In Praise of 4-Hour Workweek | #182
May 21st, 2022: Greetings from Austin! This next week is my 5th anniversary of self-employment and 10th of business school. I went to my five year anniversary a week after quitting my job and felt quite lost. Now I’m a little more found. This one should be pretty interesting. I’ll be in Boston and Connecticut next weekend so I’ll likely be a bit delayed but I promise I’ll write about the experience.
✔️Reader Survey: Thanks to the 80 people who filled out my short survey last week. If you have five minutes and didn’t get a chance, can you help me out with answering some quick questions here?
Also thanks to the reachouts from several of you - I now have an interesting pipeline of many people willing to sponsor my work. Looking forward to getting the systems running to ramp up the podcast ASAP! (email me if you are interested in producing the video and audio too!)
This week’s sponsor:
Will Bachman was one of the first people I talked to when I quit my job. In a half-hour call he helped me understand 80% of what I needed to do to take the leap to self-employment. Fueled by his own passion for helping people, he's been running a freelance platform, Umbrex, and also broadly helping many people build their own freelance practices. Combining the heart of the creator economy and the know-how of a McKinsey alum, he created a powerful resource for helping people set up their own consulting practice: The Umbrex Guide to Setting Up Your Consulting Practice.
With 90 short videos and 30 tools and templates, the guide covers the legal, financial, technology, marketing, and business development aspects of getting started.
And the best news of all? He has kindly offered free access for Boundless subscribers. The code boundless (expires June 30) gets you 100% off the normal price of $500.
#1 Revisiting The Four-Hour Workweek
In 2014 and 2015 I started listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. It was life-changing. Through the people he interviewed, my imagination of the possibile paths I could take expanded far beyond climbing the high-prestige corporate ladder.
In my ears were people like Seth Godin, Derek Sivers, Maria Popova, Naval Ravikant, Dave Asprey, Peter Attia, Rhonda Patrick, and others who made me feel like far more was possible than making powerpoint slides for executives.
Yet I didn’t read Tim’s Four-Hour Workweek (4HWW) or even think about reading it until a few weeks before I left my job in 2017.
I read it because so many people had asked me if I had read it that I figured I needed to get it over with.
The book didn’t have a significant effect on me. This is not because the book isn’t good. Instead, I think it’s because I probably absorbed many of the lessons via Tim’s podcast and blog. While reading the book I sort of realized, “Oh I’ve been saying and thinking about these things too!”
But I still think the book is an important one. Perhaps even one of the most underrated books published in the 21st Century and I think it’s influence will continue to grow over time.
The 4HWW Effect
A lot of the incredible relationships and experiences I’ve had had over the past few years have been the result of the existence of thousands of people reinventing their work lives. The common theme: almost every single one of them is aware of or has read Ferriss’ work.
In global digital nomad circles, having read 4HWW is assumed. The only thing that notable about people’s relationship to the book is when they read it and when they took action on it. In this world, Tim is seen as a maven and gets a ton of credit for inspiring many to take action in ways that helped them radically improved their lives.
This story of extreme positive impact has never really been told broadly. I think the reason is that many of the people that have applied the lessons and spirit of the book are still weirdos - people like me who have rejected the default path and are pursuing a life course which can’t quite be understood from the outside.
Another reason is that Tim’s book is positioned as a naive attempt to work less. “Oh you want to work only four hours a week? Good luck buddy!”
There are certainly lots of parts about “hacking” your way into working less in Tim’s book but this is more about Ferriss’ own unique position and the lack of other possible ways of working and paths that existed at the time.
This second point can’t be understated enough. I am so impressed by people that made self-employment or digital nomadism work before 2010. It was simply much harder - less acceptance and much worse technology, not to mention the wifi.
Looking Back At The Book 15 Years Later
After the great remote shift of 2020, Ferriss’ goal at the beginning of his book doesn’t seem so radical:
The objective is to create freedom of time and place and use both however you want.
Yet, the deeper philosophical undercurrents still push against our default culture:
Life doesn't have to be so damn hard. It really doesn't. Most people, my past self included, have spent too much time convincing themselves that life has to be hard, a resignation to 9-5 drudgery in exchange for (sometimes) relaxing weekends and the occasional keep-it-short-or-get-fired vacation.
This is the “work is suffering” script that many people are unconsciously running. If work is suffering and central, we can only do what life gives us after work is done.
This is what resonated so deeply for people like me and others. It made visible these hidden scripts and gave ue permission to abandon them.
Going back through the book again this week, two questions stand out that I keep coming back to:
#1 How do your decisions change if you can’t retire?
This is something that Ferriss doesn’t really explore explicitly: the fact that even when people “escape” work they still end up working. Tim is a good example. He likely could have stopped working but he kept getting involved in a wide range of projects: books, investing, podcasting, and mental health.
Why? My take is that most people want to be useful. It’s just that for many it is incredibly painful when you start compromising too much of your time doing work that you see as pointless, meaningless or too easy.
#2 Is it necessary to work hard to live like a millionaire?
This question is harder to untangle but in my own life I’ve discovered that I vastly undervalued time in relation to money. A 40-hour workweek was never 40 hours. Even if I only was in an office from 9 to 5:30, I still was in worker mode from wakeup until I got home and then spent additional time recovering from the effects of the work I was doing. Even with 40 hours of work, it likely took me 80 hours of attention and energy per week.
I liked Tim Malnick’s framing of the “life path” as opposed to the “money path” on my podcast. He put it like this:
“Do what you love and the more you follow it you will have your needs met with and without money”
Especially in the US, the assumption that money = freedom is so deep and is so interconnected with material possessions that we forget there are other ways to be rich.
Tim Had A Framework, But Most People Don’t Mention It
It’s interesting to compare what people mention about the book and what’s actually in the book.
The first thing I noticed upon looking into the book again this week was that it is structured around a framework he calls “DEAL”: Defintion, Automatoin, Automation, Liberation. I forget about this every time I look at it and I I’ve never heard a single person mention this framework.
At it’s core, I’d say 4HWW is a bunch of books in one:
A tactical guide for working less an automating work
A personal story of how he expanded his imagination for life
A subtle philosophical attack on our work beliefs.
I think when people write books they think they need #1 but in reality the most powerful books are always ones with strong personal stories with or without tactics. Ferriss’ story and the examples of others throughout the book is what was powerful for people.
This drove my approach with the Pathless Path. I tried to ask myself a question: what if I didn’t give any playbook, framework, or tactical approaches?
I tried to focus almost entirely on a philosophical challenge to the current foundations of work and share a genuine personal story of how I felt and how I thought about things at every step of my journey.
Yet I could do this because tactics are not hard to find anymore. When 4HWW was published in 2007 there was still scarcity of good ideas and information. I remember literally finishing all the sources I followed via Google Reader. This seems unimaginable today.
The tactics in 4HWW might seem obvious now but to many back then they were incredibly helpful.
In 2022, perhaps inspired by 4HWW, tactics are abundant.
Which is why I was able to write my book in the way I did. I could seed questions and inspire people through my own fumbling and learnings and then people could go online in their own time to find specific tactics about what to do next.
Work Remains Taboo
Based on the reactions to my book, I’ve been surprised at how taboo a topic work remains. And I think this gives us a clue to what was so powerful about Ferriss’ book when he published it in 2007.
For the people inspired by the book, it wasn’t a guide to escape work or work less. It was permission to talk about something that people have a hard time talking about and an impetus to start experimenting.
Over time we have tied our self-worth, identity, morality, and insecurities to our jobs and careers and it has become increasingly hard to talk about any of it.
Books like Ferriss’ are permission to have this conversation. At first, secretly, with the pages and the author and then, second, with others who say they have read it too.
I’ve had many people say they gave my book to friends and that it has started conversations that were incredibly meaningful. I never expected this but it makes a lot of sense.
The Heart Of Tim’s Book
In the final section, Ferriss has a section titled “The Top 13 Mistakes of the New Rich.” He offers several tactics on things like prioritizing tasks and answering emails but the final two “mistakes” stand out:
#12 Viewing one product, job, or project as the end-all and be-all of your existence: Life is too short to waste, but it is also too long to be a pessimist or nihilist. Whatever you're doing now is just a stepping-stone to the next project or adventure. Any rut you get into is one you can get yourself out of. Doubts are no more than a signal for action of some type. When in doubt or overwhelmed, take a break and 80/20 both business and personal activities and relationships.
#13 Ignoring the social rewards of life: Surround yourself with smiling, positive people who have absolutely nothing to do with work. Create your muses alone if you must, but do not live your life alone. Happiness shared in the form of friendships and love is happiness multiplied.
These two are the philosophical underpinnings of Tim’s book and I believe what made the book rock the worlds of so many people from around the world.
It wasn’t a way to work less or escape work (although that was certainly offered as a first step).
It was an invitation to dream, reimagine your relationship with work, and to appreciate the amazing things life offers.
Thanks for writing the book Tim. You made my life and my book possible.
+ This was inspired by Tim and Cal Newport’s convo about the book. You can listen here if you are intrigued - it was a very good conversation.
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