Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Four Hour Work week? Yes, please.

I recently finished Timothy Ferriss' book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. You can go ahead and judge me, because I sure as hell would if you told me that you read something with that title.

I was really prepared to hate it because hearing about Hero's Journeys from people my own age always rubs me the wrong way. Call it the Eat Pray Love phenomenon. And the dude was a white collar worker, so really, how hard was your life? Given that this whole blog is pretty much a white collar worker whining about the trivialities of life, essentially, I was prepared to hate this dude for being like me, but being much more vocal (read: writing the book) about how awesome he kind of is for getting out of the corporate trap.

Because I love memoir, I found the autobiographical parts really fun to read, and because the 80/20 rule is pretty much my #1 rule at work, the background on Pareto's Principle fairly interesting. Other parts of the book were pretty 'meh' (I'm not going to outsource my birthday party planning and grocery shopping to India) and other parts contained things I knew already.

What was most useful were the questions that he asks around what you would be or could be doing with your time if you weren't spending 9-5 at work. Basically what is exciting to you? The two questions that hit me like a lightning bolt, though, were hidden away on page 37:

1. How has being 'realistic' or 'responsible' kept you from the life you want?
2. How has doing what you 'should' resulted in subpar experiences or regret for not having done something else?

Right. So how much time do you have? See also: my entire career.

Matt Madden covered something similar recently in his post, What you should do versus what you need to do, and my comment was

Too often, we fall into the “well, I was going to do XXXXX, but I don’t have time to do that with work, kids, life, etc” line of thinking. Or in our professional lives, the “well, I would do XXXX, but the corporate bureaucrats/manager/SEC/whatever won’t let me” speech. Well, sure. But the problem is that many people (self included sometimes) don’t really define what that XXXX is — what it is that motivates and excites them, what they really would like to do — because that’s the hard question. It’s easier to assume that you would have your dream life if it wasn’t for these other annoyances. Without defining your motivation, though, you’re more likely to compromise and stay in a tolerable, yet unfulfilling career, lulled into believing you’re stable.

This is where I am right now. My job is okay and tolerable, but mostly unfulfilling. And we're not stable. I am still living paycheck to paycheck, and constantly in fear of the big expenses we could have in our future: more childcare, schools, maybe a house, a move, etc. Never mind the bad shit you never really want to think about like illness or disability. We're constantly in fear of the future, especially given the economic situation these last few years.

One thing that Ferriss convinced me loud and clear, though, was not to view retirement as the end goal. He gives three good reasons:
1. You hate what you are doing when you are most physically capable of doing something else. Dumb, no?
2.Your purchasing power decreases after you retire, and you can't maintain your standard of living. He says, "The golden years become lower-middle-class life revisited. That's a bittersweet ending."
3. If you're ambitious, retirement is going to be boring, so you'll want a new job or career. Why wait? I saw this exact scenario happen to my mother. I spent so much time listening to her tell stories about finally relaxing when she retired. Then she retired, was bored out of her mind, drove everyone nuts, and found a new job and career (one that really likes this time) a few months later. I really don't want to wait another 20 years to get a chance to have a job I like.

I also admire how well Ferriss was able to market himself. I think he was a relative nobody before the first edition of his book came out, but he used some serious social media marketing to spread the word and then began showing up in Wired, Fast Company, and all over the place. Even if you think the guy's a dick, that's pretty impressive.

I don't think I could ever classify this book as a "life changer" without needing my head examined, but it's another example of reading the right book at the right time. I need to answer the questions he poses. I need to figure out what is exciting to me. I need to move from tolerable to great. And I know I want to make a change soon.

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