How To Be a Superhero

I lied to him to get a job. The hedge fund manager asked me how much money I had in the bank.

I had ZERO but I said, “a million dollars”. This was in 2002.

In the prior two years I had lost all the money I ever made and my home. Now I was broke.

He said, “how can you afford to live on that?”

Which strikes me as ludicrous now but I felt every blood cell in me turn upside down in shame then.

I felt he would think it was courageous if I threw the question back at him.

“Well, how much money do you have?”

He said, “one hundred million dollars.” Who knows?

One friend of mine told me something, “you can never tell how much money someone has until they file for bankruptcy.”

I read a statistic that people lie (including “white lies”), on average, 10-200 times a day. I also read that people say, on average, 2500 words a day.

So one technique to stop lying is to stop talking. I try not to talk. I try to say around 1000 words a day.

The hedge fund manager and I then went out to dinner with his wife. He was cheating on his wife but I didn’t know that yet.

I had read all his favorite books so I was able to quote from them. “What are your favorite books?” he said. I quoted from those books (Ayn Rand). Then I quoted from a research paper he wrote in 1969 that I had found buried in some journal.

He asked me, “What are my interests outside of finance?” I knew he liked baseball so I talked about various histories of baseball I had just read. Baseball is boring.

The hedge fund manager gave me money to manage. It was my first “job” in the financial space. In a very short time I more than doubled the money he had given me.

A year or so later I wrote a book about how I did it. He instantly fired me. He thought I had revealed too much. He wrote, “our financial relationship is now over.”

I wrote, “it’s not. You owe me money because I have made you so much.” So he instantly sent a check.

One day, I had to return my dad’s car to the dealership. My dad had a stroke and was in a coma and would never drive a car again. After I dropped it off the hedge fund manager called me and invited me to dinner.

I went to the dinner and started drinking quite a bit. I was feeling depressed.

To my right was the mistress. And in front of me was the hedge fund manager’s daughter.

I was shy and had a crush on the daughter and so I blurted out the only question I could think of, “so what do you think of [manager] and [mistress] being so out in the open?”

[Daughter] looked at [mistress] and said, “I think she is a money hungry slut.” And then she got up and walked out of the restaurant .

I was horrified and embarrassed. [The wife] even wrote me the next day and was upset at me and [manager] was upset at me until finally I said to everyone, “this is your family issue. I have my own family issues.”

Anyway, my book came out right after that and I was fired.

All of this is to say, better to speak fewer words.

Less lies, more time to listen and learn and think and daydream. Less embarrassing situations.

Less masks to wear. My mental closet can only fit so many masks. The older I get, the less masks fit in that closet.

More benefits of not opening your mouth: flies don’t get in your mouth. Less food gets in your mouth so you eat better.

You give less advice. Nobody listens to my advice anyway. People do what they want until they are injured like a kid putting his fingers on the stove.

Telling the truth is easier. It means you just have to remember things.

Telling a lie means you have to remember, AND THEN keep track of the lie. Too much stress! (Polygraph machines, in fact, work by measuring stress levels).

Less “mouth” means you start to use your eyes and ears more. Like the way blind people can hear and touch better.

Blind people seem to develop super powers with their other senses.

People who talk less are like superheroes in the same way.

If you become a superhero and see me lying homeless in the gutter, please save me.


  • That is very true. As I was younger, I had to keep track of so many lies and my closet was filled with tons of masks. Now as I grow older, I have to keep track of much less and my closet has room for me to grow in.

    I’m pretty surprised how much I’ve changed. My mouth used to be a weapon too, but not a very good one. It was destructive and it used to open and speak poorly about others behind their back. Now I know better. Maybe I’m becoming closer to a superhero than I thought possible.

    • Yes, the reduction in stress is an amazing superpower. People don’t realize. Or, at least, I didn’t realize until it started happening to me.

      • musicbindsus

        People do what they want until they are injured like a kid putting his fingers on the stove. People have their own way of ending in your blog..

  • Galaxier

    I hope I can learn and keep my mouth shut

  • I am naturally one of those people who can’t seem to shut up. I’ve been working on that for a few years, and I’m surprised to find being quieter makes me happier.

    I also look good in tights and capes.

    • The key is looking good in tights.

      I also have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. I’m getting better at it. Writing has been a better outlet. It’s like curated verbiage.

      • “Curated Verbiage” – Love! – so that’s what an eraser/delete key is for? :)

  • mfredri

    I agree. Who really needs to know everything about me. It seems the more I reveal, the more questions there are that I have no idea how to answer.

  • Katy

    I’m just fascinated that he invited his daughter to eat with the mistress and then he and the wife got pissed about the fallout. I don’t care how much money he has — I wouldn’t want to hang around people like that.

    • I’m always amazed at the irrational things people will do, the almost deliberate drama they will whirl up, and then get mad at YOU for witnessing it!


    • me

      The wife and daughter were pissed because their mere presence at the table meant there wasn’t any daylight between them and the mistress.

  • Dave Romero

    silence……. reflection……. super hero powers growing :)

  • It takes discipline to close your pie-hole and listen to someone else. Listening is a superpower. Listening means much more than just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can talk. If most of what comes out of your mouth are questions, then listening will come much easier.

    A question like “What do you think about your dad and his mistress being so out in the open?” will certainly exercise your listening skills. Use your superpowers wisely, especially after a few drinks.

  • Joe Choi

    I lied in the interview for the very first job I got out of college. I didn’t put my GPA on my resume. They asked me what it was and I told them 3.0. But I actually had a 2.934. Can’t even round it up.

  • Ted Scarborough

    Will use less mouth on a job interview the 8th and see what happens.

  • MarkW99

    “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde

    Masks are just part of the game of life. Trick is to use them wisely.

    What you did at that dinner wasn’t a big deal. I would fuggedaboutit if I were you. When there’s a freakin’ elephant in the room, it’s OK to point it out, IMHO. NOT pointing out the elephant is more awkward.

  • Sandy

    He who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from trouble.”

    – Ye ol’ Bible.

    Not a lesson learned easily.

  • Tomas

    Another great article, I am a naturally quiet person and I try to lie as little little as possible, since I foundout it was helping me at all. Even when I lie I try to keep the lie as similar to truth as possible, so it’s believable and I can easily keep track of it.

  • As Mark Twain said: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

    Have you read Lying by Sam Harris? It’s a good read.

  • Another gem:

    More benefits of not opening your mouth: flies don’t get in your mouth.


  • Mike

    My therapist once told me his idea of what it meant to be and “authentic” person and asked me what I thought about it. I was moved and said “that is my greatest wish.” Since then I have found it far more difficult than I could ever have imagined…

    If I could say what I feel and be confident that the hearer would see a picture from my words that resembled the picture in my head I would be more inclined to share. I am often quiet now.

    Mr. Altucher, I have started to follow you because you seem to me the most “authentic” speaker I have heard. If you stop talking now you may make me angry!

  • Ben Hansen

    Another great post JA thanks!

  • Curt Wehrley

    Another beaut James! Thanks for sharing.
    I spent about 4 hours most weekdays over the past 6 years talking to webinar audiences (teaching people how to daytrade the FX market). Your “talk less” theme REALLY resonated with me, as I’m 2 days away from starting a 10-day meditation retreat. I’m honestly not completely sure what I’m getting into, but I do know that it’s time to squelch the constant flow of data into my brain for a while.

  • Jeffrey

    “Baseball is boring.” Is this your opinion James, or is there empirical evidence to support this?

    Sure, baseball is boring to those who aren’t interested, just as your blog is boring to those who don’t think you have anything new to say. While each of us find many activities and entertainments boring, those of us who have myriad choices should be thankful.

    Here’s an exercise that may pain you, though such exercises are the best sort. 2-3 times each week for 4-6 weeks make a pitch-by-pitch record of a baseball or softball game that will have official records.

    More important than learning the nuances of the game, and perhaps coming to appreciate it in a different context, the exercise offers the opportunity to improve focus and getting feedback from a generally neutral source; comparing one’s record or score keeping of the game with the official record.

    Opportunities abound, but we have to get out of the box to leverage them.

    • me

      Jeffrey, I’m on the fence about baseball, but I’m 100% confident that you are boring.

      • S

        that was kind of mean. Mean things are among those better left unsaid.

        • me

          Jeffrey’s comment was incredibly snotty, condescending and passive-aggressive.

          And, yes, boring.

          And James’ posts are really, really important to me.

          So shoot me.

  • Emily

    Benefits of being an introvert…. even with 3 kids around me all day, I defiantly don’t say 2500 words a day. My jaw dropped when I read that!

  • Elena lopez

    Nice post.!! They teach us not to lie ,but sometimes life throws very difficult situations on the road and we are forced to do so because there is no other way out, for fear of losing what we have, to justify any human behavior. These lies are not lies bad product ideas, unless your wits to survive, to defend yourself from a life filled with obstacles.

  • I read recently, maybe on Wikipedia, that Maya Angelou was mute for 5 years after she was raped as a young girl. And maybe that’s how she became the storyteller and poet she is today.

  • Matt

    22 Year Old Me in First ever job interview.
    Interview Guy, “So Matt, what is your biggest weakness?”
    Me, “I’m a workaholic at times.”
    Said it with a straight face, and laughed all the way home. Got the job too. I guess I can remember some lies. Just the awesome ones.

  • anon

    I think you look too highly upon quiet people. I don’t talk a lot and it feels like I don’t have a voice.

    • Justin

      If you’re quiet, yet speak substantively, you have most definitely have a voice. And I guarantee that people will listen for it.

  • ben

    more superhero skills…. blind people have ‘better memories’ too!

  • Lord Highbrow

    I’m that guy that doesn’t talk much. Actually… lately (last couple of weeks) I’ve been talking more. In the famous words of Pauline Hanson ‘I don’t like it’. The other day I found myself talking over a guy and not even letting him finish his sentence! I don’t want to be that guy! Fuck that guy!
    You know James, you seem to post on topics that are relevant to me in any given moment a little too regularly. I like it, though (that wasn’t a lie).

  • James, your thoughts are born of pain and suffering, which is why they ring so true. Your flies comment I first heard in Spanish class, advice given to children, “En la boca cerrada no entran moscas!”

  • John

    Interesting that you write about that topic today as this is exactly what I was pondering about induced by a co-worker “blaming” me for not talking much. Which is actually not true, I just avoid talking to him because he is often ignorant and much too judgy. He doesnt talk much either but he likes to hear himself talk. One of the reasons I left that office recently. Thanks for being supportive.

  • Jax Teller

    I have a very good friend. We met around 10 years ago. He is very quiet, thoughtful and doesn’t say much. When he does say something I listen. So do a lot of other people. I asked him once why he doesn’t say much. He told me he used to talk all the time, way too much, and that he ended up having a lot of conflict with people. So he decided to stop talking. As a result he said he has a lot more friends.

    I wanted to know if that was true, so I asked his wife. She told me the exact same thing. She said the phone is always ringing at her house with people wanting to talk to her husband and he sits on the phone saying ‘uh huh. ok. hmmm.’

    Of all the people I know, I respect him the most. Maybe it’s because he managed to control his tongue. I don’t even know how to do that.

  • contheon

    I hope this doesn’t mean you will be writing less. Writing is different … right? Regardless of the answer, don’t slow down. You will always be a Superhero to me.

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  • Good post James.

    Less talking and not lying are good strategies. But when your job is talking, you have to talk. I’d say love and kindness is the best strategy. Whatever is done out of that space, is well and good. Whatever is done out of fear of being pinned, or caught lying, will turn up another kind of clusterfuck internally, even when one may stay quite.

    Rightness of certain kind is hard work and right amount of talking is hard work.

    For that, a tribute to you:

    “I honor those who try
    to rid themselves of any lying,
    who empty the self
    and have only clear being there.”

    (From Coleman Barks’ “The Essential Rumi, p116”)