Lessons I learned from James Altucher — sit up and rethink about how you currently live life
Let’s be honest for a while, rejection is NEVER easy to deal with.
Especially you are someone trying to establish your art or grow your business, taking to rejection to the heart can be debilitating for your work.
The fear of rejection is so crippling, it stops us from trying out new avenues because there is always a voice inside our head going, “What if you fail?”
According to entrepreneur, public speaker, and author, James Altucher, there are three basic responses to rejection:
- “I suck. I can’t do this. I give up.”
- “They are stupid. I’m going to keep pushing forward.”
- “Hmm, what can I do differently? What can I learn from this rejection?”
This article is about the lessons about dealing with rejection and surviving failure that I learned from Altucher’s brilliant book Choose Yourself!. Read it, if you haven’t already. Altucher’s writing is crisp, compelling, and hilarious. He is probably one of the few self-help writers out there who will light a fire in your heart and force you to take action right away.
How to Use Rejection to Push Forward
As a fledgeling entrepreneur, the first step towards making peace with rejection is to realise that you need to improve. Once you have set that straight, you need to figure out what was it that you were doing wrong and what can you do to not make the same mistake. Altucher suggests taking a hard look at your product, to take a step back and brainstorm about ten things you can do to improve what you are already doing. This is not going to be an easy list to make, but, it will probably be one of the most important things you do on this journey of self-realisation.
In other words, change up, don’t give up.
Expand the universe of decision-makers
When you are offering a product or service (say, you are sending over a manuscript of your novel to a publishing house), most of the times it will be looked at by an entry-level employee, most probably, an intern. Overworked as they are, these interns will barely glance through your work. Unless you’re a known face, they will send it back to you without any clear comments on how to improve.
Isn’t it ironic that the power to make the decision that can make or break your life lies with some college graduate who probably doesn’t even enjoy their job?
If you truly believe that your project is already the best version of itself, instead of relying on only a few people to make or break your fate, you should directly sell it to the ultimate consumers (say, self-publish your book).
Altucher gives an example of the singer, songwriter, and YouTube sensation Alex Day who was rejected by all major music labels for his debut album. Undeterred, Day went on release his album with just the support of his fanbase on YouTube. The result was astounding. Even though his album was released in the UK on the same day as Justin Timberlake’s, Day’s album ranked higher than Timberlake’s on iTunes. Day did not rely on the labels for the backing. He chose himself and released his album directly to the masses with amazing results.
Improve your approach
Do you keep getting rejected by a particular publication on Medium, a publishing house, or a record label? Simply change the place and move to somewhere else where the odds are not stacked against you.
If nobody is responding to your emails, offer them some value. Give out something for free so the people you want to reach out to see the value in your approach. Find a different way to get your story across.
Improve your authenticity
Be honest in your approach. Show your audience what unique values they would get when they choose your project. Build your own presence online by establishing yourself on a social media platform.
If you feel that a thousand other people have already offered what you are planning to offer, remember that no idea is unique. In this vast world, everything you think of has already been done before. The audience who clicks on your links isn’t doing it because they want to be blown away by the novelty of your idea. They are doing this because they want to work with YOU.
To be creative and stand out in today’s world, you must always be diversifying the artistic experience you put out.
Ask for advice
When you can’t understand the reason why your project was rejected, ask the person in charge. It never hurts to learn your shortcomings. And chances are, when someone tells you what you need to improve upfront, you will never forget what they said.
Stay in touch
Don’t let your ego get in the way and burn brides with the people who rejected you. Life is too short to spend time harbouring hard feelings. Stay in touch. You never know when and how both parties might be presented with the opportunity to offer some value to each other.
How to Move On After Failure
Failure gives you an opportunity to discover more. It opens up possibilities to develop an understanding about yourself: who you are, how you react to rejection, and what can you do about it. Of course, not every failure is an opportunity. But you have to figure it out. Figure out how to get past it, how to convert it into an opportunity to grow. In Altucher’s words-
Diversification is everything. You get past “this” by having lots of “that”s. But on top of everything there’s one more thing. Being like a child.
You make a child do their homework on a holiday and they will cry about it the entire day. But a day after that, life will set into its usual pattern and they will forget. A few days down the line, it will stop mattering to them that they were even upset about having to work on a holiday.
When you are a child, all your thoughts have a question mark at their end. But as you grow older, the question marks get replaced by periods.
- “Will I get over this?” changes to “It’s too late.”
- “Will I pass?” changes to “I am not good enough.”
- “Will she like me back?” changes to “She is way out of my league.”
Your only hope for the future is to learn to scatter question marks all over your life rather than periods. Turn your judgements into queries. Turn your “this” to “that”. Be like a child. To children, the world is full of possibilities. You can make a choice and turn your reality into a child-like hopefulness that doesn’t let the fear of failure cloud your vision.
Choosing Yourself Before All Else
In a world full of people hell-bent on outrunning each other, you cannot let others define “success” or “happiness” for you. You have to choose yourself, because, if you don’t, no one else will. Here are ten rules of choosing yourself that I learned from Altucher’s book (and hope to apply in my life)-
- Focus on your health. Not just physical, but also your emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Get enough sleep, take walks, avoid sugar, surround yourself with positive people, and know your own worth.
- When you are young, everyone will say you CAN’T. But, if you take it upon yourself and give it all you have got, there is no one who will be able to stop you. A personal anecdote here: When I was in college and I told my friends I wanted to become a full-time writer, people laughed in my face. But I kept working at it, and now, five years down the line, I haven’t succeeded (yet), but it is only a question of “when?” and not “how?”.
- Don’t underestimate the power of the community you build. You can reap its rewards yours down the line (for example, a ten-year-old fan).
- Persistence is more important than industry validation. The only thing you need to worry about is how your work is being perceived by the ultimate consumers, i.e. your audience.
- Focus on what you can do for your art or business right now rather than focussing on ten years later.
- Pick one social media and stick at it till you learn to make it work. Consistency is the key. If you keep posting quality content over a period of time, people are going to sit up and take notice. Sadly, there are no short-cuts to building an organic loyal following online.
- Talk to your fans. Engage with them. Make posts that make them think you are approachable and they can relate with you.
And the most beautiful, the most important lesson of “choosing yourself”, in the author’s own words-
Nobody can tell you what to do. No matter what they pay you. No matter what obligations you feel you owe them. Every second defines you. Be who you are, not who everyone else is, or who anyone else wants you to be.
A Major Takeaway: Becoming an Idea Machine
Did you know that there is an “idea muscle” in your brain? And like all muscles in your body, if you keep exercising your idea muscle daily, you are going to become an idea machine — someone who has brilliant ideas regularly and can make them work.
How to exercise your idea muscle?
Simple! Take a piece of paper right now and write down ten ideas. These ideas can be about anything — how to read more books, how to stay hydrated during summer, how to make your current job more satisfying, how to reduce your screen-time, and so on.
I know this sounds easy, but only after you attempt it, you will realise how mind-numbingly difficult this is. You will struggle, your brain will sweat like a pig, but, you have got to keep at it. Don’t sit up until you have written ten ideas. These don’t have to be ten great ideas. They can be bad, they can be something you will NEVER be able to do.
The point of this exercise is not to make all these ideas work. The point is to train your brain into thinking up ideas each day so that after a year of doing this, your idea muscle will be so strong, you will get brilliant ideas, and you will get them frequently!
Altucher’s words compel the reader to sit up and rethink about how they are currently living life. The concept of becoming an idea machine inspired me so much, I created an “idea book” immediately. It’s been fifteen days of consistently writing ideas and trust me, it keeps getting harder and harder to think of random ideas. But there is a sense of satisfaction in making a habit and sticking to it. I will definitely be writing more about my experiments with the idea book and how it changed my life.
As for the book Choose Yourself!, James Atulcher’s writing style is approachable. His prose makes you feel as if he is in right there inside your brain, writing about all the things you had been thinking, and helping you get past those mental blocks that stop you from succeeding.