10 Steps To Avoid Giving Up

I want to disappear. I want to move into an old apartment building in a place where I would never talk to anyone.

I would order delivery for all three meals a day. I would learn to talk to my neighbors, who spoke every language but English. 

I would learn their games and play them on the sidewalk and we would bet nickels and dimes and laugh and listen to the music coming out of an open car stereo from a car that no longer ran.

Sometimes, when I am feeling stuck and degraded, that’s how I feel. The sweetness of invisibility.

When I’m feeling stuck, I get sick. I want more out of life than what I have. I want a different job. I want to do what I love.

Then I’d get sick again.

That’s how it feels when I’m stuck. In a job. A career (maybe a career I spent ten years training for and 20 years doing). A relationship. An anything.

I wish I had more often told myself: the past is not the jail keeper of my future.

I think, “because I got a degree in X, I have to do Y.” Or because I’m living with A, this is it for life. Or because I wrote about J, then this is my life now.

Or because I failed once at business or art, I can never try again. Or because my parents want me to be a doctor, I have to be a doctor.

Bad.

I spoke with Matt Berry, and he was doing what I thought was a dream job, writing movies, but all he wanted to do was blog about fantasy sports for $100 a blog post.

Eight years later he’s a top anchor for ESPN on fantasy sports.

Or maybe it was Jim Norton, who I grew up with, who was driving tractors and taking menial jobs when all he wanted to do was be a comedian. 20 years later he’s one of the most well-known comedians in the world.

Or Judy Blume, who was stuck with all of these stories in her head, but raising a family in a loveless marriage, not realizing she didn’t need permission to get those stories out into the world. Getting sicker and sicker.

Or maybe it’s you or me, desperately unhappy in a relationship or a job, knowing there is something else out there. That things have to change.

10 Steps: 

These are not 10 steps for you. Like a “10 Steps program.” These are the ten steps I finally learned to do for myself. To stop getting sick. To stop throwing up on dreams. To cure my stomach from daily pain.

A) ADMIT IT. 

I feel restless. I can’t get up. The only thing to do in this step is to notice it.

It’s like a whisper. Not from the “universe” but from your body. It physically won’t let you get out of bed.

It starts to eat at your insides. Your body will destroy you if you don’t reinvent. But you have to notice it first.

I say, “Ahh, that’s what this is.”

Most people feel this step at age 30 and never change and get slowly eaten alive.

They look for medicines but the medicines can’t be prescribed. They are so far over the counter you will die looking for them.

B) DISAPPOINTMENT. 

I notice. But I feel things are never going to change. I’m trapped. My parents/friends/lovers/bosses/ will never approve.

Or: I’ll go broke. Or it means I wasted an education. Or money.. Or a mind. Or a love.

I feel, “I’m sad.”

Start listing the things you love. What did you love as a child? What do you love doing now?

It can’t be just me. Try it today. Try it tomorrow. Get better at it. Write the things you loved as a child and the things you love now. Brainstorm the bridges between them.

They are there. They are waiting for you. They were for me.

Brian Koppelman felt he was stuck in the music business. That’s what his family did. That’s what he was trained for. That’s what he was good at.

But the past is not the jail keeper.

He spent three years batting around ideas with his writing partner and high school friend David Levien before they finally wrote the movie “Rounders” and then “Ocean’s 13” and now the upcoming Showtime show “Billions” (watch trailer).

I still look for the clues every day. Every day is Reinvention Day.

C) LEARNING.

If we don’t reinvent, we die.

Go to the bookstore and see what books take your breath away. What conversations do you stick with. What relationships in your life excite you and you wish could deepen.

Read everything. Then find the new peer group you can talk to. Learn everything. Study everything. Watch everything.

People will start to look at you. They will say, “He is a trainwreck.”

They have said to me, “You are going to ruin your life.” Or, “You don’t have any idea what you are doing.”

That’s OK. They are not my jail keepers either. I am the jail keeper. I open up the prison every morning and turn the lights on.

D) FAILURE

I have failed at everything I have ever started. My first two or three attempts at business failed. 17 out of 20 businesses I’ve started have failed.

My first five books were never published.

I’ve been divorced, and that was after a ton of failed relationships.

I failed at making a TV show. Or two. Or three.

I could go on and on but it’s boring.

If you love something, you know what the best in the world actually looks like.

I try to be the best in the world immediately but that’s me being an idiot again. I have to be miserable first and see how hard it is. How high I have to go.

It takes a long time.

So it becomes persistence then, that gets you over that hump.

Persistence + Love = Success.

E) BUT SHOULD YOU CONTINUE? 

You might. Or you might not. I wrote four books in the early 90s. I failed. I stopped. I took a job at HBO instead and gave up.

7 years later I started writing again. But boring finance stuff. Then 8 years after that I started writing more personal things.

Now I write whatever I want. But we’ll see. I’m writing something different now.

Something much more painful. Maybe one day I will be good. But I love trying to get better. I love being a trainwreck.

Don’t be jaded and give up. Don’t blame excuses. Don’t burn bridges.

Maybe you painted as a child. Come back, my honey.

F) YOU’RE BACK

I’m often upset in my relationships and in my writing and in my business stuff.

For me: being upset at myself is the beginning of how I challenge myself. Almost every day I push harder than I need to until it hurts.

Sometimes it hurts too much.

But I know when I am stuck. I know to notice it. I know to find what I love. And I hope I can persist. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can’t.

But I’ll always come back to the things I love.

G) MENTORS

In every area of my life I’ve had great mentors.

How do you get a mentor?

If you want one in person: give them ideas.

Don’t say, “how can I help you?” Because then that just gives them work. Why will they help you if you just gave them a homework assignment.

Tell them how you can make their lives better.

If you want virtual mentors (sometimes the best) read 200 books in your field of interest. Every 50 books is worth one mentor.

What if there aren’t 200 books?

There are. A book about quantum mechanics is a book about painting butterflies. Everything is connected when you filter with what you love.

H) YOU BECOME YOUR OWN VOICE

The Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, U2, the Wu-Tang Clan, sound like nothing that ever came before them.

They don’t sound 100% different. They took everything from the past, mimicked them for years, and then developed their own unique voice.

Many people (me) give up between mimicking and uniqueness. That’s the Mimicking Trap. Don’t fall for it.

Writing ten ideas a day about what you are interested in is one technique for having your own unique voice.

I) FAILURE AGAIN

Non-stop failure is the secret to success.

I don’t mean failure p*rn (which I often engage in) – crying on the floor in despair.

Calling up the girl ten times and begging her to say “I love you” back. (Wait, did I just think that or did I write it?)

Only by failing, by understanding the failure and documenting it, by throwing it into the checkbox of “things to avoid” and “things that worked” can you succeed.

You WANT to fail as much as possible. And then pick the pieces up quickly and try again.

Even thoughts can fail. It’s important to label them also: “useful” / “not useful” as they happen.

It feels like practice.

It’s the speed of “trying again” that leads to success. Not the despair and anguish and narcissistic anxiety that it may never work again.

So now it’s:

Notice + Persistence + Mentors + Fast Failure + Love = Success

But one more element is most critical.

J) THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE

When I’m stuck, I reach out and there are friends to grab me. When I’m falling, they hold out their hand and pick me up.

This is god. A prayer disappears into the air. A request to a friend, saves you.

They don’t always know what is best for you. But they will comfort you and support you and you will be grateful for them and they for you.

Don’t gossip about them. Don’t try to teach them. Just be grateful for them. I think I owe my life today, even this past week, to my friends.


A reinvention might not be a radical change. You might not go from truck driver to pro basketball player.

You might just go from good person to better person.

From incompetent to competent.

From a good friend to a great friend.

From being a slave to being free.

From letting others choose when you should be happy, to figuring out how to choose yourself for happiness.

Every day all of the above. It’s a practice.

You might one day be an astronaut, and the next, a painter. That’s OK. It’s your sliver of life between two giant infinities. Fill that sliver with cake and gold.

  • Pam

    James Altucher, what I wouldn’t give to have a conversation with you….
    This hit a nerve with me and now, your input would mean a lot. That said, knowing the likelihood of that is slim to none, it’s also kind of motivating! A good thing.
    Thanks.

  • I tell people in my business that if they haven’t cried at their desk at least once, don’t complain to me. I’ve only cried at my desk once. That’s all it took.

    The next morning I turned in a resignation. I was quitting. I was a 25 year old account executive who had in the past 48 hrs been yelled (no screamed) at by a client. I’d had one client demand my resignation. And I’d been removed from a huge pitch by the COO because another client was “mad” at me. All of this because three other account executives had left the company in the past month and all of their work had been dumped onto me. I felt like a failure. I’d had it with the drama, the stress, and what I felt like was the slow death of my reputation (I was young but really already seven years in with this particular gig).

    The COO took my resignation and told me he was sorry to see me go. I remember telling him I’d just go work for my dad till I figured out what was next (which would have been mostly to push a broom.)

    Then my real boss, a woman I will respect forever, called me from our office in L.A. She promised to make it right. So I stayed. She made it right. Then the COO screwed me over again so I ended up resigning again six months later. For real that time. But at that point I had a resolve. I LOVED my job. I realized I loved my job. I didn’t want to push a broom. I just needed a different way to do what I already knew I was good at. So this time I had a plan.

    My plan worked. Nine years later I’ve made at least twice as much money as if I had stayed in that place. And I’ve had a whole lot more peace and reward in my life. And most importantly I own my reputation.

    This morning I realized I was going to fail at accomplishing a very specific task that I’ve worked 16 hrs a day for the past two weeks to finish. So I called the client and broke the news. I really felt like quitting. But I told them I would keep going. That’s all you can do some times. But it’s way better than quitting.

    • Peter Dijkstra

      Whe all should cry more in offices. Ask yourself does the Hulk cry. Hell yeah. It’s cleansing. Take off yer tie and spank your desk with it, cry your guts out, and know wolfs communicate through crying

      • anne lee

        Oh, please carefully watch yourself again. you know you are a ugly big crocodile and show ugly crocodile’s cries.嘿嘿。

        • Peter Dijkstra

          Sorry Anne,
          I’m going to stop drinking wine and writing crap on the internet

          • anne lee

            嘿嘿。kick you this human spam in the internet.嘿嘿。

  • Peter Dijkstra

    Hee James,
    A little bit off topic maybe, but what kind of crazy plans would you do come up with if you just had bought the domainname “happiness4everyone.com” after drinking a bottle of wine? If you come up with a winning web application/idea. You get a whole month’s wearth of my dutch aid-payment of 914 euro’s. No just kidding I would give you about as much as Steve gave Wozniak for Breakout. It’s the boedhist thing to do. Haaaahaha

    P.S.

    Your email is truly the most hartwarming, human spam in the universe. I’m not being synical, just kissing ass. Hold on!

    Peter Dijkstra

  • Persistence + Love = Success. Amazing! Thank you James! :)

    • Notice + Persistence + Mentors + Fast Failure + Love = Success

  • anne lee

    Hi, share my favourite music [Beethoven Symphony No.5] with you. Nothing to be feared. :-) Happy every day.^_^. my God bless you.

  • Maggie

    Wow, thanks James and thanks to all the amazing comments too!! Love love love this, this is the story of my life!!! Quitting is easy but then it is way harder, but continuing is super hard too. Sucking sucks too but well reading things like this gives one more ounce of energy to get over the moment until I can find some renewed energy. “I like being a train wreck” – I am going to own this quote, live it.

  • faris

    James, I have a question for you that I have been struggling with for a while now. I’m 4 years into my career, and I’m realizing corporate life is not for me – not in my dna by any means, but I simply continue down it because it’s the easy path. I know I am basically dying on the inside by continuing down this path, and I’m fully aware of this. I want to go out on my own, but I just can’t find what it is I’d want to do while on my own. Do you have any insight on how to approach the notion of leaving corporate life and finding that missing piece.

    • I’d like to know the answer to this too

    • Matt Aufderheide

      Think of where you want to be and do and have and be yourself then backward engineer it. Think long term. Plan carefully and prepare to be flexible. James mentioned writing down what you loved to do. Maybe that isn’t immediately profitable but what can you do to give it wings? Think on those things and your plan and you’ll have more hope.

    • igottasaythis

      Hi Faris, as of the moment of me writing this, your question was asked 8 months ago so I don’t know if you’ll get this response. Anywho, this has helped me – take 10 sheets of paper, numbered 1 thru 10 – start with 1, and with a pen (not a pencil) write this question on the top of each page …

      “The Purpose of My Life Is To:”

      The answers per page should be no more than 2 sentences and spend no more than 10 minutes per page. Then go to this webpage

      http://mindmethodhelp.com/s2

      This should give you some insight, some direction. It has for me.

  • Curtis Abernathy

    I’ve been trying and failing horrifically for the last 20 years. After a while, persistence without improvement gets old. It’s great that so many find inspiration from this but it rings hollow to me.

  • Alisha P

    You ever had someone read between your lines and hear all your lies your thoughts and your mind. Have you ever felt like this was done before like we’re all in the know of what the bigger picture is. Have you traveled back in time to find me did you ever find the tree . Wake up with me in the sun stop holding me under the water .
    That’s how I do it . Random poems on people’s wall thanks James f