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James Altucher


What I Learned from the Secrets I Kept

Looking back on these moments, I only kept secrets from friends, family, others, because I was so afraid and so ashamed of the truth. I didn't want anyone to know.

In the seeds of this despair are medicines I can learn from now. I hope I don't have to keep any of these secrets again, even the "option" to keep them. But maybe in the future other things will develop that I will have similar feelings about.

I want to grow from the past so I can look forward to the future.

    1. First time I went broke

    I was afraid to tell anyone. I was supposed to be "smart". And smart meant not losing all of your money. Just a few years earlier I had zero dollars in the bank. Then suddenly I had millions. I bought a big penthouse. I cleared all the credit card debt for members of my family.

    Everyone thought I was a genius and would ask for my advice. I really fell for it.

    I realize now I had a very fixed mindset. There are two mindsets according to Carol Dweck in her book, "Mindset". Fixed and Growth. Growth means you make mistakes, you learn from them, you grow.

    Fixed is more like, "I am smart and nothing will convince me otherwise". Until reality sets in and you fall apart, which is what happened to me.

    I think now I would just be honest about it but I don't know. My family had gone broke when I was a kid and I saw how bad it was for them. I was scared that would happen to me.

    2. I had to put up for sale the apartment I had just bought.

    I was on a plane with one of my business partners. He said, "Did you just put your house up for sale?"

    "No," I lied.

    "But I saw the picture of your apartment in the real estate section." He was smiling. He had me.

    I just stuttered out. "I don't know. I know we were looking at it just to see what the value is but we hadn't made a decision." Which is another lie.

    When you like like this it's like you split the universe into a multiverse. You now have to keep track of all of your identities in the multiverse.

    "It's ok," he said and just looked forward but he was smiling. I turned red and was so ashamed. Not only at selling my house but for so obviously lying. He would tell everyone this story when we landed.

    3. When I got a job because of a family connection.

    My first real job was at HBO. The way I got in the door was because my dad had once worked with someone who worked at HBO.

    To be fair, I pursued it. When I was still in graduate school I had pitched HBO on a project I had been working on. So when I reached out several years later for a job, they knew who I was.

    I blew every part of the interview. I knew nothing. I was sure I wouldn't get the job, even with the family connection.

    I went outside HBO to Bryant Park and played some of the chessplayers out there, a few of whom I had known for a long time. One of the guys who interviewed me saw me play and we spoke some more and he offered me the job.

    But when I got to HBO I was a wreck. I still knew nothing. People were definitely wondering, "how the hell did he get this job?" And I was ashamed to say it was because of family connection.

    4. When I divorced

    I didn't want anyone to know. I felt like people would judge me and not want to work with me if I was going through a divorce. Like there was something dirty about it.

    But business partners at the time were good about it and forced me to open up about it. It turned out to be not such a big deal.

    What was much worse was how incompetent I was at relationships being in the dating world again

    5. When I started Reset

    This was a more strategic secret.

    I started my first company when I was still a full time employee. I would work all day at HBO and then half the night at Reset, designing websites for companies like AmericanExpress.com and other companies within the TimeWarner family (which HBO was a part of).

    But eventually HBO wanted to buy Reset, and they didn't know it was me. I was scared to death and I told them. They were ok about it but eventually I had to go.

    I was at HBO for 18 months while doing Reset at the same time. It was too stressful and I was glad when it was over. For every situation that causes stress I'm pretty sure there are ways to make it less stressful and honesty is probably the fastest way to reduce stress.

    6. When I went broke again

    I went broke during the 2007-2009 financial crisis. And unfortunately this is right after I had sold another company. I thought I was DONE going broke. And then I lost everything and had to sell ANOTHER house.

    I couldn't even believe it. I was like, "how can this be happening to me again?"

    I couldn't admit it to anyone. I felt nobody would ever do business with me again if they knew.

    And then one by one I lost other sources of income.

    I survived for only two reasons. The main one is I had put some money in a company in mid 2007 that ended up growing really big within the next few years. If that hadn't of happened I would've had to figure something else out. I don't know what I would've done.

    I think I should've trusted myself more. I come up with lots of ideas every day. I could've used that stress as energy to start new projects and ideas. I had people who wanted to invest in me and I had ideas. But I cowered under the bed for awhile because I was so scared.

    it also helped that I moved out of NYC into a much cheaper area for awhile, right outside of the city.

    7. I wanted to kill myself

    The first time I went broke. Another time when the IRS reached out to me in 2004. And later when I went broke again.

    I googled every possible way one could kill oneself. I had a life insurance policy that was still worth a lot and I wanted my kids to benefit. But I was nervous if the insurance company knew I killed myself they would not pay off the policy.

    Fortunately, there's pretty much no way to do it.

    8. Fear

    Every secret was loaded with fear. I've been afraid so many times. Afraid to the core.

    But I guess it forced me to improve my life:
    - don't be arrogant when things are going well.
    - find better partners
    - be honest
    - who cares what people think
    - never invest so big you sacrifice your freedom if things go bad.
    - I started writing ten ideas a day, which has saved me over and over again for the past 20 years. If anything, I feel I can take bigger risks now because I know I always have the ideas to back them up.
    - I was forced to really network (not a natural skill for me) to save myself. This alone enabled me to meet many great friends.

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