Are You Having Enough High Stakes Moments?

image - Flickr / Adrian Sampson
image – Flickr / Adrian Sampson

Yoshiro Nakamatso would suffocate himself underwater in order to come up with ideas. He invented the floppy disk when he was within 1/2 second of his death, about to drown.

He has 4,000 patents. He also has photographed every meal he’s ever taken for the past 34 years. He claims he’s the most prolific inventor in the world.

Creativity is high stakes. A lot of people write and tell me they are scared because they don’t know how to feed their family or they lost their job. I get it. It’s scary and I’ve been there and it wasn’t so long ago.

The air gets heavier and heavier. It multiplies and pushes your chest down until all you are is a breathing machine, trying to survive. It becomes impossible to create ideas.

Nakamatso was 0.5 seconds away from death and IBM is still paying him for that floppy disk 60 years later.

Let’s call these moments “high stakes moments”.

In a relationship when there’s nothing left after the cheating but rawness and tears – that’s a high stake moment.

When there’s nothing left in the bank and 2 kids to feed – life feels like there’s no way out.

When you’re told you have six months left to live and you want to try and soak everything in because you regret all the things you missed before.

When your business has only one month of payroll left and no customers – that’s a high stakes moment.

I’m afraid of the high stakes moments. Because at a fork in the road, which way do I go?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s #2 guy. He’s a multi-billionaire.

But when he was in his mid 30s, he was broke, living in horrid conditions, divorced and had to support three kids, his 9-year-old son just died of cancer, and his eye was in so much pain they had to take it out. The guy is literally the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

A year later he got married to the woman he remained with forever. And a year or so after that he met Warren Buffett and created the biggest company in the world.

Or, at least, they own a chocolate company, an underwear company, and a potato chip company. Enough to satisfy 90% of human desire and then sell you the chair to sit on because they own a furniture company. Superstah, baby!

Whatever direction you are heading, chances are you get there.

It’s hard to change directions, to change life paths.

Only at high stakes moments we have the opportunity to change paths. To see the road from a different perspective. This is not “failure”. This is “high stakes”.

We take a step back and we say, “My 9-year-old son died of cancer. What meaning can there possibly be in that?” And there is no meaning. There is no sense.

We are always 1/2 second from death. But most people fake it and pretend they aren’t by chasing the next Rolex or promotion or pat on the back that tells them they’re “good”.

“You’re good, baby.”

“You’re good.”

There are very few real opportunities in life. Charlie Munger only met one Warren Buffett in his life. Dr. Nakamatso has 4000 inventions, but for all I know, he only made money on the floppy disk.

Mark Zuckerberg only had a very small window to create the greatest Stalking Machine of mankind.

There’s only one TWO STEP METHOD:

A) write down ideas every day. You and I, we’ve been through this.

B) seek out high-stakes moments.

You do “A” so that WHEN “B” happens, you know what to do.

If a lion jumps out at you, you’re dead unless you’ve spent a lot of time running in your life. That’s an “A” and then there’s a “B” (running). There’s no C. “C” is life or death. Choose life.

HOW TO CREATE A HIGH STAKES MOMENT. I certainly don’t recommend drowning yourself (sounds too much like auto-erotic asphyxiation). Or taking out an eye. (what if you also lose the other?).

But here’s some simple ways to create moments that feel high-stakes. If you can taste the fear, trust The Force, feel the egg inside your chest, ready to crack and give birth, then you have a taste.

Taste a lot.

– Giving a talk is a high stakes moment. Connecting with 10 or 100 people in a unique way, in an entertaining way. Ugh, I have to give a TEDx next month and I’m totally not prepared. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be about 1/2 second from death when I give a talk at TEDxSanDiego but don’t tell them that.

I gave them a list of DEMANDS. For instance, I need to levitate with strings and I need a church boys choir but they haven’t responded yet.

– Meeting a new person is a high stakes moment. Some meetings result in millions. Some result in, “ugh, I feel like I have to take a shower now.”

Either way, you just met someone with a brain! Borrow his or her brain for a moment. I had to meet with someone a week or so ago who had previously trashed me on the Internet.

You would think he should be nervous but I was actually pretty nervous to meet him. At that same meeting, I also met someone who is going to run for President. Doubling the stakes for me. I bet he didn’t even realize the meeting was all ABOUT ME creating a high stakes moment. Funny thing is, a week later I met his father in another meeting 1000 miles away. Another high stakes moment that was all about me!

– Offering value to others who have almost zero percent chance of responding to you (e.g. if I wrote to President Obama with 10 ways to solve the problem in Syria). I actually do this at least three times a day almost as sport and SOMETIMES people actually respond to me and my network expands. So far today one out of the three responded to me (“NO!”). [Update: this morning an astronaut responded to me with a “maybe”].

– Travel is always high stakes. It’s like a hallucination. Everything is slightly different: colors and people look the same but you can’t understand what they are saying. And they can kill you.

– Reading a book about something you know nothing about. Think of the threads of knowledge from that book being loomed with the threads inside your head to create a wonderful new cloth for you to wear. Ugh, that last line is too poetic. But it’s what it feels like so I’ll leave it there.

– Resting. People have forgotten how to rest. It’s true.

Most people are “on” all the time and when they are not “on” they are watching TV or socializing. Not truly resting.

Sit somewhere and watch people for a half hour. Sit somewhere and watch nothing for a half hour. You can’t get more high stakes than that. There’s no frontier! That’s against the American Dream! Just rest and watch people. Watch yourself watching people.

– Falling in love with someone. Being with Claudia is probably the most high stakes thing I’ve ever done. And it never ends. She ups the ante every day.

– Starting something new outside of your comfort zone. Starting a podcast was totally outside my comfort zone. I had to FIND people, then PREPARE for them, then SCHEDULE them, then TALK to them. WHAT!? I don’t really like to talk to anybody. I hide in parties. People come up to me and say, “James! Are you ok?”

Next week: Tony Robbins. Flying to his house in Palm Beach. Scared to death. Last week, the author of a dozen Star Wars novels. I read all of them before the interview. Now The Force is with me.

Even if you have a full time job there’s no reason you can’t start something new. (no excuses!)

In the past week I’ve seen people with full time jobs start podcasts, blogs, painting, become a life coach, and start a career training dominatrixes (well, that last guy doesn’t have a full time job but I’m sure this is a different experience for him).

– Getting good at something that has a steep early learning curve: tennis, chess, computer programming, an instrument, ping pong, I don’t know what else. Fall in love with a steep learning curve. Like two people in a bubble bath.

– Saying NO to someone who is bad for you. I have a situation right now where I have to say NO to someone. To a big company actually. It’s pretty scary. I know once I do it it will be great. But I still have to do it. Heck, I wrote the book on it and it’s still hard for me. Practice it. NOOOOO. NooooOOOO. no. nononon.

– ASKing someone to do a favor for you. Often I like to ASK after I give. But sometimes there’s nothing you can give, because you’re hanging onto the edge of a building, and this is where it gets high stakes. You have to hold your hand out and beg with your eyes. HOLD ME!

– Negotiate. Seth Gold, from the TV show “Hardcore Pawn” told me that everything you buy is a negotiation. “Even if you are buying clothes in Bloomingdales,ask to speak to the manager and ask for 15% off. There’s always a discount. ALWAYS!” This seems pretty scary to me. Which is why it’s high stakes.

These might seem less risky, less high stakes, than drowning yourself in order to come up with ideas. The problem with giving yourself a 1% chance of death every day is that in 100 (or 300) days you’ll probably be dead. I’m sure this guy didn’t go to within 1/2 second of death every day.

I was talking to sitcom writer, SNL writer, and novelist Simon Rich about how he writes comedy. He says, think of a high stakes situation and make it ridiculous.

I asked him for an example. He said, “Look at the Bible when we first meet Abraham, the man who started three religions. The guy is 99 years old and wants a kid. That’s a high stakes situation. So then God comes down and talks to him. This is already ridiculous. God coming down to talk to a 99 year old man about having a kid.

“God then tells him he has to cut off part of his dick. Oh, and cut off the dicks of every slave in his house in order so he can have a kid. It doesn’t get more high stakes and more ludicrous than that.”

By that time I was laughing.

Laughing is always high stakes. I try to do it as much as possible. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.

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