I have a kind of a love/hate relationship with Tim Ferriss. On the one hand, he impresses the hell out of me, and he’s my son’s favorite writer/podcaster. On the other hand, he’s one of the few people who my thinking goes into overload reading, questioning whether or not I’m doing everything in my business wrong and which of the thousands of life strategies he shares would be better than what I’ve developed in what even I can see has been a fairly productive and largely wonderful life.
So when I came across his new book, Tribe of Mentors, I went through my now traditional and pointless debate as to whether or not I was going to put myself through the ordeal of reading it. I made it almost 48 hours before buying it, and as with all his books, am both enjoying it and hating myself while I read.
The basis of the book is a set of eleven questions he sent out to over 100 of his mentors and heroes, asking them to share their wisdom with the world. A remarkable number responded, ranging from showbiz folk like Ben Stiller, Jimmy Fallon, and Tim McGraw to global influencers like Sharon Salzberg and Arianna Huffington. The result is fascinating, and once again raises my eternal question:
How can I best learn from the wisdom and experience of others without discounting what I’ve learned from my own experience and the wisdom of my soul?
So in my mind I began composing a letter to Tim Ferriss, which I’ve since decided to write down, expand, and share with you over the next couple of weeks:
Dear Tim Ferriss,
Thank you so much for everything you do. While I’m not much of a life strategies guy (I tend to prefer answering the question “what is life and how does it work?” to “how shall I live?”), I always enjoy your take on things. Your approach to life seems systematic in a way I’ve never been able to replicate but have always thought would be the better way to do things if I could make myself into a better person.
While pondering some of the fascinating responses in Tribe of Mentors, my mind wandered to an old story about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who was apparently followed around throughout the latter stages of his life by scribes who wrote down literally every word he spoke in hopes of capturing as much of his wisdom as possible while he was alive. One of the theories about his genius (he’s ranked in the top five all time on most rankings I’ve seen of such things) is that the fact that his thoughts were given weight made them weightier. Because his ideas were sought after as though they had merit, they became more meritorious, not only in the eyes of the world but through some marvelous alchemical reaction inside his own mind. In some ways, you could say that he became smarter by answering questions about why he was so smart.
That’s why if I were to write a “Tim Ferriss” book, it might be along the lines of “Unleash the Mentor Within”, and instead of asking my questions of hundreds of genii, I would ask them of one person – the reader themselves.
Would we still benefit from reading the answers of others? Absolutely, but all the more so once we’d first taken the time to listen to our own wisdom and experience as context.
So I know you didn’t ask, but here are my answers. I promise to dive back into your wonderful new book when I’m done…
1. What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are the one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
- The Relationship Handbook by George Pransky
This is the book that introduced me to the field I’m now in, but it did it in a “follow the breadcrumbs” vs. “do these ten things” kind of a way. It revitalized an already happy marriage, and I’ve watched it help dozens of couples turn things around when they’d taken a turn for the worse.
- The Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu
I’ve yet to tire of this ancient classic. Written for leaders but equally useful for “ordinary folk”, it introduces the art of living in the flow of deeper wisdom without preaching or demanding obeisance to any particular religious ideology.
- The Inside-Out Revolution by Michael Neill
Yes, I do feel icky listing one of my own books here, but it’s also the honest answer to the question of which book I’ve gifted the most (that has mostly been graciously received, read, and appreciated).
2. What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.
The first two things that came to mind are my Keurig coffee maker and my little “Magic Bullet” blender. I’m a big ‘Bulletproof Coffee’ guy, and with the Keurig and Magic Bullet I can whip up a cup and have the whole thing cleaned and put away in less than five minutes from start to finish.
We came across the Keurig while staying at a friend’s house on the beach in Florida, and fell in love with being able to make a morning cup of coffee at any time of the day with no fuss, wait, or cleanup. Can’t remember where I first saw the Magic Bullet, but am pretty sure it was on a late-night infomercial and then bought it at our local Macy’s. (My wife hates the way the Magic Bullet looks, which is why it’s ease of use and cleaning allows me to pretend it doesn’t exist with ease…😊)
3. How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I worked for many years as an actor, at one point starring in a BAFTA award winning sitcom called Satellite City. Despite the awards and its popularity (voted most popular English language comedy in the 20th century in Wales), the show never made it outside of the Welsh borders and my success as an actor never really advanced from there. (At one point I was told by a well-meaning producer that I was on track to become ‘the next Ed Bishop’, which as I had no idea who he was seemed like a potential death knell for my career).
Until I failed to gain any real traction as an actor post-sitcom, my love of writing and spiritual philosophy was firmly in the category of ‘hobby’. I moved back to America and carried on trying for five more years. In 2005, after a particularly bad night at a comedy festival in Chicago (no one laughed, which is problematic at a comedy festival) and a particularly interesting three hour conversation with a cab driver named Adolf that same night, I knew my career as an actor was over.
A little over a year later my first book, You Can Have What You Want, hit number one on the Amazon bestseller list in the UK, beating out The Lincoln Lawyer, and my favorite hobby had become my new career.
4. If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)
This was the sign off for my very first blog post over 17 years ago, and while it’s since been replaced by the words ‘With all my love’, it’s still as close to a singular life philosophy as I have.
5. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
I have invested well over ten thousand hours and more than half a million dollars on coaching, training, and research into the nature of the human experience. I’ve written the equivalent of 50 PhD theses on the subject, albeit in a far more prosaic format than most degree programs would allow for.
The end result is that a formerly depressed, suicidal and decidedly introverted teenager is now a genuinely happy, curious, and slightly introverted adult who loves to share the best of what he’s learned about happiness, success, and a life well-lived with others.
I’ll answer the rest of Tim’s questions next week, but your homework (if you want some) is to answer the first five questions for yourself.
Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!
With all my love,