For all the books I’ve read on work-life balance and crafting an ideal existence, no author has caught my attention quite the way Tim Ferriss did when I finally bought his first book in 2008. I’d spent months laughing it off because of its ridiculous-sounding title: The 4-Hour Workweek. One day when my curiosity got the best of me I picked up the book and started reading. I finished it quickly.
The 4-Hour Workweek turned out to be the closest thing I’d found to a liberation manifesto for over-worked office-bound yuppies who have a sick sense that life is slipping away as they sip lukewarm coffee at directionless committee meetings. Tim Ferris’s core concept is what he calls “Lifestyle Design”. What it boils down to is the need to define the ideal lifestyle (read: liberation from 9-5) and then, using the tools in the book (near-fanatical decluttering, starting your own automated income stream, etc), to achieve personal goals that he encourages readers to set unrealistically high.
His logic for such ambition? “Doing the unrealistic is easier than doing the realistic… It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time-and energy consuming…. Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal.”
I love Tim Ferriss. I could spend the post trying to sell you on him but I want to focus in on some of the key principles that I like best and that I think best support the idea of putting an unusually strong emphasis on the importance of service in life. The idea starts with his quoting Oscar Wilde (in The Importance of Being Earnest): “Everything popular is wrong.” From this starting point Tim builds a case for challenging commonly-held assumptions and the arbitrary crap that convention and “the way things have always been done” tend to force upon us.
His first rule for those that choose to join him in bucking convention, is “Retirement is Worst-Case-Scenario Insurance”… “It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life. This is a nonstarter-nothing can justify that sacrifice.” I love this insistence on creating a life that can be fully enjoyed in the here and now rather than sacrificing everything for a pot of gold at 65.
Tim Ferris defines laziness as “to endure a non-ideal existence, to let circumstance or others decide life for you, or to amass a fortune while passing through life like a spectator from an office window.” This resonates with me on a very fundamental level. My parents were idealists who gave up financially lucrative work opportunities to work as missionaries in Africa and Asia for over 10 years. Growing up in Asia with parents that were very intentional in choosing what they felt was the “ideal existence” while rejecting life lived from a sanitized office window certainly had an effect on me. I definitely agree with Tim Ferris that just following what most do, going with what numbers define as popular, is a mistake. It is life on cruise control – bland, lifeless and over-processed.
But what am I doing personally to reject crippling convention and embrace a life of intentional service? This blog is one of my first steps. I also took two years out of my life to work on service projects. The first time I was 16 and I left my family to work on service projects in the Philippines and Sweden. The second was a year I spent working for an international school in the UK. As a result of these two lifestyle experiments I developed a taste for nonprofit work. It has soul.
What about you? What are your ideas for rejecting the norm in favor of a life of service? If you are up for looking at unconventional ways to live a fuller life, I am excited to share ideas with you over the coming months as CultureMutt takes a close look at social innovators and service junkies that all have in common rejecting convention in favor of savvy, global do-gooding.
If you liked this post, make it public by hitting the Facebook “Like” button below. Thanks!