How to Eat What You Kill
This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.
Life only tastes good when you eat what you kill. When you hustle for what you earn and someone pays you money in proportion to the service you’ve offered, the idea you’ve created, your ability to execute on it, and their ability to consume it in a way that benefits them.
Someone asked me the other day, “What does it mean when you say you ‘Eat what you kill’?”
It means that the greatest pleasure is going into the jungle and mastering the ability to hunt and survive without the help of masters who only pretend to guarantee our safety; i.e., bosses. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, a student, a homemaker, a writer — it’s time to start forgetting about all the ways the world has promised you safety and comfort.
Human knowledge has torn apart our families, our bank accounts, and lulled us into a creepy sense of Disney stability. A good friend of mine was just laid off from his job of ten years. He found out through an email and was asked not to come into work for the rest of the week and to clean out his desk when security came in on Saturday. All of that human knowledge in an email. Ten years of work. Time to cut costs. “What do I do now?” he asked me.
How to Eat What You Kill:
Don’t depend on one boss, buyer for your company, product, service you offer, etc. Diversify everything you can. When I was starting Stockpickr I was trying to start 9 other companies simultaneously, plus was running a fund of hedge funds. When I was trying to sell Stockpickr, I was in serious talks with 5 other companies. When I write articles, there are five different sites I write for. When I was broke and about to lose my home, I wrote to over 100 different people to try to build up my network. When I worked at HBO I tried to build value in every department; all the time I was preparing my exit by planning out my first successful startup.
Become an expert. Read every book, blog, website, whatever, about what you want to be an expert in. When I began day-trading for hedge funds I must have read over 100 books on trading and investing and then wrote over 1,000 programs testing out different trading models. And I still sucked at trading. I then spent years doing it before I felt I was halfway decent enough to pull consistent money out. And only then did hedge funds start hiring me.
Connect people. If you introduce person A to person B and then person B is able to solve a pain point in his life, then you just made a good connection. Each connection is another string in the tightly woven net you build that will catch you when you fall and throw you to higher heights than you’ve ever experienced before. And you will fall. Don’t think it can’t happen.
Give ideas for free. If you have no network then you have to build it. Nobody wants to help you for free. They are all just trying to survive. Even billionaires are trying to protect their luxury-soaked lifestyles plagued by jealousies and over-sexed libidos. You have to build your idea muscle and work hard to come up with ideas that can really help these people. Then send them the ideas for free. Not everyone will respond, but the benefits are:
- You exercise that idea muscle
- Someone will respond. And that someone will make you money. When I did this technique, one person out of the 40 gave me money to manage. Another person hired me to write. My life changed.
- See Give and You Will Receive.
Always work on your exit. No matter where you are: a job, a startup, your startup, writing a column, working at McDonald’s… always diversify your possible exits and begin immediately working on them. You don’t have to exit tomorrow, but never forget that you can get that email tomorrow that says you have to clean out your desk by Saturday. Build your personal brand, make your boss’s contacts your contacts, make calls, send emails, leave responses on blogs, come up with ideas out of the scope of your job description
Never say a bad word about anyone. Don’t betray anyone. Don’t backstab anyone or step on anyone’s toes. Don’t gossip. This might come into conflict with the idea of “eating what you kill” but backstabbing in order to do it implies you have a “scarcity” mentality: that there isn’t enough out there unless you kill someone else in order to get what you want. Let me tell you something: there’s enough out there for everyone. Your competition is not other people but the time you kill, the ill-will you create, the knowledge you neglect to learn, the connections you fail to build, the health you sacrifice along the path, your inability to generate ideas, the people around you who don’t support and love your efforts, and whatever god you curse for your bad luck. Avoid those and you avoid competition. Don’t hurt anyone.
Don’t care what people think. People will hate you for being a hunter: your bosses, colleagues, partners, investors, extended family. But they don’t have to feed your family. You do. Once you care what others think, you’ve lost. Then you’ve just set up the same boundaries for yourself that those other people have set up for themselves. They are all smaller than you and live in straitjackets. It’s easy to kill someone in a straitjacket. Don’t be one of those people.
Create your own luck. Luck doesn’t come from god or magically out of the air. When a runner wins a race by one-tenth of a second, chances are he prepared more, studied his competition, ate better, slept better, was more mentally fit, etc. Once you’ve checked all the boxes on your preparation, guess what, you’ll be lucky. A lot of people say, for instance, that Mark Cuban became a billionaire by luck. I address that in this post.
Reward is unrelated to risk. People say, “No risk, no reward.” This is not true. I don’t like to take risks. I have a family to feed. Don’t take risks with your kids. Diversification is not about diversifying your cash investments, it’s about diversifying all the sources of plenty in your life: opportunities, knowledge, friends, networks, investments, risks, health, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, i.e. the Daily Practice I recommend. To eat what you kill, minimize risk so you don’t die on the hunt. You do that by diversifying every part of your life. The outcome of this is that if you forgot to bring your knife on the hunt, you still have your gun. If you forgot to bring your ideas full force into the game, you still have your network; if you lose on one risk, you still have the nine others. That’s where you get the reward.
Take responsibility for all failures. It’s your fault when you go hungry. Former world chess champion Mikhail Botvinnik said in his book, One Hundred Selected Games that the only way to reach the highest level of success is to develop the ability to critique your own failures. Note the word, “only” in this. Anecdote: Botvinnik used to train by playing against someone who would blow smoke in his face so as to get accustomed to difficult playing situations. He was the world chess champion for 15 years.
Honesty. If you don’t ask for what you want, chances are you won’t get it. If you don’t say what you believe, you’ll never stand out from the 99% of people out there who hide the truth about themselves and their desires. If you don’t stand up and say or show how special you are, nobody will ever think you are special. Nobody is out there advocating for you. Honesty about what you feel, believe, know, think, want, will make you a multi-dimensional person in a flat-land world.
Patience. Most important. Three-year-olds can be honest but it doesn’t mean anything. They still poop their pants on occasion. You need to grow up. To check all of the boxes on the above items, do the Daily Practice to stay in mental, physical, emotional, spiritual shape. Avoid crappy people, be honest, take responsibility, and so on. Being a hunter is very discouraging. Sometimes you have to go for lean stretches where there’s nothing to kill and then nothing to eat. To be honest, I’m on a four-year stretch. I’m hunting for my next kill and I will get it. During those times it’s most difficult to keep balanced and stay sane. I’ve talked many people off ledges during these periods, including myself. It’s these times when it’s most important to be around only the people who love you, and to avoid the damaging people who will bring you to their peculiar and particular circles of hell. You don’t want to go to hell. At the end of the day, patience is the virtue that takes you to heaven.
Don’t worry about adding or subtracting to the sum of human knowledge. Human knowledge is never that great. Be better than human. Be a hunter.