What Happens When You Don’t Care

The worst thing that happened to me in five years happened three months ago. But, wait, I don't want to be complaining. More on that in a second.

"Are you going to kill yourself?" I bumped into one of my neighbors a few years ago. He had just started reading my posts.

"Because your writing sounds like you are about to kill yourself."

A few weeks after that I ran into Henry Blodget. "Did you hit your head? What changed?"

A year after that, the CEO of a company that fired me took me out to lunch, "I heard you had a stroke or a heart attack."

No.

"Well, at least a nervous breakdown. Every one said you had a nervous breakdown."

Then she offered me a huge job that I had to turn down. I didn't want to stop doing what I loved.

I didn't care about the job.

I always have to ask: am I clone of the version society wants me to be? Can I say "No" to the things I don't want to do?

Can I be happy even if I'm not jumping through all the hoops to make others happy at my expense?

I'm sorry I write so much about my failures. So, for once I will tell you: when I stopped caring, I had more success than ever.

Every time I cared about something, something would happen that would prevent me from getting what I cared about.

I kept trying to force the universe to bend 13 billion years of effort into my meager effort.

For a long time I cared too much. What he thought. What she thought. Why didn't they like me? Who would I have to beg next in order to "advance". Both you and me, we'll be dead before the universe blinks.

So I totally gave up.

I surrendered. Every day, I wake up and surrender first thing.

 

Here's what happens:

A) PEOPLE LISTEN TO YOU

You have no agenda. You're not trying to force your own vomit down someone else's mouth.

Example: if I write about how people shouldn't buy a house, I have no stake in the game. I've owned houses and I don't own a house. I've earned them and I've lost them.

I'm not trying to buy someone's house cheap ("hey buddy, you shouldn't own that. Why don't sell it to me cheap. Like on the down low.")

Nor am I trying to sell some product that says "get all your cash out of your house and give it to me."

I just give the basic basic math.

Then people get VERY angry. It's the biggest decision they've ever made in their lives (my life also). So how can I question it?

OK, disagree with me. It doesn't matter to me.

Who argues the most? I always look at their backgrounds. Usually, high ranking officials in some nationwide real estate association.

The worst was when I argued against war. I said "no war is justified." I put it on the most peaceful site I could find: a yoga-oriented website.

All of the other articles were about loving, being kind, compassion, mediation, etc. I figured a pro-peace article would fit in.

OH MAN!

2000 hate comments later ("I would cut off both your hands and feet if you were standing in front of me") I finally said, "Listen, you can all volunteer right now if you feel so strongly about it." Nobody volunteered. The comments ended.

My only basic argument: nobody could ever convince me there was a cause important enough for me to send my daughter to kill other little girls with a gun.

Once people realize you have no agenda, I can tell you for a fact they start to trust you. I feel more trust from people than I have ever felt in my life.

 

B) PEOPLE WILL HATE YOU

About once a year an article comes out that totally trashes me. Maybe this year so far it's been two or three articles.

I don't really know why they do it. I don't respond.

I never give advice. I only focus on what has happened to me and how I came back from it. If someone wants to attack that, then go ahead. I have never understood why.

 

C) PEOPLE WILL THROW MONEY AND OPPORTUNITIES AT YOU

This is true. You don't have to take the money and opportunities. I like to sit at home and read and hide and write and podcast.

I say "No" to any opportunities that will take me from what I love doing.

But, that said, sometimes I take. If you surrender to the possibilities, then you'll see what amazing possibilities happen to appear.

When I spent 20 years chasing money here's what would happen:

I would have a vision for what the universe should look like and then I would try to create that vision.

But here's the reality: the universe has managed fine without me for 13.8 billion years.

Just because I INSIST I get X, Y, and Z, the universe is going to simply ignore me. It would rather rain on some plants and make them grow.

Or maybe blow up a star and destroy a galaxy. It doesn't give a shit about what I am chasing.

My needs are less than the top of a pin to the overall universe.

Someone wrote to me the other day, "do you like humans?" Odd question.

I wrote back, "of course. But I also think we're not so special compared to everything else in the universe."

He wrote back, "That is the most stupid, ignorant thing I have ever heard."

OK. Goodbye and good luck. Because you are human, I like you also.

I stopped caring around 2010. I was 42. Before that I cared a lot. And I was constantly crying when I didn't get what I want.

Every day there was a new thing: "why don't they like me anymore" or "why didn't this opportunity work out for me but it worked out for them." Or the best. "WHY ME?"

Why not?

Not caring doesn't mean you stop pursuing things. You pursue the things that whisper to you. Things whisper all the time.

Seeds aren't covered in shit forever: they get rain and sunlight and nutrients and they grow.

People can say, "some people can't get those opportunities". But to be honest, I have NEVER seen who didn't get opportunities when they consistently tried their best and didn't care about the results.

I started from scratch with no money, no contacts, and no friends many times. I was covered in shit.

But I would search around for something to love. I would do it without expecting a specific goal. And sooner or later, opportunities would happen. Always.

Everything I do now, I do because I loved but I didn't care.

People want to know what the specific tricks are. What the "life hacks" are.

The only hack is to not care.

I have to give a talk later today. The way I prepare is to make sure I do the best I can, and not care about the results.


Oh! I will tell you one thing that I am most proud of in the past five years.

I was visiting the set of a TV show a few months ago. Fascinating! I was learning so much and loving every minute of it.

In the middle of the day I got an unexpected call. A very bad call. A shocking call.

The details would require a book. The details could make a crime movie.

Suffice to say I lost more money in that one day, in that one hour, than I had ever lost in a single day in my life. Just three months ago.

Then I went back to watching the TV show being shot. One of the best days of my life. I stayed to the end learning everything I could.

A few months later I told my friend who was with me what had actually happened that day.

He said, "What!? You were fine the whole day. You were asking questions, you were having fun. How could something that bad have happened?"

It's easy. I didn't care. Opportunities come and go. I can always find them.

But maybe I'll never have as much fun as I had that day. I can always make money back but I will never in my life make back one minute of time.

Maybe this sounds like bragging. But I was happy because I had the opportunity to really see how this would apply in my life when something bad happened again.

Nothing happened.

The daily practice I recommend is not about having tons of billion dollar ideas all the time. It's about turning something as invisible as time into the most precious thing we have.

Slicing a moment into it's separate delicacies.

But this point is not about losing money. It's when you don't care, then more people than ever want to work with you.

That more people trust your opinion. You become Google instead of the World Wide Web Worm (remember that one?)


Many people think they are smart by "underpromising and overdelivering."

But under-promising is lying. Under-promising is when you are scared to fail.

"Scaring" is "caring" but with an extra "s."

Nobody wants a liar. Under-promising is the secret doorway to where all the other losers live.

When I don't care, it's much easier to over-promise and over-deliver. That's what makes you a magnet of opportunity.

 

D) YOU LOSE FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Your friends and family want you to care about what they care about. And that's about it. They want you to be a copy of their dreams about you.

And if you don't, they often try to force you, or they distance themselves from you. Or, worse, they hate you.

But another good thing happens. You are the average of the five people you spend time with.

So it ends up: good people will find a way to spend time with me. Because they follow that advice also.

So it's not that hard to find the "right five." Or ten.

When we were born we didn't choose our family and often we don't even choose our initial friends.

But eventually, you do.

 

E) YOU LISTEN MORE

People have BS opinions about politics, economics, science, philosophy, and it's really all for their own entertainment.

The average person speaks about 10,000 words a day.

I like to try and speak less than that. It builds up mental energy to speak less. And forces me to listen more when everyone else has their opinions.

Yes, I have opinions (college, for instance. War, for instance). But I won't fight people about it. They can have their opinions also.

As Louis CK says, "When you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn't matter who the President is."

I like Scott Adams (Dilbert)'s approach. He mentioned to me he likes to take a controversial issue and argue for BOTH sides. Like pro-life and pro-choice.

This way, both sides will hate him. Because much worse than defending your side is defending the OTHER's side.

What you learn when you don't care is that ultimately there is no OTHER.

There's you and me. And the electricity as we get closer and closer.

 

F) YOU THROW STUFF OUT

  • You throw out books you'll never read again
  • Clothes you'll never wear again
  • Dishes, food, sheets, towels, furniture you don't really need.
  • Opinions that eventually won't matter to anyone.

And it even gets better. You throw out junk words ("how's the weather today").

The average person thinks 60,000 thoughts a day. But 90% of them are the same thoughts as yesterday. You start to throw out junk thoughts. Junk worries. Junk regrets.


When I was a little kid I woke up really early and took a magic marker and drew art on all my friends houses. House by house.

When I finally got home my dad beat me to death. But I had fun drawing. I still draw in the waiter's pads I carry around.

When I grow up I want to be a little boy again.

  • Dylan George

    Do you recommend young professionals in their late 20’s to take this approach in life?

    • foljs

      Especially them.

    • meyenberg

      I’m 24. Been working for 2 years as an idea slave in 3 different advertising agencies. This shall stop soon. I’m working on it. James’ writing is changing my life.

      • Paul Ramsek

        So you are still doing the idea game for someone else but not taking it home. When at home or leisure time,as the saying goes “The best business is minding your own business”.But still tqakes notes of peoples questions and see if it is a solution you may solve,A lot of problems take team work ,but you may see the forest for the trees and know what it would take.

  • Goya

    Thank you for this post. This one really hit home for me.
    I tend to constipate my creativity by forcing myself to focus on certain results and plans.
    To the point where about 90% of my thoughts (54.000x a day) were about the same project and outcome.
    Paralyzed & over-analyzed, I created my own semi-compulsive disorder.
    I got some result, not much tough, most was spend going in circles.
    What I did get where panick attacks! I’m 23! I have No responsibilitys whatsoever, I have no hard job, nothing is going wrong in my life, go figure…

    So screw all that, constipating my mind… I surrender…

  • meyenberg

    This is gold, thank you.

  • Buzz McCool

    The SumoMe pop up to get “Choose Myself” e-mails doesn’t seem to work when I click it.

  • Danny T. Schneider

    Dear James,

    the last time someone was expressing so
    clearly what I felt and thought, I was 17 and listening to Axl Rose
    (you should have a conversation with that guy). Thank you for this
    article and please keep up the good work!

    Greetings from Germany.

  • Mark Brady

    You probably already know this, James, but deep listening is a VERY high level sensory accomplishment. Most of us are supremely poor at it and never realize it. I teach graduate students intending to be lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers Noble Listening skills, and at the end of every class almost universally I hear, “I never realized how little I actually know about truly listening.”

  • Tara

    So really care about what matters and forget all the rest… What do you do when the distinctions are fuzzy?

  • groneg

    Stoicism.

  • LOL at all those people asking.

    But even if you wouldn’t care, James, this is another powerful post, thank you.

    2010 seems recent to have stopped caring what others think or feel about you. Great you made that turn!

    Loved it when you said you wouldn’t really mind results as long as you’re having the time of our life. Someone asked if this (and the rest of what you said here) is good advice for those in their late 20’s, or early 30’s, or somewhere along that bracket.

    We are looking for results every time, needless to say we need to survive. But I think I understand you, James. Maybe they weren’t there when sh*t had hit the fan, so to speak. No one will keep you from doing what you love. You had your own sh*t to deal with. And you’re right, who cares?

    Thank you, James.

    Hey, interviewing Axl Rose would be great, if you care enough. (Pun intended.)

  • ANKUR ANAND

    Amazing altucher you are honest and that makes you brave enough to write these wonderful blogs.

  • FreeGoddess

    Damn you, James Altucher! Your words made me cry, AGAIN! The truth in
    your articles always comes at me so fast and furious, that I end up a
    mess of tears and laughter, tissues strewn everywhere, windows flung
    open to allow in the fresh air, clothes tossed on the floor to let my
    skin feel the wondrous sensation of freedom as a mirror to how my heart
    feels when I read these words. I’d scream at the top of my lungs YES!
    YES! YES! but for the neighbours who’d surely call for little white men
    in coats and there I’d be laughing, singing, crying all the way to the
    loony bin. LOL!!! You ROCK! You amazing human being. We all desperately
    need to follow this advice.

  • Fucking bloody brilliant! For fucks sake! Finally! Someone who makes sense! “Stay hungry, stay foolish”

  • Ivo Lukač

    Took me a while but I finally figured out that this what you are saying is Stoicism, almost pure kind. Hence it is so appealing to me :)

  • Hi James. I know a guy who saved Shell $400M and helped expedite the Macondo oil spill cleanup. His approach is pretty novel. I think he’d be great for your podcast. Would you be interested in something like that?

  • IRONY

    i just had a mindgasm. this is what i needed right now. i sort of started doing that a week ago anyway, and reading this has made me even more determined to stop caring. im almost worried ill care too much about trying not to care.

  • IRONY

    I do feel like this kind of advice only works for people who’ve been caring too much and are tired of it. people who never cared need to try and change and START CARING. i think life is about going back and forth between giving a fk and not giving a fk. BOTH teach us stuff. Both are necessary.

  • blon

    Aaah, surrender. Amazing how hard that can be sometimes!

    I’m prepping for a big committee meeting with the art charity I work with and I’m trying really hard to add that surrender bit in there. We have 2 very conflictual people on the Board and it makes me crazy. I’m trying to “Let Go” and your words are very inspiring James!

  • Kenyatta University

    Hehehehe..I love this. Not caring anymore – Isaac

  • Guy

    To James Altucher: Thank you for sharing your experience with us warts and all. I am thankful that you talk about failing – you give me permission to be OK with my failures when you are open about the fact that failure is part of your life too.

    One of the reasons that I love John & Yoko is that as a young teenager living in a very dysfunctional family, I heard interviews given by John & Yoko talking about the difficulties in their lives and in their relationship, why they broke up for a period, the difficulties of being parents, and I heard John’s “John_Lennon/Plastic_Ono_Band” album, where he lays out his pain, and Yoko talking about her painful experiences as a child in World War Two Japan, and I thought “Wow – here is the most famous couple of the planet openly telling the whole world ‘we have problems, we have pain, we carry the pain of our childhood, relationships are really challenging to get right, we live in an insane world’ and it touched me so deeply to know that it wasn’t just me. Everyone else was busy playing “polish the door knobs so everyone thinks that all is well inside”, and here were John and Yoko being real, just telling the truth, and it was enormously valuable to me.

    So please keep sharing your truth. It is enormously valuable.

    Something you might enjoy – check out the song “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon (it is on youtube). I think the place that John Lennon was in it his life, which he is describing in that song, is very similar to what James Altucher is describing in this blog post. “People say I’m crazy, doing what I’m doing”, “When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange ….Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game” … “No longer riding on the merry-go-round – I just had to let it go”. It is a great song, describing the wisdom of stepping out of the crazy game. Lennon stopped his career to focus his attention on his new born son, and didn’t release another record until his son was 5 years old. He was wise enough to know what was important.

  • Somehow, it reminded me of George Clooney’s character’s ‘philosophy’ in that airplane movie … whatsitsname.

    • Pavithra

      Oh! The movie is *Up In The Air*
      And the philosophy is *Empty Back Pack* – It goes something like this – *Strategically have less commitments in life to lead a fulfilling life.*
      A questionable philosophy though!!

  • Ted Lee

    Hi James This was a fantastic article. Sometimes I want to say “no” but I also want to be a nice person. The balance is difficult. Thanks for your insights!

  • wtf

    I think you might be me. ? Just about every word you write has come out of my mouth at one time or another over the past couple years. Only difference is, I still desire approval from friends and family. That is painful, because, ironically, they just don’t care. I know I have to not care as well, but I’m finding this is one of the more difficult hurdles to overcome.

  • Denis Borborisov

    Great article . Thank you James

  • Jerianne Austin

    “Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.” TS Elliot

  • Difference Smifference

    Well, I think you a wee bit warped and do think there are things to care about. Still, interesting to read and apply.

  • whitehawk99

    The first world is nice isn’t it? Kind of a privilege to not care.

    Starving and desperate refugees? Who cares? Doesn’t affect me.
    And nevermind those faraway people — the desperate, the sick, the old and lonely
    right around here? The unemployed and unemployable? Ah who cares.

    The environment? Whatever man.
    Injustice? What? Where?

    The mentally ill and handicapped? Sucks to be them!

    The common good? Commie stuff man.

    Trying? Only for fakers.

    • sam

      you have missed the point of this article rather drastically

      • Douglas Kelly

        That’s just Whitehawk’s guilt taking. He thinks ranting about things we can do nothing about, far away things, makes him better than others because he cares so much. No he doesn’t. It’s all about him.

  • Buddusky

    The ironic thing about achieving not actually caring about something you ‘want’ is that you know you’ve achieved it cause that’s when the thing happens! I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten ‘the call’, ‘the email’, ‘the money’, ‘the job’, ‘the admiration’… and it all comes at once. It’s like life itself is bi-polar. And when you get it, then you don’t care and you’re onto begging the universe for the next thing. I specifically found this post because that truth in my own life lead me to google “why do things happen when you don’t care.” I believe your post was the top hit.

    But it seems like what you’re saying is that you don’t care about outcomes. You do what you love. Follow the universe whispering things in your ear that will bring you joy and spark curiosity and… well… f the haters. It sounds like you’re more zen than that, but I’m not right now so I’ll just say haters.

    Amazing post.

  • Stacey Lowe

    I can resonate with this. I have been told “Don’t bother saying . . . , it won’t matter . . . ” I explain that I respectfully speak my truth. It matters not if the other person agrees or disagrees. Matters not that I change their mind at the moment, later or ever. I am not attached to the end result. I put it out there. Maybe someone picks it up, ignores it or stomps on it. Does not make it any less my truth. Being in charge of the universe is a very big and thankless job I do aspire to . In the end you can only control your own thoughts or actions.

  • yea

    Is this feasible if you have dependents? What about if you’re trying to graduate CMU?

  • wjb

    How did you stop caring?

  • Duane

    “I never give advice. I only focus on what has happened to me and how I came back from it. If someone wants to attack that, then go ahead. I have never understood why.”

    It’s because you had to learn those lessons with more than a little pain. The pain is what broke your resistance to the lesson. Perhaps the pain is the price you paid for the wisdom.

    Without a similar level of pain (or at least appreciation of your pain, though it’s not always as powerful) all you are left with is resistance. Their resistance. They are not resisting you – they are resisting the lesson.

    Never mind. It wasn’t meant for them anyway ;)

  • Sona Chavan

    I had to read this post a couple of times and every time i learned something new and interesting. I agree so much with everything that is written in this. You know every time I have had a rough day, your posts are real saviour and I can smile to myself. Thank you so much.

  • Tyler David

    James, trying to pass a message from a mutual friend (Yitz). Can’t find a good active email. Could you please email me, mike@wolfie.com

  • Another phenomenal read! You are the epitome of a stoic: https://daraalbrightmedia.com/2016/06/21/to-the-stoics/

  • Bratislav Damnjanovic

    Nice :)

  • Unsilent majority

    THIS WAS AWESOME!!!! Thank You James! I sooooo needed this after a crappy weekend.

  • Douglas Kelly

    I believe you’ve touched on the overarching idea of life. And you’ve done so by coming to understand it more deeply than most. It’s not so much about caring as it is about not responding to the things that effect one’s self to the point of one definition of insanity.. Instead, care more about the marvels of life itself, free from the burden of playing by rules set by others who don’t care about you, but care only about their results. This can be intensely agonizing until one can break free of the demands of others and the society in which they live.

  • Gary Maggio

    Hey James! Great article and LOVE your podcast. Your interview style is unique, your interruption questions are intelligent, thank you for the authenticity and humble no ego approach.

  • Philippe Back

    I wrote all around the house on things. That was 35+ years ago I guess. The writing is still there. My father told me a week ago that he was proud that there was no spelling error and that it reminds him of that era :-p
    About the house ownership, I do not care if I own a house or not. Have owned a few. Every one was a different experience.
    And as I am a Sagittarius and do not care, take this one… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSlXjrxqDOE

  • William Mouncey

    I finally realized, you’re not an author, or an entrepreneur. You, sir, are a KINETIC PHILOSOPHER. You take the best ideas available, the simple and profound ones, like ‘Quit caring,’ and you live them. Courageously. Kudos. You don’t need me to like you, but I confess I do.

  • Vijay Mehta

    Hi James, Please explain – I chose me ! what these three letters convey so that I can also benefit from your experience – I CHOOSE ME ! Warm regards !

  • REALIST 254

    Thanks for the awesome insight mr altucher. Reminds me of the concept of detachment in a book called thick face black heart… This is real living, and not giving a shit, people who give a shit or fuck too much, are living as if someone is paying their rent to live on earth.

  • I like this post because in old enough to parse its meaning and know its truth. I know many people who worry about outcomes they can’t control.

  • Beth

    Two comments:

    I spent a month in Africa this summer. An amazing month. I had a lot going on here at home and I decided to leave it all behind and just “be” while I was there. I learned the most amazing things about nature – how everything from the animals to the trees to the birds and plants work together. It is so beautiful and interwoven it knocked my socks off. We humans are the only beings that screw things up. So when that guy asked you if you like humans? Of course you do and so do I. But I have learned we are not the best and smartest. If you really want to see it, spend time with the animals and the trees and just be.

    Second comment … “Slicing a moment into it’s separate delicacies.” is one of the most beautiful phrases I have ever read. I hope you don’t mind if I use that quote. It resonates on so many levels.

    Thanks for another great read, another baring of your soul.

  • Crusty

    Who cares what you think ? Who cares what I think about what you think ? Why did you ask for us to comment ?

  • Larry Weeks

    Truth, truth, truth. Great read.

  • Awesome !
    “They want you to be a copy of their dreams about you.” -fam

    As far as Adams, he plays a little game, he takes both extremes to paint, and create a “reasonable” conclusion though his mind boggling “filters”. Meanwhile, he skillfully leaves out the part that most people never considered, or ever cared for those extreme positions.

  • Joel Bejar

    A great revelation for the family environment, about learned from childhood and the “blows” of life. I’ll stop, clean up the old prejudices and fears to start over.
    After all, we are social entiti, borned in family an converted into human being.

  • Tres White

    One of your best!!! I think the the war piece was the first I ever read, a classic too. Any advice on how you stopped caring/gave up/surendered?

  • Steve Wilhite

    James, I still can’t tell if you’re just as neurotic as f*ck or a stoic philosopher. I enjoyed this post immensely, though, so I guess I don’t care.

    • Steve Wilhite

      Enjoying your books, too, btw!