Philosopher & Entrepreneur: Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton is a philosopher and entrepreneur. He is the author of numerous bestselling books – including THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY and THE ART OF TRAVEL. He recently founded
The School of Life ( in the UK and (soon) in Australia.

Describe yourself in 3 words: Curious, idealistic, anxious.

What is your life motto? Think very ambitiously, make it enduring and try to change lives.

When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I began at the age of 21, straight after leaving university, when I published my first book, ESSAYS IN LOVE. I was deeply fortunate that it became a success right away, so at 23, I had a functioning career as a writer, some money and some confidence.

How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? I spent the whole of my time at university pursuing my dream; so that makes it about 3 years, without too much of the usual fun that students have.

Describe how difficult the business really is? It’s appallingly difficult to survive as a writer. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and it’s a miracle I’ve managed to keep going – largely due to my Australian readers, who’ve shown incredible loyalty to me over the years. The problem is inspiration and concentration – how to keep these vital ingredients flowing, despite all the distractions of daily life.

What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? I once published a book too early, before it was really ready, and have regretted it sine. The answer is: bake it properly!

What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Confidence is the most important quality. I really believe this. One has to dare to take risks.

In your mind, is formal training essential? For my pursuit, yes it was – but only up to a point. One can be overtrained. At some point, it’s important to let go and look to life for experience.

Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Yes, very important – and I don’t have one. The closest is a good friend, the Australian-Scottish philosopher John Armstrong. We speak every week on the phone, and he’s been a great source of insight.

What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? Read, read, read. You won’t get anywhere until you learn from the masters.

What kept you going when you felt like giving up? A sense that life is short and that even if I messed up on my dream, at least it was my dream… rather than some pale imitation.

Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? It’s a confusing mixture of the two. Definitely I’ve had lucky breaks and seriously unlucky fails.

Alain is currently visiting in Australia to promote his new book: Religion for Atheists

Check out his fascinating TED Talks:
Atheism 2.0   and  A kinder, gentler philosophy on success

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