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Ideas Post

James Altucher


Advice for a recent graduate

This was from the "Challenges" page.

    1. What you want to do now isn't what you will end up doing.

    I wanted to be a professor of computer science when I graduated.

    Instead, two years later, I was thrown out of graduate school. Since then I've worked for TV, started a website company, became a VC, a daytrader, a hedge fund manager, a writer of books and articles, a podcaster, started other companies, a chess player, a comedian, and on and on.

    2. Older people are more right than you think.

    Your prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until you are about 25 (I am a certified Neuroscientist on Twitter). Which means that you are most likely to take risks or at least incorrectly evaluate risks until you are that age or older.

    Unfortunately for me I still incorrectly evaluate risks so I have to make sure there are smarter, wiser people around me always.

    3. Don't be a 1 or a 0

    Younger people tend to have very specific views. They are either "this" or they are "that. In reality, there are several things about opinions:
    A) we don't know the full story
    B) we probably don't know the facts or history or science of what we are having an opinion on
    C) we are overly persuaded by media as well as the people close to us.
    D) there's various cognitive biases. For instance, "home ownership" is often debated. Is it good or bad? Well, people who own are biased and people who rent are biased. It's hard to overcome a bias unless you follow the next piece of advice.

    4. Steelman your ideas

    Whatever opinion or thought you have on anything (for things trivial, or for things not so trivial - like a business idea or a relationship decision), make sure you can argue the other person's side even better than they can.

    I can tell you this has helped me so many times. Whether in debate situations or even sales situations. Understand all the reasons why someone might and SHOULD say "no" to you and then you can more easily control the narrative and YOU will be the one to common ground in the middle.

    "Common" ground is not so common, which is why you need to be the one to define it. This is where steelmanning works really well.

    It also helps to go through this exercise to realize that the world is really a spectrum of color instead of one or the other.

    I have had the same business partner for 22 years. We don't always agree but we've never once had an argument. He believes the exact opposite of me on about 80% of the issues. Including some make-or-break issues that divide people every day. But I know he's a good person and trustworthy and I try to understand his side of things and helps me to have a wider view of all the issues that are important to the two of us.

    5. Don't outsource your self-esteem

    In my 20s (and 30s and 40s), if I got into a relationship I would often feel bad about myself if they were upset at me and happy if they were happy with me.

    I knew rationally that I shouldn't outsource my self-esteem to the person I was in a relationship with. But it was difficult.

    I grew up thinking (and this is reaffirmed every day on social media) that I am not so attractive. Sometimes the people closest to me would tell me this. And so when someone liked me I would tend to cling on. It took a long time to get over this. I think I'm over it. Who knows?

    6. There's knowledge and there's skills. Try to get skills.

    Try to get communication skills. Skills like writing, sales, speaking. Try to get other skills, like web development, or being an electrician or knowing how to fix things, or knowing how to teach something that is valuable to teach.

    Then you can always survive.

    I sold a company in 1998, and as I've written, quickly went dead broke. But was able to survive because I wrote well and knew how to program and I had some skill as a salesperson.

    7. I love Buffetts 5/25 rule

    Make a list of the 25 things you love doing the most. Take the bottom 20, write them down, and NEVER THINK ABOUT THEM AGAIN.

    There is zero chance you will get good at your top 5 things if you are thinking about the bottom 20, since all of those are things you love as well, just not as much as the top 20.

    I find this is true in business as well. If you start a business that doesn't coincide in some way with your main interests or passions in live, it probably won't be a huge success. Maybe a mediocre success but not huge.

    Fortunate are those, though, who love business and , to them, it doesn't matter. but I am not one of those people.

    8. Don't search for your passion or life's purpose.

    Actually, I take that back. It's ok to search, but also ok to know that you will never find and that passions keep changing.

    Instead, explore passions as much as you want, don't put a timeline on them, but respect when that interest or passion has played itself out.

    I loved doing standup comedy for about 5-6 years. And then suddenly...I didn't love it as much. I loved daytrading for 5-6 years and then suddenly...I didn't love it as much. I've loved writing for about 30 years and still going strong.

    9. Read books or watch lots of good movies and documentaries.

    When I was a kid I would go to a James Bond movie and when I left the movie I felt for an hour or so like I was James Bond. When I go to a good movie now, I might not turn into James Bond, but I FEEL like the movie for a little bit. It makes an imprint on me. It changes me slightly.

    Same with good books. So many books have changed my life because I've learned maybe ONE new thing.

    Like, when I read both "Sapiens" by Yuval Harari and "The Evolution of Everything" by Matt Ridley, the intersection of those books gave me a whole way of thinking about money and Bitcoin. This has changed my life. If I had not read those books I'd be a follower instead of someone with ideas in this space.

    10. Tell people bad news as quickly as possible.

    Here's my theory about Bernie Madoff. A theory I am pretty sure is true.

    He was told he was a genius all his life. Do you know he started the whole field of electronic trading back in the 80s and he was the head of the Nasdaq before starting his "hedge fund".

    So when he started investing money, he maybe had a down month or so and he was too ashamed to tell people. Maybe he was worried they wouldn't think he was a genius anymore.

    So he lied and lied and buried himself in lies until he couldn't get out of it. The result: all his sons are dead. His wife estranged, dozens who invested with him committed suicide, and he's in jail for life.

    Tell people immediately when you have bad news, or when you have questions, when you don't understand something, when you need to be honest about something and it's more important than ever that you be honest. People will respect you for it and if they don't, then they are not the sort of people you want to be around.

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