When I graduated in 2008, I somehow fortunately (or unfortunately) ended up looking for work during the middle of the recession. It was great trying to find work during that time – I was being rejected left and right. I had done coop while I was in university and even the coop companies did not want anything to do with me – maybe it had to do with the recession and maybe it had to do with my interviewing skills – either way, I was not able to find any gainful employment for at least half a year.
Little did I know that I was actually one of the lucky ones. There were a lot of people who were laid off at their company due to the recession. They had mortgages to pay off. They had families to feed. Car loans to manage. Expensive tuition to give to institutions to support their kids in school. At least I did not have a lot of those things when I graduated. Heck, those people were not even the worst off – people like James Altucher went from having lots of money in the bank to being completely bankrupt during that time.
James blogs almost every day. His bio on Medium is “For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog. One day I’ll run out of stuff but not yet.” For those of you that do not know James, I find him to be vulnerable, honest, open about his failures in life and a constant experimenter. He has reinvented himself several times – from being a hedge fund owner to an entrepreneur in multiple industries, then to being a best-selling author and more recently to being a stand up comedian. Although his blog posts are great (I’ve featured some of the key concepts and learnings from some of his blog posts in my blog), I think what really turned me into a James Altucher fan was his book: Choose Yourself. Let’s dive into his book shall we?
The world is changing and if you do not change with it, you are going to be left behind
I speak probably of the past now but companies like AirBnb and Uber are turning existing industries upside down. I think some companies make the mistake of thinking they need to double down on their existing work rather than re-inventing themselves – take a look at Blockbuster in the face of Netflix. James argues that you should not be putting your eggs into one basket – that means that you should not be working for someone else because at any moment, they could fire you and your only source of income would go away. If you are a writer, finding a publisher these days is maddening. They take all the profits and if you do not sell enough books, they will not take a chance on you again. What’s the solution?
If you are self-employed, you can never get fired (well not never but you know what I mean). If you self publish, you get to keep more of the profits and you never have to rely on a publisher (and do they do anything anyway? Publishers want sure hits and if it was a sure hit, you do not need the publisher to help you with marketing and distribution when you can do it through the same channels but keep more of the profit).
Follow the daily practice
What’s the daily practice?
- Sleep lots – at least 8 hours a day or more
- Exercise every day – walk everywhere, take the stairs, be active
- Practice being grateful – if you wake up in the middle of the night, instead of counting to 100, count out 100 things that you are grateful for
- Meditate – practice deep breathing – it helps to relieve your stress. And the practice of meditation helps to focus and calm your busy mind
- When your mind is running at a few hundred miles a minute, write down 10 ideas. Too easy? Write down 20. Too hard? Write down 100 ideas. When you try to come up with too many ideas, your mind will be stretched. You will develop what James calls your idea muscle. And your mind will stop thinking about all the different things you have to do the next day, the taxes that you have to do in a month, the lawn you have to mow on the weekend, etc.
Okay, let’s just say that you chose yourself and quit your job, now what?
Here’s James’ advice:
- Look at different products or services that are being sold today and take out the middle man – for example, rather than having vending machines, is there another way you can sell chips and pop to companies?
- There are opportunities in boring businesses – not everything has to be exciting like Tesla or SpaceX – there is a lot of money to be made in ‘boring’ businesses
- Get a customer – this is the biggest thing for an entrepreneur – once you get enough customers to replace your monthly income (and then some as a safety net), you can quit your job if you haven’t already
- Blog to build trust
- Say yes to opportunities – sometimes when you are just starting out, companies or individuals will ask you to do things that you have never done before – say yes and figure it out later
- Focus on customer service – if you treat your customers well, they will become loyal, refer you to other potential customers and continue to buy from you
- Make a service business with whatever is hot – a few years ago it was making websites for other companies, these days it could be a social media agency
- Introduce two people – making a connection won’t necessarily help you directly but you will be seen as a connector and gain other opportunities
- Write a book – okay you won’t make a tremendous amount of money writing a book but you could use the book as a way to get credibility to get: consulting gigs, speaking opportunities, other media opportunities, other writing opportunities, an e-mail list
Breaking down the numbers
How do you make a billion dollars? Well if you sell a product or service for $10, you have to help 100,000,000 people. What about a more expensive product or service? Maybe less people but in general, to find billion or million dollar opportunities, you have to find things that a lot of people are either buying or using over and over again on a regular basis.
Become an idea machine
You’re writing 10 ideas down every single day right? Okay, what else can you do? You can:
- Read. Read. Read. Yes you HERe, you better be reading!
- Do different creative things – draw, paint or try a different sport or hobby
- Combine your ideas in different ways to find new ideas
- Change things up every once in a while – maybe instead of coming home to watch TV, you visit the local bookstore and spend some time reading different books in a section that you never would have visited
Don’t let yourself get put down by gatekeepers
We all come across these gatekeepers in different shapes and forms. When I was applying to the different jobs after I graduated, the gatekeepers was the interview panel I ran up against (although back then, I was certainly not as experienced or knowledgeable as I am today). Or maybe the gatekeeper is the editor of your newspaper who won’t let you write the pieces you want to write. Or maybe the gatekeeper is a boss who won’t let you do any work outside of your responsibilities. Let’s just say for a second that you are rejected by a gatekeeper, what then?
- Seek improvement – constantly improve and never rest on your laurels. If you get rejected and you stop improving, others are going to improve around you and you won’t be able to get past the gatekeeper in the future.
- Find other people that can make the decisions – maybe there are ways to get around existing gatekeepers. For example, if you are finding it difficult to get a publisher, go for the self publishing route.
- Don’t think that whatever you are doing is perfect. Improve your approach! Figure out better ways to sell or market or communicate.
- Get some coaching. Find a mentor. Find someone more knowledgeable than you are and ask them for advice.
- Stay in touch – I remember a story about one candidate who was rejected for a job but continued to keep in touch with the recruiter through thoughtful e-mails and sharing relevant articles. Lo and behold, the original candidate that was offered the job turned it down and the recruiter decided to offer it to the candidate who kept in touch!
I wish I had James as my mentor back in the day – I’ve made a number of choices that, while not necessarily bad, may have been more risk averse looking back on it.