Book: I Was Blind But Now I See

James Altucher is brilliant. Everyone on the planet should buy a copy of his new book I Was Blind But Now I See right now. You’ll likely hate some of it. Other parts will annoy you. Still others will seem simplistic, counterproductive, or just plain odd. But every page will make you think.

I met James for the first time at Defrag this year. Eric Norlin invited him. A few of my friends told me I had to see his talk. It was awesome. Now – a bunch of the Defrag talks were superb but James was early in the first day and he set the tone. I can’t remember whether he was before or after Tim Bray but they were back to back and all I remember after they were both done was exhaling a deep breath and saying to myself “fuck – that was great!”

James’ book was in my Defrag swag bag (legendary – one of the best anywhere) and I finally emptied it out the other day. I’m reading a book a day over the next two weeks and this was my book today.

It was perfect timing. On my 90 minute run today alone (no humans at all) in the mountains behind my house in Keystone, I kept thinking about SOPA. I’ve been incredibly agitated the last few days by SOPA after watching three hours of the House Judicial Committee hearing on Friday. SOPA is such an evil thing at so many levels and the people in the House that want it to happen appear to refuse to listen to facts or logic, and – when they talk about what they are confronted with – claim the facts and logic aren’t actually factual or logical. The noise in my brain about this kept drifting away as I thought to myself “how strange that there is snow only on the left side of the trail” or “I wonder if there will be any good movies next weekend since all the ones this weekend are shit” or “how awesome is it that there are no other humans out here” but then would be interrupted by angry thoughts about the chairman of the house judiciary committee who is the sponsor of this bill, the people on the house judiciary committee that are clearly “the henchman”, the absurd process that is unfolding – and then I’d start thinking about my breathing again and the fact that my heart rate was above 160 and that felt good.

James takes us through his chaotic mind, his successes and failures, his struggles and depressions, as he gets to the point where he very clearly tells us that only one thing really matters – one’s own happiness. He proceeds to describe a series of completely fucked up things that get in the way of it. He prescribes a very simple way to be happy, which includes a number of things I do and often suggest such as don’t watch TV, don’t read newspapers, exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, stretch your mind every day, ignore all the crappy people in the world, don’t worry about things you can’t impact, recognize that many parts of the macro (government, banks, education) are irrelevant to your well being, and don’t roll around in the mud with a pig.

But most of all he reminds us to just be honest all the time about everything. In my experience, this is the most liberating thing of all on the quest for happiness. Anyone who spends time with me knows I try to always do this regardless of the implications.

Be honest. Be happy. We all die eventually.

  • Anonymous

    I was totally amazed by his talk at Defrag as well (I hope it was recorded and will be made available). I’m working my way through his book but even though much of the content is similar to his talk I didn’t think it was delivered with the same tone and so I could understand if it doesn’t quite resonate with some people.

    • Agree – his clarity in the talk was extremely powerful. The book has it also – there’s just a lot more words, which lowers the impact.

  • So were you able to balance your thoughts about SOPA with Altucher’s advice? SOPA is relevant, but it’s hard to see how we can have any impact. Is there a happy place?

    • Yeah – I’m not angry at Lamar Smith anymore. Nor am I angry at the other people in the House who are promoting this. Whenever I see them lying about things, I just accept that is what they are made of and there’s nothing I can do about them specifically.

      I’ll do my best to educate people on why SOPA is bad and rally support against it, but there’s no point in me being worked up about the specific people promoting it. Which is what was starting to happen.

      I generally never let this happen. For some reason it was happening in this situation. Altucher helped me realize the futility of being angry at them.

  • i m really glade about this topics 

  • ‘In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us.’ Dag Hammarskjold

  • The really interesting thing you did in this post was describe watching your thoughts while running with regard to SOPA, nature, etc. James is on to something, but the process you went through there is actually the true path to joy. It’s not just realizing that you shouldn’t be angry about A or B, or that you can’t change X, but it’s seeing that your thoughts about any of it are the root of dissatisfaction and angst. Observing your thoughts will do more to bring you peace and joy than any other technique in your life, because observing your thoughts will slow your thoughts and result in true “Peace of Mind”. The root of all “evil” in the world is the incessant thinking we all do that eats away at our peace. 

  • Spot on.  I met James at Defrag (prior to his keynote, he looked nervous pacing around, so I ended up talking w/ him for a few minutes) and have just finished his book.  He’s a trip + completely “is” as he writes.

    Here’s what struck me from your post:  “just be honest all the time about everything. In my experience, this is the most liberating thing of all on the quest for happiness. Anyone who spends time with me knows I try to always do this regardless of the implications”

    A little story

    You’ve behaved this way every time we’ve been together, including the day we first met in person.  I was presenting, not yet done, and you stood up + walked out.  Poor Seth was still there + kindly wrapped up the meeting.

    I was shocked, hurt + pissed off for a couple days – I was angry at you.  I went over things in my mind, trying to “figure it out”.  Ultimately, I decided to focus on what you (and Seth) had said during the meeting, pulling out the stuff that was valuable.  It quickly became apparent that it was *all* valuable, right up to the point you walked out.

    Fast forward several years – I’ve since spent a lot of time w/ you + your partners and now understand what happened that day w/ clarity.  You provided me as much useful stuff as you could – honestly – in that meeting on that day, without going into ‘grin fucker’ territory.

    While I didn’t get it that day, I do now.  Regardless of the implications, indeed.

    • I don’t remember that day very well but I’m glad you processed it that way. I usually explain when I walk out of a meeting early, but it sounds like I didn’t that day. My partners and I have an internal agreement that we don’t all have to stay for everything together if someone has other things to do. I don’t remember what was going on, but I do remember feeling very overwhelmed and overstimulated at the first Defrag with all the people I wanted to talk to and all the people who wanted to talk to me.

      I’m especially glad you decided I wasn’t a jerk – you’ve been a great friend.

  • Eric Shannon

    Great post Brad. Have had similar thoughts about the Boulder city council and planning board recently. Expect these books will help 😀

    I ordered his previous book a few days ago ‘How to be the luckiest
    person alive!’ after reading for an hour on his great blog. I wonder how
    much overlap there will be with ‘I was blind’.

    • Some overlap – he refers to it. Thanks for reminding me to go get “How to be the luckiest person alive.”

  • Anonymous

    We are living in a era where more and more of our freedoms are being stripped away. We must balance the need of personal comfort in the short run with that of personal responsibilities in the long run. Just turning off may not be the answer either.

    • I try hard to turn off the noise but leave the signal on. I put energy into processing and responding to the signal, but ignoring the noise. James makes this point well in the book.

  • Hey Brad – his talk was highly entertaining and the book is in my pile to read. A book a day is impressive. Is Duncan Watts book Everything is Obvious on your lIst to read? I read a bit of it and am intrigued. Given you like disruptive technologies, it would seem to be something you would lIke. I would love to know what you think.

    • Everything is Obvious is in the pile – I’ll read it today.

  • Yeah I’ve been reading a lot of James’ stuff lately including the book and I love his writing style as I like “A lot of words”. 🙂
    I think his point summarized by you that, “only one thing really matters – one’s own happiness.” has a lot of truth to it and it is important that people focus on finding their “happy place” amongst the craziness of modern clutter.  

    But I think this philosophy immediately begs a question that we all have to think about beyond the achievement of personal happiness. 

    That is…

    “OK so now you are happy, right? What are you going to do to spread that feeling like a virus outside the confines of your own skull?” 

    As John Donne pointed out in his “Meditations 17 almost 400 years ago, (summarized) “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” -

    Donne perhaps would argue with James and he might say to him “there are no crappy people, only crappy attitudes and saying there are crappy people is a crappy attitude.”

    Donne of course would have said it with better prose than this. 🙂

    The key to happiness is reaching that place where no matter what anyone says or does to you or anyone else that your first reaction is to remember that at some point in time that person was an innocent, pure, wide-eyed child of 5 just discovering self-awareness and without a trace of anger, hatred or vice. 

    That can help you achieve a “still point” of initial compassion that prevents you from reacting from a place of anger to even the most repulsive of behaviors or statements. Compassion is the only thing that can successfully anchor the human psyche to rational ground even in the face of the worst wrongs we see in the world.

    From that anchored place you can then affect positive change by pulling people into the compassionate center. Once you achieve personal happiness you must not isolate yourself away from the “main”. Because you cannot be an island unto yourself. Beneath the waters we are all connected. Remember that when the “bell tolls” it always “tolls for thee”.

    So watch TV, watch the hearings, engage in life, listen to even the haters and doubters. But do it from an unmovable anchor point of selfless compassion that will turn you into a guiding light for others to find their way to where you are.

    Happiness earned is merely selfishness unless it can be shared in a viral fashion.

    • James covers this in the book. He has a different point of view, which is “ignore the crappy people.” 

      There is a set of people I come in contact with who I don’t feel like engaging with. These are the people who I believe James is referring to when he talks about “crappy people.” I have a very simple sorting rule for this – I call it the “fuck me once” rule.

      Everyone on the planet gets to “fuck me once.” I use a soccer metaphor – they get a yellow card. It’s my responsibility to deliver the yellow card and explain what’s going on. They have a variety of reactions and whatever the reaction I view the yellow card as delivered. The second time they fuck me over, they get a red card and I’m done interacting with them.

      There are very few people I’ve given a red card explicitly to. And, over time, for some of these, they’ve grown and changed (and I’ve grown and changed) so we can try again.

      There’s a second category of things you cover that I strongly disagree with. I have finite energy and finite time on this planet. I give energy and happiness out continuously. I give it to people I care about and who receive it. I don’t try to give it to people who have rejected it, especially if they reject it over and over again.

      And I’m at peace with all of that since it makes me happy!

      • I hear you and I do agree that being at peace and in a happy place personally is always the first and high priority step. To stay centered and happy. If you can’t get to and stay in that spot even minimally as a start it’s hard to remain “useful” and impactful for anyone.

        You have to be happy first so your spouse and family and closest friends see you happy and can be happyAs we all know it’s really hard to do this, especially when trying to be an entrepreneur, or work with dozens of entrepreneurs, that are trying to change the world.

        PLus in your role you have people coming to draw your energy form you constantly. That’s got to be exhausting for someone who has that “inner introvert” you have talked about in the past.I guess all I’m saying is I think there is maybe a higher plane of happiness, that by the way I’m not particularly good at reaching and staying on, where the more one shares positive energy the more “one receives it back with interest”.

        Having said that I am an EE/physicist by training and I do understand that although time is not absolute and is relative, it does moves along at the same rate in one direction within my personal frame of reference. (Reading Isaacson’s Einstein bio right now btw.) 

        I’m not saying that you should keep trying to proactively seek people out who have rejected your positivity in the past. Just wondering perhaps if there’s a fine line to walk between 1. ) building boundaries/rules around yourself and your inner circle in your happy place in order to sustain yourself in that happy place and 2.) Building a “just slightly too high” of a wall around that happy place that keeps your positivity and it’s potential full impact on the world throttled and therefore diminished.

        You know better than most that you never know when you are going to meet that next person who you could inspire to change the world in a big way. And like any human you may at times make a mistake and flash your “red card” that sends that person into the ditch.

        But unlike a lot of humans your red card, because of what you have achieved and the influence you command, is way bigger and more powerful than all but a handful of people on the planet.

        I think from what I’ve read from your blog and books and FB wall that your heart is in the right place on this. It’s a big responsibility to be powerful and influential.

        Age and struggle is what converts power/influence from a force of corruption into a force for good. 

        Not saying you don’t know this. Just offering my thoughts on it from my view from the old 40-something, first-time-entrepreneur side of life.


        Cheers and have a happy holiday season. R



  • Scott Wharton

    just bought the Kindle edition for $1.99 – thanks for the recommendation!

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