The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People
by James Altucher: The
Ten Ways I Lie
mediocre. I’m ashamed to admit it. I’m not even being
sarcastic or self-deprecating. I’ve never done anything that
stands out as, “whoah! This guy made it into outerspace! Or…this
guy has a best selling novel! Or…if only Google had thought
of this!” I’ve had some successes and some failures
(well-documented here) but never reached any of the goals I had
initially set. Always slipped off along the way, off the yellow
brick road, into the wilderness.
started a bunch of companies. Sold some. Failed at most. I’ve
invested in a bunch of startups. Sold some. Failed at some, and
the jury is still sequestered on a few others. I’ve written
some books, most of which I no longer like (except the ones you
get when you sign up for my newsletter on the right). I can tell
you overall, though, everything I have done has been distinguished
by its mediocrity, its lack of a grand vision, and any success I’ve
had can be just as much put in the luck basket as the effort basket.
all people should be so lucky. We can’t all be grand visionaries.
We can’t all be Picassos. We want to make our business, make
our art, sell it, make some money, raise a family, and try to be
happy. My feeling, based on my own experience, is that aiming for
grandiosity is the fastest route to failure. For every Mark Zuckerberg
there are 1000 Jack Zuckermans. Who is Jack Zuckerman? I have no
idea. That’s my point. If you are Jack Zuckerman and are reading
this, I apologize. You aimed for the stars and missed. Your re-entry
into the atmosphere involved a broken heat shield and you burned
to a crisp by the time you hit the ocean. Now we have no idea who
If you want
to get rich, sell your company, have time for your hobbies, raise
a halfway decent family (with mediocre children, etc), and enjoy
the sunset with your wife on occasion, here are some of my highly
In between the time I wrote the last sentence and the time
I wrote this one I played (and lost) a game of chess. My king and
my queen got forked by a knight. But hey, that happens. Fork me
once, shame on me. Etc.
is your body telling you you need to back off a bit and think more
about what you are doing. When you procrastinate as an entrepreneur
it could mean that you need a bit more time to think about what
you are pitching a client. It could also mean you are doing work
that is not your forte and that you are better off delegating. I
find that many entrepreneurs are trying to do everything when it
would be cheaper and more time-efficient to delegate, even if there
are monetary costs associated with that. In my first business, it
was like a lightbulb went off in my head the first time I delegated
a programming job to someone other than me. At that time, I went
out on a date. Which was infinitely better than me sweating all
night on some stupid programming bug (thank you, Chet, for solving
Try to figure
out why you are procrastinating. Maybe you need to brainstorm more
to improve an idea. Maybe the idea is no good as is. Maybe you need
to delegate. Maybe you need to learn more. Maybe you don’t
enjoy what you are doing. Maybe you don’t like the client
whose project you were just working on. Maybe you need to take a
break. There’s only so many seconds in a row you can think
about something before you need to take time off and rejuvenate
the creative muscles. This is not for everyone. Great people can
storm right through. Steve Jobs never needed to take a break. But
could also be a strong sign that you are a perfectionist. That you
are filled with shame issues. This will block you from building
and selling your business. Examine your procrastination from every
side. It’s your body trying to tell you something. Listen
"5 Great Things About Procrastination"]
there’s a common myth that great people can multitask
efficiently. This might be true but I can’t do it. I have
statistical proof. I have a serious addiction. If you ever talk
on the phone with me there’s almost 100% chance I am simultaneously
playing chess online. The phone rings and one hand reaches for
the phone and the other hand reaches for the computer to initiate
a one minute game. Chess rankings are based on a statistically
generated rating system. So I can compare easily how well I do
when I’m the phone compared with when I’m not on the
phone. There is a three standard deviation difference. Imagine
if I were talking on the phone and driving. Or responding to emails.
It’s the same thing I’m assuming: phone calls cause
a three standard deviation subtraction in intelligence. And that’s
the basic multi-tasking we all do at some point or other.
So great people
can multitask but since, by definition, most of us are not great
(99% of us are not in the top 1%), its much better to single-task.
Just do one thing at a time. When you wash your hands, hear the
sound of the water, feel the water on your hands, scrub every part.
Be clean. Focus on what you are doing.
successful mediocre entrepreneur should strive for excellence in
ZERO-tasking. Do nothing. We always feel like we have to be “doing
something” or we (or, I should say “I”) feel ashamed.
Sometimes it’s better to just be quiet, to not think of anything
Out of silence
comes the greatest creativity.
Not when we
are rushing and panicking.
"Multi-tasking will Kill You"]
As far as I can tell, Larry Page has never failed. He went
straight from graduate school to billions. Ditto for Mark Zuckerberg,
Bill Gates, and a few others. But again, by definition, most of
us are pretty mediocre. We can strive for greatness but we will
never hit it. So it means we will often fail. Not ALWAYS fail. But
last 16 out of 17 business attempts were failures. I made so
many mistakes in my first successful business I’m almost embarassed
to recount them. I remember one time I was trying to pitch Tupac’s
mom that I should do the website for her dead son. I had a “CD”
(what’s that?) of all my work. I went to Tupac’s manager’s
office and he said, “ok, show me what you got”. The
only problem was: I had never used a Windows-based machine. Only
Macs and Unix machines. So I honestly had no idea how to put my
CD into the computer and then view its contents. And I had gone
to graduate school in computer science. He said, “you have
got to be kidding me”.
It was a $90,000
gig. It would’ve met my payroll for at least two months. It
was a done deal until I walked into his office. I left his office
crying while he was laughing. When I came back to my office everyone
asked, “How did the meeting go?” I said, “I think
it went pretty well.” And then I went home and cried some
more. I roll that way.
Then I bought
a Windows-based PC for myself and learned how to use it. I don’t
think I ever bought a Mac again actually. It’s possible to
learn from successes. But it’s much easier to learn from failures.
Ultimately, life is a sentence of failures, punctuated only by the
briefest of successes. So the mediocre entrepreneur learns two things
from failure: First he learns directly how to overcome
that particular failure. He’s highly motivated to not repeat
the same mistakes. Second, he learns how to deal
with the psychology of failure. Mediocre entrepreneurs fail A LOT.
So they get this incredible skill of getting really good at dealing
with failure. This translates to monetary success.
entrepreneur understands that persistence is not the self-help cliche
“Keep going until you hit the finish line!”. The key
slogan is, “Keep failing until you accidentally no longer
fail.” That’s persistence.
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© 2012 The
Best of James Altucher