The idea that we can work less and free up time to pursue our own dreams is highly attractive for most people and this book is a guidebook on how to do it. The methods that Ferriss recommends to achieve that lifestyle provoked both admiration and disgust from people I know who read it, and I’ll get more into that below. Let’s start with what Ferriss says before getting into reactions.
Ferriss recommends a four step process to changing your life, which he abbreviates DEAL:
- Define – Figure out what you want to do. Honestly answer the question of what you would do if you had unlimited money and time. Travel the world? Learn a new language? Become a world-class expert in tango? Then sit down and figure out what it would take to actually do those dreams – Ferriss points out that it’s not as much as you think. For instance, he spent approximately $1500 a month to stay in Argentina and take private Spanish lessons and private tango lessons for several months before entering a tango competition – most of us spend more than that on our mortgages and/or rent. Don’t delay your dreams for a long-off retirement – start doing them today.
- Eliminate – Eliminate anything from your life that doesn’t contribute to you achieving your dreams. Ruthlessly apply the Pareto Principle that 80% of the benefits come from 20% of the work. If you’re an entrepreneur, concentrate on your cash cow clients, and get rid of the small clients and the complainers. Deal with all the important things that you are avoiding doing by engaging in time-wasting activities like meetings and email and surfing the web. Get rid of stuff that you own that ties you down and keeps you from being mobile.
- Automate – Start a business that you can reap the benefits of without being in the critical path (he calls these muses). He recommends selling things like training CDs or DVDs in an area where you are perceived as an expert (see below for how to achieve that). Hire a virtual assistant from India at $10/hour to do paperwork and answer email. Set up the purchasing system on the web so it automatically forwards orders to the warehouse which ships the materials. Take yourself out of the equation completely.
- Liberate – Adopt a completely mobile lifestyle. Once the business has been automated, you should only need to check in once a week via email to make a few decisions. Only pick up the phone for a few hours each week, and train all your people that you are only reachable during that time – they’ll start to take initiative and solve problems themselves. At that point, you’re ready to embrace the lifestyle defined in step 1 and pursue your dreams.
The process makes sense. And I think it would work if followed. So why not follow it?
Ferriss is exploiting the existing system, something he takes great glee in doing. He brags about winning a world championship in a martial art by figuring out that weigh-ins were the day before, so he dropped 20 pounds of water weight for the weigh-in, rehydrated before the match, and took advantage of a loophole in the rules that awarded a TKO for pushing his opponents out of the ring by using his longer reach. For selling a training CD, he describes the process of becoming perceived as an expert:
- Join the industry association of the field
- Read the top three books in the field, as recommended by that association
- Summarize the books into one page of talking points each
- Contact a local university, and offer to give a talk, leveraging your association membership.
- Contact two local companies, and offer to give a talk, leveraging your association membership and the fact that you’ve spoken at “University X”.
- Put yourself on a media expert website and cite your association, the talk at “University X”, and talks at “Company X” and “Company Y”.
- Total time to achieve media experthood in your chosen field: Four weeks
I admire his chutzpah and his ingenuity in figuring out how to live life on his terms, but I still don’t completely subscribe to his ideas.
Everything he’s doing is within the rules as they currently exist, but that just perpetuates the system. He’s playing the game as it’s given, rather than trying to improve the game (it reminds me of the difference between finite and infinite games). Maybe changing the system isn’t possible and the best we can do is to exploit it to our advantage. I’m not ready to do that yet, and I will continue trying to live my life “as if” things could be different. Maybe in a couple more years I’ll be ready to concede and I’ll just want to cash out as he did.
I still recommend reading the book, although I’d borrow it from a friend or the library. It’s a quick read, and it’s definitely a strong meme going around my generation, so it’s good to be able to participate in the conversation. There are several good lifestyle suggestions in the book, especially in clearly defining one’s own goals, and eliminating behaviors that are not contributing to achieving those goals (tasks that would be valuable in one’s professional life as well as one’s personal life). I need to commit to some more specific goals, and start hacking my way towards them, and we’ll see if the ideas from the book can help me with that.