What Is Your Philosophy Of Life? What Is Sacred To You? Here Is Mine:

philosophy of life

“One day I was in solitary confinement and then just a few years later I was having dinner with the President.”

I listened. Tommy told me his story. Being set up. Going to jail. Not “ratting out” another person in exchange for an easy prison stay.

Then being head of security for the Vice President of the United States.

“They put me in the room with the murderers I had put in prison. I was going to die.”

I listened. I paid attention.

“It’s a curse,” he said, after 20 years of being in law enforcement. “I walk in a room and I can see everything about everyone in the room. ”

“And he never stops,” his wife said, “He is obsessed with always being aware.”

Tommy looked past us, at the other people picking up their jackets at the end of an evening. “Sometimes it’s a curse.”


“I knew that if I didn’t play pro-basketball I would end up packing bags at Wegmans,” said the 6’9″ guy in front of me.

“I’m totally ignorant,” I said, “but are you an athlete.”

I think the woman next to me choked on her food then. I was afraid she thought I was a racist.

“I played pro basketball for many years.”

“There’s a lot of 6’9″ players who bag groceries at Wegmans,” I said. “What makes you different.”

“I played every day 10 hours a day when I was a kid. I played the same guy. I lost 1500 games in a row. But I kept knocking on his door to play again. Other guys are weak.”

“What makes you different from Michael Jordan? Are you weak?” Everyone at the table stopped eating.

This guy’s hand was the size of a watermelon. He could’ve crushed me.

He laughed and gave an answer. I had more questions. I asked them.


I was talking to one of my favorite comedians in the world. He’s depressed. “It’s treatment resistant,” he told me.

“In the morning it’s the worst. I’m treatment resistant. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

I ran into him at 10 a.m. that day. He looked like he was about to cry.

“It gets better at night,” he said, “And then I can perform. But then I sleep and the clock starts over.”

He was barely speaking above a whisper. Millions watched his recent special in the past week. He was so funny I thought I was going to choke from laughing.

We dissected one of his bits. “You write the basic joke. And then you look at every word. Can you dissect it more. Can you go off on a tangent here and come up with a whole other joke before coming back to the original one. Analyze that with every word in the joke.”

When he talked about comedy he seemed happy. He laughed, thinking about his joke.


I’m happy when I write well. I live for writing well. I’m an addict. If I can’t write well for two days then something is wrong with my life. If I can’t write well for three days then I cancel everything until I write.

It makes me happy. Many things make me happy. But every moment of the day is about writing for me. Nothing else. Not money. Not my career. Not my relationships. Not even my kids. Every thing else comes in second.

Which sounds like a mental illness. Maybe it is. I love my kids. I will do anything for them. But first… be quiet until I write.


I don’t like the phrase, “what is your why.” I have a lot of whys. And I feel I have many passions.

I play games. I love learning. I like having coffee with a friend. I like thinking every day how to increase my freedom.

But under every thought is: how will this improve my writing? This is the only real consistent thing I enjoy doing in my life. If I stopped doing it, I’d die.

One time I wrote something privately about something intensely personal.

A friend of mine, Tucker Max, heard about it and said, “If you don’t publish this you will die.”

He got it.


Writing is my guiding philosophy of life. It’s not a passion or a purpose. It’s the way I live.

I think everyone, if they sit down and think about it, has a philosophy of life. Something they do that is sacred to them.

It may be in varying degrees. I don’t know. But it’s there.

Why I write:

A) It Makes My Day.

From the moment I wake up, the moment I sleep, to how many hours of sleep I get, to how I eat, to the people I spend time with, to how I focus my creativity, to what I am grateful for – all exists so I can write better.

I’d like to think it’s to make me have higher levels of well-being. But if I’m honest, I’m happy when I write something well.

When I *drop mic* on something I write.

B) I Listen.

Everyone has a story. I stopped a woman in an elevator. She had a red mohawk and piercings. I asked if I could take her picture.

I thought she would be mean to me and say, “no.” I was the rude one anyway. But she was very sweet and said “yes” and posed.

I asked her where she was going. She said, “A wedding.”

I asked “for who.” And she told me. And then her door opened and she left.

Everywhere I look I see a potential story. I’ve been doing that for 25 years. Now I see stories everywhere.

The world is a jigsaw puzzle with every story a piece in that puzzle.

And everyone wants to share a story. So I listen.

C) I’m Curious.

I want to know why Coolio got lost in his addiction to coke. I want to know why the old man sitting at the table next to me is crying.

I want to know why you got separated from your husband. People always say, “It was amicable.” No it wasn’t. Don’t lie. Tell me. Please.

I get an itch in my brain. I want to scratch it. You don’t have to answer. But I hope you do. Else it will be unasked forever. It will be knowledge that disappears.

D) I Want Attention

Who doesn’t? Let’s be honest.

E) I Like to Play

Words are fun. Words are poetry. Words are rhythm, Words create entertainment. Nothing is more beautiful to me than two words that fit together better than they lay apart. Like a good marriage.

F) I Like to Think I Can Help.

I write about what happens to me. I write about my curiosity. But if one person follows an idea and it helps them, then I am happy.

G) Words Are Freedom

Because I write, I think of ideas. Ideas lead to things I can sell. Writing helps me sell these things.

Writing, at first, is the branch-covered pathway that leads you out of the forest. It’s the way from lost to found.

Building the skill of writing is the way to clear out those branches. Without writing I would have no career and no self-esteem and nothing.

People say, “You should visualize self-esteem and then you will have it.”

Maybe that works for them, but it doesn’t work for me.

H) Writing builds character.

I have a problem. In fact, every day I have a problem. I feel it in my body. I explore what the problem is by writing about it.

It’s surgery. I open my heart up. Poke around. Find a cancer. Scrape it out with words. What’s really there. What am I feeling?

You have to be honest with yourself. Cancer doesn’t pretend. It’s there. You can only dig illness out with authenticity

Don’t describe your feelings. Tell your story. This happened. This happened. This happened. Don’t even give me a description. No flowers or clouds. Just tell me BOOM BOOM BOOM.

I) I Love to Read.

From the moment I wake up, everything is so I can write better. Part of that is reading. What I read. What will influence me today. What will I learn.

I read different types of things depending on what time it is. Fiction in the morning. Nonfiction at night. Random in the middle. Poetry scattered throughout the day.

Today I read from:

Without reading, there is no writing. Because what respect do you have for your elders and your peers if you can’t read what they wrote?

J) It Makes Friends

I love my friends who write. I love them. I’ll be honest: I’ve had a good business year. But a bad relationship year. Horrible.

My friends who are writers, plus a few others I know through my writing, have saved my life.

“You have to get up every day and do it,” the pro basketball player told me. “It has to go through every aspect of your life.”

He shook his head, “I had one brother who died of AIDS. I had another in jail. I had to only look in one direction. And that was getting better at basketball.”

Basketball became what was sacred in his life.

He looked at me. “I lost 1500 times in a row against my teacher. But I had heart. I came back every day for more. And then I won one game. I never lost again.”

He smiled, thinking about that moment 25 years earlier and how it defined everything ever since. That’s writing.


By the way, I’ve included a list of Neil Gaiman’s rules of writing that I think you will enjoy:

Ideas for a world out of balance… sent straight to your inbox!

My goal is to deliver to you a fresh perspective…

Something to help you make sense of the chaos.

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  • Thanks for the article. When I don’t write it feels words boils up from within until iI no longer can ignore it. Thanks for the tips. I really enjoyed it.

  • Thomas Dotson

    Absolutely loved it. Got bad financial news right after arising this morning and have been in a funk all day. This post really helped. Thank you.

  • Amber Richman

    “No flowers or clouds” You are great at killing your darlings, which is one reason you’re a great writer. Thanks for this & the Neil Gaiman list. Made me think of Stephen King’s On Writing. If you haven’t read it, you might enjoy it.

  • Vishnu Prasath

    What you read from today, has been truly useful and worthwhile. May your future writing enable us toward better understanding.

  • Sertaç Yakın

    Hey James. Great one! I’m reading Angels’s book too. Isn’t it amazing?!

  • I love it! Honesty is always the best policy. “I want attention”… Why not? If people will listen to you, then i say keep writing / speaking.

  • NegLewis

    7 :)
    We lived for 50+ years in a communist country. Laughing was a bad thing.. as in you could go to jail for doing it ” in the wrong way”.
    So a joke was born: assign a number to each joke and only tell people the number.
    ..Strange poeple meeting for first time laughing hysterically telling each other numbers…
    7 :)

  • Awesome piece. I want to make writing a part of my life. I feel like I was meant to do a lot of things. All these things have something to do with art. But writing..words.. I find it so difficult to express myself that writing seems like the only way to do it successfully. The only way to cut the branches and find my way out of the forest. Maybe I need to write 1500 pieces before I *drop the mic*.
    Thanks for this. Keep on writing.

  • bertsmit

    I like to use a lot of qualifiers so when it goes south I had somehow accounted for that risk. It’s like deluxe failing. A few years I saw a collection called “ten short movies” on the web. I don’t know if I watched them all. It reminds me of some of your musings (?)

  • vinay kumar Singu

    No post on blog since 7 days…Wake up mister Altucher!

  • Theresa Lode

    I can totally relate, James. I read obsessively, linger over nice sentences (maybe even jot them down because they’re so beautifully constructed) and then labor over my own. And I love asking people for their story. Most are hungry to know that someone even cares to hear it. Hope you’re doing well.

  • The first part of #5 sometimes works for me. The second part sometimes doesn’t. I suspect that can never be fixed.

  • Christine

    i like to write. it helps me do the work i need to do to sort things out. i wrote this recently. https://medium.com/@cag123/the-hardest-thing-i-ever-had-to-do-and-20-things-startup-founders-can-learn-from-it-b969cc1c5c4e#.yzhi6agh0

    • And Christine, you need to keep writing … that was emotionally touching, excellent, and WOW … what a story (I won’t ruin it for people who might want to read it).

      Please, keep writing.

      • Christine

        Thank you for the kind words, @JosephRatliff:disqus. I really appreciate it and it means a lot.

    • Gale Wilson

      WOW….you can get a job as a writer if you decide to……….this episode about your life is fantastic……….I could not stop reading it…….thank you for sharing it………….I will now follow your writings on Medium.

      • Christine

        Thank you Gale. Appreciate you reading it and your kind words and look forward to following you as well.

  • James, I don’t know you and perhaps I should send this privately, but instead I’ll keep it short here publicly. Your words really made a difference in my life. Last spring I fell into a very bad emotional state, couldn’t see my way out, looked up information on controlling my drinking and happened across your blog. It sounds, from what I can tell in what I receive through your newsletter subscription, that you’re going through something pretty big yourself right now. So I just wanted to reach out, as one person out here who’s gleaned value from what you’ve had the courage to share with us, to say Thank You. Your words have mattered and have saved people as well. Your stories are very interesting, having read so many of your posts by now as well as listened to a number of your podcasts.

    Please do know that your efforts are most certainly not in vain. Thanks again.

    • snowyowl

      Byenia you are among many that have suffered from all kinds of pain. We all have thought at one time or another that there is no way out. There is a secret to living through snow blindness that is what I refer to it as. I feel like a bunny in a snowstorm no one sees me. Yet there are many bunnies in these storms it is the heat from thousands of us that pave the way out of blindness. I send you a hug from an old bunny woman who knows that youth never realizes this is just another hitch we must pass through. May the warmth from James and others help you to see the end of blindness and feel the welcomed sun upon your face.

  • For me it’s you. But, Which writers sentences do you like the most? Or who’s sentences have you studied the most to improve your writing?

  • Yan Amenta

    Thanks James. Who was the basketball player?

  • Paul

    Great piece James! Then again, I have been a subscriber for a while and I always have to get myself on track again after reading your posts as they open up so many different thoughts for me. Being in a community of sorts here, and elsewhere, not to mention the “global village” we find ourselves in, means that we always align with mentors that we can relate to. They say you should reach upwards for a helping hand and share downwards when you have something to celebrate. I read Byenia’s note below, and your Horrible Year line, and it seems that you are reaching up as well as down. Good Man! Thanks again for sharing – what is valuable – with us!

  • Kimberly Sanders

    You are my mentor.

  • armour1955

    James…great piece…because of you i am not writing at night for the first time since my college professor kept pestering me to write but i resisted it because of fear. I read your posts and I am not conquering that fear.

  • Wayne Nef

    Your line about being curious about an “amicable” divorce really struck home with me. So much so, that I wrote a blog post about my divorce, which on occasion, I said was amicable just so that I didn’t have to speak about it. If you are curious about this kind of stuff, then here it is: http://mountainrants.weebly.com/home-page/-is-anything-bad-ever-really-amicable

  • snowyowl

    Never, Never, Never Give UP!!!! I have that sewn somewhere to someones pants also in my kitchen, I live by many statements some my own but I will never be as sophisticated as you dear James. My reading list is Ann Morrow LImburg “Gift from the sea”. Madame Mao tse Tung White bone demon and madame chaniang kai-shek, I use to collect pillows with “I like my men like my coffee, rich, dark, and full bodied” my kids would come in and know what my mood was by my pillows.Alice Roosevelt saying “If you have nothing good to say about anyone come sit by me”. I especially liked that one. I have pen a few but when I write on politics it seems my cute catchy phrases get stolen from the internet my thunder stolen by the idiots I argue with so I am now reading you who makes me smile, laugh, and forget that I am a Republican. lol