Today You Started a Business
by James Altucher: Competence
and the Beatles Last Concert
A friend of
mine left his corporate job yesterday after 23 years of being trapped
in the Matrix. I hate it because Im envious of that moment.
The day I left a corporate job to be on my own for the first time.
Suddenly you go from managing a cubicle from the hours of 9 to 5
to having to manage ALL OF TIME AND SPACE. The holograph screens
that altered the universe around you peel away to show you what
the real world looks like. The extra colors and intensity that had
been hidden from you behind tinted-black glass windows and fluorescent
I wish I had
done it differently. I wish I had known what I know now.
I was working
at HBO. I had a cubicle on the 6th Floor of 1100 Sixth Avenue. My
boss was down the hall. His boss was in the room next to his. His
boss was in the room next to that. And the real boss (the top guys
secretary) was in front of all of their offices. I had a view of
the McDonalds at Sixth Avenue which is now the big Bank of America
Work in the
corporate world is like a hazy drug dream to me now. You could get
in at 10am. Everyone took breaks downstairs to smoke. I didnt
smoke so I took licorice with me. Then at noon, LUNCH! And then
after lunch, chess in Bryant Park. Then my boss left to catch his
train at 4:15. So I would leave at 4:16. Before I had my own business
on the side Id take the subway to Astoria and go to Steinway
Billiards. Everyone there was Greek. Wed all sit and play
backgammon and chess and drink thick Greek coffee until about two
in the morning. Sometimes my friends from HBO would come with me
and it would be like a
party every night. And I loved all the girls in the place but
not a single one ever talked to me or looked at me no matter how
many two dollar bills I tipped with.
goals and deadlines at work. Except for the summer. There was never
anything to do in the summer. And all other times the deadlines
were mild. Like if you missed one then it just meant a meeting was
rescheduled. Nobody would get fired. The saying was, if you
want to get fired you have to stand on Albies desk and pee
on him. That was the bosss bosss boss. As part
of my job I got to go to San Francisco for the first time, Los Angeles,
and sunny Orlando (to make the website for the series From
the Earth to the Moon which was shot right in Disneyworld.)
And then I
I had to. I
was running a business on the side. We had clients, some of whom
were even competitors to HBO. We had employees. I had payroll to
meet. And I felt myself stagnating at my job. I couldnt get
out of bed in the morning. I stopped enjoying the meager things
I was doing. And I thought I could handle the psychology of being
on my own. What could be different, I thought. I wanted to spread
my wings even though I had no idea how to fly.
I cried twice
the first day on my own.
at lunch with one of my partners, Randy. It suddenly hit me that
I didnt have a multi billion media empire as my backstop.
I was on my own. I felt alone. Which is another way of saying, if
I fucked up I had nobody to blame. Like we all did in corporate
America. So over pizza I cried. Are you ok? Randy said.
Poking at my weakness. Yeah, I said.
at dinner with all my ex-employees and friends at HBO. I ordered
pasta AND fries. Everyone started to laugh at what I had ordered
and I wasnt sure why. That made me cry again but nobody noticed.
I felt like a four year old in a room filled with laughing adults.
I had no idea what I was or what I was supposed to be.
I had been
anchored close to shore with Time Warner as the dock. Now I was
in deep waters. Too deep to anchor. I had to fish now. I had to
find food. I had to get water. I had to feed a lot of people. I
had to kill or be killed. I learned a lot in the next few months:
A) It was
always my fault when things went wrong. If you blame others,
you go out of business. Take responsibility for your problems and
fix them or move on.
B) I had
to communicate to people. If you hide from customers, they will
fire you. If you hide from employees they lose respect for you.
If you hide from investors, they sue you.
C) I had
to help employees feel good about their jobs. I had to help
customers feel their jobs were about to get a lot easier because
now I was in their lives. I had to learn to reward people. I wanted
everyone around me to feel good about it. To spread the word that
I was someone to work with, to be around.
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© 2012 The
Best of James Altucher