A manifesto to become a better person. Shocking, bold and unorthodox, this book will force you to think about yourself, who you are, and where you want to be. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to improve their personal life.
Authors: James Altucher
Originally published: 2013
Genre: Self Improvement
Goodreads rating: ⭐️ 3.81/5
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The key is to be bold right in this moment. As James says in the title of this book, “Choose Yourself,” and he explains how. Choose yourself right now.
If you do this, not only can you not plan the impact you’re going to have, you often won’t recognize it while you’re having it. But one thing is for sure: if you don’t make courageous choices for yourself, nobody else will.
There’s no one path. There’s every path. Every path starts with this one moment. Did you choose yourself for this moment? Can you be bold? Then all paths will lead to the same place. Right now.
There is no way out. There is no way out. I kept repeating it in my head. I felt like I could will myself to death with those words. But I couldn’t. I had kids. I had to get better. I had to. I had to take care of myself. To take care of my children. I had to figure out, once and for all, how to get out of the hole, how to get off the floor, and stay there. I had to figure out, from the inside out, what was going to transform me into someone who would not just succeed, but thrive.
That’s when it clicked. When everything changed. When I realized that nobody else was going to do it for me. If I was going to thrive, to survive, I had to choose myself. In every way. The stakes have risen too high not to.
We can no longer afford to rely on others and repeat the same mistakes from our pasts.
That means every second, you have to choose yourself to succeed. For me, I had to look back at my life and figure out (finally!) what I did every time I got off the floor, dusted myself off, went back out there and did it again. Because now there is no room to fall back down. I used to knock on wood every morning, literally and figuratively, praying I didn’t fall back into my addictive behaviors. Choosing myself has changed that thought process.
You have to pay the bills. The bills are expensive. And it’s getting harder to find the opportunities to pay those bills. It’s one thing to know “The Secret” or take whatever life-affirming steps you’ve read about in order to bring positivity into your life, but it’s something else altogether to actually create opportunities for yourself.
You’re definitely not going to find them reading a book. It’s a moment by moment effort in your daily life. It’s a practice that interweaves health with the tools of financial experts and a macro-level understanding of this economic shitstorm we find ourselves in today.
The History of the Choosing Yourself Era
What was the American Dream?
It started with the house and the white picket fence. People didn’t have to live in cities anymore. In apartments with people on top of them, on either side of them.
You might think I’m using the phrase “American Dream” because that’s just the general expression people use to describe the white-picket fence mythology.
I wish that were the case.
In fact, “the American Dream” comes from a marketing campaign developed by Fannie Mae to convince Americans newly flush with cash to start taking mortgages. Why buy a home with your own hard-earned money when you can use somebody else’s? It may be the best marketing slogan ever conceived. It was like a vacuum cleaner that sucked everyone into believing that a $15 trillion mortgage industry would lead to universal happiness. “The American Dream” quickly replaced the peace and quiet of the suburbs with the desperate need to always stay ahead.
Everyone was learned. And they wanted two cars instead of one. A bigger house. Every kid in college. A bigger TV. How could we keep paying for that? Double incomes were no longer enough!
The term “Keeping up with the Joneses” was introduced into popular culture in 1976 to refer to the idea that we are never satisfied anymore. No matter how many material goods we accumulate, there’s always the mysterious “Jones family” who has more. So we need more.
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. In every single industry, the middleman is being taken out of the picture, causing more disruption in employment but also greater efficiencies and more opportunities for unique ideas to generate real wealth. You can develop those ideas, execute on them, and choose yourself for success.
“That’s the shitty part about the Internet, and about anonymous feedback, is that you tend to hear from the extremes, those that either love you more than reasonable, or those who are just spreading toxicity.
Fuck those people. You do great work, and I really appreciate it.
I hate to sound like a weirdo Buddhist, but the only things that really matter in this world are the relationships you have with the people you love, and the meaningful things that you do. Haters don’t fit anywhere into that. Don’t devote any mental space to them.
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. I say “and” rather than “or” because now you have to be all of the above. Not just one. An artist must also be an entrepreneur. That’s it. Those ARE your choices.
Does One Person Have Control Over Your Life?
About twenty years ago, I realized I was tired of trying to be liked by others. I was constantly trying to package myself so I would be chosen for jobs, books, deals, partnerships, or love. Depending on the situation, I would put on an entirely new costume, a new mask, or a new set of lies, right down to political and religious beliefs.
Here’s an exercise for those who typically wake up anxious and paranoid at three in the morning: instead of counting sheep to get back to sleep, count all the things you are grateful for. Even the negative parts of your life. Figure out why you should be grateful for them. Try to get up to one hundred.
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?
How to Choose Yourself
There are two very important basics for harnessing that freedom and succeeding in the Choose Yourself era. There’s no avoiding them. There are no excuses for not doing them. The good news is they are free.
Only do things you enjoy. This might seem obvious to you, but it isn’t to most. One might also say, “Duh, I’d love to do what I enjoy but I have to pay the bills!” Relax for a second. We’re going to learn how to do what we enjoy, first. I’m not just talking about those “only pursue a career you enjoy” platitudes, either. I mean it down to your very thoughts. 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.
This is a daily practice.
I used to go out every night. You never know, I would think. I used to go to every business meeting I was invited to. You never know, I would think. I used to go on TV every time I was asked. You never know, I would think. Maybe someone would SEE me. And call me and offer me and give me and want me and like me and love me. Maybe they would press the LIKE button on my face. Brilliant.
Every time you say yes to something you don’t want to do, this will happen: you will resent people, you will do a bad job, you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life will be used up, burned up, a smoke signal to the future saying, “I did it again.”
The only real fire to cultivate is the fire inside of you. Nothing external will cultivate it. The greater your internal fire is, the more people will want it.
The daily practice. We spend our lives afraid of the emptiness. We want to fill it with love, with money, with pleasures, with anything that could put off the ultimate. But all of those things are never enough. They all decay.
Only the emptiness does not decay.
The best way I have ever found to fill that hole is not to seek external motivations to fill the emptiness, but to ignite the internal fire that will never go out. To light up my own inner sky.
So how do you do this?
Picture your body for a second.
All you need to do to live longer is to constantly make sure you are doing everything you can to protect your heart and the blood that flows through it. This is a function of diet, exercise, sleep, and other things. If the heart gets sick, you die. When you finally die, make no mistake, it will be because the heart got sick.
Imagine now you have three other bodies alongside your physical body:
- an emotional body
- a mental body
- and a spiritual body.
Imagine a life force that flows between them and through them, much like blood. Imagine a central core that must keep everything healthy. Just like you must keep your heart healthy to live a long, productive, and even happy life, you must keep these other bodies healthy as well and exercise them on a regular basis. A daily basis. A minute by minute basis.
I call this the Daily Practice.
The physical body. The shell that we must take care of to live. It houses everything we do. And it’s pretty simple. We know when we are doing bad things to it. Too often we think, “Once I achieve X, Y, Z, goal, I’m going to get back in shape.” But it doesn’t work that way. Not that you need to be ripped and jacked or eight-packed or whatever. You just need to be healthy. And you know what I mean?
You need to shit regularly. That’s it.
The emotional body. Emotionally I try to surround myself with only positive people who inspire me. This way I can learn to be positive. To be a beacon to those around me.
It’s important to avoid people who bring you down. Not in a cruel way. But avoid engaging or overly dwelling on people who are constantly draining you of energy.
You can’t be beautiful unless you get rid of the ugliness inside. People become crappy people not because of who they are, but because they are crapping inside of you. Stop letting that happen.
Here’s an exercise I do that can help in this regard: I try to be quiet. Instead of speaking the average 2,500 words a day that most people speak, it would be nice for me to speak just one thousand words a day when possible. This forces me to carefully choose my words and who I engage with.
The mental body. Your mind desperately wants to be the BOSS. It needs you to be very, VERY BUSY with BS stuff so it can do all the things it’s good at: obsess, worry, fear, be depressed, feel exuberance, forward thinking, backward thinking, thinking thinking THINKING until… burnout.
So you need to tame the wild horse or it will tame you until you are a slave. Nobody wants that. The way you tame it is through focused use. Set a goal: I’m going to come up with ten ways I can have more time for myself. Or I’m going to come up with ten ways I can make my job better. Or ten business ideas. Make sure the list you plan to do is a hard one. You need to make the mind SWEAT so that it gets tired. So tired that it’s done for the day. It can’t control you today. TIRE IT OUT! Then do it again.
The spiritual body. Most people obsess on regrets in their past or anxieties in their future. I call this “time traveling.” 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.
One exercise I try: look at the roofs of buildings. Finding the art in the city around me is a good technique to keep me right here, when everyone else is in the time machine.
When you surrender and accept the beautiful stillness around you, when you give up all thoughts of the past, all worries and anxieties of the future, when you surround yourself with similarly positive people, when you tame the mind, when you keep healthy, there is zero chance of burnout.
How do you surrender? By trusting that you’ve done the right preparation. You’ve done all you can do. All that is within your power, your control. Now, give up the results. The right thing will happen.
This is the ONLY way I’ve ever ignited the fire and avoided burnout.
This doesn’t mean you will never be in a bad mood. Of course you will! That’s what the body and mind does for a living: it goes back and forth between good moods and bad moods. The trick is to recognize a bad mood, say, “I’m in a bad mood,” and wait it out. So you can get back to enjoying things. So you can get back to making decisions and making choices, but only when you are in a good mood—a mood where you are fully present and not time traveling.
The Simple Daily Practice
This is how we form a better society. First we become better as individuals. You can’t help others if you look in the mirror and hate what you see.
Many people say, “The Daily Practice is too much work for me. I can’t do it all every day.”
No problem. Let’s first define the “Simple Daily Practice,” then we can go into more of the subtleties.
Why the need for a simple daily practice?
All you really need to do to get off the floor is acknowledge that it’s not your external life that needs to change (you have little control over that), but that external changes flow from the inside.
External changes in your life are like the final ripples of the ocean that lap onto distant shores. A promotion, a raise, a new job offer, a new relationship. These are the final ripples. The ocean is inside you. Becoming aware of that infinite presence doesn’t require meditation in a cave for fifty years. It involves simply being healthy. Healthy not just physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
For now, the Simple Daily Practice means doing ONE thing every day.
Finding Purpose in Life
I don’t like the word purpose. It implies that somewhere in the future I will find something that will make me happy, and that until then, I will be unhappy. People fool themselves into thinking that the currency of unhappiness will buy them happiness. That we have to “pay our dues,” go on some sort of ride, and then get dropped off at a big location called our “purpose,” where now we can be happy.
It doesn’t work that way.
You can find the tools to be happy right now. I still don’t know what my purpose is. I’m afraid I will never know. That makes me very happy. Maybe I can have lots of adventures between today and the day I die. Maybe I can do lots of different things. And if I don’t—if I die even tomorrow—that’s fine also.
Forget purpose. It’s okay to be happy without one. The quest for a single purpose has ruined many lives.
Someone asked on Quora, the Q&A website, recently, “I feel like a failure for being 27 and not knowing what I want to do in my life. What should I do?”
My response was that when I was twenty-seven, I had yet to start a business, yet to ever fall in love, yet to write a book, yet to make a TV pilot, yet to fail at twenty businesses in a row, yet to run a hedge fund, VC fund, even become a chess master (which happened at age twenty-eight for me). Most important, I had yet to fail. But I failed so much in my thirties that I practically forgot I was a chess master. As I write this, I’m forty-five and I still have no idea what I want to be when I “grow up.” But I’m starting to finally accept the fact that all I want to be is ME.
Making a Billion Dollars
Nobody chooses themselves to make $1 billion. You don’t wake up and say, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to make a lot of money.” You wake up and you say, “I have a big problem. And a lot of people have the same problem. And nobody is going to solve this problem except for me.”
Even better, can you say “A million people have this problem?”
Corporate America doesn’t solve problems. These companies are machines that keep churning out the same product, with minor tweaks, forever.
With new technology, new methods of marketing, and a healthy, balanced life that helps you come up with ideas and execute on them, you can become the sort of person who solves problems that help millions of people.
It’s the external manifestation of if you better yourself, you better the lives of the people around you.
If you want to create $1 billion in value, you need to find a problem that nobody has solved. Right now, this second, there are about 1 million problems that, if you solved one, someone else would say, “Holy shit! That’s so easy. Why didn’t I think of that?” And yet, these problems, right now, remain unsolved.
Sara Blakely bought every type of panty hose. She knew the entire industry. To succeed at something:
- Know every product in the industry
- Know every patent
- Try out all the products
- Understand how the products are made
- Make a product that YOU would use every single day. You can’t sell it if you personally don’t LOVE it.
If you have an idea, don’t focus on the money. Don’t focus on how you will make a living. Do this:
- Build your product
- Sell it to a customer
- Start shipping
- Then quit your job.
If you want to be successful, you need to study success, not hate it or be envious of it. If you are envious, then you will distance yourself from success and make it that much harder to get there. Never be jealous. Never think someone is “lucky.” Luck is created by the prepared. Never think that someone is undeserving of the money they have. That only puts you one more step removed from the freedom you aspire to. I can tell right away that when someone is so envious and jealous, they will never get the freedom they want but will spend the rest of their life trying.
“I feel like money makes you more of who you already are. If you’re an asshole, you become a bigger asshole. If you’re nice, you become nicer. Money is fun to make, fun to spend, and fun to give away.”
In the past fifteen years, the only time I didn’t look at my bank account every day was when I was doing something I was passionate about.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about money. But it does mean if YOU ARE thinking too much about money while building your business, then either you are not very passionate about the business or you aren’t helping people with your business. Those two thoughts alone will crowd out the thoughts of your own personal bank account.
Don’t Have Opinions
Do you really think you are going to change anyone’s mind? I always wonder, who are these people who spend all day on Internet message boards and comments sections getting really angry and trying to prove that their opinion is THE opinion that everyone should have.
What is the purpose of an opinion? To prove you’re right? You’re wrong.
Opinions are a way of clinging to the past. To some belief system our parents instilled in us, our education system “taught” us, our corporate masters forced on us, our peer group shoved down our throats, or some other brainwashing/programming that was implanted into our brain. If I have an opinion, you can gladly take it from me. Here’s why:
- Nobody is ever going to change his mind. For instance, if I say something like “kids shouldn’t go to college,” everyone either already agrees with me or disagrees with me. Very few minds will be changed no matter how correct I am (and I am correct).
- One hundred years from now, everyone reading this book will be dead.
- Why educate people? Only worry about your own happiness, which doesn’t have to be limited by anyone else’s stupidity unless you allow it to be.
- I could be reading a book. Time is also a limited resource. You can respond to a comment on Facebook with an opinion no one will care about in a hundred years, or you can do something. Right now. You can take a walk by the river. Or you can kiss someone. Or you can jump on a trampoline.
- Loneliness. I think most people fight because they are alone. There’s nothing we can do about loneliness in the material world. We’ve been trapped in these bodies since birth. But we try. We want people to agree with us so that for a brief second we can feel good about ourselves, establish a connection, and then make slow, sweet love.
- I’m always wrong. I have never had a correct opinion. I don’t even know what a correct opinion smells like.
- Opinions are like money. No matter how much you know, there’s always someone who knows more. And they aren’t afraid to flaunt it. I have no credentials on anything. My education is hopelessly outdated.
- Hold your breath. Try holding your breath for just thirty seconds. That’s all it takes. Try it right now while you are looking at this line. Now…on the twenty-ninth second, do any opinions matter?
The point is, don’t focus on those things in the material world that you cannot control or possibly ever change, when you can focus on inner health, on your inner world, on the things that matter.
How to Release the God Hormone
I will tell you my pre-date secret. In the brief period when I was single in between separation and remarriage, I had a technique before every date. I would watch either Michael Cera doing comedy or Louis CK doing stand-up. This would get me laughing, make my oxytocin hormones go on fire, and then I’d go right into the date, with all my sex hormones raging. That’s a plus. I would be temporarily funnier, with a half-life of about two hours. I knew after four hours I would be boring again so the date would have to be over by then. (I do this before talks, too.)
How You Can Be More Honest in Your Life
GIVE CREDIT. Even if the ideas were all yours. Even if you made nothing on them. Even if they were blatantly stolen. Give credit and move on. Hoarding your ideas for the moment when you can shine, will only leave you by yourself in a dimly lit room with only a mirror to stare at.
BE THE SOURCE. “But if I give ideas for free, what if they could’ve made a billion dollars? I always get screwed by my partners.” If you are the source of ideas, then you are ALWAYS the source. Forget the losers who steal. Move on. You become THE fountain of ideas. People come to the fountain and make wishes and throw money in. Don’t be a trickle of dirty water. Be the fountain and let people know it by giving away all credit and rewards.
INTRODUCE TWO PEOPLE. Every day you can think of at least two people to introduce to each other who will help each other. You don’t have to be in the middle. “Take me off cc,” you should say. Let them help each other. Let them benefit. You don’t need to be in the middle and benefit this time. You’ll benefit next time. Or the time after that. Even if it means giving up opportunities for yourself if you think someone else would be better for the job.
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. This is not good enough anymore. You must create your own empire. And you can’t do it one at a time. That’s not an empire, that’s a list.
The network effect, on the other hand, has been well known on the Internet since its early days. The premise is that the value of a site goes up exponentially depending on how many people are using it. The more people using the site who don’t know each other or didn’t learn about the site from each other, the stronger the network effect. It’s the Empire Builder.
How does this apply to you? How many people are “using you?” The value of your network goes up exponentially when you view your contacts and resources not as a list but as a network of nodes on a graph. Think of the number of connections that can connect two different nodes on that graph. It’s exponential compared to the number of items in a list that connect directly to you.
The way you create the network effect is by encouraging people in your network to connect to each other and to help each other.
DON’T BE ANGRY. Anger is a form of dishonesty. Nobody is perfect. It’s a lie to expect the people around you to be perfect. Sometimes I’m angry with my kids. But they are just kids. Sometimes I’m angry at people I’m trying to do deals with. But they have their own motivations, fears, worries, and anxieties. They don’t have to do everything I expect of them. So my anger is really a belief that they should do what I expect them to do. It’s a form of dishonesty when you lie to yourself about the expectations you have of others. Of course, you can’t control your anger. Sometimes it just happens. But note it for what it is, examine it, and try to turn it around, even just a little—in order to learn more about yourself rather than to blame someone else. That’s where the honesty will compound.
MAKE OTHERS LOOK GOOD. This is more than just giving credit. Acknowledge even the smallest accomplishments of the people around you. Bring more and more of the people around you into the 20 percent. At heart, everyone wants to be perceived as special. That’s because everyone is special but are often never acknowledged that way. Be different. Be aware of the smallest movements around you and acknowledge them. Nobody will forget that.
DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO. Be that guy.
You’re Never Too Young to Choose Yourself
Lesson Number One about Choosing Yourself: I can choose myself to call anyone I want. If they want to talk to me, great.
Lesson Number Two: All the conventional methods for making money and distribution are out the window because the barriers to entry that create the premium value are gone.
Lesson Number Three: Everyone will say you CAN’T. Especially when you’re young, but if you pick and choose how to work with the entrenched system, you CAN.
Lesson Number Four: The power of the community you build will be felt in ways you can’t predict.
Lesson Number Five: Persistence is more important than industry validation because it’s not the industry that is buying what you’re selling.
Lesson Number Six: Focus on what you can do for your art/business right now instead of trying to aim for things ten years for now.
To help with knowing if you’re good or not, you need a mentor. (Lesson Number Seven)
Lesson Number Eight: Pick your social media outlet, master it. It’s not enough to master your art form. You have to personally master how you will distribute through some social medium, engage with fans, etc.
Lesson Number Nine, which is really hard for me: Talk to your big fans.
The 30/30/30 Rule
“In life, you will always have 30 percent of people who love you, 30 percent who hate you and 30 percent who couldn’t care less.” When I heard that, my entire worldview changed. Suddenly, when someone didn’t like me or expressed negativity toward something I was doing, I just said, well, that’s from the 30 percent who won’t like me no matter what I do or say. Good!
I’ve seen it in action repeatedly: 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.
How Gandhi Chose Himself
1. Nobody can tell you what to do. No matter what they pay you. No matter what obligations you feel you owe them. Every second defines you. Be who you are, not who anyone else is, or who anyone else wants you to be. An entrepreneur, for instance, has investors, customers, partners, employees, and competitors. Everyone wants his input heard. But only you can act to change the world with your ideas.
2. It is through silence that sound, activity, and action erupts. It was through nothingness that the Big Bang and all creation erupted. It is only through contemplation that the hidden shades of reality can be seen and right action can be taken. Gandhi knew this, and singlehandedly brought down an empire. It’s only through stillness that one can actively create.
3. I don’t give any advice on things I don’t know about firsthand. Sometimes I find myself in a political conversation and I realize, you know what? I don’t actually know anything here. And I give up.
4. Nothing is more important than the cultivation of yourself. So many people think they will save the world if they defeat “them,” where “them” is some evil force that is bringing the world down. But once you divide the world into categories, into an “us” versus “them,” then you immediately become a “them” and lose touch with who you really are.
Society is made up of individuals. The only way to improve society is to come at it from a place of deep, individual satisfaction. The only way to do that is to spend long periods of time just being silent. Find out who the real you is. Ask yourself, “These thoughts that I am thinking, what is generating them?” They are not your thoughts. That is just the biological brain dancing in front of you. Who is the “you” they are dancing in front of? Find that answer, and then you can save the world.
Things I Learned From Woody Allen
Try this exercise: pretend everyone was sent to this planet to teach you. Famous people, dead people, your neighbors, your relatives, your co-workers. This will give you a strong feeling of humility. And guess what, you will learn from people, you will appreciate them more, and they will actually appreciate you more. Because everyone loves to teach. Think about what some of the titans of American industry could teach you about failure. Everyone who has ever been a success since the history of mankind began has had to deal with failure. Has had to start from zero—and usually more than once.
Productivity. To put out a movie every year or so, plus plays, magazine stories, and books, you would think Woody Allen works around the clock. In a 1980 interview, “If you work only three to five hours a day you become very productive. It’s the steadiness of it that counts. Getting to the typewriter every day is what makes productivity.”
Probably the most productive schedule is to wake up early—do your work before people start showing up at your doorstep, on your phone, in your inbox, etc., and leave off at the point right when you are most excited to continue. Then you know it will be easy to start off the next day.
Imperfection. Nothing comes out exactly how we want it. But we have to learn to roll with it and move to the next work.
Confidence. “To be experimental, first you have to know how to use all the rules of grammar. You have to be an expert first in tradition.”
“Confidence that comes with experience enables you to do many things that you wouldn’t have done in earlier films. You tend to become bolder…you let your instincts operate more freely and you don’t worry about the niceties.”
In other words: master the form you want to operate in, get experience, be willing to be imperfect, and then develop the confidence to play within that form, to develop your own style.
Showing up. As Allen famously stated, 80 percent of success is “showing up.” Nothing more really needs to be added there except it might be changed to “Ninety-nine percent of success for the entrepreneur is showing up.” What do you have to show up for? You have to find the investors, you have to manage development, you have to find the first customers, You have to find the buyers. They don’t show up at your door. You show up at their door. Otherwise your business will just not work out.
Study the history of the form you want to master. Study every nuance. If you want to write, read not only all of your contemporaries, but the influences of those contemporaries, and their influences. Additionally, draw inspiration from other art forms. From music, art, and there again, go back to the influences of your inspirations, and go back to their influences, and so on. The facets that resonate with time, even if it’s hundreds of years old, will resonate with your work as well. It’s like a law of the universe.
Competence and The Beatles Last Concert
A creator can’t ever rest. No matter what you do, no matter what your creation is. Every moment is the audition. Every time you create is a chance to go on the roof and do something new, in a way that hasn’t been done before, in a way that is potentially disruptive, playful, unique, and vulnerable. People will hate you, people will love you, people will climb on the rooftops to see you before the police arrest you. The Beatles passed the audition that one last time. Now it’s our turn.
My only hope for my future is I learn to dot the landscape of my life once more with question marks instead of periods. To turn judgments into queries. To turn “this” into “that?” To make every problem a maze. To be like a six-year-old. The next time the president of Chile wants me to get run over by a tank I might say yes. Or I might ride away on my spaceship and French-kiss the angel on the moon. “Lips are beautiful,” I might say, before finally falling back to Earth.
Take Over the World
I want you to take out a pen and a piece of paper and do something for me.
Draw a little circle. Put what you do in that circle. If you’re a secretary, put “secretary.” If you’re an artist, put “artist.” If you are a mother, put “mother.” Put the thing that is central to your life. If you are unsure what is central to your life, put your job title. If you don’t have a job title, put what title you would like to be central to your life.
Draw a circle around that. Draw lines dividing up the second circle into compartments. Like apartments in a space station. Write down the names of the people who are affected by your first circle. Maybe you help them do better jobs. Maybe you’re a doctor and they are your patients. Maybe you are a secretary and they are your colleagues, your bosses, your family whom you provide for, your relatives who listen to you, your friends who rely on you. If you are a blogger, they are your readers.
Draw a circle around that one. Draw the lines again. Who lives in these compartments? The people who are affected by the people you affect. For instance, the children of your friends. The friends of your children. The people related to your employees. Or your employers. This would be in the third circle.
Next circle: what your center circle can turn into. A blog can turn into a book, or a show, or a consulting service, or a novel, or who knows? What does your center circle evolve into if you stick with it over time?
Draw one more circle: the people you would like to affect. Maybe you would like to affect Barack Obama. Or a movie producer. Or a book publisher. Or the CEO of your company. Or all the venture capitalists in the world. Put them there. Why not? We’re just drawing. We’re just playing.
And then finally one more circle. This circle has everyone in the world in it. Because of Oprah or Barack or a book publisher or if all the venture capitalists in the world are strongly affected by your work then eventually the entire world, in some small way, the indent in a paragraph in the tale of our history, will be changed. Maybe you can’t draw these circles.
Maybe you think your work, or your love, or your friendship, or your charitable efforts, or whatever you consider your “center” today (just today, we only care about today) doesn’t affect anyone else. Or if it does, maybe you feel the effect stops there. Or even if the effect moves on, spreading like a disease, it disappears over distance or over time, until finally its impact on the world is negligible. Nil. Nothing.
That’s okay. Start over. Tweak something. Maybe you aren’t a secretary or a doctor. Maybe deep down you are an artist. Maybe you’re a mother. Or a father. And the impact is further reaching than you thought. Do the circles over. Do it over until you can draw that outer circle and affect the entire world. Throw out the old people. Draw more circles.
When we were kids and took a bad test, everyone would yell, “I want a redo!” We’re not in school. We’re in life. You have your redo. Again and again. Draw the circles again. Keep drawing them until you finally have that outer circle. The circle of possibility. The one where the entire world changes because you exist.
Too many people, in the rush of their lives, stop at just the second circle, the ones they immediately impact. They might even stop before that. Maybe they just wonder how their first circle impacts only themselves. Don’t stop. Push yourself outward. See the web you spin. See how the world is caught in that web. Push yourself until that web is spun all around, circles within circles within circles. This is not about making the most money, or having the most impact. This is about being connected with who you are. This is about seeing how far your potential truly can unravel, simply because you are human.
And start connecting the inner circles with the outer circles in deeper and deeper ways. Eventually the lines between the circles go away. It’s one big circle. You’re in the middle. You’re doing the daily practice. You’re choosing yourself. You’re the source. And your light and choices are now affecting everyone.
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