James Altucher on Age and Death

So this soul thing. I used to believe in a soul, I no longer do. This causes some ruckus (why? why can’t we just believe what we want?) and people want to know my reasoning.

Here are some thoughts on aging and death from James Altucher.


[A reader asks:] James, how do you deal with the stress of getting older and the feeling that the years are flying by?


Aging, decay, death, is a horrible part of life. And it happens to every atom, cell, molecule, animal, human. But it’s horrible. Eventually, about 15 trillion years from now, all of the light will be extinguished from the universe, everything left will just be a lifeless husk. It’s sad that such beauty was created and there is no other course for it other than eventual imploding despair and nothingness. I can relate that you are afraid of the decay that will happen. And it’s not just the decay, it’s the uncertainty of which things will break first, which memories will be forgotten, which bones will be the next to break, and finally, the ultimate question of what happens next. Knowing that we will never know until it’s too late.

But I hate to tell you, I love getting older. Because the years that preceded my current advanced age of 44 were really not that great for me either. Or for  many people.

0-5 years old: you shit in your pants and you are dependent on other people 100% of the time to move, to eat, to bathe, to sleep, to wake up, to communicate. It’s awful. Those were probably the worst years of my life. Particularly the shitting in my pants part because sometimes it happened in front of my friends. Or on top of them. I still remember that. My mother comforting me when all the other kids on the block were laughing at me.

5-13 years old. What a nightmare. The fear of first grade. Of school. Of my father telling me: first there’s school until 18. Then college until 22. Then graduate school until 26. Then work until 65. Then you die. What the hell! And then, at age 13, junior high school! That was like a prison. I was getting acne, braces, glasses, and random kids that had beards at the age of 13 were fighting each other in the hallways until there was blood. And girls started getting pregnant. And now I have a 13 year old! This is horrible!

13-18. Disaster! High school. Teenage years. Constantly lusting after every girl. If you’re not a guy you might not even be able to imagine. All I could think about was girls. It doesn’t matter what the teacher was saying, I was pressing up against my desk to get constantly excited. And then I would eye every girl in the hallway with the implicit question: “will you have sex with me”. From 13 to 18. And do you know how many girls eyes back with a “yes”? ZERO. What a nightmare.

18-25. College, then graduate school. Horrible. And the sex, while plentiful, is not even that great either. Nobody knows what they were doing and I knew even less. And then when you start to get a job and you have to pretend like you know what you are doing but you know nothing and all you want to do is cut every corner and quickly retire. At least, for me.

25-44. Career. Family. Debt. Responsibilities. Fears. The first time I ever thought of suicide. Squashed dreams. Failures. What are so great about these years? I mean, I’m glad I have two kids now. Did I want them? No. But now I’m glad they are alive so they can torment me for a few more years.

I’m 44 now. I think maybe I enjoyed 5% of the years that came before this year.

What do I have to look forward to now?

Ahh, bliss. I have Claudia so I hope the next 40 years are good in that department. My kids are older and soon they will be adults so finally I can be their friend instead of just their dad. I legitimately like them so I think that will be fun. I’m wiser do I don’t make the non-stop stupid mistakes I made from 25-44. Persistence is not about sticking with something, its about making mistake after mistake after mistake until stop making them anymore. Hopefully I’m at that point.

Health after 44. Several good things. I am much more aware of my digestion now than when I was 21 so it means I eat better. I also sleep better because I realized that drinking was one of the stupid mistakes from 25-44. I also have now accumulated enough positive people in my life (after 44 years) that I don’t have to hunt for too many more in order to enjoy my friendships. The good thing about maintaining health is that every year I probably move up in ranking in the looks category among people my age. When I was 21 I was probably in the bottom 10%. Now maybe I’m hopefully at the 50th percentile. That’s a big improvement!

So I figure this is good for the next 20 years and then maybe other health issues start to happen. Like cancer or something. Bring it on, bitches! No chemo for me. Chemotherapy rarely works and just makes you more sick. I’m looking forward to morphine, hospice, saying goodbyes to people. Making jokes about it.

Maybe I’m looking at it too lightly. What does death mean? It means nothing. Literally nothing.  There’s a big ocean out there. My life is a single wave on that ocean. A wave that laps into the beach, disappears, and then gets drawn back into the infinite ocean, where all life began. I’m looking forward to the welcome home party.

So there you go. It means nothing. Enjoy the life you have. Learn to enjoy it even though you’re making mistake after mistake. Mistakes are the basic condition of learning.

Also, please check out the Altucher Confidential for answers to more reader questions and essays on the human spirit.


8 thoughts on “James Altucher on Age and Death

  1. nickiofcourse says:

    For the record, I don’t care (in the most loving way possible) what you believe about anything, and I suspect that is a two way street. Isn’t that neat? I have a son who is questioning “god”. Great! I couldn’t be happier. Thank gods/God/No God/Who Gives A Shit that kids DARE TO QUESTION EVERYTHING. Many, many adults could stand to remember that most important part of childhood. Somewhere along the way, we got that part of us stomped out but good. QUESTION EVERYTHING, BUT LET OTHERS THINK FOR THEMSELVES AND BELIEVE AS THEY WISH AND REMEMBER THAT NO ONE IS RIGHT. OR WRONG. There. I just stopped all wars. ;)

    • For the record, I don’t care (in the most loving way possible) what you believe about anything, and I suspect that is a two way street. Isn’t that neat? I have a son who is questioning “god”. Great! I couldn’t be happier.

      That is neat! And yes, likewise. I’m glad your son is getting that kind of openness and freedom, but be warned, kids do tend to swing the opposite direction – he might end up going fundamentalist in his search for structure and rules, just as overly sheltered kids rebel by going very anti-authority…

  2. Beth says:

    I’m late to this party, but to add my take: I was feeling really old when I turned 30. Still single, still not sure what to do with my life…and them I had an epiphany. That turning 30, at least in my case, marked a point where I became an infinitely healthier person emotionally. So I the myself a giant birthday party, which was not something I had been able to do in my years. I covered the walls in quotes about like “The best is yet to come.” And you know, there have been lots of moments in the years since then that I’ve realized I don’t heal as quickly as I used to can’t always do the things I once did without thinking about it, and one incredibly difficult diagnosis…but overall, I was right. 30 meant the end of a hell of a lot of self inflicted drama. My life is better now in every way, and I believe that will only continue as I mature and heal and grow.

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