stories I’ve heard this
    way were pretty interesting too.
    Usually I try to limit myself to just a few sales and only those which
    are slightly off my route so it’s not expensive or takes too much time.
    Most times I just spend a few Dollars. Plus, I’ve become a better
    haggler. That skill may come in handy someday, a lot of People don’t
    know how to haggle or simply refuse to do so because it’s so outside
    their normal way of thinking and interacting with others.
    It’s hard not to offend someone when you low-ball them, but it can be
    done, sometimes. Dealing with offending them, seems educational too, as
    does teaching someone on the spot how to haggle without letting them
    know that’s what’s happening.
    Friday night auctions aren’t too bad for all this too. It all helps you
    to learn what ‘value’ is and what People consider to be valuable. Be
    careful though, all those sales can get addicting, but they often help
    to slow life down.
    I hope some of what I’ve bought will have a greater
    ROI later on down the line, the ones that do right now can give a Person
    a warm feeling, especially when it benefits others you like. But oh
    boy does it ever make it hard to shop in a store after paying dirt cheap
    prices, unless of course you buy high priced items, something I try to
    avoid doing.

    Also, I’m not too keen on the healthy bit of this blog, I mean, I do
    try to eat primal/paleo, I do try to exercise, but in the back of my
    mind is a something the ex-worlds oldest man said was his secret for
    living so long: cigarettes, whiskey and wild women. YMMV.

  • Great article James as usual. I really like the idea of ten ideas a day and then cross pollinating them. I always try to read and meet as many people as possible each day. In addtion I try to do as many diffrenent activities, jobs as possible.

  • Dok

    Diversifying your options will also help you to not take things seriously. If you take a step back, glance at the landscape, you will see most things in life as they are, as distractions. You then get to inject meanings into whichever distractions that matter to you, which is quiet liberating and empowering.

  • Thanks James – I always get a little push from your articles. Over the past year with your help, I’ve self-published a book, developed a community on Quora, started a business on the side. And just this morning, I finally set up a Facebook page for my business. Building, building, building. Check off one more box. :–)

  • Jsmith

    James, what you are doing is what all professional gamblers have known for centuries. Hedge your bets! Diversification is the only way to stay in the game long term. Think your boss likes you? Guess again. Think your company will not outsource to China? Guess again. Think your bank will extend you a line of credit? Guess again. Hope everyone is getting the big picture here. There is nothing certain except change in this world. Stop falling into wishful thinking or television fantasy plots that all will end well without any effort or intelligence thrown into the equation.

  • Bill

    Thank you, James.

  • Sincerely, you’re a genius

  • Allen Chen

    James, I just finished reading your book and I’m grateful for your insight. I’m currently a senior in College and I’ve been struggling with my purpose for the last 2 years. I know that I’m still young, but reading your material has really given me insight on breaking out of the societal mold that I was taught to live in. I’m still not exactly sure where I want to go in my life, but practicing the “daily routine” has cleared my mind quite a bit and allowed me to at least enjoy the process of self discovery. I don’t know if we will ever meet but regardless thank you.

  • Brock Coston

    Great Article. Thanks for the info. Does anyone know where I can find a My Life Plan form?

  • Excellent article. Last sentence has a word missing.