Review of Choose Yourself by James Altucher

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A few months ago, I read an article called “How to Sell Yourself” on the Social Triggers blog. In the article, Derek explained that he hosted his first live workshop and invited James Altucher to speak at the event.

Derek felt that James’ presentation was so good that he had to share it on his blog. Since I trust Derek’s insights on anything related to sales, marketing, and business, I set aside some time to watch the video.

In short, I was blown away. James was fascinating, motivational, and hilarious. Inspired by the presentation and an endorsement by Derek, I decided to buy James’ book Choose Yourself!.

Who is James Altucher?

James Altucher, for those who do not know, is an American hedge fund manager, author, and entrepreneur who has started more than 20 companies and, by his own account, failed at most of them. Failures be damned, James continues to work hard and choose himself in business and in life.

Today, he is once again a successful businessman and a highly regarded author inspiring readers with his unique perspective on life.

About the Book

Choose Yourself! is more than a book: it is a manifesto that encourages people to approach their life in a new way.

According to James, the world economy has fundamentally changed. What made people successful for decades, earning a college degree and finding a high-paying job, no longer works. To get ahead, you must stop relying on people, colleges, and companies to choose you for success. You must now choose yourself.

What does it mean to choose yourself? James explains:

“The ethic of the Choose Yourself era is to not depend on those stifling trends that are defeating you. Instead, build your own platform, have faith and confidence in yourself instead of a jury-rigged system, and define success by your own terms.”

Choosing yourself is about being selfish in a good way. In life, we are often taught that selfishness is a bad thing, that being selfish gets you nowhere, that selfish people ultimately fail. While it is true that “no man is an island,” it is also true that no man (or woman) will truly succeed if they spend every ounce of time, energy, and money on other people. Like anything, balance is the key.

Before you can help others, you must help yourself. Before you can give to others, you must give to yourself. Before you respect others, you must respect yourself.

Quotables

Here are some of my favorite lines from the book.

Rejection–and the fear of rejection–is the biggest impediment we face to choosing ourselves.

The past and future don’t exist. They are memories and speculation, neither of which you have any control over. You don’t need to time travel anymore. You can live right now.

What does purpose mean when we are dead? We might as well choose to be happy now. . . . Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.

The only way to create value for yourself is to create value for others.

If you have a story to tell or a service to offer (it doesn’t matter what), love yourself enough to choose yourself. Take control of your work, your life, your art. The tools are out there. Now you just need to use the tools inside yourself.

One hundred years from now, your hands will rot like dust in your grave. You have to make wonderful use of those hands now. Kiss your hands so they can make magic.

No matter how hard it tries, a ripple that laps onto the shore will never be as powerful as the ocean that created it. The goal is to be the ocean–the central force in our existence that moves mountains, creates all life, shakes continents, and is respected by everyone.

If you don’t promote yourself, nobody else will.

The best ideas are when you take two older ideas that have nothing to do with each other, make them have sex with each other, and then build a business around the bastard, ugly child that results.

If we truly want to learn, we never learn when we are talking. We only learn when we are listening.

Excuses are easy lies we tell ourselves to cover up our failures.

Honesty compounds exponentially, not over days or weeks, but years and decades. More people trust your word and spread the news that you are a person to be sought out, sought after, given opportunity, given help, or given money. This is what will build your empire.

A creator can’t ever rest. No matter what you do, no matter what your creation is. Every moment is the audition.

The New Economy and the Choose Yourself Era

ZERO sectors in the economy are moving toward more full-time workers. Everything is either being cut back, moved toward outsourcing out of the country, or hiring temp workers. . . . This is about a new phase in history where art, science, business, and spirit will join together, both externally and internally, in the pursuit of true wealth. In this new era, you have two choices: become a temp staffer (not a horrible choice) or become an artist-entrepreneur. Choose to commoditize your labor or choose yourself to be a creator, an innovator, an artist, an investor, a marketer, and an entrepreneur.

The world economy is changing, and your future depends on your ability to adapt. To get ahead, you must recognize the changes and adapt quickly. If you fail to adapt, you will be eaten alive without hesitation.

As a rule, companies want to increase revenues, lower costs, and increase profits. Since employees are one of the biggest expenses for any corporation, labor costs are often the first place that a company looks when they want to reduce spending.

Because of that, it is imperative that you position yourself as a top performer, play the political game if needed, and make yourself as indispensable as you can. Even then, you must be aware of the fact that you are expendable, a line item on an expense sheet that can be scratched out at any moment for almost any reason.

Most people find the idea of being a line item on an expense sheet repulsive and cry that it is not fair for a company to view an employee that way. They may not like it, but that is the way the world works. You can either complain about it or take steps to mitigate the risk of termination.

In addition to becoming a top performer, playing the political game, and making yourself indispensable, look externally for ways to add stability to your life. For most people, this means taking a stab at entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship

You no longer have to wait for the gods of corporate America, or universities, or media, or investors, to come down from the clouds and choose you for success. . . . Everyone is an entrepreneur. The only skills you need to be an entrepreneur are the ability to fail, to have ideas, to sell those ideas, to execute on them, and to be persistent so even as you fail you learn and move onto the next adventure. Be an entrepreneur at work. An “entre-ployee.” Take control of who you report to, what you do, what you create. Or start a business on the side. Deliver value–any value–to somebody, anybody, and watch that value compound into a career.

James Altucher believes that everyone is an entrepreneur at heart. While not everyone will start the next Google, everyone can find a way to make money their own way.

Entrepreneurship allows you to remove the middlemen who divert your attention and get in the way of your success. It takes years to rise through the ranks of corporate America. It takes years to earn a degree that may or may not be worth the money that you paid for it. But, entrepreneurship allows you to start right away, right where you are. It does not require a special degree handed to you from the ivory tower of academia. It only requires that you hustle your ass off every single day moving in the direction of your dreams.

Listening to James in multiple interviews, I must agree with him that investing in yourself is the single greatest investment that you can make. You could make 8% per year for the next 40 years in your 401k, or you could make 100% (or more) per year running your own business, especially in the early years.

Throughout history, entrepreneurship created more wealth in the United States than any other means. You rarely hear about people who work hard for a company for 30 years and retire wealthy. Yes, it happens, but these cases are few and far between. You are much more likely to hear about an entrepreneur who, through creative ideas and innovation, changed the world and made a lot of money along the way.

Again, you do not need to start the next Google to be an entrepreneur. You simply need to find a way to make your own money, your own way. Often times, you can accomplish this by taking an inventory of your knowledge, skills, and abilities, picking one of them, and selling it. It is really as simple as that.

Becoming Successful

The only truly safe thing you can do is to try over and over again. To go for it, to get rejected, to repeat, to strive, to wish. Without rejection there is no frontier, there is no passion, and there is no magic. . . . Success comes from continually expanding your frontiers in every direction–creatively, financially, spiritually, and physically. Always ask yourself, what can I improve? Who else can I talk to? Where else can I look? . . . If you want to be successful, you need to study success, not hate it or be envious of it.

Success is a fascinating thing. Everyone wants to be successful, but very few people put in the work to achieve great success. Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr. Olympia, once said of bodybuilding, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder. But don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight.” The principle behind that statement applies to everything.

Everyone wants to be an author, but no one wants to write a book. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but no one wants to start a business. Everyone wants to be rich, but no one wants to aggressively save and invest their money.

To get ahead in business and life, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to get where you want to go. If that means writing 1,000 words per day for your first book, then do that. If that means working 16-hour days while you start your first business, then do that. If that means reducing your standard of living to save and invest more money, then do that.

To become successful, you simply need to decide to be successful. Decide that you will study successful people, push your limits every day, and learn as much as you can. Once you decide to be successful, the path becomes much clearer. Remember that “success” means different things to different people. Your definition may be different than mine, and that is okay. The important thing is to become successful on your terms, not someone else’s.

Dealing with Rejection

No matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter who your audience is: 30 percent will love it, 30 percent will hate it, and 30 percent won’t care. Stick with the people who love you and don’t spend a single second on the rest. Life will be better that way.

Rejection is unavoidable. Everyone gets rejected during the course of their life. While some experience rejection more than others, no one escapes it. By accepting the fact that rejection is inevitable, you are in a better position to face it.

The key is to spend the majority of your time with people who accept you the way you are. Your haters are going to hate you no matter what you do, so stop trying to impress them.

Take the opinions of naysayers with a grain of salt. While you should not give them all of your attention, you should give them some of your attention. Naysayers, haters, etc. can give you valuable insights that can help you discover your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Remember that you should not give equal weight to all opinions. Even the positive opinions of close family and friends must be weighed for quality. While it does not necessarily hurt you to have support and encouragement, it does not necessarily help you.

Creating Abundance

Abundance only comes when you are moving along your themes. When you are truly enhancing the lives of the people around you. When every day you wake up with the motive of enhancement. Enhance your family, your friends, your colleagues, your clients, potential customers, readers, people who you don’t even know yet but you would like to know. Become a beacon of enhancement, and then when the night is gray, all of the boats will move toward you, bringing their bountiful riches.

To create abundance for yourself, you must first enhance the world around you. This could mean helping a friend, creating a product, offering a service, etc. Become a source of value and share that value with others. The more you give, the more you get.

Make a goal to improve the life of one person every day. It does not need to be a total transformation. Simply find a way to make someone else’s life just a little bit better. Smile at a stranger, tell a joke, share a bit of knowledge. Before you know it, opportunities will present themselves to you in ways that you cannot imagine. But, you must start by giving freely.

That said, you do not need to give everything away for free. It is perfectly acceptable to charge for value. It is just easier to get started, especially in a new venture, by giving “free samples” to others. Eventually, you can start charging for your work. Over time, you will move your prices higher and higher until you find the sweet spot.

Happiness

Only do things you enjoy. . . . Only think about the people you enjoy. Only read the books you enjoy, that make you happy to be human. Only go to the events that actually make you laugh or fall in love. Only deal with the people who love you back, who are winners and want you to win, too. . . . Every time you say yes to something you don’t want, your [internal] fire starts to go away.

Your life is the result of your thoughts. Thoughts influence behaviors, behaviors influence results. So if you want to change your results, you must first change your thoughts.

To live the best life, you need to be happy, so focus your energies on becoming a happy person. Surround yourself with happy people, read books that make you happy, watch movies that make you happy, etc.

Remember, your happiness is critical to your success. Numerous studies show that you are far more likely to succeed if you are happy. So find what makes you happy and looks for ways to fill your life with those things.

Negotiation

Negotiation is worthless. Sales are everything. Why? Because when someone says “yes” to you, you are in the door. Eventually then, you’ll get the girl (or guy, whatever) in bed. If you negotiate right at the door, then you might have to walk away and try the next house. That takes time and energy, and still might not work out. . . . The key is, don’t be stupid. Only negotiate with people you really want to sell to.

While I do not think that negotiation is “worthless,” I agree that getting your foot in the door is far more important than negotiating a huge deal. By getting your foot in the door, you give yourself an opportunity to build a relationship with your customer.

Remember that new customer acquisition is expensive. On average, it costs 5-7x more to sell to new customers than retain existing customers. Focus on making the initial sale. After you make the initial sale, focus on ways to build a long-term business relationship with your customer based on mutual respect and trust.

Once you build trust with your customers, negotiation becomes much easier and falls in your favor more often than not. Over time, you will find that concerns over your prices subside as your customer begin to appreciate the real value of working with you. At that point, negotiation becomes a mere triviality.

Networking

Think of it this way: There’s the “linear effect” and there’s the “network effect.” If you live life linearly, your value and resources only go up every time you meet someone new and the list of people you know becomes bigger. . . . The way you create the network effect is by encouraging people in your network to connect to each other and to help each other.

Networking is one of the most important skills that anyone can learn. Yes, you can learn how to network. Most people mistakenly believe that networking is a gift, that some people just “get it.” In reality, networking is nothing more than building relationships in a strategic way by giving value to another person.

If you take a strategic approach to building your network, you will astound yourself with the results. You will gain access to business and career opportunities unavailable to the masses. You will meet people that most people never meet.

Your success grows with your network; your network grows with your success. So build a powerful network based on the philosophy of giving yourself to others.

A lot people think that networking is a dirty word. They imagine a sleazy used car salesman with greasy hair in a plaid sport coat, an overly-firm handshake, and a sly grin shoving his business card down your throat. In reality, networking is quite the opposite.

True networking is based on a philosophy of giving yourself to others: your time, your talents, your energy. Through giving yourself to others, you build authentic relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Once you build respect and trust with someone, you open yourself to a world of possibilities and gain access to opportunities unavailable to most people.

Successful people understand the power of networks; they also understand the value of networks. Networks are more valuable than money and time. With a strong network, you gain access to business opportunities unavailable to most people. A strong network also helps you fast-forward your progress and move ahead faster than the rest of the herd.

Conclusion

Choose Yourself! is a fantastic book that offers rare insights into the way the world is changing.

Filled with practical advice, unconventional wisdom, and thought-provoking exercises, Choose Yourself! is a treasure trove of information designed to help you get the most out of your life. While I only read Choose Yourself! once, I can already tell that it is a book that I will reference again and again.