A Guide for Uncertain Times – Choose Yourself by James Altucher – Book Summary

James Altucher is an entrepreneur, angel investor, and chess master who hosts a top interview-based podcast where he brings on various successful individuals through his network. He has earned and lost millions numerous times throughout his life. He has gone through many ups and downs in his personal, romantic, and professional life.

His Wall Street Journal best-selling book Choose Yourself is one of his most iconic. It was written as a book of hope and inspiration after his struggles during the 2008 recession. It’s a great, short playbook for anyone going through uncertain times.

I discovered James through his podcast and Quora. With over 10 million views on Quora, this guy was a great writer. At first, I didn’t know what to think of him or who he was. He had unkempt frizzy hair and outfits. And although I related to his nerdy nature, I didn’t know if he had his life together. But that’s what makes him so engaging. His writing and thoughts are vulnerable. He’s honest about how much he’s screwed up in his life, like the time he became arrogant when he made millions, so he put all his money into tech stocks and lost it all.

I’m not a super-fan and still don’t really know his whole background, but this book inspired me. Here are the top insights I learned from the book.

James discovered certain patterns that always occur each time he came back from failure to success.

He has lost all of his money and made it back a few times in a row. One thing he recommends is what he calls The Daily Practice…

Cover the basics: if you put crap food into your body, you will feel like crap. Your body can’t do anything with that. Sleep as much as your body needs. Exercise.

Only do what you love. It may seem obvious, but are you doing it? Most people aren’t. Others will argue that everyone would love to but you can’t always do that if you want to pay the bills. James argues that you should at least start trying.

Next, cast aside the belief of “you never know.” James used to meetings, news interviews, and every other type of social gathering as often as he could. This usually meant every day. He has even worked for all the top media companies. 99% of the time, the networking never amounted to anything. He just wasted time.

He also argues that 99% of news is fake and only there to provide space between advertisement. I think that this doesn’t mean you should skip out on networking events or media projects. But it does mean you have to set realistic expectations, be strategic with where you go and what you do, and tone down how often you go.

Be present in the current moment. You are most happy when you’re not thinking of anything and present. But you are most miserable when you are consumed with a thought about the past or future. Your suffering usually comes from thinking and worrying about relationships or money. Amen! This is so true in my own life now that I think about it.

The only thing you can control is the present, so make the most of it, and the future will take care of itself. The moments you are happiest are when you are thinking of nothing. (Maybe that’s why meditation works?)

Avoid negative people. They bring you down, add thoughts that prevent you from succeeding, and aren’t helpful. You don’t have to ignore them when you bump into them. But you can spend less time with them and keep interactions to a minimum.

There are different levels of influence. First, you have your inner circle of friends and family. These are the first people you should seek to help and impact without looking for anything in return ever. Then, there is your circle of coworkers, employees, and your boss. Try to impact these people next. Then, there are contacts of contacts in your professional or personal network. Try to impact these people next. Then, there’s just the rest of the world and top people you have little chance of reaching, like the Oprah’s and Will Smith’s. Keep these in your back pocket because you never know.

James gives an underlying message of hope, peace, and happiness throughout his stories in the book. He was so broke after losing his money from stocks that he couldn’t afford medical bills for his family and had to move out do the cheap suburbs to afford his child’s education and expenses. He felt ashamed and dwelled on his mistakes a lot. During the recession, he stood in front of a financial building and gave little chocolates to people because he felt he could provide a tiny bit of happiness while the world was crumbling down and everyone was unhappy.

I drew my own lessons from his stories. The world works in random ways. I read in an article that he made his money back once because he invested in this hedge fund that he forgot about, only to realize years later that the fund did really well. Sometimes, people just get really lucky or unlucky.

Don’t invest in stuff you don’t understand — and don’t put all your eggs into that basket if you do! Never get over-confident in yourself.

I learned that dwelling in the past does you no good other than learning from it so you can affect the present to influence your future. Anything beyond that utility is only making yourself miserable. So don’t do it!

Shame is toxic and can hurt you more than it helps.

People can find some semblance of peace and happiness despite horrible economic times or miserable life events. James proved that through his own experiences.

I also noted that James was making an assumption about everyone exiting that building feeling depressed. Some of them probably did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some were still happy; you’d be surprised how happy some people happy can remain. Given my research into the science of happiness and hedonic adaptation, many people over-estimate the impact of significantly good or bad life events on their overall happiness in the long-run.

So, if James can get through all the crap that’s happened to him, so can you. Get Jame’s book on Amazon.

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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