I just finished reading (well, listening to...over 8 hours for the unabridged audio book) Timothy's Ferriss' new best selling book The 4-Hour Workweek - Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich from Crown. The 320 page book is a New York Times, WSJ bestseller with currently 315 five star reviews on Amazon.com...sales rank 95 overall, #1 or #2 in several amazon subcategories as of Dec 8. It has also garnered more endorsements than you can shake a stick at.
I grabbed the book on iTunes out of curiosity when I heard it mentioned on one of the geek podcasts I listen to from time to time. As I am moving to NJ in a few months I figured he would be a good guy to listen to just to see how some people think up in the land of the movers and shakers...or in more Ferrissesque parlance...the lands of lifestyle designers.
Ferriss is a Princeton graduate whose writing is intelligent, crass, witty, conversational, outrageous, irreverent and at times quite genuine. To be honest after reading the book I can tell you that I am quite ambivalent with his ideas - some of them I sensed a deep appreciate for, others made me completely sick, others just were ridiculous, some hilarious (the story of how he won a national kick boxing tournament in China comes to mind - I won't spoil that here). In this review I will cover a few things enjoyed, a few things that annoyed and then leave another substantial issue to another blog post forthcoming here. So, how to work only four hours and do whatever the hell you want - or what I am calling Tim Ferriss' experiments in existential narcissism.
The book is true to its title and fits very much in several book categories: self-help, entrepreneurship, lifestyle come to mind. Whether or not others will admit it, Ferriss has articulated quite well some of the longings of the younger generation in western culture. This book for some will be a resonating voice for those continuing on the post industrial cultural trajectories of America and Europe. In some ways it just another of the long line of those promising that "You can have it all - really" - this is actually stated on the books companion web site.
The books centers around the idea that our society has some pretty goofy rules and ways of doing things and that it is insane to remain in these conventions. Think about it, we work 60-80 hours a week in order to have some money, no time and a pile of misery. Only the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of retirement keeps many motivated. Ferriss, a Princeton man who was surrounded by those who work this way, found himself miserable and questioning it all. Why do we wait till the end of life in order to try and enjoy life? Why do we toil away in offices when we could live a more mobile lifestyle, get things done with more focus and efficiency and be freed up to enjoy life now? So he set about to do it and this book is his story of how he did and now offers to coach you to do the same. It is an enjoyable read so I will share a few things that brought a smile
Ferriss is a guy who likes to question things and ask the question why. I like guys like this. Now it can be turned into rebellion against rightful authority (which is wicked) and but to be weary of the status quo is the only path to which results in change. Ferriss seemed tired of certain societal conventions which are neither based in truth or law - they are just the way we do stuff. When you think about it we do often act like the herd animals which Nietzsche accused us of being. One observation Ferriss makes which I felt was right on is that "Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty." Sad but true. There just are not too many risk takers out there. To be quite honest, this discontent for the way things are is found in most church planters I have met. They are a risky bunch who would rather try to start something than to stay stuck in ruts which are based only in cultural custom.
Ferriss also shows an immense amount of wit and creativity in thinking through ways to generate income without a huge amount of time. He offers suggestions for both the entrepreneur and the one who just wants to enable a bit more cash flow while shaping their current job situation. Now one needs some intelligence and talent to do some of the things mentioned (one of the weaknesses of the book is that he acts like all 6 billion people in the world could do what he does), but they are not impossible for some people to try.
His focus on eliminating superfluous work and becoming more focused was excellent. His practical tips on e-mail and overcoming the information overload of our days very helpful. The practical application of the 80/20 rule and the his example of how he fired some of his less profitable, most time consuming rude and annoying customers was quite enjoyable. Anyone who feels under the pile of e-mail, needs help in prioritizing will enjoy the chapter on elimination. It is material that can be found in other places, but Ferriss' application of it to the world of information overload was very helpful. A few helpful quotes:
- Doing something unimportant well still does not make it important
- Simply because a task takes a lot of time does not make it important either
His application of "elimination" and the 80/20 rule to material possessions and simple living was something I wanted my whole family to read. I am convinced we all have too much stuff in our lives in - I was big time on board with his "getting rid of your stuff" counsel later in the book. I hope to lighten our load when we move in the coming year...for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15).
I also enjoyed Ferriss as a writer. Some will see him as a bit cocky and arrogant -- this is perhaps true. Some will take too offense at his choice of language - this would be warranted. Yet the fact is he seemed genuine - genuinely full of it, but somewhat authentic nonetheless. The fact is that - I wanted to hear him. It did not hurt that Ray Porter, the audio book reader, did a fantastic job with Ferriss' prose. He wrote conversationally with passion which I think many people will enjoy.
One other thing which was interesting was one of the later chapters wrestling with finding a meaningful life. I will blog more late about his dealing with ultimate questions and meaning, but he did land that service and learning seem to be central to any meaningful existence. I find many younger people today wrestling with finding meaning. I do not agree with Ferriss' relativism and create meaning however you want philosophy, but I do commend that he is asking the questions.
Finally, I learned much from Ferriss about how some people think today. I found him consistently embracing the contradictions of contemporary thought. I found him to be thoroughly what I am calling "most western" - an existential narcissist. Ferriss states openly that he is living life for excitement and self-fulfillment. His whole life is dedicated to the accrual of experiences which will keep him from self-doubt and boredom. His goals are freedom of time and movement with finances as a means to these ends. Gone are the desires to live a life according to virtue, or according to truth, or in order to find peace. What remains in western culture, among the educated elite - is the end of the post enlightenment narrative. Freedom to do what you want, when you want and how you want. It is the last phase of the autonomy project of western culture. If you get lonely, empty, bored, miserable...don't find a real solution to your problems - just hop a plane to Berlin, or Beunos Aries or Thailand. There you can rent out big tables at clubs and have experiences. All while your Indian assistants and two thirds world outsourcers make money for the new western prince. On to my annoyances.
The first thing I noticed is that Ferriss presents all his counsel as if any person on earth could do it. Those who have been around a bit longer will realize that all of his counsel requires something of people in order to pull off. The advice is for the motivated, smart, winsome person who can actually, to use his words, "bend the world to themselves." I think some people who try his systems are just going to get fired...or pour some money down a hole in creating their muse. I'm not saying his business advice was not good - I may end of trying something myself some day - but it does require a person with some talent.
Second, Ferriss rebellion against the Jones was a bit strange. He acts fed up with the elite of America, slaving away at hedge funds, saving for retirement. The ironic thing is that Ferriss has traded old elitism for a new flavor - he is still running to keep up with the Jones...his path is just more passport stamps, languages and combat sports rather than a house in the Hamptons...the New Rich (NR as he states it) still want to be rich, just in a slightly different way.
Additionally, the ethical considerations in the book were a bit vacuous. Ferriss did not seem concerned with doing the right thing - it didn't even seem to be his question. It seemed his counsel was "do whatever you can to get what you want...but don't break the law." By this he means the laws of government, not the moral law. If you have to tell some little lies to your boss to create some good rhetoric in order to convince her to give you a remote work agreement...well, just do what you have to do. Interestingly enough he offered two examples of how to research the market for a potential product - one from a guy selling shirts from France and the other a woman doing DVDs on Yoga for rock climbers. One business used some market research practices which were legal, but perhaps a bit dishonest. The other did not use these techniques because they thought it unethical. Ferriss offers both methods as options without much of a blink. At times some of the advice seemed so slick that it felt a bit greasy. Some may also find less than appealing his "outsourcing" of everything from manufacturing, order fulfillment, and personal assistants to people making 4 bucks an hour in the far east.
Though he goes out of his way to tell stories of single mom's and families living the NR lifestyle, it is obvious that he has no kids. Anyone leading a family of more than three would just chuckle at some of his suggestions. So the recommendations for mini retirements and living in multiple locations fit a 29 year old single guy, but would be a hard fit for most of the families I know. Of course Ferriss might just think they were lame and part of the herd. All that to say that his "this is for families with kids too" schtick falls a bit flat.
Finally, the biggest issue I had with the work was Ferriss' worldview which I described briefly above. If you look at how post enlightenment western ideals have shifted, the old goals of pursuing truth, virtue and peace of mind are gone and the new goals of hyper autonomy, excitement as the highest virtue are on full display in Ferriss. There is nothing worse for him than being bored. At the end of the book I felt some honesty when he counseled other potential lifestyle designers of the new rich in how to deal with self-doubt even after you have made it (having income with little work, 3-16 month min retirements anywhere on earth). Yet when faced with ultimate questions - why are we here, what does my life mean, the nature of reality etc. his only advice was to do something to keep your mind off of such things. Do something else to distract yourself - I believe sex and sports were recommended. It seemed that such parables of autonomy will eventually lead to loneliness and a longing for something more. For we have been made by God for community and relationship with our maker. Yet when loneliness and doubt come to Ferriss he is likely to just learn another language and how to fight in another style (he is a avid learning of both foreign languages and fighting techniques). I don't think he would have it any other way. For he seems to be in flight from God and filling his days with pizazz to keep him from facing his creator.
I enjoyed the book and found some useful ideas in its pages for breaking out of the ruts of society to attempt different things. Anyone who desires to live differently will find something to like in the book. Personally, I liked Tim Ferriss - he sounds like a guy I would greatly enjoy. Being an ex college wrestler his expertise in many combat sports was of interest for sure. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I am going to pray for him. Maybe we'll hang out some day when he is lecturing at Princeton - I'll be just a few miles away. He is just 29 years old and has many discoveries before him. Perhaps he will bump into Jesus one day who might just tell him "To find your life, you must lose it."