Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and several-times entrepreneur. His latest book, is “Choose Yourself!” (foreword by Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter) . Follow him on Twitter @jaltucher.
Here are the rules: I’ve been at zero a few times, come back a few times, and done it over and over. I’ve started entire new careers. People who knew me then, don’t me now. And so on.
I’ve had to change careers several times. Sometimes because my interests changed. Sometimes because all bridges have been burned beyond recognition, sometimes because I desperately needed money. And sometimes just because I hated everyone in my old career or they hated me.
There are other ways to reinvent yourself, so take what I say with a grain of salt. This is what worked for me.
I’ve seen it work for maybe a few hundred other people. Through interviews, through people writing me letters, through the course of the past 20 years. You can try it or not.
A) Reinvention never stops.
Every day you reinvent yourself. You’re always in motion. But you decide every day: forward or backward.
B) You start from scratch.
Every label you claim you have from before is just vanity. You were a doctor? You were Ivy League? You had millions? You had a family? Nobody cares. You lost everything. You’re a zero. Don’t try to say you’re anything else.
C) You need a mentor.
Else, you’ll sink to the bottom. Someone has to show you how to move and breathe. But don’t worry about finding a mentor (see below).
D) Three types of mentors
- Direct. Someone who is in front of you who will show you how they did it. What is “it”? Wait. By the way, mentors aren’t like that old Japanese guy in “The Karate Kid.” Ultimately most mentors will hate you.
- Indirect. Books. Movies. You can outsource 90 percent of mentorship to books and other materials. 200-500 books equals one good mentor. People ask me, “What is a good book to read?” I never know the answer. There are 200-500 good books to read. I would throw in inspirational books. Whatever are your beliefs, underline them through reading every day.
- Everything is a mentor. If you are a zero, and have passion for reinvention, then everything you look at will be a metaphor for what you want to do. The tree you see, with roots you don’t, with underground water that feeds it, is a metaphor for computer programming if you connect the dots. And everything you look at, you will connect the dots.
E) Don’t worry if you don’t have passion for anything.
You have passion for your health. Start there. Take baby steps. You don’t need a passion to succeed. Do what you do with love and success is a natural symptom.
F) Time it takes to reinvent yourself: five years.
Here’s a description of the five years:
- Year One: you’re flailing and reading everything and just starting to DO.
- Year Two: you know who you need to talk to and network with. You’re Doing every day. You finally know what the monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors.
- Year Three: you’re good enough to start making money. It might not be a living yet.
- Year Four: you’re making a good living
- Year Five: you’re making wealth
Sometimes I get frustrated in years 1-4. I say, “why isn’t it happening yet?” and I punch the floor and hurt my hand and throw a coconut on the floor in a weird ritual. That’s okay. Just keep going. Or stop and pick a new field. It doesn’t matter. Eventually you’re dead and then it’s hard to reinvent yourself.
G) If you do this faster or slower then you are doing something wrong.
Google is a good example.
H) It’s not about the money. But money is a decent measuring stick.
When people say “it’s not about the money” they should make sure they have a different measuring stick.
“What about just doing what you love?” There will be many days when you don’t love what you are doing. If you are doing it just for love then it will take much much longer than five years.
Happiness is just a positive perception from our brain. Some days you will be unhappy. Our brain is a tool we use. It’s not who we are.
I) When can you say, “I do X!” where X is your new career?
J) When can I start doing X?
Today. If you want to paint, then buy a canvas and paints today, start buying 500 books one at a time, and start painting. If you want to write do these three things:
- Take your favorite author and type your favorite story of his word for word. Wonder to yourself why he wrote each word. He’s your mentor today.
If you want to start a business, start spec-ing out the idea for your business. Reinvention starts today. Every day.
K) How do I make money?
By year three you’ve put in 5,000-7,000 hours. That’s good enough to be in the top 200-300 in the world in anything. The top 200 in almost any field makes a living.
By year three you will know how to make money. By year four you will scale that up and make a living. Some people stop at year four.
L) By year five you’re in the top 30-50 so can make wealth.
M) What is “it”? How do I know what I should do?
Whatever area you feel like reading 500 books about. Go to the bookstore and find it. If you get bored three months later go back to the bookstore.
It’s okay to get disillusioned. That’s what failure is about. Success is better than failure but the biggest lessons are found in failure.
Very important: There’s no rush. You will reinvent yourself many times in an interesting life. You will fail to reinvent many times. That’s fun also.
Many reinventions make your life a book of stories instead of a textbook.
Some people want the story of their life to be a textbook. For better or worse, mine is a book of stories.
That’s why reinvention happens every day.
N) The choices you make today will be in your biography tomorrow.
Make interesting choices and you will have an interesting biography.
N1) The choices you make today will be in your biology tomorrow.
O) What if I like something obscure? Like biblical archaeology or 11th-century warfare?
Repeat all of the steps above, and then in year five you will make wealth. We have no idea how. Don’t look to find the end of the road when you are still at the very first step.
P) What if my family wants me to be an accountant?
How many years of your life did you promise your family? Ten years? Your whole life? Then wait until the next life. The good thing is: you get to choose.
Choose freedom over family. Freedom over preconceptions. Freedom over government. Freedom over people-pleasing. Then you will be pleased.
Q) My mentor wants me to do it HIS way.
That’s fine. Learn HIS way. Then do it YOUR way. With respect.
Hopefully nobody has a gun to your head. Then you have to do it their way until the gun is put down.
R) My spouse is worried about who will support/take care of kids?
Then after you work 16 hours a day, seven days a week being a janitor, use your spare time to reinvent.
Someone who is reinventing ALWAYS has spare time. Part of reinvention is collecting little bits and pieces of time and re-carving them the way you want them to be.
S) What if my friends think I’m crazy?
T) What if I want to be an astronaut?
That’s not a reinvention. That’s a specific job. If you like “outer space” there are many careers. Richard Branson wanted to be an astronaut and started Virgin Galactic.
U) What if I like to go out drinking and partying?
Read this post again in a year.
V) What if I’m busy cheating on my husband or wife or betraying a partner?
Read this post again in two or three years when you are broke and jobless and nobody likes you.
W) What if I have no skills at all?
Read “B” again.
X) What if I have no degree or I have a useless degree?
Read “B” again.
Y) What if I have to focus on paying down my debt and mortgage?
Read “R” again.
Z) How come I always feel like I’m on the outside looking in?
Albert Einstein was on the outside looking in. Nobody in the establishment would even hire him.
Everyone feels like a fraud at some point. The highest form of creativity is born out of skepticism.
AA) I can’t read 500 books. What one book should I read for inspiration?
BB) What if I’m too sick to reinvent?
Reinvention will boost every healthy chemical in your body: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin. Keep moving forward and you might not get healthy but you will get healthier. Don’t use health as an excuse.
Finally, reinvent your health first. Sleep more hours. Eat better. Exercise. These are key steps to reinvention.
CC) What if my last partner screwed me and I’m still suing him?
Stop litigating and never think about him again. Half the problem was you, not him.
DD) What if I’m going to jail?
Perfect. Reread “B.” Read a lot of books in jail.
EE) What if I’m shy?
Make your weaknesses your strengths. Introverts listen better, focus better, and have ways of being more endearing.
FF) What if I can’t wait five years?
If you plan on being alive in five years then you might as well start today.
GG) How should I network?
Make concentric circles. You’re at the middle.
The next circle is friends and family.
The next circle is online communities.
The circle after that is meetups and coffees.
The circle after that is conferences and thought leaders.
The circle after that is mentors.
The circle after that is customers and wealth-creators.
Start making your way through the circles.
HH) What happens when I have ego about what I do?
In 6-12 months you’ll be back at “B”
II) What if I’m passionate about two things? What if I can’t decide?
Combine them and you’ll be the best in the world at the combination.
JJ) What if I’m so excited I want to teach what I’m learning?
Start teaching on YouTube. Start with an audience of one and see if it builds up.
KK) What if I want to make money while I sleep?
In year four, start outsourcing what you do.
LL) How do I meet mentors and thought leaders?
Once you have enough knowledge (after 100-200 books), write down 10 ideas for 20 different potential mentors.
None of them will respond. Write down 10 more ideas for 20 new mentors. Repeat every week.
Put together a newsletter for everyone who doesn’t respond. Keep repeating until someone responds. Blog about your learning efforts. Build community around you being an expert.
MM) What if I can’t come up with ideas?
Then keep practicing coming up with ideas. The idea muscle atrophies. You have to build it up.
It’s hard for me to touch my toes if I haven’t been doing it every day. I have to do it every day for a while before I can easily touch my toes. Don’t expect to come up with good ideas on day one.
NN) What else should I read?
AFTER books, read websites, forums, magazines. But most of that is garbage.
OO) What if I do everything you say but it still doesn’t seem like it’s working?
It will work. Just wait. Keep reinventing every day.
Don’t try and find the end of the road. You can’t see it in the fog. But you can see the next step and you do know that if you take that next step eventually you get to the end of the road.
PP) What if I get depressed?
Sit in silence for one hour a day. You need to get back to your core.
If you think this sounds stupid then don’t do it. Stay depressed.
QQ) What if I don’t have time to sit in silence?
Then sit in silence for two hours a day. This is not meditation. This is just sitting.
RR) What if I get scared?
Sleep 8-9 hours a day and never gossip. Sleep is the No. 1 key to successful health. It’s not the only key. It’s just No. 1. Some people write to me and say, “I only need four hours of sleep” or “in my country sleeping means laziness.” Well, those people will fail and die young.
What about gossip? The brain biologically wants to have 150 friends. Then when you are with one of your friends you can gossip about any of the other 150. If you don’t have 150 friends then the brain wants to read gossip magazines until it thinks it has 150 friends.
Don’t be as stupid as your brain.
SS) What if I keep feeling like nothing ever works out for me?
Spend 10 minutes a day practicing gratitude. Don’t suppress the fear. Notice the anger.
But also allow yourself to be grateful for the things you do have. Anger is never inspirational but gratitude is. Gratitude is the bridge between your world and the parallel universe where all creative ideas live.
TT) What if I have to deal with personal bullshit all the time?
Find new people to be around.
Someone who is reinventing herself will constantly find people to try and bring her down. The brain is scared of reinvention because it might not be safe.
Biologically, the brain wants you to be safe and reinvention is a risk. So it will throw people in your path who will try to stop you.
Learn how to say “no.”
UU) What if I’m happy at my cubicle job?
VV) Why should I trust you – you’ve failed so many times?
Don’t trust me.
WW) Will you be my mentor?
You’ve just read this post.
[See also, The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Starting and Running Your Business]