Ask James: Obsession, Narcissism, Nature versus Nurture, and the Best Goal in Life

Every Thursday from 3:30-4:30 EST I do a Q&A session on Twitter. If you like these types of posts please “Facebook Like” so I get a sense of the interest (or comment).  If you have any additional answers for the people, PLEASE answer them in the comments. I am sure they will appreciate. And if you have questions for me PLEASE join me in my next Q&A next week and follow me on Twitter. This post today is “Part ONE” of this week’s Q&A. Tomorrow will be Part II


marissa ‏ @marissa: Do you believe those with great character are *born* that way? Or is it up to that person and life experiences to bring it out?


Let’s say two people are born with the same potential. The same genetics. Is it possible that one’s character can be forged into a completely different person? Another way to put it, a way that applies more directly to me, is can a person with bad character become a person with good character?

(nature vs nurture?)

A mountain of clay has great potential but can sit for years as a mountain of clay.

Then a great sculptor can come along and change the mountain of clay into a beautiful sculpture.

So step one: Yes, people can change. I’ve changed. I’ve been a horrible person at times. And still am occasionally. Every day I hope to be better.

The next question is: how do we invite a great sculptor in.

Step two: I know how I did it. It might be different for others. But every day I make sure I pay attention to the four “bodies” that I feel everyone needs to nurture and feed. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. People are usually good at feeding one, maybe two, but all four are critically important to build true character.

This doesn’t mean do 6000 pushups a day and then speak in tongues in the local church. It could mean I just “check the box” on these four things. Maybe I walk around the block (Physical), Maybe I find something new about someone I’m in love with (emotional), maybe I come up with an idea for a blog post (mental), maybe I appreciate for a split second how beautiful the Universe is (spiritual).

As time goes on, I find that I check these boxes in deeper and deeper ways and on some days I might skip a box. it goes both ways. But The Daily Practice of checking these boxes is the sculptor that molds the clay over time. I know it’s the case because its worked for me over and over – even since the 4 years since I’ve met you, Marissa.

I feel so strongly about this that  I’ve been working with a developer on creating People have had a very hard past few years. The whole world is in transition. It’s become vitally important to feed and nurture the four bodies.

The site above is still in pre-alpha but the basic functionality is there for checking the boxes.  Some days I forget to do it. But over time, I let it continue to sculpt me. The final work of art (character) is never finished until death. But I hope at the end it was all worth the work.



Yourrealname ‏ @skaifenix: What about unrequited love/obsession?


Here’s what happened the last time I had serious unrequited love that I couldn’t deal with. I would call her at 6am every morning to make sure she wasn’t cheating on me. I would bring over bagels for breakfast to make sure she wasn’t cheating. I would literally force her to hang around me all day. I would spy on her ex-boyfriend. I put a keystroke logger on her computer to illegally read all her emails and even though she and her ex only typed in French to each other (and this was pre-Google Translate) I would take out my French-English dictionary.

I would be in pain everytime she wasn’t around me. I would cry. I would beg. I would demand. I would go to aerobics classes I didn’t want to go to. And watch TV I didn’t want to watch. I humiliated myself in every way. I would eat awful vegetarian dishes. More crying. More, “I can’t believe this!” End result. An abortion. Father? Unknown.

There is no such thing as unrequited love. Unrequited love = BS.

Unrequited love means you want to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you. So when that happens to you there’s only one answer: move on. There’s 3.5 billion women on the planet. Probably at least 35 million of those women would be ok with having sex with you. Maybe more depending on how you look, how much money you have, how you smell, how young you are, how nice you are, etc.  Don’t waste time on one of the many women who don’t want to have sex with you.

But I understand obsession. It’s bad for you. I’ve lost millions of dollars because of obsession. It’s the worst pain in the world and it’s an addiction. I do recommend SLAA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous to get over addictions. And you do admit you have a problem (obviously the words “obsession” and “love” don’t really go together).

So what kinds of love are there:

A) When two people want to help each other fulfill their dreams in every way. (Sexually, asexually – doesn’t matter)

B) The kind of love where you realize that we are all basically the same. 99.999% of our genetic material is the same. And deep down, when you get past all the fears and desires and likes and dislikes, experiences, backgrounds – the source of who we are is the same inside each and every one of us. So if you can love yourself, it’s the same as saying you love everyone. This is a different kind of love than “A”. This is a love that doesn’t disappear once one side is no longer fulfilling his or her side of the bargain. This is the kind of love you aspire to.

If you can feel “B” on a regular basis, then unrequited love will never be a worry.

All flowers have different colors. But the light that lets us see these colors is the same. Real love is when you are the light and not the flower.



Curtis Faith ‏ @inflector: Is a writer who writes his/her own personal truth always interesting?


Everyone has something they are afraid to tell others. At birth that’s not the case. But by the time you are 20, 30, or above, then it’s always the case. So let’s make an interesting story out of it in four steps:

A) List the 10 things you are MOST afraid to tell someone. Maybe you cheated on your wife and gave her an STD. Maybe you stole money from a bank. Maybe you killed someone. List them. You are afraid for several reasons. You might not want to get in trouble. You might not want to hurt someone. You might feel regret or guilt. Or you might be embarrassed.

Let’s stick with the last two. Why do you feel regret or guilt? Why do you feel embarrassed?

B) Analysis. So now you have your story (the thing you are afraid to say). But that’s not enough. You need to really know why you are afraid to say it. Why are you embarrassed? Is it cultural? Is it because everyone thinks you are perfect? Is it because you are afraid to admit you had moments of weakness, of vulnerability, of stark raving fear?

And even admit you are afraid in your story. Revel in your fear. The fear and embarrassment itself is part of the story.

(we all feel like this sometimes)

C) Help people. Ever story, fiction or non-fiction, has an arc. Part of the arc includes the character changing and developing. This happening. A horror story turning into a love story. A tragedy, as Woody Allen says, turning into comedy if given time. The experience you got out of your story should help people. Which, if you truly believe it, will lessen the embarrassment, although there are many cultural, professional, personal reasons why you might be embarrassed. Helping people, in my opinion, should be goal #1. But you won’t do it if you don’t communicate it well, don’t share your fears and humiliations, and don’t share things that are deeply personal (even if you do it in a disguised manner).

D) 33 Unusual Tips for Being a Better Writer. Read that and then tell the story. OR, if you don’t want to read that, read at least 10 authors who inspire you and meld their stories together to tell your story. You need the skills to write. So be inspired by the writers who have withstood the test of time and know how to communicate a good story. I always read for at least 2-4 hours before starting a blog post. Some recent authors I’ve read: Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel, Miranda July, Mary Gaitskill, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, TC Boyle, George Saunders, William Vollmann, Etger Keret.

I told a friend of mine recently, I don’t write a blog post UNLESS I’m afraid of what people think of me. That’s ingredient #1. The first reaction people should have is: “oh my god, I can’t believe he said that.”

By the way, Curtis, I know you know all of this because of what I read in YOUR book.



Christopher Morris ‏ @chrismorrisseo: Is it possible to entertain several passions simultaneously? Does having more than one negate their credibility as “passions”?


If you DON’T have simultaneous passions then you have almost no chance of creating something new to the world.

I can only speak from experience. I’ll give two examples. In 2006 I was passionate about investing. I ran a fund of hedge funds. And I was passionate about writing. And I was passionate about the Internet. Without all three passions, I never would’ve made the best financial site on the planet (at that time),, which I sold in 2007.

(sometimes passions merge)

Right now I’m passionate about writing. I’m passionate about reading. I’m passionate about helping people. I have a menage a troi of three passions every day. That’s a lot of pleasure for one guy. And I use that to create this blog and the various other things I’m involved in right now.

It’s ONLY the combination of passions that make you unique. One passion is never enough. Everyone has that passion. The combination and mating of those passions produces beautiful unique children with their own fingerprints. When you press your finger down onto the world you want it to stand out and be as unique as possible.

You do that with multiple passions. And be as passionate as possible about them.



Brad Gosse ‏ @bradgosse: Can you share any tips for self publishers on how to get media coverage?


Uh-oh, you just triggered my “list reflex”. I don’t know why people hate lists. They think maybe its lazy writing. But it’s hard to come up with a good and valuable list. So here’s my list. By the way, its not all from my experience but what I’ve read about other successful (more successful than me) self-publishers like Amanda Hocking and JA  Konrath. I haven’t thought of the list yet so this is today’s “exercise” of my idea muscle.

10 tips for getting media coverage for a self-publisher: By the way: this is 10 tips for Getting Media Coverage For Your Business as well.

A) Content: make sure your book says something nobody else has said. This means it will be controversial. Even when people hate you they will be addicted to you. You’re like a car wreck with dead bodies. People can’t stop looking.

B) Blog about it: If you are controversial and a good writer, people will be drawn to your blog like moths in a flame. By the way, don’t be conversial just for the sake of it. Then that’s lying. People will sniff that out and discard you like bad chewing gum. Find something you really believe in that turns the world upside down. Then blog about it. Then self-publish about it and say it in a way nobody has said it before. Even if it’s fiction. You have to write something nobody has written before (although its perfectly okay to steal and mate ideas from the past).

C) Syndicate. If your blog and writing is good, people will want you to syndicate. The more you syndicate, the more people will be closer to that “Buy” button on Amazon. Include links back to your blog and book in everything you syndicate.

D) Do a Series. This, (my assumption) is the Amanda Hocking “trick”. If you self-publish one book only 200 people will read it. If you self-publish a series then more and more people will have to go on your backlist and buy every book. She went from 200 books a month to 400,000 books a month but it was a multi-volume series. Many books were in her series.

(Hocking just wanted to make $1000 self-publishing. She ended up making millions)

E) “Media” coverage. I’ve written 10 books. To promote my books I’ve gone on CNBC, ABC, FOX, NPR, and I’ve been printed in the WSJ, FT, etc etc etc. I’ve probably sold 3 extra books as a result of all of that. Don’t worry about media. I’m not saying media is bad. It just doesn’t sell books (unless its Oprah).

F) Reviews on Amazon. The first reviews you get are important because they will rise to the top as more people “Like” or “Dislike” them. Send the first copies to your friends and ask them (if they like the book) to put up a review. This guarantees that the top reviews people will see will be good reviews.Another thing about Amazon. Join the KDP Select program. It forces you to be exclusive with Amazon for 90 days but it will allow you to participate in their Amazon Prime program which gets you much more promotion across Amazon. It also allows you to make more money through their lending fund. Along the same lines, I’d do an audio version of your book. I still need to do this but Claudia is setting his up for me even as I write this.

G) Platform: Set up a Facebook fan page, be active on Twitter and Google+. This is all assuming you have something interesting to say. This will get you more of a “platform” around your ideas. Even traditional publishers will ask you first about your “platform” rather than read your book. I put “platform” always in quotes because I think it’s a shame that a publisher would be more concerned about that than the quality of your writing but that’s the new reality we are in.

H) Business Card. Remember, people don’t really read books that much anymore. This is not totally true but chances are if you publish your book you will be in the long tail and not “Harry Potter”. So if you want to make money off of your book you have to treat it more as a vehicle to enhance your credibility and validation for other opportunities: speaking gigs, consulting gigs, advertising for your blog, more media appearances (which increases your platform), etc. [See, “Self-Publishing is the New Business Card”]

I) Comment. Before Amanda Hocking went huge in self-publishing she was all the time commenting on JA Konrath’s blog about self-publishing. So people knew her name and gave her a try. Pick your 100 favorite blogs on your topic. Comment on all of them. Don’t self-promote. Just build a presence of trust and credibility. That by itself is self-promotional even if you never link back to yourself. But people will know who you are.

J) Blog, Part II. I am very happy with the books I’ve written and that are out there. I think in the long run they will help people (particularly my last five, including the comic book). But, I can safely say this. MANY MORE people will read my blog this than will read my books this year. If my blog was a book then it would be as big as the biggest bestseller. More people will read you through your blog (if it’s good) then through your book (unless you are Harry Potter). Which brings me back to the other ideas for monetizing a self-published book. It’s there to build credibility (people will respect the time, work, experience, knowledge, and effort you put into it) but it’s not the best way to get your ideas out to the masses.

Phew! Ten ideas. My idea muscle is sweating now.



KC ‏ @KathyCourtland: What are the most common startup mistakes and how to avoid them?


The most common startup mistake is being afraid to make mistakes.

A few years ago I pitched an idea to Tony Conrad at True Ventures. This was the idea.

The first thing he asked, which I thought was very smart, was “what have you learned so far from the mistakes along the way?” I had no idea making mistakes was a requirement for a successful business pitch. I blew that pitch so badly that I shut down the whole business a week later.

Mistakes are ASSUMED. Look at Groupon. They started it off as a site to raise money for charities. They totally failed. Then they examined their mistakes and BAM! they became the fastest growing (revenues) company in history.

Among professional chessplayers, its commonly assumed that the ONLY way to improve is to analyze your mistakes. In fact, one world champion prepared for tournaments under conditions where he was almost guaranteed to make mistakes (he had someone blow smoke in his face while he played and he hated smoke).

So pray for mistakes. Hope every day that you will find mistakes in your website, your business model, your basic idea, the people you hired, etc. You will  learn every day and if you keep the psychology of mistakes calm then in the long run you will be a winner. Which means in the long run you will be successful and rich.


JP Morgenthal ‏ @jpmorgenthal: Is the Internet creating a narcissitic society?


Whether there was an Internet or not, society would still be filled with narcissists.

First off, what is a narcissist? Every time a girl wants to accuse me of something, I’m accused of being a narcissist. So I better look this up.

From the Mayo Clinic: “Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism. “

Ok, I’m a little guilty of this. Depending on the girl and the time of day. But so are many people. It’s like two other overdiagnosed mental disorders: ADD and Bipolarism.But people have these disorders regardless of whether or not there is an Internet.

The great thing about the Internet is that, magically, you can hit the delete button on anyone who is a narcissist. In the post, “How to Deal With Crappy People” I say, “if you get in the mud with a pig, the pig gets happy and you just get covered in mud.” So just ignore the crappy people on the Internet.

But here’s the good news. One way you can become better as a person is by surrounding yourself with positive, inspirational people.

100 years ago, your choices of the positive people in your life were limited to the people who lived in your immediate vicinity.

Now you are only limited by the 800mm people who are interconnected on “The World Wide Web”. So, it’s your choice. Is your Internet more narcissistic, or is it an immensely positive experience that uplifts your life and provides valuable resources in ways you didn’t expect.

[Note: its very hard to pull yourself out of the mud. Even in the past day someone did something humiliating to me. I should’ve just ignored but I responded. My fault. Bu it’s all practice. And practice makes permanent.]


Ian Aspin ‏ @IanAspin: Hello Mr.A.Ya feel like a rusty key. Ya don’t fit any lock but ya don’t want to fit. So wot d’ya do? Much love, Mr.A


Feeling like a rusty key is not such a bad feeling. The unique metal ridges. The gold rusted into a brown and fray. The idea that there is only one lock in the world that your key will fit into. The idea that the key has withstood every form of weather, every storm thrown at it, every sunshine, every person who has rubbed the oils of their fingers onto the key. The key has been massaged into the unique creature it is.

So what does it mean? It means ancient treasure is behind the door once the key opens the lock.


J Allen ‏ @JTio: How bad are the forex markets being manipulated by big banks?


Here are the things NOBODY should trade.

– Houses. House flipping is OVER unless you are going to totally rebuild a foreclosed house by yourself and even then I’m not so sure.

– Stocks. For reasons I list here and here.

– Spouses. Too expensive. Too much stress. Try to avoid.

– AND MOST ESPECIALLY: Forex/Currencies.

Every currency, the value of every penny in your pocket, is massively manipulated by governments, by enormously wealthy families hedging international risk, by forces we have no idea even exist, by mega-banks that have so much cash in them hidden by corrupt governments that we can’t even imagine how poor Bill Gates is in comparison.

And then there’s you. With a whistle. Whatcha gonna do?



Tanvi Surti ‏ @tanvisurti: What would you say is your greatest achievement?


I don’t have any achievements I think are great. I’m mostly just ashamed of my past.

I hope one day my greatest achievement will be that I want to have absolutely no achievements.

For many people, what separates them from where they are now and “happiness” is that they want to achieve something.

Like: “I want to be the best swimmer.” Or “the richest billionaire”. Or “the best at yoga”. Or even, “I want to be enlightened like Buddha”.

That’s a lot of distance to cover between where you are now and the achievements that will make one happy.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you want to be able to say, “I am the best swimmer”. Or even “I am a plumber”. By definition then, you are not the best swimmer. Or you are not currently a plumber (because you want to be able to say it). And even if you say it, you know it will only be temporary. So the goal/achievement/obstacle to happiness will only be fleeting.

Anytime you want to say “I AM X”, the X is your obstacle to happiness. So the only thing that’s left is the one thing you are certain of: “I AM”. If you can be happy JUST saying that then that’s a great achievement. And that, in itself, is a paradox which cannot be solved by the human language.



Nikhil Thomas ‏ @NikhilThomas90: I got my dream job but need to move from NY to Finland. Not all friends are supportive. Advice?


If a friend of mine called me and said, “Dude, I just got my dream job and it’s on Mars and I have to go orbit the sun for five years” you know what I would say?


[NOTE: I had to divide this post in two.If you like these Q&A posts please “facebook Like” so I get a sense of the interest.

Tomorrow I will be answering these questions in expanded form:

When will Facebook Fade? How to Reform the US Criminal Justice System? What is the Ideal Day? The Google LoveRank! Finding Meaning in Life Even if You Are Mediocre. What Can We learn From Orphans Who are Great Successes in Life? Do I Think Advice for Startups is Irritating and Why? My Favorite Kung-Fu Yoga Moves. And Who Should be the Next Best President of the United States? ]

Meanwhile, if you have any additional answers for the people above, please answer them in the comments. And I hope you can join me for next week’s Twitter Q&A.

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