Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is James Altucher's Advice Really Sound?

James Altucher is always writing about skipping college. He has a new book out about it. And he also says you shouldn't worry about failure, just keep trying, he says:


I failed at collegecard.com, my first business in college. I’ll describe it some other time or maybe I already did.

In fact, here’s 20 careers in a row that didn’t work out for me. I’ve sold 4 companies but have had 20 failures Probably 40 failures but I only admit to 20.

Careers zigzag. The only happiness comes when you lower your expectations below zero. Everything above that is struggle and pain with fleeting moments of success and pleasure.

When humans attempt something, they can succeed and they can fail. That is being human. There is nothing wrong with not trying something. Your question implies being motivated is a good thing. Let me just say…its an ok thing. Nothing great. Nothing horrible. You can live a perfectly great life that helps many people for generations to come by living an unmotivated life. I know many unmotivated people much happier than me.

Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before the bulb stayed lit. I bet he cried at night. Like I do. But now the cost per unit of “light” is one thousands times less than it was then.

Careers are always a zigzag. Accept that. When you feel bad about a failure I know how it feels. It’s in that gut. It’s in the chest. It drags you down. For me, it makes me feel suicidal. Ugh, its horrible.

Butthe most important thing for staying on a zigzagged track is staying physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually healthy. Do that every day for six months. Check the box. You can check the boxes here at tdp.me.

In six months your life will be 100% different. I know this because it happens to me every six months.

But can you actually put Altucher's advice into action?

I came across a short-bio of a person, who seems to have taken Altucher's advice to heart. He is made every move Altucher is suggesting. But, the only problem is that this person died in 1993. So he did it on his own, but his life is based on making the moves that Altucher regularly recommends and we can see if it worked for him.

At the age of 17, this guy decided to become a professional philosopher. Unfortunately, his family financial situation grew precarious and rather than head off to Harvard, he attended the College of the City of New York (City College). He had to support not only himself, but his mother as well, and so he could afford to attend City College full time only 1 year, and then part of a 2nd year as an evening student while working during the day. He eventually quit attending classes as he was too exhausted after work to get much benefit from the lectures.

Some philosopher this guy was going to be, a college drop out.

At the time he quit attending City College, his only skills were those that qualified him for a job as an office boy. He proceeded to take a series of jobs working as an office boy for the going rate of $5 a week to help support himself and his mother. He would work a few days, get fired because he didn’t know what he was doing, but then get hired by another office where he tried to avoid making the same mistakes. Though he was fired often, he claims he was never out of work for more than a day or two. Eventually, he learned from being on the job and he could stay on longer than a few days. These lessons learned at the bottom of the economic ladder were important to him as he attempted to climb out of his and his family’s financialy precarious situation.

During this time he kept reading and engaging serious works in philosophy and psychology. It was at this time that he happened to also read a series of articles in The Saturday Evening Post on “The Newspaper Game” (April-May 1912). This series of articles gave him the idea that perhaps becoming a reporter would serve as a good occupation until he could become a philosopher. In 1913, he took a secretarial job at The Wall Street Journal, where he worked until 1916. He transitioned from secretarial work to a reporter assigned to cover a small number of firms. In one of his first assignments, he reports, he made an egregious error out of ignorance of economic and financial terminology. The discovery of the error and his fear of losing his job gave him the impetus to study the economics and financial literature in more depth.

Got all that? A college dropout, who got fired in job after job. What happened to this guy who seemingly followed the Altucher guide to success? He became a best selling author, who wrote important books in the fields of economics, thinking and ethics. The man is Henry Hazlitt and the above biographical information comes from Peter Boettke's recent paper on Hazlitt. In the paper, Boettke concludes:

Henry Hazlitt was a unique public intellectual, who strove to not only to enlighten the general public with his writings, speeches, and appearances on TV and radio, but sought to contribute to the specialized disciplines of economics and philosophy. From the publication of his first book in 1916 to 1984, when his final two books appeared – fittingly From Bretton Woods to World Inflation and The Wisdom of the Stoics – Hazlitt sought to write works that would garner approval from specialists while generating a wide readership among intelligent laymen. 
The evidence that I have tried to marshal to support my conjecture that Hazlitt occupied a unique position in mid-20th century intellectual life in the US as a public intellectual attempting to contribute to scientific economics consisted of not just pointing to his prominent position in the world of journalism – both as a literary critic and more importantly as an economist – but more importantly for our purposes to the attention his written work commanded in the specialized professional journals in economics and philosophy, as well as the active correspondence he engaged in throughout his life. The company Hazlitt kept was not just that of the New York intelligentsia, but included many of the leading minds in the social sciences during his lifetime.
In his paper, Boettke also quotes Leland Yeager on Hazlitt:
As Yeager states... Hazlitt’s The Foundations of Morality is “the best single book on ethics that I know of.”

And Boettke summarizes Hazlitt's overall contributions, this way:
 Hazlitt was an author of books ranging from literary criticism to social philosophy, with multiple volumes in economics, political economy, and public policy in-between. Hazlitt even wrote an economic novel, Time Will Run Back that attempted to illustrate the failures of central planning. His Economics in One Lesson (1946) is perhaps his best known work, but his critical work on Keynes, as well as his work on ethics, garnered professional attention with reviews in The American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Economic Journal, and Ethics. Even when the general thrust of the review was negative, the critic would more often than not begrudgingly acknowledge Hazlitt’s unusual strengths in exposition and even analysis.
Boettke calls the success of Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson (which can still be found in bookstores today) a "publishing phenomenon".

Bottom line: In this day and age when college graduates are finding it difficult to get jobs, this should not be reason for despair. Failure should not be reason for despair. If Henry Hazlitt could develop a career as a major writer (In addition to his book writing, he wrote for both The New York Times and Newsweek) without a college degree, in an industry where educational background is probably scrutinized more so than other fields, then Altucher's advice passes a key anecdotal test.

The reason most fear attempting things on their own and fear failure is because of the indoctrination received in government schools (and government influenced schools). Teachers, in general, are the least entrepreneurial people on the planet. They went to schools, they took tests and now teach at schools and administer tests. They have never experienced life. They are not the movers and shakers in this world. They are about seniority and taking even more classes to get pay raises. There's nothing about real achievement or entrepreneurship in the education system. The education system is frozen in a deep government created freeze. Nothing has changed in first grade, high school or in colleges for decades. You feel bored sitting in these classes for good reason. You learn nothing about real life. You learn nothing about how to survive or how to succeed. That's why so many college students are lost after graduation.

Schooling has been pushed and squeezed by governments to produce unquestioning robots who are just waiting to be spoon fed the next command from the banksters, government and the crony capitalist. Fall in line, take you shoes off, spread your legs.

To breakout of this mind control and have a successful, exciting life, stick a firecracker in your butt: read Altucher's new book.


  1. Read "Economics in One Lesson" for free here:


  2. To a large degree I fit the profile described: in 2000 at 17 I became an exile with my family, and moved (penniless) from Macedonia to Canada, and in order to help my family I did not pursue post-secondary education. Instead I started a company--literally from scratch--with my dad and my brother in a field that requires no skill whatsoever. (In this respect I followed my parents, both of whom gave up university close to completion while youths in Yugoslavia, and commenced what was perhaps the most successful private clothing company in Yugoslavia.) We had a pretty good run, I must admit, breaking into "the middle class" quite quickly.

    However, out of curiosity, I've passed around my resume from time to time. You'd figure that someone with hands on managerial experience of close to ten years would be in demand... not at all. No college diploma/degree "no cigar."

    The only for people to succeed following Hazlitt's example (who btw is a hero of mine) or Altucher's advice is through being their own bosses. That is to say, yes, you can make it, and make it good; but only through taking the initiative and being the entrepreneur. Obviously, being a communicative "networker" sure helps!

    In fact, many of the most successful people I've come across have no post-secondary education. The problem is that most of these guys are in their 60s. The other problem: a lot of these guys were able to create a business that services other businesses. As we dive toward a smaller labour force participation rate (that is to say, as our society becomes less business-friendly), it becomes increasingly difficult for the next generation of the sort of guys described above to "do their thing."

  3. Spot on, your (and Altucher's) counsel to not go lock-step with what the school system tells you.

    Thiel fellows -- bright folks all -- skip college to pursue entrepreneurship:

    Our bright daughter is in NYC, interning in fashion P.R. full-time during the day and going to college at night, part-time. Our bet is that her approach will put her in a great position to compete with ordinary college grads for an entry level position -- in fashion journalism -- in two-to-four years.

    Nowadays, there are 'certificate programs' at good (CUNY) and great schools (Berkeley, Columbia) that efficiently confer working knowledge in a focused field, e.g., marketing, journalism. Our bet is that a certificate will be sufficient or superior, compared to a traditional A.A. or B.A., when combined with practical work in the field.

    And, I am setting aside the money that we save, compared to four years at NYU, for use by her in a business startup, investment portfolio, or house purchase.

    P.S. -- her fellow (unpaid) interns all have B.A.s.

  4. A college degree had cache and value until it became inflated with too many degrees chasing too few 'decent' jobs.

    Even erstwhile money-makers like law degrees, are the new soup-line career track.

    I can see only a few reasons to go to college today:
    1) Elite school insider, networking effect.
    2) Simply to say you have the degree, but one really needs a masters or PhD, which is about the same as what a bachelors deg. was (a bachelors is about what HS was).
    3) If still even taught, learning a skill such as engineering, math, chemistry, biology, saleable skills (but that too is being internationally outsourced, so no guarantees).
    4) To party, have fun, network (why go to a brick-mortar campus setting, when one can learn remotely).

    So if one 'self-educates' it is likely better, but there still is a built up bias to those that have degrees and those that do not.

    As we know, 'The State' has taken over K-12 and 'Higher?' Ed, for indoctrination and stealing money from the many to funnel to a failed system.

    1. @Anonymous

      3) "If still even taught, learning a skill such as engineering, math, chemistry, biology, saleable skills (but that too is being internationally outsourced, so no guarantees)."

      How do you mean if still being taught? To my knowledge they are still me taught and in my country (The Netherlands)I don't see people who studied these suffer from outsourcing. There are know guarantees in life but learning somethin that can be appleid or needed in a job is many times a plus. There a also plenty of people who don't know how to self educate themselves or aren't able to.

      But if you want to be guaranteed moderatly rich and work little hours you have to study denitistry, no worries about money then.
      I think that the value of higher education greatly depends on what you study and what you pay for it.

  5. Thanks for writing this, it helps. I was feeling pretty bad after reading the bit about the mining graduates.

    I remember spending days and hours in the library when I was close to graduating from high scrool (pre-internet) trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Back then, in my library anyway, there weren't Any books suggesting entrepreneurialism, and the rest of the suggestions/options didn't really appeal to me at the time. These days though, that's the gap the internet fills, eh?