The false dichotomy

I know it’s tempting — indeed, fashionable these days — to view corporate jobs as “shackles”. Corporate workers are “drones”. There’s a perception that you’ll work 9-5 for 50 years, with two weeks vacation per year, and then retire, having never really lived. And that the only way to be happy is to quit and start your own company, or become a digital nomad, freelancing and travelling the world. It’s an idea popularised in The 4-Hour Work Week, and propagated by pretty much every online self-help writer ever since.

But it’s not true. It’s a false dichotomy.

If you are one of those in a corporate job, you’ll never see life as worth living if you frame it that way. Your life is the sum of all the small moments — so why are you carrying a cloud of negativity and anxiety around all day with you?

Look, if your job really sucks, and you hate it, and need to get out, then do it. Make the change.

BUT there is happiness and meaning to be found in work. Great colleagues can become life-long friends. You can take pride in doing the work that is in front of you, and doing it well. You can dive into your profession and seek to learn everything there is to know about it, develop your expertise, and then leverage that expertise into a better working situation (e.g. starting your own company, consulting, better jobs at other companies).

And don’t buy into the fallacy that corporate jobs suck, and remote, digital nomad jobs are amazing. That anyone working a normal job is a drone, and anyone doing their own thing is a groundbreaking entrepreneur.

I’ve met lots of entrepreneurs and remote workers — myself included — who are utterly miserable and lonely when they have to work alone.

I know scores of people who have worked in an office job their entire career, and take immense satisfaction and pride in their work, have meaningful relationships and a great family life. They’re happy people.

Yes, it’s more common to find happy entrepreneurs and miserable corporate types. But that’s not a predestinated fate. It’s what you choose to make of it.

How to land a job you love

Most people are delusional about their own abilities.

If you apply for a job you really want, and on your covering letter you say anything along the lines of “I don’t have any experience in this field, but this looks like a great opportunity because it’s exactly what I want to do”, then you are a moron. You’re all me, me, me, and not thinking about what you can actually offer.

Why would that person hire you over someone who instead says “You want someone to do X, Y and Z. I have done X, Y and Z in the past in these other places, and here are the results I delivered. I can do the same for you.” That guy is offering something valuable.

Do you know how you get a job in a field you’re interested in? It’s really simple.

– Do shit related to that field. Do it well and keep getting better. Do it for free.
– Document everything.
– Build up a track record of delivering results and improving abilities.
– Start charging money for what you do.

That is all. It’s really fucking simple. Not easy, but simple.

Read Recession Proof Graduate or watch Charlie’s speech here if you need more information. Also, check out Cal Newport’s great book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, which will absolve you of the notion that good jobs are handed out to people with nothing to offer in return.

Cutting your own path

A friend of mine at work was talking about starting his own company. Understand, I work at an old, conservative, very corporate company. He mentioned this idea, this risky play, which could end up making him a ton of money.

This other girl heard him talking about it and said “Why would you want to do that? You’ve got a good, safe job here where you could be really successful.”

His reply was fantastic.

He said, “You can’t expect to follow the same route as loads of other mediocre people and expect to be wildly successful. It’s just not going to happen. You have to cut your own path.

Cutting your own path is always going be harder than following one that already exists. People will question you, wonder why you’re bothering, and convince you to do otherwise. You have to ignore those people. That path is a path to mediocrity – a plain of sheep where it is impossible to stand out from the flock. It’s easier, more comfortable, and much less rewarding than cutting your own path through the forest and seeing where you end up.

How to get rich

I was reading some of the Warren Buffett’s older letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. I love the clarity in thinking that they display. The true mark of an expert is someone who has the ability to take a complicated topic and distill it into simple language, and these letters display that virtue in abundance.

I was reading the 2008 letter because I wanted to see what Warren wrote about the turmoil in the financial markets in that year. This letter contains the following passage, which I immediately saved to Evernote:

In good years and bad, Charlie and I simply focus on our goals:

1) maintaining Berkshire’s Gibraltar-like financial position, which features huge amounts of excess liquidity, near-term obligations that are modest, and dozens of sources of earnings and cash;

2) widening the “moats” around our operating businesses that give them durable competitive advantages;

3) acquiring and developing new and varied streams of earnings;

It’s wonderful in its simplicity. But the best part: you can apply this exact model to your own life.

1) Get your financial house in order. Know where your money is going (I use You Need A Budget, which is fantastic). Make sure you’ve always got enough cash on hand to cover any short-term liquidity problems – and I mean cash on hand, not home equity or available credit cards or money invested in index funds. Don’t get into credit card debt, and limit your other obligations as much as possible. Then, start investing the spare cash to produce additional income.

2) When applied to an individual, this basically means: find ways to increase your earning power day-to-day. For most people, myself included, your main economic engine is your day job. So this means getting great at your job, and taking advantage of the opportunities that arise because of this – promotions, pay rises, and so on. Being great at your job not only means you’ll get paid more, but also means you’re a lot less likely to ever be laid off – a great, protective moat around your earning power.

3) Now that you’re in a healthy financial position and earning good income, you need to redeploy this capital in ways that generate yet more income. That could be shares, bonds, peer-to-peer lending, starting a side business – whatever suits your particular talents and expertise. It’s your job to collect assets that generate excess cash for you, as the owner, to do with whatever you please.

A simple, three step model to becoming fabulously wealthy over time. Get your ship in order to avoid wipeout risk, increase earnings, and invest excess cash into assets that produce even more excess cash. Not easy, but simple.

What I learnt from two years of online poker

What I learnt from two years of online poker

I wrote this a couple of years ago on a poker forum I used to visit. Since then I have probably played poker a max of five times – but throughout university I regularly played at least 3-4 hours a day, pretty much 7 days a week. While it did keep me from having to get a “real” job while I was a student, I finally decided that online poker would ruin my life if I didn’t stop. Having said that, I wouldn’t change it, because the decisions I made along the way helped shape the man I am today. Here’s what I learned on my two year journey through the world of online poker.

I got my feet wet in poker just like anyone else: around 2005-2006 a few friends and I would get together on a friday night, drink some beers, and play poker. We were all 16-17 at the time, so we didn’t go out on the town as much as we do now – we just got our parents to buy us beer and give us a ride round to whichever unfortunate friend had been designated to host our night of rowdiness. Cue much drinking, beer spilling, chip-splashing, and the occasional hand of poker.

We played £5 entry, winner takes all, usually 5-6 of us. I remember one week when so many people had got wind of our fun that about 15 people turned up. We all sat around the same table to start with, and each hand took about 20 minutes. Then someone had the bright idea of splitting it up into two tables, by which time I had already busted out through my arrogant, aggressive playing style, and had to sit and watch everyone else for about 4 hours. Hey ho.

Back in those days, we all thought we were pretty good, but the best player was undoubtedly Omar*. Omar used to push us around on the table, winding us up until our 16-year-old adolescent pride couldn’t take it any more, and then we’d shove our weak pair into his nut flush. He would always say things like “this is such a waste of time, I could make more playing online than I could playing here”. One time he actually brought his Mac to the table, wearing his cherished Pokerstars hoodie, and played 3 tables of 1/2 limit hold ’em while simultaneously taking our pocket money. 

He bragged to us once at school how he had started with $50 on Pokerstars, and ran it up to $3,000, before his parents found out and made him withdraw everything except the initial $50. Then he did it again. And again.

I always wanted to be like Omar. It was my dream to be able to walk into bars and think nothing of buying drinks for all my friends, and then go out the next day and buy some sick new trainers, or a PS3, or a Mac.

But then we all turned 18 and drinking, not gambling, became the first concern for most of us on a friday and saturday night. Now that we could go out of the house and legally drink, we did. A lot. And life was good. I earned my money during the week and spent it on the weekend. I studied hard in school and got into a good uni, where I continued to drink and study hard and enjoy life and get good grades. And life was good.

Then, in the summer of 2009 after my 2nd year of uni, I was working some shitty temp job cold-calling people to do telephone surveys. It was soul-destroying, mindless, uncreative work, the kind of work that makes people strangle themselves with their own telephone cord, which I would have done, except for the fact that we had to wear wireless headsets.

I thought to myself, “There has to be a better way to make money than this.” And then I remembered Omar, and his Mac, and his trainers, and the rounds of drinks he would buy for everyone. So I posted on a forum that I used to frequent, saying “I want to be good at Texas Hold ‘Em poker. Where do I start?” And someone gave me a link to the TwoPlusTwo poker forums, and to a couple of strategy guides, and I was off down a path that would lead me on an emotional rollercoaster.

I devoured forum threads like they were crack. I read more poker theory than you can imagine. I heard about guys beating the $50 no-limit games and thought “woah, these ballers, how can you ever play for a $100 pot?” I deposited my obligatory $50 on Stars, and set to grinding the lowest possible stakes, 1c/2c blinds. I bought some software that tracks all your hands, and I was ready and raring to go. I started playing full-ring games (9 handed) until someone on TwoPlusTwo told me to play 6 handed tables instead because they were “more profitable”. Oh, how wrong he was.

But it started out well. I managed to turn my $50 into about $120, at which point I started playing the 2c/5c cash games. Then I went on a downswing, and it was boring. I had about $105 left in my account when I went out for my friend’s 21st birthday. We had a fantastic night in this great club, we got drunk, threw up – everything you’d expect from a 21st birthday party.

Then I got home at about 4am, and fired up some tables. In my drunked recklessness I decided to play what I thought were “high stakes” – the 5c/10c tables. I remember being really nervous that there was a 10c chip being used as a blind. Woah. Surely this wouldn’t end well.

But it did. I went on the biggest 4am drunken heater of all time, and won about $200 in less than 20 minutes, instantly tripling my bankroll. Boom. Now I was really playing with the big boys.

I continued to grind 5c/10c games for a month or so (joining DC during this time), until I spent all my money on booze and takeaways and needed to cash out my winnings. Being the genius that I am, I emailed one of my friend’s housemates, who I knew to be a good midstakes player, and asked him to stake me. He would provide the money for me to play with, and accept any losses. Any winnings we would split 50-50. I showed him how I had crushed the lower stakes games and wanted to move up. He agreed, and gave me $750 on Full Tilt to play with.

I then proceeded to lose $500 over about 2 months. And life was bad. I got stressed. I would stay up all night trying to grind back my losses. I remember getting into bed at 1am as I had lectures at 10am the next morning, and firing up a couple of tables. I lost some money, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to deposit $100 on Pokerstars to play tournaments. I played in a bunch of $1 tournaments all night until about 7am, when I fell asleep, still playing 3 tables. Total profit from 6 hours play: $0.30. I missed all my lectures.

My grades slipped. I was unhappy.

I so wanted to be like Omar. I wanted to have the money and all the stuff the money could buy. $500 was a lot of money to me back then. My constant losses were a blight on my soul, a constant reminder that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. It was hard to deal with. I spent hours and hours studying poker, reading books, reading strategy threads, and even got a coaching session or two.

But over time, I gradually turned into a breakeven player, and then a (very) marginal winner. I got a couple of nice “frequent player” bonuses from Full Tilt Poker. I won back all I had lost and more. I received my first paycheck from my backer, who I think was as relieved as me that I had stopped texting him at 2am saying “Still losing. Can’t figure out why. Sooo frustrating.”

I would still get stressed out by poker. The losses were still bad, but winning was a relief, a break from the constant emotional stress of being a breakeven player. It didn’t help that I was still spending all of my money on booze and takeaways, and not doing a lot besides playing poker and Call of Duty. My grades slipped a bit more.

There were some times when I would lose so much, and keep losing, to the point where I was literally in tears (times I’ve cried due to poker: 3). But I didn’t want to stop playing, so I fired up 12 tables of 9 handed games and played monotonically, soothed by the constant alert and chip sounds of the game. I had barely ever played 9 handed games before – I looked down on those who did. Everyone played so tightly. It was boring. There was no action. But I couldn’t bring myself to stop playing, so I played 12 tables, playing fairly tight preflop, and extremely tight postflop. And funnily enough, I would usually win back all my losses from the 6 handed games. Of course, I moved back to 6 handed straight away, because it was “more profitable”.

I talked with my backer, and he agreed to boost my roll up to $1500, so I could play in the 25c/50c games. Now I was ready for the big time. And then I promptly lost about $700. And I got stressed, and life was bad again. I would stay up all night trying to recoup my losses.

I remember the summer of 2010, when I was working night shifts at my local supermarket. I would finish at 7am, and then come back and play poker. I thought it would be a good idea to play some heads-up poker, one on one. The players were aggressive, the variance was ridiculous, but I didn’t care. I knew I could take them on.

I remember losing $250 in about 30 hands. I got stressed, and punched a lightswitch, then broke my desk chair. My parents weren’t happy, but they didn’t understand. I was tilted! I didn’t have an anger problem, it was this guy’s fault for sucking out on me with his combo draw.

One of my friends pointed out to me “Lynch mate, you’re an idiot. You lose money in one-on-one and 6 handed games, but make money in 9 handed games. Why aren’t you just playing 9 handed?”

I made some excuse about how those games were boring and how I was developing my game faster by playing in aggressive and getting in tough spots that made me think. He said, “No, that’s bullshit. You play poker to make money. You make money playing 9 handed and you don’t playing 6 handed. Simple as.”

I took his advice, and switched to 9 handed games. And something clicked. And I made a lot of money. I paid for a holiday to Greece in September 2010 purely with poker profits. I bought a computer, and some new trainers, and drinks for all my friends in a bar. I was Omar.

I liked being Omar. It felt good to have money for once. I started to play more and more poker – it’s not a gambling problem if you’re winning, right? I played 16 tables for 5-6 hours at a time. Why bother going to lectures when my hourly rate was so good? My backer was pleased, and moved me up to the 50c/$1 stakes. So I started playing that, and broke even for a bit, then moved back down to 25c/50c because it was easy money, and I like easy money.

I played 120k hands of poker in October. I won some good money. But I didn’t do much else other than play poker. My girlfriend got annoyed. But she didn’t understand – this was my job! I didn’t have a gambling problem. She just worried too much.

I played 90k hands in November. I made some decent money. My girlfriend cried because I played so much poker and never talked to her. So I promised to cut down the amount of time I played. Then she went to work, and I played 16 tables all night while she was out. She came back, and I told her I had been doing some reading for uni.

December was going OK. I had broken even for most of the month, and tried to play some higher stakes, but always got knocked back. Then one day I sat down at some 50c/$1 6 handed tables, and lost a hundred bucks. Never mind. Then I lost another hundred. Then I won three hundred.. Then I lost a grand. I moved back down to lower stakes to try and grind it back again, and lost another two hundred. In total that day I lost over $1100. And I cried, and I shouted at my parents, and I punched the wall, and I broke some CD cases.

I didn’t play again for a few weeks. I tried meditating, and practicing Buddhist things like mindfulness. I became happier. I did some serious introspection and self-analysis. I came to a couple conclusions:

  • I definitely had some emotional problems
  • I might have a gambling problem

Why did I force myself to go through all of this? It all comes back to Omar, and how much I wanted to be like him. I was so desperate to have the money, and the Mac, and the trainers, and the drinks for all my friends. I thought that would make me happy. And I thought that poker was the way to achieve that. I wanted so much to be able to fly to Vegas (which Omar did one summer, and came back $50k richer). I wanted the lifestyle. I dreamed of being a baller, with stacks of bills, and a limo, and a concierge. I thought that would make me happy.

And in pursuit of that, I made myself so unhappy that often I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. I literally sat in bed all day playing micro-stakes, thinking that if I could just get a good run of cards, I would be on the path to happiness. I could quantify exactly how I felt about myself – all I needed to do was look at my results.

Poker was good to me in some respects – after everything I’ve been through, I’m still a winner lifetime – but in other ways it has been the worst thing that ever happened to me. I love the game, and the online community, and the rush you get from winning a big pot or making a sick bluff. But none of that is worth the 18 months that I sunk into poker almost full-time to the exclusion of everything else. As in poker and life, balance is critical. Doing one thing to the exclusion of everything else will seriously fuck you up, and it’s just not worth it.

And then my backer said he needed his money back, so now I couldn’t afford to play stakes that would be meaningful to me, so I stopped playing altogether. I became much happier, more productive, and more optimistic about life almost overnight.

So what did I learn?

  • A lot of poker coaches stress the importance of emotional control. They’re not being paternalistic, or trying to make the world a better place. They’re doing it because it makes money. If you’re not evaluating your own emotions and mindset, you will make bad decisions and lose money.
  • Never do what other people are doing just because you think it’s more glamorous, or will make people think more highly of you. Stick to your circle of competence.
  • Losses always felt worse when I desperately needed the money. Having plenty of cash in the bank felt brilliant because I knew even if I lost one day, I wouldn’t go hungry the next. James Altucher talks about this a lot.
  • Poker can be great fun, but it can be a cruel bitch. A common poker saying is “one day you will run worse than you ever thought possible.” I would add to this that poker led me to feel worse than I ever had before. When your self-worth is so wrapped up in your results as mine was, a big downswing can destroy you mentally.
  • Never measure yourself against anyone else, only against yourself. One problem for me was that whenever I improved my game and moved up a level, Omar did the same. I bought myself some trainers with poker money, he’d buy a car. I bought a holiday to Greece, he went to Vegas for 3 months. I was constantly comparing myself to his success, and coming up short.
  • Poker was a fun hobby, but should have stayed exactly that: a hobby. Once I was relying on it for income, it became my life and I played, studied and talked poker to the exclusion of almost everything else. But poker will be around tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Enjoy it, but don’t ever let it become your everything.

Poker gave me some great highs, and some horrible lows. But that’s all in the game, yo.

* name changed for subtle reference to The Wire

How to work for yourself (even if you’re employed by someone else)

Charlie Munger, billionaire and long-time partner of Warren Buffett, had a revelation when he was starting out in his career. Buffett describes this in The Snowball:

Charlie, as a very young lawyer, was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, ‘Who’s my most valuable client?’ And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on these construction projects and real estate deals. Everybody should do this, be the client, and then work for other people too, and sell yourself an hour a day.”

Munger was still working as a lawyer, but began to take ownership over part of his day and work for himself during this time. And it eventually turned him into a billionaire and one of the most respected businessmen of the past 100 years.

Anyone can do this – carve out certain times, projects, or niches for themselves. James Altucher argues that choosing yourself isn’t just preferable – it’s critical and necessary due to changing technology and ways of working. And he’s not the only smart guy to make the argument that you need to move towards working for yourself. In fact, it’s exactly what Robert Greene recommends in the The 50th Law:

If we succumb to the illusion and comfort of a paycheck, we then neglect to build up self-reliant skills and merely postpone the day of reckoning when we are forced to fend for ourselves. Your life must be a progression towards ownership – first mentally of your independence, and then physically of your work, owning what you produce.

Greene offers four steps to achieving this:

1. Reclaim dead time.

Almost all of us must begin our careers working for others, but it is always within our power to transform this time from something dead to something alive. If we make the determination to be an owner and not a minion, then that time is used to learn as much as we can about what is going on around us – the political games, the nuts and bolts of this particular venture, the larger game going on in the business world, how we could do things better. We have to pay attention and absorb as much information as possible. This helps us endure work that does not seem so rewarding. In this way, we own our time and our ideas before owning a business.

2. Create little empires.

While still working for others, your goal at some point must be to carve out little areas that you can operate on your own, cultivating entrepreneurial skills…What you are doing is cultivating a taste for doing things yourself – making your own decisions, learning from your own mistakes…What you really value in life is ownership, not money. If ever there is a choice – more money or more responsibility – you must always opt for the latter.

3. Move higher up the food chain.

People are political creatures, continually scheming to secure their own interests. If you form partnerships with them or depend upon them for your advancement and protection, you are asking for trouble…Your goal in life must be to always move higher and higher up the food chain, where you alone control the direction of your enterprise and depend on no one. Since this goal is a future ideal, in the present you must strive to keep yourself free of unnecessary entanglements and alliances. And if you cannot avoid having partners, make sure that you are clear as to what function they serve for you and how you will free yourself of them at the right moment.

4. Make your enterprise a reflection of your individuality.

Your whole life has been an education in developing the skills and self-reliance necessary for creating your own venture, being your own boss. But there is one last impediment to making this work. Your tendency will be to look at what other people have done in your field, how you could possibly repeat or emulate their success. You can gain some power with such a strategy, but it won’t go far and it won’t last…There are ideas unique to you, a specific rhythm and perspective that are your strengths, not your weaknesses. You must not be afraid of your uniqueness and you must care less and less what people think of you…The world cannnt help but respond to such authenticity.

I’m still a long way off this yet – I’m trying to do step 1 and 2, but I’m a way off step 3 yet, and I’m still not sure I fully understand step 4, but I guess I will when I’m at that level. Anyway, when three smart guys all tell you something is a good idea, I’m going to listen to them.

Why you shouldn’t care at all about the Eurozone crisis

If you’re an individual or a small business, you don’t need to worry about the Eurozone crisis. You don’t need to think about the ongoing recession. It should be the last thing on your mind.

Why? Is this not the worst recession since the Great Depression? Could this not be The End of the Eurozone?

Yeah, maybe. But ask yourself this:

Can you do anything to change it?

You can’t set fiscal and monetary policy. You can’t force Greece or Portugal (or the US) to cut spending. You can’t force companies to invest more.

So stop worrying about it. It’s out of your control.

What should you worry about? I’m glad you asked.

People: get your finances in order. Stop overspending. Look at earning more money through a second job or freelancing if you need to. Start eating healthily and exercising regularly. Take time every day to be grateful for the good things in your life. Think how you can do your job better: make a list of ideas and pick the best two, and start doing that.

Businesses: stay focused on your customer. Always think what they would want you to do. Even in this economy there are opportunities – Groupon is the fastest-growing company in history by revenues, and was formed in November 2008. There is money to be made, and people will fall over themselves to give you their money, if you can give them what they want or need.

In other words, focus on things you can control. Forget about things you can’t.

Time as a river

Time is like a river that will take you forward into encounters with reality that will require you to make decisions. You can’t stop the movement down this river, and you can’t avoid the encounters. You can only approach these encounters in the best way possible.

– Ray Dalio, Principles (pdf)

I wrote about this a little recently, but the fact that I’ve finally finished university and will soon be starting a job has really impacted me mentally. I’m suddenly viscerally aware of the fact that, one day, I will die. My time on earth is limited, and no-one can stop that. There is nothing I can do to prevent it – I can only try to make the most of my time here.

I’ve always been a fan of video games. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. When I was about 9 years old, I wanted to catch 150 pokémon on my Gameboy, which I did. When I was 14 or 15, I wanted to complete GTA 3 100%, doing all the side missions and all the hidden packages. I did it. When I was 17 I played The Godfather on PS2, and I played it probably 3 or 4 times through to make sure I did all the missions in the “right” order, the way they were intended to be done so I could get the most XP and money and make the game as easy as possible. I did it. Each time, I was left thinking, OK, now what? Then I’d play the game through again, doing things differently, each time trying something slightly different.

Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. Time is like a river. My four years at university were the best of my life (so far), but now they’re done. There’s no second playthrough. No saving at a certain point and resetting if things don’t go your way.

But the problem isn’t necessarily the fact that I will die one day. The worry is that I’ll die, and my children and grandchildren will die, and a hundred years later, no-one will give a shit. Neil Strauss touched on this in his new book. He was interviewing Chris Rock, who said this:

The weirdest thing about being successful is that you are kind of ready to die. Especially now that I’ve got kids. I mean, I want to live. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m not in fear of dying. I’ve made my mark. Death is the enemy of my family – of my wife and my daughters.

Maybe that’s the aim. To make your mark. Or at least to strive for it, lest you be one of those timid souls who knows neither victory nor defeat.

Why I want to be an entrepreneur

An entrepreneur has a positive, flexible and adaptable disposition towards change, seeing it as normal, and as an opportunity rather than a problem. To see change in this way, an entrepreneur has a security, born of self-confidence, and is at ease when dealing with insecurity, risks, difficulty and the unknown. An entrepreneur has the capacity to initiate creative ideas…develop them, and see them through to action in a determined manner. An entrepreneur is able, even anxious, to take responsibility and is an effective communicator, negotiator, influencer, planner and organiser. An entrepreneur is active, confident [and] purposeful, not passive, uncertain or dependent.

– OECD, quoted in Ball, Knight and Plant, “New goals for an enterprise culture”.

Everyone should be more like James Altucher

Everyone should be more like James Altucher

I decided to email someone I admire. I found James Altucher‘s blog a couple of months ago and have since devoured pretty much everything he’s written. He’s made (and lost) a ton of money, and has some incredible stories to tell. His best post is How to be the luckiest guy on the planet and he’s also just self-published a book of the same title, which you can and should download for free. Then read all his other stuff.

Here is the exact email I sent to him, and his exact response. Note: I mean every word I say in my email.

Me to James:

James,

I found your blog a couple of months ago. It’s absolutely fantastic. I really admire the honesty you display in your writing.

I wanted to ask you a couple of things. I’m about to graduate with a BS Economics degree from Leeds University, UK. I don’t have the best grades in the world, but I’m pretty confident, I’m smart, and I’m ambitious.

Do you have any advice for someone who is just graduating and doesn’t want to go into a traditional graduate scheme-type role? I genuinely don’t know what I want to do with my life, apart from start a company at some point. I’d love to work for a startup or something, but I have very few technical skills, so it might be a bit harder for me to get involved in that sort of area.

I really appreciate any advice you can give me. And I’ve bookmarked your ebook online – the daily practice advice is brilliant. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks and already I feel better about the future.

Thanks James
Andy

And his response:

There’s some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is you’re stressed. How come? You’re 22 or so. You have about 10-20 years before you need to figure out a career. There’s no reason to get rich so fast (what would you do with the money except guarantee your future?). I’m not saying “how come” flippantly, by the way. Are your parents stressed about your future? Were they stressed about their own futures when you were younger? Is your girlfriend shaky? Your other friends? Not that you need an excuse to be stressed. Its reasonable at this stage also to wonder, “What’s next?”

What if nothing was next? What if you worked as a waiter for a year and took painting and photography classes for a year? Write a comic book script based on a spiderman and submit it to marvel comics? Work in a factory? Go to India for a year and study yoga (you would get in shape, feel spiritual, make great friends, see the world, etc) while giving English lessons and “getting by”. Like young people do.

Next level: find something your mildly interested in and work for a mega corporation. What’s your favorite TV show? Who produces it. Work for them. They are obviously good at what they do. Its never bad to be the janitor at the best company in the world. You learn how to clean up their shit. Which makes you CEO-level for just about any other company. This is really true.

Next level: startup world. You’re obviously self-motivated and good at sales (you wrote to me. I’m responding. I got 1500 emails today). Go to any startup and tell them you’ll work for free until you get them a $1000 in revenues. And then go out and get them revenues. This focuses you on finding a good startup that you know you can sell their product. You become like a venture capitalist of sorts.

Next level: start your own company. I don’t like that. Maybe you need experience and something you’re a bit more passionate about.

Keep with the daily practice. Start stretching that idea muscle out a little bit more. Make lists of the craziest things you can do. I wasted the ages of 22-26. Or did I? In other words, nothing you do those years will be that important for later on. Meaning, you can explore yourself, make sure you have the right values and know how to be happy, make sure your brain is as big as possible (the mental practices), make sure you know how to save lives by surrending to whatever force you can help.

These are more important than finding the exact right job now. I made the equivalent of 14k euros a year from the ages of 22-26. I lived like a king because I lived cheap. Then I made more and it ruined my life.

This might’ve been a bit of a ramble. But there might be a few things here useful. Thanks for writing me and I’m glad you are doing the daily practice. Please keep in touch and let me know what happens next?

– James

I’m flattered he even replied. His email made me smile. I hope I can take him out for a drink one day.

EDIT: We sent another couple of emails back and forth. Here they are:

Me to him:

James,

Thanks, I really appreciate the advice. I think the reason I’m feeling stressed right now is that there seems to be pressure from my parents and my credit card company to get a job and start earning money RIGHT NOW or the world will end. I guess I feel like I’ll be a failure if I’m not earning good money by the time I’m 25, which I know is ridiculous. I feel like I have the ability to do great things and that I’ll be wasting it if I take even six months of my life to do nothing. I feel like I have to do something impressive right away, or else the chance will be gone forever.

Does that sound stupid?

Andy

And his reply:

It doesn’t sound stupid at all. But it does sound like something that might not be the best way to be happy right now. A lot of that pressure is external. I was really a miserable failure at 25. And then again at 32.
Why don’t you take a day off from parents and credit card companies. Make lists of what you love. It might be hard at first. You’ve been a bit programmed to think about things you don’t love. What would you if everyone was dead and you were free from the stresses you have? Are you worried you won’t meet girls if you dont have a great job? What if you were a famous painter? Or a juggler? You dont have to do nothing for six months. What if you stopped all alcohol and worked out for six months. Become a hugely healthy person? WOuld that be a waste?
Parents are hard. Mine were disappointed in me. but it worked out in the end. Sort of. Because in the end I had to stop caring what they think (although I still do a little with my mom). The only thing you really need to do righ tnow is survive, save a life every day, and continue that daily practice so you can be a superhero. I mean it.