How to Not Choose Yourself

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James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I've never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher's wisdom.
James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I’ve never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher’s wisdom.

It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself.

I do it all the time.

Because I lost my wife. Because my son’s gone a lot and I really miss him. Because I don’t have as much money as I used to. Because I have expensive bills and repairs. Because my home needs more than I can give. Because I never meet single women, and when I do, there’s always a glitch.

We can all do it if we want.

We can point fingers at circumstances. Bad luck!

Other people. Unfair!

And we can never, ever, look in the mirror and ask the really difficult questions. The ones that make us squirm. The ones that make us want to run and hide and never see our reflections again.

What choices have I made that led me here?

What choices can I make today to improve my life?

Your reflection should have his/her eyes narrowed. Studying you. Judging you.

You should always love and respect yourself. But you should also hold yourself to higher standards than everyone else does. And when you fail to meet those standards, it seems worth evaluating what you can do differently to change that.

“I’m a Member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves’”

That was the headline of a Huffington Post piece one of my friends sent me this morning.

And when I first started reading, I just kept nodding. Yes. Yes, that’s me! Yes, that’s me too!!!

But then, the writer started pointing fingers in every direction but the right one.

And that’s where she lost me.

Because she used to have money. And dine out. And take vacations.

And now she doesn’t anymore.

It’s Corporate America’s fault.

It’s the politicians in Washington DC’s fault.

It made me sad to see someone who appears to believe deep within her heart and soul that she’s doomed to a life of poverty despite her education and previous success in the professional world. That there’s no future but a bleak one of living off government aid until she dies one day, sad and alone.

I’m not trying to pick on Kathleen Ann, the author of the HuffPo piece.

She is a human being with a story. A story with a bunch of details and context to which I’m not privy.

But she’s well-educated. And indicated she used to earn $100 per hour, which is a metric shit ton more than I make. So, I’m defaulting to the position of believing she is INFINITELY more capable of choosing herself than she displays in her woe-is-me piece.

Let’s dive in.

“I used to have a house. I used to go on vacations. I used to shop at department stores, get my hair done and even enjoy pedicures. Now, I don’t. I’m a member of the American “Used-to-Haves.”

Now, I’m renting an apartment and I’m desperately awaiting a check so I can pay the rent. Yet, I’m lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. Despite my college degree from a prestigious college, and solid employment track record, I can’t get a job. It’s been so long since my corporate days, I now feel unemployable.

My age doesn’t help. But I’m as healthy as a thoroughbred, I appear quite young and would gladly accept a basic salary. I’m a bargain! But no. I’m freelancing for $15 an hour these days, but I used to earn $100 an hour. In fact, all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour. To make ends meet, I also work as an aide ($13.75 an hour) and run a small local company. And my annual earnings are under $20,000.

On “I’m a member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves.’”

I understand what she means. The middle class has gotten squeezed HARD. And it’s painful. My life is not subsidized in any way. I pay for everything myself. And I sometimes feel like people who work less have a better life than I do. I am responsible for my choices. But I do believe that, fundamentally, hard work should be rewarded. In my experience so far, that hasn’t really been the case, financially.

On “I can’t get a job.”

I want the author to define “job.” Because she said she will “gladly accept a basic salary.” And we don’t have any context here for what that means. What is a basic salary? $40,000 annually? $70,000 annually? Is she willing to relocate? Or no? Regardless of the answers to those questions, who is responsible for the outcome of those choices? You? Me? The government? Businesses? I submit only one person is.

On “all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour.”

Nonsense. Charge whatever you want. Choose yourself. I charge $60 an hour for my freelance work. And people pay it, or they don’t. They either think my work is worth it, or they don’t.

The market has never, and will never, dictate what my time is worth. If someone is unwilling to pay me an amount in which I can afford to do the job, I decline the work. The author can make that same choice.

On “my annual earnings are under $20,000.”

She works three jobs, she said.

1. She writes freelance.

2. She works as an aide for $13.75 per hour.

3. She runs a small local company.

I don’t know what any of that means. But I know that if you work full time at a fast-food restaurant for $9 per hour, you earn $18,720 per year, which is pretty much what the author said she earns working THREE jobs.


“I’m lucky to be in Massachusetts, where my health care is paid for, and fortunate to be of sound health and mind. But on days when I feel hopeless, I can envision myself 20 years from now, living in hardscrabble poverty.”

On “where my health care is paid for.”

The author doesn’t pay health care expenses. I pay $400 per month to cover my son and I, and that’s with the VERY generous more-than-half contributions of my employer. Maybe that doesn’t sound like very much to you. $400 per month for something I almost never use but MUST have is a lot to me.

And it decreases my sympathy for the plight of the author who recalls making more than $100 per hour at her last full-time job.

“Watching John Boehner and the Republican Congress during the past few years has been a stunning confirmation of their seeming disregard for the “Used-to-Haves.” As they pull down salaries of $174,000 a year, unparalleled benefits and the option of voting themselves a raise, their selfishness is unrivaled as they barricade health care reform, knowingly shut down the government, cut SNAP benefits and eliminate extended unemployment payments.

Congress doesn’t have the stones to call up their lobbyist buddies and corporate honchos and insist they hire more unemployed Americans for the American companies they celebrate and boast about.

The press calls it “The Great Recession.” It actually was the “Great Theft.” In the wake of this very public, often-glossed-over theft from the middle class, the perpetrators have been revealed. We know the American corporations without the courage, scruples or heart to help us, the ones responsible for the recession and the politicians who put the toxic policies in place. We “Used-to-Haves” aren’t stupid.”

On “John Boehner and the Republican Congress.”

And that’s when she lost me. Grinding a political axe.

Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re a politician in Washington DC, regardless of political party, you’re a greedy, egotistical, power-hungry maniac who ALWAYS puts your own needs ahead of your constituents. And I’d even be okay with that if you weren’t so smarmy and dishonest about it. It’s beyond corrupt, what happens at the highest levels of our government.

But choosing sides? As if one is good and the other is evil? That’s laughable.

They’re all assholes. Each and every one of them. And if they cared about you and me, they would—at minimum—put partisan politics aside to AT LEAST fix all the apolitical things that ail our nation and world. But they won’t even do that. It’s all about reelection and campaign contributions. If they worked together, they would be forced to not say ugly things about one another all the time. Without all the lies, no one could ever get elected!

Blaming politicians is too easy. All the Sean Hannity fans can hang on his every word and hate all the people who love Bill Maher and hang on his every word. Knock yourselves out.

Respect one another. Be pragmatic. Work together. Serve something greater than yourselves.

Do that? And I’ll vote for you no matter which side of the aisle you stand on.

“As a “Used-to-Have,” I’m beyond angry. I’m not a “Never Had.” I know what it’s like to pay bills on time and have a little left over. I remember vacations and pedicures and going out to dinner. As a “Used-to-Have,” I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me. The “Used-to-Haves” and the children of the “Used-to-Haves” won’t forget. The “Used-to-Haves” are educated. Many of us and our children have amazing talent and academic honors. We know how to get things done. And though all of the odds appear to be against us, we must refuse to give up hope.”

This was the end.

And I got a little upset about it. So I wrote my friend back expressing my disappointment in the author’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for any of her current life circumstances.

This girl is A LOT like me, my friend. I joke that she’s the Girl Me. Because we think similarly about many things.

While our big-picture philosophies align closely, we sometimes diverge on the details.

“This is just an example of what ails the human race. Finger pointing,” I said. “It’s less about politics and more about self-empowerment.”

I wrote that the author of this HuffPo piece REALLY needs to read my favorite writer James Altucher’s most-recent book “Choose Yourself.”

She is frustrated like so many of us with struggling to make ends meet despite being college educated and having a relatively good job in the professional world. She recently started working part-time to supplement her income.

She replied.

“While I agree with lifting up and self-empowerment, I am also beginning to realize that not everyone can make everything they want to happen come true here in America anymore.

“Not everyone can have a successful business. It’s a fact. You can work your balls off and still lose. And that goes for a lot of different industries.

“There is no guarantee.

“You know I am the first person to dream big and believe in making shit happen. However, I’m starting to realize it sometimes isn’t in the cards.

“Will that stop me from trying? Probably not, in a lot of cases. But is it true? Probably.”

I liked my response. And the sheer power of the truth in these words prompted me to write this post today.

“Of course,” I said. “It’s all a risk. Most successful people fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail at first.

“Remember the line about Edison’s trials in creating a functioning light bulb?

’Mr. Edison, how did it feel to fail a thousand times?’

“I didn’t fail a thousand times,” Edison said. “I have simply found 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”


We have no chance in this life if we believe other people get to decide who we are and who we can be.

We have no chance if we spend our lives waiting for someone else to give us a shot.

We have no chance if we sit around waiting to be granted permission.

Choosing yourself means you don’t need permission.

Choosing yourself means you manufacture your own opportunities.

Choosing yourself means you—and ONLY you—get to decide who you’re going to be today, no matter how many times you’ve fallen, how many mistakes you’ve made, and how great the odds against you might seem.

Choose yourself.

That’s where hope and opportunity live.

And you deserve it.

68 thoughts on “How to Not Choose Yourself”

  1. First, this is a terrific post with great counterpoints that underscore an even bigger problem developing in our society: a lack of accountability, beginning with ourselves. Everything is always someone else’s fault. It’s easier to come up with excuses than it is solutions; and “easy street” is frequently the road being chosen. I honestly believe our growing dependency on — and romance with — technology is a big part of what’s driving this social derailment. I see it in my own kids: a growing lack of patience and an expectation of immediate gratification. We’re losing the concept of what it means to work for things, be patient with each other and communicate effectively. The result is that our society is fast becoming one of finger-pointing, socially awkward people with an unhealthy sense of entitlement. I worry a lot about this.

    But hey, it’s not MY fault! 😉

    1. Excellent post, Matt. And very well said by you, Ned. I agree with both of you. Self-reflection and accountability aren’t just something we should do – it’s something we must do if we intend to be fulfilled in any area of our lives. We all fail, but it’s so much better than quitting. I hope the author sees it. It may be just what she needs to read.

      1. Thank you for co-signing. It’s sad when people believe they’re doomed to a subpar existence. We can be what we choose to be. The author can be whatever she chooses to be. It’s a story of hope. An important one, I believe. 🙂

  2. Excellent thought-provoking post again! It’s easy to let things slide after a divorce and claim they just don’t seem as important anymore, but “choosing yourself” to me means keeping the yard up and maintaining the house better for ME, which would be a change from what I’ve been doing. I’ve been reading your posts for awhile now, and almost all of them I connect with and even heal from, if only a little bit.

    1. Many thanks for taking the time to say hi, Alan.

      It’s really uplifting to read people say that the stories help… and I think I get it. We’re all so much alike, really. The same problems and fears and experiences and whatnot.

      I truly believe there’s an opportunity for all of us to lift each other up and accelerate the healing process.

      That’s what happens every time I get a note like this. Can’t thank you enough.

  3. Great post today! You are so right! When did we stop holding ourselves accountable? My dad walked out on the family when I was 17. My older siblings got their college paid for, and right when I was looking…boom, future up in smoke. Only, we didn’t let that hold us back. My mother worked hard and saved harder. Me and my twin brother worked hard too. And we both went to college, private schools, at the same time using many available resources like loans, grants, scholarships, and need based aid. We did it because we refused to stop trying. My parents didn’t owe me a college fund, even if my siblings had one. Work hard first and you can play hard later. I am responsible for both my successes and failures. I wonder who the HuffPo author would credit for her success, since her failures weren’t her fault?

    1. Thank you very much, sir.

      I don’t want to pick on people. Life can throw a lot of punches. And it’s not hard to blame outside circumstances for our problems. I’ve done it a million times.

      But the truth hurts. And the truth is that we have more to do with what happens to our lives than anything else.

      Thank you for sharing your story of hard work and sacrifice. Thank you for walking the walk and leading by example.

      My friend said it without saying it in our conversation today: Some of us are better equipped than others to succeed in our various endeavors. Some people just have a knack for winning. For making money. For whatever else.

      The results are less important to me than the effort.

      You always heard it growing up: Just do your best.

      Those words were so wise and I didn’t know it at the time. Regardless of the outcome, our very best effort will ALWAYS be enough to satisfy the insides of ourselves. Even if that’s a B instead of an A. Even if that’s $50,000 per year instead of $1 million.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write.

  4. i used to hate my job, thought i earned too little. until one day i decided to PULL MYSELF TOWARDS MYSELF. i sat myself down and looked at my expenses and compared it to what the average South African would get. I was rich compared to most.

    From then on whenever i moaned about something, i’d remind myself that i was earning a lot more than most people, a lot more than some of the people i worked closely with. I had enough money.

    my problem was spending and saving. and i set about a plan to get rid of debt. I recently closed 2 clothing accounts and a revolving loan. I am weeks away from finishing my car and my credit card and then i debt free. Well as debt free as you can bee with a bond on your name. but that’s good debt.

    it all comes down to perspective? how you see your problems and yes, taking responsibility for your wants and needs and your decisions.

    1. Getting out of debt is the smartest financial move any of us can make.

      An amazing first step to really getting control of our lives.

      Love hearing that story. I can’t wait until I’m there with you.

      Freedom from debt is a worthwhile endeavor.

      1. It’s a great feeling. In december when i went to pay off my Edgars account (that was maxed out), i did a happy dance in front of everyone and made a complete show of cutting up my card in front of shoppers and shop assistants.

        I looked stupid, but i was so happy

  5. The last few lines give me goosebumps and a strange overwhelming courage and confidence to it’s peak.
    Thank you so much for your words.

    1. Thank you so much for reading to the end of what ended up being a pretty long post.

      And thank you for feeling something. That always means a lot to me to hear or read someone say that.

  6. A lot of food for thought. I agree that at some power we all have fallen for the “poor me” kind of thinking. Thank you for the reminder that even in today’s world we do have the last word about how we want to live our life and who/what we let control our thoughts and actions. 🙂

    1. I play the victim card all the time! I’m an incessant whiner.

      But I’m also self-aware.

      And I generally know the truth when I see and hear it. It’s the one that makes me uncomfortable. 😉

        1. Thank you.

          It’s really quite true.

          I really appreciate that you read this stuff and participate in the conversation, Gail. A lot.

          1. You’re going to be so disappointed when I start writing about dating or drinking or some other inconsequential thing again.

  7. Great post today, Matt! I am a proponent of taking taking responsibility for myself and my life. While certainly things happen “to us” that can be well beyond our control, it’s how we choose to deal with them and move forward that matters. I was going to write more, but honestly, Good Ol’ Ned up there said EXACTLY what I would have said, so there ya go! I’m making sure my kid isn’t falling into the “entitled” age. We have very little technology operating in our home: no I phones, no Internet and minimal TV. She gets enough of that with other people and at school. She helps with chores around the house, is responsible for the pets she wants to have, including our horse, and gets it when I say, “Mommy can’t afford to do that today.” and doesn’t throw a fit for wanting. We spend time together. We use our hands, get dirty, and have fun. And me? Sure, I’m also a product of the “Use to Haves”-made more money “before”, went more places, ate out more often, perhaps even worried less about “things”. But, honestly, life is simpler today, and that’s just plain wonderful. Have a terrific weekend! XOXO-Kasey

    1. Thank you so much, Kasey.

      Really appreciate you weighing in. That Ned guy is pretty smart.

      You have a terrific weekend, too. 🙂 I intend to.

  8. Wow!! I have a million things I want to comment on in this post — a million high-fives I want to give you for points you made — but I’ll try to cull it down to two points.

    First, I live in Atlanta, so I can’t help but think of our recent weather event where millions of people were stranded on highways and back roads for hours, even days, due to severe ice on the roads. The finger pointing began before the event was even over: the governor didn’t do enough, the mayor didn’t do enough, the meteorologists made the wrong forecast, etc. At the end of the day, it comes down to personal choices. People chose to go into work instead of working from home that day. They chose to send their children to school instead of keeping them home. The list of personal choices goes on and on. Sure, there are circumstances that contributed to the situation, but people have to accept responsibility for the decisions they made that put them in that situation.

    Second, I saw this poster online one day, and now it’s hanging on my cube wall at work. IMO, it says it all, and I make sure to read it every single day.

  9. Great article Matt and a beautiful call to realize that we actually always have a choice.

    On the political part she lost me, too. And the comparison of being a “Used to Have” as opposed to a “Never Had” felt like a shock in the tummy for me.

    If we always duck out and do what we think we are supposed to it’s no wonder that only a few make profit (from us). We can each choose ourselves in a sense of heart-choice. And that does change the world we live in for the better.

    Thank you for speaking your truth!

    Much love,

  10. So I didn’t read through to the end of this post (though I did skim it) because this woman’s Poor Me sob story pissed me off too much.
    Sure I don’t know all the details or her whole circumstance but I’m fairly certain this person doesn’t know what real poverty is. A lot of people perceive themselves as poor and wallow in that mentality. Poverty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Maybe later I’ll go through and read the rest of your post and hers and maybe my opinion will change. But I doubt it. As a comparatively undereducated single parent (a situation that I’m in because of poor life choices in my twenties) I feel blessed to have the things and opportunities I do have including the opportunity to learn from my past and better my life and my kids’. Many people would look at my situation think I am poor; I don’t. I am, however, motivated. Motivated to make better choices.
    Like Dumbledore said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

    We can’t control everything that happens in our lives but we can control how we react to things. Accountability isn’t always easy but it can give us the tools to make improvements and move forward in life.

    1. The good news is there is nothing to be gleaned by reading the rest of the post.

      Because you essentially just nailed it.

      We must choose ourselves.

      1. Thanks. I’ll probably still read it later.

        I read William Glasser’s book “Choice Theory” a few years back and it really changed the way I looked at accountability and the control we have over our own lives. If you haven’t read it I’d recommend it. You’d probably like his philosophy & it’s not a long or difficult read.

  11. I choose not to deal with people who don’t take responsibility for their actions. You are where you are because of choices you made in life. Yes, the company you went to work for has gone out of business, that probably wasn’t a direct result of your choices, but how you react and what you do when that happens, is. She obviously has decided to write an article blaming everyone else. 🙂
    Great post.

    1. Thank you, Kate. I’m glad you know where I’m coming from.

      I was unemployed for 18 months once. I did A LOT of feeling sorry for myself during that period.

      But I also grew.

      Growing is really important.

    1. You’re too nice.

      Thank you so much Chris.

      I’m not that well-read, though! It’s one of the things I slack on the most. Reading books. Particularly on subjects I know nothing about.

      I crave knowledge. I just don’t always work hard enough for it.

      Chris, thank you again. Your opinion of my writing means a ton. Please have a great weekend.

  12. Wow! I was having this conversation with someone yesterday. Another way of saying Choose Yourself, is Be Responsible for Yourself.
    One of my fave sayings is “we cannot control everything that happens to us – but we can control what we do about it and what we learn from it”
    The problem with blaming other people for the situations we find ourselves in, instead of taking responsibility, is that it prevents us from learning from the experience so that we don’t find ourselves in that situation again.
    It’s like some people who commit crimes and end up in prison – but it’s not their fault they are in prison, it’s all the cops fault. So they hate the police for doing their job! F*cked up thinking.
    Anyway, awesome post Matt, thank you 🙂

  13. Great post. Now how do I say this without repeating what’s already been said? A simplified view on this: When life gives you lemons, you can sit there and cry because all you got was stinky sour lemons OR you can get up, take those lemons and make the best lemonade ever known to mankind! There is always a choice. Choose the one that makes the most sense, not the one that is the easiest.

    1. Of all the posts I’ve ever written, this is the one I thought I might get the most backlash on.

      Like maybe I was being insensitive.

      And maybe people hate it and just aren’t saying anything. But I’m really glad to see so many people agree with this general life philosophy. It’s really important, I think.

      Thank you, Ana!

      1. Sometimes, even if you think you are going against the grain, there are people out there who will agree with you. Just follow your gut and stay true to yourself!

  14. I’m with you…It is our choices that take us to where we are. What’s going on these days sucks for a lot of people, but she seems to be coming at it from the desire to have what she once had…instead of taking on a new challenge and getting something more from life. Those of us who have not had, appreciate what we do have much better. Would my life be easier if I had a college degree, or if I hadn’t been a stay at home mom for 15 years, or if I had stayed married to the “bread winner”? Yes. I am working with what I have…and even though I don’t have everything I want, and it’s most often NOT easy, I’m happy.

    I’d like to know when in the history of America, every single person who set out to build a business or career actually succeeded. I have raked my brain trying to remember that time in our history. Some of the greatest treasures of this country are built on a foundation of failures. Some win, some lose. Not everyone wins. The ones that do are the one’s that don’t get stuck by what has failed…they keep moving and coming up with new ideas.

    She is thinking singular. She is unwilling to push her own boundaries and risk the unknown. That’s a shame…I bet somewhere in her is something this world could really use. Something only she could offer…if she would get out of the gutter of blame.

    🙂 I’ll put my soap box away now.

  15. Great post. It’s good to hear about other people going through what I am as well, and to see how they deal with it. And I get down all the time (like depressed “down”, not like dancing “down”) but I just keep plugging away. For every deficiency I have or the world throws at me I’m fortunate that I’m able to craft a work around or throw a strength at it (or take it like a man…or even run away). Out of 365 days since they kicked me to the curb I’ve maybe “won” a handful or two of those days. The days I’ve lost though have made me smarter and stronger. My only regret is some of the ways in which it changed me. All good food for thought. For therapy sake I should probably write a post on it. Anyway, thanks.

  16. Amazing post. It’s hard to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves for our choices. I’ve been there, am still there most days. My hope is that I can teach my kids to be able to be honest with themselves and not blame others for the choices or mistakes they will inevitably make.

    1. We should always try to be the best we can be, and believe we have the power to achieve whatever we set out to do. Really appreciate you reading this. Thank you.

  17. Love how eloquent your counterpoints to her points are. They’re so well thought out and well written. And as someone who is in college and is already thinking the whole “not getting a job/not earning enough/not doing enough” thing, it’s always refreshing to hear someone say that it’s up to you to make you happy, to do what it is that you want, what you need. I like this post. This post is nice 🙂

    1. Many thanks!

      You’re taking time to read other people’s ideas rather than just drink excessively, so you’re already light years ahead of where I was in school. 😉

      Appreciate very much you taking time out of your life to read this, and then bother to say nice things, too.

      Thank you. Hope you’re having a great weekend.

  18. This is a great post! I agree that not enough people take personal responsibility anymore. Often we are in situations where we do not like our options and I think that is when we don’t want to accept that we have a choice – because then we have to take responsibility for the outcome. It’s easier to say “I can’t get a job” than to say “I can’t get the job that I want so I’ll choose to work in McDonalds until that changes”. It’s easier to complain than to do the work of getting from where you are to where you want to be and I think we all fall into that trap sometimes. Thank you for the reminder that we all have a choice.

    1. Forgive my delayed response. But, yeah. Exactly this.

      Every moment in life is an opportunity to either let something happen to you or to make something happen. Sometimes it’s nothing more than our perspective.

      But oftentimes, it requires action.

      And oftentimes, we’re afraid to take action. For a million reasons.

      Thank you for liking the post. 🙂

  19. Great post. When I decided to peruse a new career some ten years ago there was fear and doubt but I remembered what my dad used to always say, “Some people wait for things to happen and other people go out and make things happen.” I understood what he was saying and remembered it. Pushing away excuses as to why I should just stay in my job and forget it I decided to go for it. It was hard work, sometimes long hours and doubt along the way but never lost hope. I’ve been self employed for five years, love what I do, and make significantly more than I did working for “the man.” I’m glad the million excused I could have used didn’t stop me.

    1. Love this. Love learning that you’re self-employed and doing better than you ever did following orders.

      I pray I can accomplish the same.

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