I was doing what I hated. Working a job. Listening to a boss yell at me when he had a bad day with his wife. Working with people that I wouldn’t be friends with unless I had to sit next to them in a cubicle.
Doing things that were the opposite of everything I dreamed about as a boy.
But I didn’t think anything else was possible. School shed that crazy notion for me. My parents doubled down on that. My bosses forced it home. Having a family scared me.
I assumed that being doomed was a normal part of life and only some people were lucky enough to get away with doing what they loved.
I was ready to live a life of misery only for the sake of my kids. I guess so they could then grow up and live a life of misery.
I was wrong.
Why Dreams Matter
When I was seven years old I wanted to be an astronaut.
When I was eight, I was really into comic books.
When I was nine, I wrote a play (actually, I plagiarised it but my teachers loved it and I kept writing).
When I was ten, I wanted to be President of the United States. I read every book about politics.
My fourth-grade teacher thought it was strange I was obsessed with reading the transcripts of Nixon’s secret tapes.
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When I was 11, I wanted to be a writer just like Judy Blume. I knew every scene in her books by page. All the sex scenes in “Forever” and “Wifey”.
When I was 12, I wanted to be a reporter so I called up everyone I could think of who was famous and tried to interview them.
I ended up getting my political interviews published in a local paper. I even visited the White House and interviewed the Chief Usher.
When I was 13, I was obsessed with computers. I learned to program and every weekend my friends and I would steal computer games from the local game store.
When I was 14, I spent almost all my free time meditating. For some reason, I thought I could learn to astral project and secretly watch girls undressing. But I ended up learning how to meditate and reading about all the different spiritual sources of meditation.
When I was 16, I played chess constantly. I would skip school, sneak to the bus, take it to Princeton and meet up with John Nash (not the mathematician but his son, who was a strong chess master) and we’d play all day. I skipped school constantly to play games.
And when I was 18 I started my first business, a debit card for college students. And local businesses would offer our users discounts.I programmed all the card machines. I sold all the local restaurants on using our card.
Which led to when I was 19 and becoming obsessed with computer programming.
And when I went to graduate school at 21, I realised I hated programming so started writing every day. 3000 words a day. I haven’t yet stopped.
Why Having Varied Interests Is Important
Ever since then I’ve taken the interests above and combined them.
I made websites for entertainment companies. I helped build a chess server on the Internet. I’ve written 18 books.
I’ve studied stocks the way I used to study a game. And right now I’m trying to get press credentials to cover the inauguration.
I tried to make a TV show. I do podcasts where I call up my heroes (including astronauts, writers, artists, game players, and even Judy Blume(!) etc.) and interview them. And I keep writing every day about all the people around me. Like a spy.
The To-Do List
List everything you were passionate about from ages 7–20. These aren’t your “true passions.” That’s a made up phrase. These were simply the things you loved doing as a kid.
Combine them. If you loved computers and movies, maybe you will write stories for virtual reality experiences.
If you loved art and being a reporter, call up all of your favourite artists and do a podcast.
Age them: If you loved games, what do adults who are into games do for money (they make them, they blog about them, they review them, they invest in stocks, they advise investors on startups for games, they use games to improve brain health, and yes, they have fun still playing games).
Future them: If you loved electrical engineering and fast cars, I just saw a help-wanted ad for a “self driving car engineer”.
How can you see the future? You can’t. But that’s what writing down ten ideas a day helps.
If I write down ten ideas a day about how my interest in comics and business might look in the future, then I will fertilize future success.
Which means a lot of bad c**p along the way but that’s how ideas get started and turn into things you try, which turn into things you do, which turn into things you love and are successful at.
There is no one true passion. There are just these basic guidelines:
Look to your past to discover your future. You will do many things in your life. There is no “one” thing. Combine combine combine. Do I do what I love now? Yeah, I’m writing an article on a futuristic computer network.
As for tomorrow…I don’t know. I’m going to write my list right now. Every day I write that list or I get stuck and lose myself. I want to live.
[This post by James Altucher first appeared on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.]