I showed up at the SATs in my pajamas. I had woken up late for the most important test of my life – the one test that determines what college you get into, which then determines how happy you are, who will marry you, how much money you make, and how many people you can legally kill or maim before they jail you in a minimum security prison while your money rests in Swiss bank accounts. I rushed out of bed, got two number 2 pencils and went off to the school on that Saturday morning.
About 200 kids from all over the county were waiting to take the test and were crowding up the hallway. I am not exaggerating: when I arrived they parted down the middle like I was Moses. I was in my pajamas: glasses, acne, my hair uncombed and in every direction and grasping those two number two pencils. I was like the God of the SATs.
I clearly looked like someone who was going to kick ass on the SATs. I was 17 but I had been taking the SATs every year, as practice, since I was 12. I remember crying at age 12 begging my mom to teach me the quadratic formula, “just in case”.
What a joke. I can’t even remember the quadratic formula now or what it’s used for.
Because nothing is used for anything.
Our lives are the worst misshapen archaeological digs. Imagine a skyscraper built on top of an aquarium, built on top of a merry-go-round built on top of an earthquake fault in the middle of a volcano. None of it makes sense. It’s a maze, a mish-mash, a mess.
And yet that’s how we grow up. Get good grades or “it goes on your record” (nightmares still of my mom screaming at me when I was in fourth grade and caught shoplifting: “YOUR RECORD”… ”your record”… ”YOUR RECORD!!!!”). Get a good SAT score. Go to a good college, then graduate school. Get a good wife , get a good raise, a promotion, move horizontally through the corporate ladder, then vertically, zigzag up like in the childhood game Chutes & Ladders! Get money, get a good car, fly business, then first, get art, build a stock portfolio, get your kids on the same path you were in (“if it was a good enough for me, it better goddamn well be good enough for you, you spoiled little brat!”), get a new kidney because I have so much money, get an award, get multiple women crying at your funeral, and tough guys, Old Men of the Sea, spilling at your ashes over the ocean (“the world will never be the same”, one of them finally says after the requisite silence.) GOD BLESS AMERICA!
What the hell just happened? I was going to write about YOUR major life decisions and for half the intro I’m a virgin in pajamas with two pencils comparing myself to Moses.
Ok, 12 MAJOR LIFE DECISIONS YOU MAKE WITHOUT THINKING.
A) College. Oh my god. How many times do I have to say it. I even wrote a book about it. I’ve been writing about this since 2006. Finally the NY Times has caught on. Mark Cuban even wrote an article. People are finally realizing it: COLLEGE IS/WAS/WILL BE A SCAM. I mean this in the worst possible way. It’s the US government trying to rob our 18 year olds (who do you think backs the $300,000 in student loans you graduate with?) because they’ve stolen from us until we’re shopping in dollar stores in Vermont as the only way to survive. I’ve written and argued and explained too much on this one so you can read about what I’ve said here and that will lead to the rest of the links. Note: I give alternatives that are MUCH BETTER than sending your kids to college.
But my main question for this article is: why do we think our 17 years olds are prepared to make a decision that involves a half a million dollars at this early stage in their lives (DO NOT argue with me about the math. I will beat you down with a stick.)?
B) House. Oh sure, you can buy a house for $200k and sell it 10 years later for $400k. That’s the extent of how people think about this decision. We’re not allowed to think deeper. It’s the American Dream. It’s ROOTS. It’s what’s needed to create stability before we can CREATE. We NEED A HOUSE. It’s drilled into us from an early age. Not even the white picket fence. Just something innocuous that’s implanted like a secret science fiction chip into our brain: “Just a place I can rest my feet and call my home”. “A place I can plant flowers.” “A place I change the walls”. ROOTS.
It’s such BS. And again, I write about it. But: maintenance, property taxes, interest payments, more maintenance, time spent, lack of flexibility, lack of ability to maximize your income because you are stuck, illiquidity of a massive investment, massive debt – and is the debt backed by… the US government. God Praise the Queen! Or the President. Or the Minister of Security. Whoever. Someone has their hand in your pocket. There’s a hole in your pocket. They are feeling around past the hole.You! My good friend. Have just been molested.
C) Marriage. I’ve never seen something like how it is in the movies: two people meet in a cab and then head to Las Vegas and get married. Maybe it happens in “real” life but I’ve never seen it. But I’ve seen two people, age 23, meet for a first date and then ten days later get married. Or even worse, two people live together for 5 years and then finally decide to get married.
What the hell are you thinking? Marriage is like the worst thing ever (married people, hold off, I’m going to come full circle on this)
- You’re going to spend the next 70 years with that person EVERY SINGLE DAY
- You’re going to see that person in every worst possible way. On the first date, imagine them in the hospital with tubes sticking into every hole in their body and their head shaved. Now kiss them.
- You’re done. Unless you are cheating (please don’t do that. It’s too stressful for everyone involved, its unhygienic and could spread disease, and it will destroy all the people around you) you are not having sex with ANYONE ELSE for the rest of your life.
- The passion in your marriage will eventually wear off. Not necessarily, but it’s a normal part of life. As I’ve written before, there’s the saying: put a penny in a jar everytime you have sex before the marriage, take a penny out every time you have sex after. You’ll never empty the jar. I hope that doesn’t happen to me but we’ll see.
- It costs money! On average, that is. Let’s say 50% of marriages end in divorce (I don’t care if the number is accurate. Some large number ends in divorce) then imagine the expenses of supporting two households. Or three. Or I know people with five households they are supporting. It really hurts.
- You might fall in love again. With someone else. Anything can happen. We are talking 70 years! Hope that it doesn’t happen to you but some people are addicted to falling in love. Maybe your new spouse is. I hope not!
- People change. What you liked about your wife when she was 23 might be 100% different at 33 and 100% different at 43. I hope you change together but that’s a pretty big gamble. If you were a gambling man would you gamble that two people are going to change together over a period of 70 years? I would almost never make that bet without incredible odds.
This doesn’t mean I hate marriage. I love being married. Here’s my post on The Purpose of Marriage.
Just don’t make this major life decision without thinking about it. I have a checklist in the above post. Make sure you can AT LEAST check all of those boxes.
D) Children. First off, before I rant, I LOVE my children. Someone sent me an angry email the other day:
“Your the biggest prick in the world for talking about how your 10 yr old daughter is spewing BS and vomit from her mouth when she lies to you. Your a sad excuse for a father you piece of shit. You cruel, heartless bastard. I hope you lose your wealth and your possessions and wake up to what this life is all about you shit head scumbag.”
My emailer’s name is Tom Wait and he lives in Newark, California. I am grateful when I get an email like that. It lets me test myself. I don’t respond. And I feel bad that his anger has forced him to unleash on me like that. But I also have to consider: do I talk about my kids too much. I don’t think so.
So I will talk about them more:
Kids suck. And people just keep spewing their sperm around, making more kids, like it’s the easiest decision in the world. Then suddenly you have a new US citizen living in your house who is one foot tall, can’t even walk without your help, screams all the time, doesn’t speak English, craps on the floor, and has to fed by you. OUT OF YOUR BREASTS if you are a woman.
Are you crazy?
Then we get older it gets a little better…if you like being a chauffeur all day long and hanging out in kid’s stores and watching cartoon movies about baby bears lost in the jungle. I mean we are talking some serious bad decision making here when you have a kid.
Now, its not all that bad. (my daughters making each other laugh make up for it) but let’s not forget:
Kid’s cost money. $30k per pregnancy, then thousands per year on food and clothes. Then thousands every year on school supplies, books, gas to drive them places. Then thousands every year after they hit 18. Then maybe 10s of thousnads a year after they hit 35. And will they ever appreciate it? We’ll see. I don’t know yet.
And even worse: having a kid really changes your relationship with your spouse. Now the kid is her (or his) love of her life. You have to really see and pay attention to how the kid affects your relationship with your spouse or that could suddenly get a whole lot more expensive (see above). Believe me. But people don’t think of this. Don’t think of the consequences. It’s not true that “no time is a good time”. That’s just an excuse to make a bad decision. The sperm hits the ovum and KA-BOOM!
E) Eat. You are what you eat. I can’t even think of a more true statement. Where do you think the atoms in your body even come from. A lot of it comes from the food you eat. Most people don’t think twice about: cheese Danish in the morning, pasta and spring rolls for lunch, potato chips during the day, 8 cups of coffee, steak and fries and ice cream at night with a bottle of wine to smooth out the day. I’m not describing your meals. I’m describing how I used to eat. Every day. But the wine might start by 10am. Just to feel good about my afternoon meetings.
See my post on how Lisa lost 100 pounds. “Sugar hurts your bones, increases wrinkles, and makes you stupid” she told me the other day. And sugar is in about 99% of the products sold in the grocery store. So people blindly do it because it’s hard to do otherwise.
F) Media. Again, you are what you eat! Even if you eat dog shit all day. I’m a firm believer in this: you have four bodies. Not just one. A physical body that you have to take care of to live. But also an emotional body. A mental body. And a spiritual body. These bodies need food to survive also. If they die or get sick then you die and get sick in some way.
The emotional and mental bodies get their sustenance from the things you read, the stuff you watch on TV, the people around you and what they are saying or gossiping about. You are what you eat. The spiritual body lives on your ability to be grateful, on your ability to ignore the daggers and hate that are constantly thrown your way (see email above under “Children”) Otherwise it will starve to death. And so will you. And so you will your ability to love others and make others happy.
When you are grateful for others, their accomplishments, their successes, their magic, becomes yours. Then you are better than human. Then you are magic.
But people don’t think twice about picking up the worst crap to read on the train, on the plane, before bed, or let’s watch these shows or watch these movies. Or hang out with these gossipers, or spend a day not being grateful for the…for the…I can’t even fill it in. Just being grateful FOR.
G) Stocks. People will look at every detail of a $30,000 car before making a purchase decision but lose $100,000 in seconds on a bad stock purchase that they didn’t do any due diligence on. This is why I write “10 reasons people should never own stocks”. But if you want to own stocks, build a checklist in advance. A plan. You will only own a stock if it has these 10 features. And don’t put more than 3-5% of your portfolio in any one stock. Don’t be an idiot. But people were, are, and always will be. I see it every day.
H) Luxuries. When I was five I wanted a drumset so my parents got me one. I never used it. So when my kid was five and wanted a drumset I, of course, got her one. She never used it. The same goes for most of our purchases. Think how much money you can save per year if you just avoided all the things you never used for more than a week a year. It would be thousands I’m sure.
I) Jobs. Most people hate their job. I get emails every day, “I hate my job”. I wrote a post, “10 reasons you need to quit your job right now.” But people are brainwashed by the American Dream into thinking: job, promotions, money, raises, bonuses, SUCCESS.
This is not what success is about. And yet it feels good to be wanted. It feels good when they make that offer. SO you don’t think twice about it. After all, you got that degree in accounting so why not be an accountant. Again, make a checklist. I’ll do another post on what I think that checklist should be. But don’t make a decision will effect the next 20 years of your life without doing the appropriate due diligence.
J) Alcohol. Most people I know drink at least five times a week. I’m not going to criticize. There’s lots of reasons to drink. It takes the edge off a hard week (see “Hate job” above). It gives you that buzz so you lose inhibitions in an awkward social situation (that first date ten days before you get married, for instance). Some people like the taste (ugh, give me a vanilla milkshake instead, even with all the sugar).
But think about how much you spend on alcohol a year. That can be just cash in your bank. And meanwhile, you avoid the sugar in alcohol, the bad ramifications when you lose those inhibitions, and all of the cancer-linked diseases that are related to alcohol. Not to mention the general harm against your liver. I don’t even know what my liver does. But if something gets in the way of peeing and shitting then its NO GOOD.
If you avoid these ten things, think of how much money you would avoid losing in the 20 year period between 18 and 38. Just think about it. I can tell you for me the number is in the multi-millions. It adds up each year.
I’m not saying that’s not worth it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make these decisions.
It’s just that people make these multi-million dollar decisions without even a second thought. At the time it seems like nothing. Its love, or chemicals, or addictions.
Or even worse, its what your parents told you to do. Or your friends. Or your colleagues. They want to feel justified in their own horrible decisions.
Or even worse than that – its the American system of non-stop brainwashing via government agendas and commercialism. Who backs the student loans. Who backs the home loans. Who wants you in jobs paying maximum taxes? Who wants you paying those surplus taxes on alcohol? And the billion dollar companies advertising to you all day long when you are semi-hypnotic states watching brain-dead TV.
That’s a lot of pressure. It’s really hard to avoid it. I didn’t avoid it. And I paid. I paid too much. And i’m still paying. It will never end.
The biggest challenge in being an adult, in saving money, in having freedom, in having success, is the ability to break free from the brainwashing, is to break free from the Matrix. To live your own life without everyone trying to drag you down into their HELL.
Because when you break free, the hands grasping at you from the depths of hell will finally lose their grip and slip back into their own self-created abscesses. You’ll start to float higher. You’ll feel free, light, unencumbered except by your own wonderful decisions. Decisions made from a deep well of infinity inside of you that hasn’t been tainted or tarnished. Or, through the daily practice you can begin the process of cleaning it.
It’s never too late. I’ve made every one of the decisions above. Often for the wrong reasons. Often repeatedly. And I’ve suffered for it. We’ve all suffered to some extent. That’s what life is. But cleansing the four bodies I mention above, also begins the arduous process of alchemizing those prior decisions into a gold you could not have imagined. Into an abundance you only dreamed about.
And no matter what those choices are, when you are making them with full consciousness, with a cleanliness that goes straight through to the soul, you’ll rise above the hells everyone else lives in. You’ll be in your own personal heaven.
James Altucher is an entrepreneur that has started and sold several companies. He is author of 11 books (latest is “Choose Yourself!”), he is an angel investor and his website is JamesAltucher.com.