The 4-Hour Work Week

As the title suggests, this is a book about cutting you51OWc0PhNqL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgr working hours down. A lot. But it’s also about earning enough income to finance your “dream-lines”. Location independently. Or in other words, living how you really want to. This is a book which isn’t for everyone. To accept its premises is to think outside of the box. Indeed, most people would read it and shake their heads in non-acceptance – it poses too much questioning of settled reality. Much of it is radical even by my standards. However, I don’t argue that it’s not possible. I merely think it’s not as straightforward as he seems to see everything. The secret to that straightforward, pragmatic thinking can perhaps be found through this book also, though.
This is one of the key texts of the location independent lifestyle. And there’s no lifestyle I would rather have than a location independent one, hence why I decided to read the book. Although Timothy Ferriss seems to emphasise intermittent “mini-retirements” and dream-lines rather than the “purist” digital nomad lifestyle of indefinite travel. Vagabonding. Both of these are deeply appealing, however.
I believe that Ferriss essentially gives two different methods of financially achieving the “new rich” lifestyle:
1) A remote work agreement or some other sort of location independent employment
2) A muse: start-up venture that exists solely to generate maximum income with minimum time investment
Of these two methods, the first is more within the common sphere of reality. However, it is also much more time intensive and not scalable by nature. Admittedly, the second seems pretty far out to me but I suppose it would be more graspable if a viable idea itself was more graspable. To his credit he does lay out a method, however, you really do need to be able to offer value to a niche market. This I struggled to imagine and the book lost me a little bit. He provides tons of resources one you get going, though; many B2B services which I had never heard of and hopefully will one day revisit.
The main body of the book is structured into four “steps”:
1) Definition. This mostly included the beginning thought process, defining dream-lines and doing the start-up
2) Elimination. Where you significantly reduce your time spent working through various means
3) Automation. Ferriss is very big on outsourcing personal tasks to overseas “Virtual Assistants” who work relatively cheaply, but automating through a computer is even better (cheaper)
4) Liberation. Once you’ve defined, eliminated and automated you are then able to liberate yourself in terms of location and do the travel that you wanted to
This book has a certain ethos which seems very original to me and not really fitting well with any other philosophy that I’ve seen. I suppose that’s because a fundamentally different lifestyle initiates new values and lines of thinking. For example, he seems to be big on minimalism in all things. He has a very regimented attitude about what’s allowed to disturb his attention or take up his time. Leanness of enterprise and ruthlessness with personal resources such as energy – “be pound wise and penny foolish”. He’s super pragmatic and analyses things deeply with an uncommon clarity of thought. Thinking and acting outside the box. Being uncaring of what people think is a priority. It fits the humanist zeitgeist of maximising quality of life, and even takes it a step further than anything else, to its logical extreme. When you work the standard 9 to 5 this ethos appears pointless (I’ve tried) because then you’d just end up reducing your work hours and income. You relearn to just show up, trundle along for 8 hours and go along with company culture. If you’re location independent or an entrepreneur then this ethos becomes very relevant, though, because no one is looking over your shoulder and true effectiveness becomes imperative.

On The “Low Information Diet”

In The 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss describes something he calls the “low information diet”. It’s fairly self-explanatory: don’t immerse yourself in unnecessary information, so as to free up your attention and intellect for the truly important. The essence of it is captured by the following quote:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the over abundance of information sources that might consume it.
– Herbert Simon
He sold me on the idea originally, but once I cooled off became more skeptical. Do I even want to have a low information diet? The answer seems to depend on my lifestyle at the time. To me, the ideal lifestyle is being able to do whatever you want, do work that you love and spend the rest of the time having sex. I’m certainly gunning for a life like this and if I had actualised it then no I probably wouldn’t want to concern myself with reading the news.
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In my current lifestyle, though, where I work and am planted in my hometown; information is a means of escape. Reading the world news takes me somewhere else. Knowing about what’s going on makes me feel more in control. Learning and thinking make me feel sane.
Could it be that our preferences change based on the degree to which our needs are being met? Yes, most definitely. That seems to suggest that it’s best to actualise our true heartfelt desires primarily and then see what we care about after that, rather than taking our current whims too seriously. Easier said than done. The frustrating part is that we almost always need something of others to get what we truly need. Hence charisma, hence influence, hence social skills.
What kind of dark arts can bring us the life that we really want? What is required of us? I digress. The low information diet is something that can presumably enhance mental acuity but is most palatable when our life is such that we don’t feel the need to escape from it or supplement our feeling of self-determination.
And if possible, having specific questions answered by a knowledgeable person is better than wading through news and books ourselves, because it allows us to both reap the benefits of a low information diet and to have more trenchant and sagacious input.

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

A few weeks ago my mother invited me to a talk by one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders. I’d never heard of him before but was immediately interested in checking it out. The talk went for an hour and I was engaged the whole time. Obviously he’s much more successful than me, but all the same he was a man after my own heart. Clearly an unsettled sort of fellow that had found a temporary measure of public peace through intense inner work. Knowledge, wisdom, travel. These appeared to be his values. I can’t help but think he isbn9780857059987-detailbecame a humanitarian not out of compassion, but out of the philosophy that it was the best thing one could do with their life.

He spoke briefly about his humanitarian work, being the French ambassador to Senegal and the immigration situation in Europe. He advocated less immigrants which I was surprised about but also agreed with. Mostly though he spoke about a pilgrimage that he made through Spain. From somewhere I don’t know to Santiago de Compostela. He took “the Northern Route” through the Basque country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. It was an ancient pilgrimage first made by King Alfonso to visit the remains of St James the apostle. No one knows how those remains got from the holy lands to Spain.

I instantly swooped in at the idea of purchasing a copy of his book and getting it signed. We waited in line for a few minutes as he sat at the table signing books. It would be the first time I’d ever spoken to a “famous person” before. He’s the sort of famous person I admire because in my opinion he has done everything in his life that I would like to do. Become a doctor, travel, lead an organisation, write a book, make a positive impact. There aren’t many people to my knowledge who have “done it all” like that. I was actually quite star struck even though I’d never heard of him before and impressed with his energy. There was nothing too special about the moment we spoke, if anything a bit disillusioning because he was just another person – I’ve seen many of them already. He seemed to simultaneously abhor the encumbrances of social status yet had just made a talk to many people about his accomplishments. Contradictions can exist in nature; and especially in complicated personalities. He signed the book although I can’t read what it says (I think that’s the fashion). It’s now become very valuable to me.

The book is a lovely hardback with quite thick, luxuriously spaced pages. It’s gorgeous to look at because of the distinctly Spanish cover art, richly contrasting colours, the obvious subject matter of a pilgrimage and the prestige of the name on the front. It’s about 230 pages. I’d say it was written in the tradition of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It seems to have that enlightened quality to it. And of course it’s a book of the travel genre too. There were some laugh out loud moments and it painted a picture of the various places along the way pretty well without overdoing it. It wasn’t too challenging or rigorous – it had the tone of someone who had transcended beyond valuing intellect. And of course, it was originally written in French. It seemed to maintain its French aspect. English always seems quite utilitarian by comparison.

There was nothing too surprising about it. No big twists or anything. It was merely an anecdote of the 800km pilgrimage he took by foot. Being a travel book it was quite sensuous: a sore foot, the sound of snoring, visual features along the path. It was spiritual in intent. He was alone much of the time but also with people at various times too: so there was a balance of inner thoughts and interactions. He walked for several weeks, it was hard, there were places along the way, he went through different stages.

This wasn’t an idle story meant for entertainment I don’t think. This book is meant to teach something. It was rather unique and authentic in the sense that it doesn’t presume to uncover any huge secret or anything. The lesson is in the story itself. Lessons of learning to let go of what’s unnecessary. To live in the present. Peel away layers until you get to deeper truths. Then when he finished the journey it was a little bit disappointing – he hadn’t gotten some big change which would be his salvation. Having been on a few journeys myself this matches my experience – it was good that he risked telling it exactly how it is despite it being disenchanting. Soon enough things went back to normal with the addition of some golden memories. Yet, and I can attest to this, one is subtly changed by these sorts of journeys in ways that emerge over the course of a lifetime. Perhaps even, it was a spiritual journey taken as a young man which seeded the wisdom to found Doctors Without Borders or write books.

“His anecdote helped me reconcile two contrasting realities hitherto incompatible: the splendour of the Christian liturgy and the primitive simplicity of the Way.”

“For several months after my return, I tried to apply my reflections on my fears to the whole of my life. I calmly examine what I carried on my back. I cast off many things, many projects, many constraints. I tried to lighten my load to make it easier to bear the mochila (backpack) of existence.”