BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

If only ...

So, here's a “career” book that I actually bought, and “new” at that (which I'm noting due to so many recent books flowing through this space being either review copies from the publishers or things that I picked up via various sales)! I'd seen Timothy Ferris' The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich cropping up on recommended reading lists for months, and figured I'd get a copy. This is the current “expanded and updated” version, which is nearly 100 pages longer than the first edition.

One thing that I need to say up front is that Timothy Ferris has one of the most amazing resumes that I've ever seen, winning global contests in widely divergent activities he'd only had scant months of training in, and a relationship with academics that goes beyond “luck”, so when he presents what seems to be the highly improbable as something to be achieved through a particular system, one has to consider that he might be on to something that the rest of us are not seeing. While this is enticingly presented in the early chapters of the book, you can also check out his web site ( for the broad strokes.

As one can gather from the title/subtitle, this is a book about getting out of the rat race and moving into a new sort of lifestyle. While many of the underlying drives expressed in this are, I think, common to most folks, there are elements which do make this a bit of a hard sell. Perhaps at the core of what's presented here is the classic story of the businessman vacationing in a fishing village who runs into a local fisherman who goes out to sea for a few hours in the morning, sells his catch, and spends the rest of the day loitering around the pub with his buddies, having a leisurely lunch with his wife, and spending a solid evening with his kids … the visiting businessman asks why the fisherman doesn't “apply himself” to his trade, as it obviously could be much more lucrative than it is, to which the fisherman walks through all the points in the businessman's argument and points out that what the businessman is looking for in an eventual retirement scenario that the fisherman already has via his few hours of fishing! Ferriss suggests that there are ways to achieve similar freedoms in our life, given the right approach.

While there are hundreds of very useful resources, suggestions and directions in the book, I feel I should first raise some issues I had with it. The first is with his concept of one's “muse”, which appears to be the “big idea” that one can come up with to escape the 9-to-5 with an independent (and hands-off out-sourced) business. When I spoke to him (for the interview in The Job Stalker blog), I mentioned that I was somewhat unclear on the concept, and he insisted that it was all laid out in the “Finding the Muse” section. Well, I re-read this and still don't quite connect. Perhaps it's the choice of word, as, to me a “Muse” is something that would be deeply connecting and internal, and, frankly, the “Muse” of the book seems to be a system for trial-and-error attempts at businesses. While the mechanics of this process are pretty clearly laid out, the ethos of it seems missing … except, of course, as a means to the end of achieving “Income Autopilot”.

Reading these sections, I could never identify what this sort of thing could be for me, at least not in terms of something that I hadn't gone running after in the past and failed with. The examples here are, frankly, bordering on the bizarre for their extreme niche-orientation, from “French Navy sailor shirts” being marketed by one guy to “yoga for rock climbers” instructional videos being sold by another gal, to a very high-ticket collection of sound effect recordings being offered for video producers, etc. It is hard to imagine building a sustainable income off of these sorts of ventures.

This brings me to the other major qualm I had with the whole model here, the aim appears to be to live like the rich for periods of time (“mini-retirements” spread across one's working life), rather than actually being rich. Almost all the scenarios detailed here involve making a certain amount of money at home and then spending that on some foreign adventure over a number of months. Except for his own example (and Ferriss appears to be a serial entrepreneur), I found myself asking ”and then what?” following stories of people spending months in South America, or whole seasons skiing in Europe. I, for one, am very fond of my home, and would be unwilling to part ways with it, but it seems that a lot of the “4-hour workweek philosophy” involves a very untethered existence which doesn't seem to spend a lot of time pumping up the kids' college funds.

Anyway, on the plus side, the book provides many ways of getting things done for cheap; the author uses several “virtual staffing” services out of India, which do pretty much everything for him in his various businesses (how he gets down to a 4-hour workweek, I guess), the examples given range from researching articles, preparing full presentations, to even one guy who (very temptingly) “outsourced” his entire job search successfully. Of course (speaking as somebody who has been struggling with long-term unemployment), if one is out of resources, and/or not in a fairly liquid cash flow situation, it is hard to see how one could make effective use of these services (and, I have come to understand, most of the resources listed in that area have become either much more expensive or significantly less reliable as they've dealt with the notoriety thrust on them by the book).

While I wouldn't say that the approach here is as “ethically challenged” as, for instance, I've seen in various affiliate marketing contexts on the web, there are certain fairly murky grey areas in this. For instance, to be an “expert in the context of selling product means that you know more about the topic than the purchaser. No more. It is not necessary to be the best – just better than a small target number of your prospective customers.” … this followed by a section purporting to teach you “How to Become a Top Expert in 4 Weeks”. This, unfortunately, sounds to me like finding “the right suckers” to pitch your wares to.

Anyway, if the goals-in-context appeal to you (I have no desire for a 2-month ski vacation), and you're willing the be the sort of person to follow the business plans involved, there is a wealth of material in the book, both reproduced in its pages and downloadable from Ferriss' web site (which is a remarkable resource in its own right). The cost-per-experience breakdowns here would certainly help those so inclined to find enough people who would part with their money to make the reader's “dreamline” happen. Perhaps I'm just not the right “personality type” for this, while I (like most folks) would certainly welcome an “autopilot” income source, having it be both ethical and personally meaningful (as well as sustainable) would seem to be requirements, and, from my reading, that's not the focus here. Of course, if I were less “me”, I might be a well-to-do lawyer or accountant or banker or politician (or “affiliate marketer”), rather than an out-of-work communications guy!

I really do hate to sound this negative about the book, as it was a fascinating read (and Mr. Ferris very kindly made both an exception to his “no interviews” rule, and quite an effort to accommodate my requests) … and there are many concepts in there which would be generally useful (from the term eustress to Pareto's 80/20 breakdown, and “Parkinson's Law”, among numerous other gems) to anybody trying to build something for themselves. However, coming away from the book I found myself with little that I really wanted to try to implement (let alone the data junkie in me reacting to his advising of near-total disengagement from information flows!). While there is much of use in this book, I think it would take a particular sort of person to really make it work … as much of this has almost a religious “cast off modern society and escape to a new way” evangelism to it.

The 4-Hour Workweek is, of course, widely available, being a very popular title (it's #118 in Amazon's over-all books ratings, and #1 or #2 in a number of specific categories), so the odds of you being able to find it at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore are pretty good. As usual, however, Amazon has it at a substantial discount (43% off at this writing, which makes as cheap as any of the new/used guys' offerings), so that would be your best bet for getting a hold of this. Again, this was not a book that specifically spoke to me, but it certainly could be of great value to those chafing in their 9-5 jobs and looking for some way to escape to an envisioned retirement scenario (if in a series of work-retire-work-retire cycles in assorted dollar-value locales around the globe). As Dennis Miller would have it: "Your mileage may vary!" ... but it's worth checking out just in case it's the key you've been looking for.

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Tags: book review

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