How James Altucher Saved My Life

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This guy is my writing hero. Not because of how he tells you. Because of what he tells you.
This guy is my writing hero. Not because of how he tells you. Because of what he tells you.

James Altucher lied to get on television because he was afraid to fly on airplanes following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, where he lived.

His boss wanted him to fly south for a business meeting. Altucher needed a way out of it. So he lied to Jim Cramer—an investment advisor and TV personality—about how much investment money he managed in order to get on Cramer’s TV show.

I was reading this story last summer in the first post I ever saw by Altucher. I was struck by the honesty in the words. It seemed almost a little messy, like his unkempt hair. But the writing was still somehow more pure than anything I’d ever read before.

“Once Jim asked me to go on I couldn’t stop shaking,” he wrote. “I knew I was a fraud and I was finally going to prove it to everyone I went to high school with.

“I assumed they would all be gathered at the same place, eating popcorn and laughing at me.”

I laughed out loud when I read that. This guy’s awesome. He really gets it. He really understands how to communicate what it’s like to be a person!, I thought.

Altucher finished recounting his experience being on television with this:

“Afterwards two things happened.

“My dad wrote me an email congratulating me. Since we were in a fight and I tend to avoid people I’m fighting, I didn’t respond to him. Then he had a stroke and died.”

It took my breath away.

It was the first time I had ever seen someone express something like this. It’s as if he’s giving you permission to laugh at the tragedy. Of every paragraph I have read by any writer—ever—that is the one that stays with me.

That’s when I knew I loved Altucher.

That’s when I knew if I had any chance at all of being a legitimate writer, I had to choose bravery as he does. I had to bleed a little onto the page. I had to take off the mask. The one I wear out of habit and fear. The one I wear to appear smarter or more confident or more accomplished than I am. The one I wear to appear less fearful, less neurotic or less damaged than I am.

Why Don’t I Feel Brave?

Here’s a sample of what people write to me on my About page.

“Your bravery in laying yourself bare for all to see is commendable.”

“Your writing here requires some serious balls, and I gotta admire you for that.”

“Your ups and downs, your words of hope (even when stuff gets really bad), your honest words and struggles shared with us, they are priceless. Really priceless.”

“Have to say, your honesty is awesome.”

Nothing about what I write here feels particularly special or honest or courageous to me. But I also know my opinions are mostly irrelevant.

Sometimes I write things I like, but no one else does, and sometimes I write things I think are just mehhhhhhh and people seem to love it.

One time I wrote a post about how all the typos I was writing and publishing were getting emailed to people. I was mortified. The post was me apologizing to you for shoddy work.

At the time I hit the Publish button, I considered it just about the most-pointless thing I’d ever written. WordPress editors chose it for Freshly Pressed—a part of WordPress where blog posts are shared with thousands of readers. I think I tripled my daily traffic overnight with the post I was most embarrassed about. Fitting.

It makes me feel like a fraud. You think I bare MY soul? A James Altucher post often feels like voyeurism. Like the police just let you behind the yellow Caution tape to check out a murder scene.

Altucher says he studies great writing so he can write things 1/10th as well as the people he’s reading. Which is funny, because I set out to write things 1/10th as well as he does.

With each thing he writes, he has three goals: Entertain. Be honest. Help people.

For my money, no one has ever been more successful doing those things with a keyboard.

What Honesty Looks Like

Here are excerpts from a bunch of Altucher posts. Out of context, they might lack the impact they do reading them within his stories. But I want to share anyway.

“I was afraid this was my one shot and I was blowing it. I was even crying in my car. I was going broke and I felt this was my one chance. What a loser.” (from How to Get an MBA from Eminem)

“One time I bored Dave Chapelle to death. I kept talking and talking and finally he said, ‘Excuse me, I have to get out of here and find me a girl for tonight!’

“Another time there I asked Al Franken if I could interview him. He looked me up and down and said, ‘No’ and walked on. Fair enough. Now he’s a U.S. senator, and I just write random stuff on my Facebook wall.” (from Louis CK and the Hare Krishnas Used This ONE Trick for Success)

“One time I was at a funeral of a relative. There was a woman there I had a crush on. Everybody was hugging each other because it was a funeral. So I hugged her more than once. Every time I passed her I would hug her. Finally I got the sense that she thought it was weird and then simply because she thought it, it did become weird. Actually, it was weird. I can’t blame it on her. I was weird.” (from How to Hug)

“I’ve done everything to avoid being lonely.

“I pretended to be a psychic on Craigslist.

“I’ve spent ten hours a day on dating sites.

“I asked out girls in elevators, girls in laundromats, girls at ATM machines, waitresses, more waitresses, thousands of waitresses. Only one said yes. And then she didn’t show up.” (from How to Cure Loneliness)

You get the idea.

He’s the best.

I don’t know James Altucher. And he sure as shit doesn’t know me. He follows me on Twitter along with more than 10,000 other people, but I bet he doesn’t know it.

But I get to feel like I know him because he lets us in. We all do. Because he takes off that mask and lets us see all the messy human stuff that lies beneath the surface.

And now I get to try to write bravely like he does, and some people think it is brave and that it helps them somehow. I still think it’s a miracle that people read anything I write.

Thank You, James

Because almost half of all married people get divorced I sometimes think I’m being particularly lame whining all the time about my divorce last year.

I’m afraid people will think I’m weak.

I’m afraid men will think I’m a douchebag.

I’m afraid women will think I’m pathetic and never want to have sex with me.

I’m afraid my ex-wife reads every one of my posts with a satisfied smirk on her face, thinking: Now everyone can see why I left this coward!, just before jumping into bed with some hard-bodied guy she met at the gym.

All of this negative energy was building up inside me, and it continues to if I don’t take action.

But I do take action.

I write little stories here. And I’m able to take all of that ugly trying to grow inside me all the time and rid my body of it one sentence at time.

I don’t know how or why it helps. I just know that it does.

And maybe if I didn’t do that, I’d be dead.

And maybe if I wasn’t honest, it wouldn’t work.

And maybe if I never read James Altucher, I wouldn’t know how.

Thank you, James.

And thank you, people who read.

It’s no exaggeration: you saved my life.

Two of the smartest things you can do right now is visit James’ website and sign up for his email list and buy his latest book “Choose Yourself!,” which is currently on sale for Kindle for $0.99. Less than $1 for one of the most-important things published last year. 

57 thoughts on “How James Altucher Saved My Life”

  1. completelyinthedark

    I’ve learned a lot from your blog and from reading Altucher’s Choose Yourself. Thanks to you both! 🙂

    1. Appreciate that, sir. It’s embarrassing even being mentioned in the same sentence, but I really am grateful you feel that way.

  2. Dude this was one of your best posts for sure. I like to feel like I adhere to his first two goals when writing but I think it’s safe to say that nothing I write is of any use or help to people!

    Thanks for the heads up on Chose Yourself. I read his blog from time to time but at 99 cents I really should pick up the book.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Smithson.

      Entertainment and honesty DOES help people!

      I hope you do pick up his book. It’s really quite good. For anyone with a Kindle, I can’t imagine a better way to invest $1.

  3. This sentence of yours is a profoundly poignant description of the therapeutic, sometimes challenging, value of writing: ” I’m able to take all of that ugly trying to grow inside me all the time and rid my body of it one sentence at time.” Thank you for expressing it so clearly.

    1. It’s really gratifying when other people get it. There are so many writers here on WordPress, and we’re all learning from one another in some form or fashion.

      I think Altucher’s lessons of honesty are just about the most-important writing tip I’ve ever received.

      I hope other people will try it.

  4. Everybody learns from somebody. I often wonder how to write stuff that doesn’t come off as obvious plagiarism because the tendency is there to write like all of the great and sometimes not so great writers I’ve read.

    This is a good one, like most of these articles it gives me a little something to chew on.

    1. I can pick out the differences in the way James Altucher puts words and sentences together versus the way I like to.

      But I was struck initially by a lot of stylistic similarities. Since we all seek validation, I suppose I loved finding someone who does things the way I’d ideally like to.

      Thank you for reading this. Appreciate it very much.

  5. I’ve said it probably a hundred times on my own blog “Writing is the cheapest form of therapy”. 🙂 Good luck Matt.

    1. I don’t know why this made me laugh and smile so much, but it did.

      So dedicated to letting me know you liked it, that you were compelled to leave a comment.

      Thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it.

  6. You’ve helped me with seeing a different point of view.
    I’m not the only person out here feeling hurt and vulnerable.
    Digging out of a hole of hurt is tough for a lot of people.
    It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone.

    Thanks, Matt.

  7. Totally random thought: Yayyyy! Another book to read!

    Totally honest thought, though. Now that my semester is over I can read what I want to read, and write what I want to write!

    Thanks for the suggestion! P.s. Any suggestions like that just feed my addiction…does that make you an online enabler? 🙂

    1. I think that’s exactly what that makes me. 🙂

      Reading James is good for you. He’s the best. The absolute best.

  8. It’s always the way Matt, photos and illustrations of mine that I like the best are never the ones my friends like… but you learn to work out which ones will be the crowd pleasers as you groan inwardly to yourself. I’ve got Altucher’s book on my pending list.. maybe I should get a wiggle on and start reading it!!

    1. Please let me know how you like it once you dive in.

      Thank you for letting me know that you understand about the creative part and how people react. It’s a funny thing.

  9. The way you describe him, I am just going to have to pony up and fork over a buck for his book! Don’t you just love it when you read something that makes you want to be a better writer? I feel that way about Anne Lamott.

    1. Yes, I do love it. I hope you like James, Emily. Please let me know if you do end up reading it. Anne Lamott. I know that name. Off to Google…

      Hope your move is going well!

    2. So, I’m reading the latest James Altucher post in my email, and in it he recommends Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” saying it will make you a better writer.

      Serendipitous, I think.

    1. Yes. It was quite the ordeal when she first discovered it around Halloween last fall.

      As far as I know, she reads every post. I wish that wasn’t true.

  10. In a world where “reality tv” is a thing, people crave the truth. Another word for it is authenticity. Another (totally made up) word for what you do, Matt, is *honestainment*. Where’s that little copyright symbol? Honesty isn’t hard to come by. It runs around our culture with its knickers at its ankles and its mascara running – but enough about Bruce Jenner. And entertainment can be had on every street corner – enough about the rest of the Kardashians. But the truth shared in an engaging and thoughtful way? By a man? A heterosexual man? In Ohio? WHAT?! Well… that’s the most exciting thing since Wilbur had a talking horse in the barn! That’s honestainment.

    Of course, this being the end times and all, it may well be that you have created a complete fiction with MBTTTR. You’re donning the ‘vulnerable man’ persona to get laid. Four – no – eleventy times a week. Or worse, your blog is being written by your ex-wife. Who has your bronzed testicles dangling from the rearview mirror of her Escalade. We may never know.

    But in the meantime, people are responding to… you. Honestainment. A non-polluting, non-fattening, non-toxic source of empathy. Or schadenfreude. Or both. Run with it. And if someone asks you to take a meeting, say yes.

    1. You’re funny! Thank you for all of that.

      Amidst the very entertaining conspiracy theory possibilities, there were some interesting observations.

      Side note: Let the record show that any success I’ve had with girls in this post-divorce world has most certainly not come as a result of any writing I’ve done. But I’m so glad to know someone thinks that’s possible.

      Almost scary that someone could make all this stuff up if they wanted. You’re right, I guess. There’s nothing stopping me or anyone else from lying on the internet.

      Until now, I’ve never worried about anyone believing that! I hope no one thinks that.

      Thank you for your entertaining comment and compliments. I appreciate them very much.

    1. 🙂

      Thank you for caring enough to check him out. Always a pleasure to see you. Hope you have a beautiful day.

  11. I’ve said it before and damn it, I’ll say it again. You are one of my favs. Your writing seems to speak to me like we are writing soul sisters. Ok, brothers. Ok, sister-brothers. Sister wives? I give up, but you get it, because you get me. You get people. Keep writing dude. Love your work and your bravery. James should be your bff after this piece.

    1. Sometimes I don’t know what to say. Like now.

      Thank you for making me feel good, except for the part where you called me your soul sister. 😉

      But I know what you mean. And I very much appreciate it. We can come up with a sweet name.

      Please have a beautiful day. Thank you for the kindness.

  12. Reading you Matt, it reminds me others hurt and others recover and others fall down and others stand back up and some of them are men. Reading you reminds me I should not say things like, “All Men Suck”, especially when shooting Tequila shots or hitting pool balls really hard.

    You are brave, I find your writing horribly good and it makes me want to do better.

    1. Tequila and pool. God, you’re cool.

      Thank you for the wonderful compliments. I’m so grateful you feel that way.

      1. What else is there Matt? Tequila and Pool. Us old broads, we have our ways, don’t you know?

        We know how to cut the tip and light a good cigar with a real match and without sucking on it.

        We know how to rack for 9-ball, break and run a table.

        We know how to serve and shoot good Tequila, no salt or lime required.

        1. Yeah. You’re like a miracle.

          You’d be so fun to hang out with so long as I drank enough tequila to quench the shame from getting run off the table.

    1. Thank you!

      But Tony is clearly way cooler than I am. Although, my non-gauged ears are totally better.

      Appreciate the note!

  13. Truthfully, although I know you have referenced your man-crush on this guy in -like- every third post, I’ve never been interested in even finding out who he is. But this piece is a really beautiful tribute to him. I may have just accidentally drank the kool-aid. Thanks a lot, Matt! 🙂 I hope James gets to read this someday…and read you….but be careful…how much do you want this bromace to be reciprocated? 😉

    1. Don’t young judge me, young lady.

      Just read him. You’ll think he’s great, too.

      You can thank me later.

  14. I second everything you said about James. My life is still shit but he is pointing me in the right direction.

    FYI I discovered your site via the WordPress Chunk theme page. Trying to follow you but it is not accepting my details for some reason. If you can add me somehow, please do so.

    1. I can’t add you! If I could forcefully add people, I would just take over the world. Muahahaha.

      If you really want to follow (and I’m super-flattered, thank you), you can scroll all the way to the bottom of any page on the blog and enter your email address in the “Follow Blog via Email” section.

      I hope you will. Any Altucher fan is someone I want to talk with as often as possible.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Really appreciate it.

      1. Unfortunately, nothing’s working. I connected with you on Twitter however.

        BTW I highly recommend the audio version of Choose Yourself and his podcast.

        1. I haven’t taken the Altucher podcast plunge. I appreciate the nudge to do so.

          I see that you got the follow to work! Yay. Thank you very much.

  15. When I stumbled on him, I had exactly the same reaction – he was just so HONEST, I loved him immediately, subscribed, dedicated a folder to him in my inbox for the keepers.
    And now, some months later, I’m amazed he’s been picked up by Hay House – I think of them as the fuzzy, angelic, lilac, new-age publisher, not as the Woody Allen of blogging… but whatever.
    I find I am still curious about all his career moves – about the way he describes success and failure, how he’s moved away from living his life surrounded by people he can’t stand, and makes choices based on his own happiness.
    Don’t you find – when people tell you you’re brave, that you feel like you are probably doing something inadvisable?

    1. Yes. I kind of do.

      I love that you love him too. This is very exciting for me. Thank you for chiming in on this. 🙂

  16. I find it fascinating that you don’t realize how brave you are. I think we all do that though – my theme this year is “be brave” an a friend told me that I’m already one of the bravest people she knows. I think she was just being nice. So hmmm… if I have told myself to start being more brave in my writing (based on YOU) does that make me want to write 1/100th as well as James Altucher? I would probably be satisfied.

    1. You’re too kind to me. Thank you so much for reading and for caring and for liking this stuff. Thank you for your support. It means so much to me that you care and think about any of these posts.

      James is amazing. I’m a huge fan. I love his honesty. And it makes me feel really good to think that some people think about some of my posts they way I sometimes think of his.

  17. Yes, yes and yes. This is what we’ve been trying to tell you, Matt. You’re honesty here is brave, cougeous and inspiring. I get that it must be hard to see yourself that way, but it is nonetheless true.

    As I tried to communicate just now, when commenting on Part 1 about limbo, you DO help.

  18. You’re wonderful. Thank you. If it really is brave. And if it really does help. Then people will read it. That means it’s not in vain. That means it matters.

    Your supportive comments mean a lot. They’re very encouraging.

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