What James Altucher, Noah Kagan, And A Trip To Starbucks Taught Me About Courage

“Dude, that isn’t that hard to do.” I said.

“Prove it then. Do it.” I said back.

I was arguing with myself.

I’d just finished reading James Altucher’s article, What’s It Like To Lose $100,000,000 at Facebook in which Noah Kagan challenges James to get out of his comfort-zone.

Noah says to James, “Go to a coffee shop and ask for 10% off. Order some stuff, it’ll come to around $5, and then just say ‘I would like 10% off please’.”

“Any coffee shop? I can’t imagine a Starbucks would allow me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because they have rules.”

“Go to a Starbucks.”

James ended up going to Starbucks.

While reading the article part of me kept thinking, “Dude, asking for a discount at Starbucks? That isn’t that hard to do.”

But another part was feeling uncomfortable picturing James walking up to a Starbucks counter and getting rejected by a barista.

I used the comment section of his article to process out loud (below):

My reactions to James Altucher’s story on his post, “What’s It Like To Lose $100,000,000 at Facebook.

And then as soon as I pressed the post-as-Adam-Muller button, my wife peeked her head into the office and asked, “Honey, could you go and get us refills on our Starbucks drinks?”

The stars had aligned with a challenge for me.

I accepted the challenge.

Here’s how it all went down:

I kept going over the scenario in my head on the walk there, and it was making me anxious. I had to stop at an ATM for which I was grateful; it allowed me to stall for a little. But I was damn nervous.

Here are some excuses I made up in my mind:

1). What if I ask them for a discount, and they just give it to me. It’ll ruin the experiment.

2). What if I ask and they say no, and don’t make a big deal about it. It’ll be anticlimactic.

3). What if there is no one in line behind me? Because I’ll only really feel dumb if people hear me ask for this absurd discount. If that’s the case, I might as well not do it because I won’t feel too awkward, and then I won’t really learn anything.

(It’s totally weird that I was arguing myself out of it because it wouldn’t make me feel awkward enough to learn anything, right?)

I knew if I didn’t fully commit to doing it before walking in, there was a chance I would chicken out.

I stopped right there in the middle of sidewalking and told myself in a loud clear voice silently in my head, “NO MATTER WHAT, I AM GOING TO DO THIS.”

I walked into Starbucks and got in line. One person was ordering. There wasn’t anybody behind me. I took a deep breath. The dude’s order took a little longer. And then two more people got in line behind me. My heart was beating like an 808 drum. I was damn nervous.

“Why am I freaking out?” I thought.

And then, dammit…

I realized I‘d be using a Treat Receipt, and felt a red rush of stupidity. A Treat Receipt provides a discount on a drink if you’ve already purchased one earlier that day. This meant I was going to be asking for a discount on top of a discount. I was going to look like a cheap bastard.

It was my turn to order.

“Can I get a couple of refills?”

And then dammit…


They only honor refills if it’s the same location where you purchased your original drink. I had purchased these at a different Starbucks.

But instead of turning me down, the barista made a we-normally-don’t-do-this-but-today-we-will-because-I’m-nice-and-you-seem-cool face, with his face. He did me a solid.

I was about to ask for a discount, on top of a discount, on top of a discount. I felt even more ashamed. I was guaranteed to look like a cheapskate and an a-hole.

“$2.50, please.”


“Can I get 20% off?”

I felt neutered asking it.

The barista did the same double-take as the one in James’ story. Like he didn’t hear me.

“Excuse me?” he asked.

And so I had to drag it over my lips again.

“Can I get 20% off my order?”

He thought I misunderstood the Treat Receipt, and went into an explanation about how the discount was already included in the price.


“No, I know. But, I am wondering, can I get 20% off this price.”

He was having a really hard time, and so was I.

“I don’t really know what you mean.” he said.

“Can I get 20% off this price?” I repeated.

I felt humiliated to keep asking, and for him to keep looking at me. My head was swimming and I just felt, cheap.

He finally got a little more out. “I don’t really…no I can’t…I mean, I actually don’t even have a way to discount it.”

“OMG, this is totally an experiment! I’m not an a-hole!” is how I was feeling.

“Okay, thank you though.” I think is what I said.

I paid with a twenty, he broke it and gave me change. I put 50 cents immediately in the cup for a tip and walked away.

My head continued to swim, and I was sweating.

I pictured the barista going in the back room and telling his co-workers how ridiculously cheap I was. I imagined something like, “…a discount on top of a discount, on top of a discount(!), even after I had done him a favor!”

I was so caught up in feeling stupid for myself that another patron accidentally stepped on my foot trying to walk around me.

“Dude, why is this affecting me so much? Why is this so hard? Why do I fear so badly looking like a cheap person?” I thought.

It was such a big emotion for what I thought’d be such a small deal.

While I stood there for my drinks, the same barista who took my order, came over and asked — with such kindness — if I wanted chocolate or regular whipped cream.

“Chocolate, thank you!”

Then as he handed over my drinks — and with genuine crows-feet-crinkled eyes — he smiled and thanked me so much for coming in today. His gratitude emanated in such a way, that not believing him wasn’t an option.

Suddenly everything was okay again, and maybe he didn’t judge me for asking him for the discount on a discount on a discount. I felt the burden of anxiety lift. Like when I was a kid and Jesus washed away all my sins. I was all better and clean.

And then I walked out.
And I felt proud of myself.
Jittery and proud.

And then I knew something distinctly.

Trying to assess my courage by imagining ways I would act in risky situations was an easy way for me to feel more courageous than I really was.

And talking about doing something — or assessing how difficult or how easy something is by rolling all the imaginary variables around in your head — was something completely different and separate, than actually doing something about it.

And I could do the theoretical Macarena, but if I wanted a real answer, I’d have to pay what real answers cost. And I’d have to spend some of my life to get it.

Go spend your life.

And go get your answers.


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 This article also appeared on Medium and is published here with the permission of the author