Spotlight

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.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE STRESS OF GETTING OLDER?

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

ANSWER:

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.

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Favorites, Poetry

Who Once We Were

Duty

I believe we have a duty to the children:

Not just the children we raise,

The children we meet,

The orphans;

But to the children who once we were

Who Dreamed so many great things for Who They Would Become.

When you rise,

Do your job,

Greet the world,

Do you make that Dreaming spirit proud?

Or have you neglected

the first child

you ever loved?

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Personal Development

To Seek the Force of Youth

There’s a force that permeates the time of our youth. A feeling that colors the world.

I’m not sure if we feel it in the moment, or if we add it to our youthful memories much later. Does it matter? The decline or absence of this force in present life strikes the soul like hammer. There is something that fades, and we miss it horribly.

Breaking Meditation

I’ve practiced awareness meditation for a decade. In time, that meditation has branched and evolved. It’s allowed me to experience the amazing heights and depths of the human heart. It became possible to look candidly at what I am, and make effective changes to my being.

Recently I asked myself the question: what laws of my reality are actually circumstances I’ve chosen?

It’s amazing what parts of the world you can change with your mind when you have the huevos to call Reality a big fucking liar.

The answer, for me, is my concept of age and purpose. I “lost” six years by not pursuing my dream. Part of me resents it bitterly. Sometimes I think: I missed my chance. I mourn for a twentysomething who never was, but whom my 14 year old self was convinced he could create.

How sad would it be if I spent the next 10 years grieving for how I spent the last 10 years? A wasted life. Avoiding that fate requires a choice.

Do I do what I’d always dreamed of then, now? “Better later than never”?

Or settle upon different goals for a different stage of my life—leave behind youthful endeavors as the stuff of a different age?

It’s a question of fatal struggle versus stoic peace. I always side with fatal struggle, and there I find my serenity. To me, struggling against the odds represents knowledge: it’s the only way to know your true potential. Stoic peace seems like fake peace, an artifice to comfort us in our defeat.

Rekindling

So this is the project I put before myself: cultivate youthfulness.

Today I began to meditate on fond youthful memories. I paid attention to that force that colors them. What is this force? Where does it come from? What about then-me is so admirable?

How do you feel when you feel young?

And can you sow that feeling?

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Adventure, Travel

Traveling at 30

“Do it while you’re young” is the bad advice people always give me. I assumed they would stop saying this as I stopped being so young. While 30 is by no means old, it’s also not the epitome of youth. But people believe I must be a bright-eyed young wanderer to launch the Great Adventure.

So what is it like to adventure at 30?

Depurposelessness

I always had a strong sense of purpose. As a kid I had many ideas on what I wanted to do in life, and I was quick to form them into solid plans as I got older. This is unusual, and it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because everyone is impressed when a teenager has a really thorough plan. They flatter you and it feels good. You are rewarded for making plans.

But long-range plans always have an element of risk. More so if you made the plans when the two hemispheres of your brain weren’t done connecting yet. A 17 year old committing to a 10 year course of action (this school, this major, this career) is a crime against youth.

Plans have a way of blinding us. When you are sure you’re doing x you may never notice options y and θ. This is true at any age, but it’s particularly tragic when it limits someone in their formative years.

I became conscious of this during college. I decided to to drop my double major (business, philosophy) and just go with the one that moved my heart (philosophy). I took a risk and quit my part-time job as a project manager. I focused on my writing, launched my own field study, and sold spells and charms to make a living.

I tasted freedom, and I liked it.

It was then, at age 20, that I decided I was going to walk to South America. If I had, it may have been my first truly purposeless time in life. When people think of traveling they think of goalless wandering, and in many ways it would have been.

At 30, finally preparing to start my adventure, it is no longer purposeless. I spent my “drifting” time in the less exciting surrounds of Minneapolis, and I’m past that point. I know pretty well who I am; I know my ideals, and not to trust my beliefs. Would it have been more interesting to come of age on the road? Certainly. But there’s no doing it over. Drifting just to drift doesn’t hold the appeal it once held.

Mortality

I have become keenly aware of my fragility. I maintain a functional bravery, because bravery is the most effective mode of living. But it is also a measured bravery. I test rusty old ladders before I climb them. I don’t balance along railings and ledges just for fun. When I try something for the first time, I seek out training.

This is very new.

For some people, easing off the pointless risk might be gradual. For me, breaking my ankle was all it took. I endangered my entire adventuring career with 1.5 daredevil seconds. I could have lost everything I love; instead I lost two years.

It left a deep impression on me. If I traveled in my early 20s I would have taken a lot more risk. That may not have been a good thing.

Barbed Arrows

Recently I wrote about how maturity is pursuing your dreams. Passing up your dreams leads to regret and regret poisons everything else you do.

Well, for 8 years I passed up my dreams.

Regrets are like barbed arrows. They wound so easily but removing them is not so easy. I live with no regrets (as a matter of policy) in my current lifestyle, but I have regrets about the years I mis-spent. I try not to take these to heart; I don’t want them to spoil the fact that I’m now doing what I love. Perhaps my present lifestyle will be the antidote to my old regrets.

Is there something you wish you’d done earlier? Leave a comment and tell your story. Do you have regrets? Do they fade with time?

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