Everything Popular is Wrong

Yabusame – Tim Ferriss from Kevin Rose on Vimeo.

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.

Bjorn Karlman

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23 thoughts on “Everything Popular is Wrong”

  1. While I have not read the book, this post has convinced me that I should. A common idea in economics is that popularity justifies an activity as people in the market “buy into” a concept, idea, or product. However, there is a difference between being part of the group that is buying a product (and therefore indistinguishable from the rest of the market) versus the one or two people selling the product.

    Generally, you want to be in the minority that others look to and not the other way around.

  2. I enjoy reading novels that address self-improvement, and spark some inspiration. The sayings from Tim Ferris that you have quoted, have sparked much inspiration lonesomely. I have never read “The 4-Hour Workweek”, however this blog post has encouraged me to do so.I can’t wait to get my hands on the book! I also enjoyed your snippet of personal experiences, in relation to the book. I look forward to reading much more from you! When I’m through reading the book, I’ll make sure to give you a buzz, and tell you what I think!

  3. I read this book myself from the public library just on the basis of the title alone. I agree with you on his view that “retirement planning” is just nonsense. That part espically applies to the younger generation who have very little hope of any kind of pension for a workplace, much to the dismay of their parents. I’ve gotten the advice “Get a job with a good company and stay there” from many well meaning people-but this book makes it clear that working for others like our grandparents mostly did just isn’t going to cut it. This is a great read for anyone who feels like they are just running on the hamster wheel!

  4. Thanks for the inspiring blog. You’ve always seemed to challenge convention in favor of innovation. Keep pushing us. As for me I’m going into primary care which most tell me to stay from because of a crippling health care system. But I want to be a part of the solution not the problem. I’m hoping to get into a unique residency program combining family and preventive medicine. My interest is in health care delivery and how we can make that better.

  5. I like it! And I totally agree that service is where it’s at. I ‘gave up’ four years of my life for service-jobs, and three of those years were non-profit. I’m completely ‘behind’ most of my friends in terms of mortgages and cars, but I see life so differently now and can say with confidence that it’s pretty awesome what happens when you turn the focus from living in fear about not having a retirement to doing things that are meaningful NOW. It opens doors. People get excited. It’s the way forward.

  6. I partially agree- I think the idea of people working at something they hate just because it is a steady job is curiously horrific.

    However, I am at heart a capitalist. I own my own business, as well as doing research, bits and bobs and I enjoy my work.

    It seems an odd idea to me that fulfilment in career is so linked to non-profit.

  7. Hi Bjorn,

    Interesting thoughts. I would agree with the author’s definition of lazines: to lead a less than ideal existence. However, I would disagree with the subjective nature of this definition. Ideal by who’s standards? From where I’m coming from, an ideal existence is one lived by the word of God. Not just for me, but for everyone. Otherwise God is just a fairytale.

    I think this definition makes Ferriss’s more accessible to everyone. Not everyone can live the perfect life by the definition that they get everything they want. But they can find freedom by living everyday for the glory of God. A person who does this is never controlled by circumstances. They aren’t bound by fear or convention, but by God’s leading. This puts to rest the fear of a meaningless life. A person even in a very boring job can find satisfaction so long as he knows that God led him there. Just think of Moses. His life dream was not to be a shepherd, but that is where God wanted Him to fulfill His purpose.

  8. I understand the sentiments – but it seems like a mistake to assume that everything popular is wrong. I would say it is wrong if you are unhappy – but there are many paths to happiness and each person may follow a different course. What is your destination – for some, the joy of family, of association with those close to them is most important. So does their lifestyle support this? For others, there is a need to excel in a particular field – their path must almost certainly be different. The 9 to 5 is only a grind if that is not what you want to be doing – some take great satisfaction from the relationships they build at work and the interesting work. On the other hand, there are definitely jobs that are purely drudgery. But another question – should we be looking down our noses at people who are doing work that needs to be done? Especially if we ar unwilling or unable to do that work ourselves?
    For myself, I haven chosen to live a life of parallel paths. I work fulltime in a field I enjoy, but I also make it a point to spend time on my interests and with my family and friends. But a key thing – I try to make the time with frineds and family quality time. I prefer not to spend it watching TV, but in conversation, or doing things together – sometimes creating – sometimes just experiencing the many joys of this world. And when work is not going in directions I want, I have taken an approach that is not incompatible with sme of the author’s points – I have actively pursued a change in my circumstances by pushing myself to new things. And I agree, you cannot depend on others to define your happiness – you must seek and find it yourself.

  9. Now a days everything has developed a lot in so many things. Reading books is a passion that too reading our favorite writers book is more enthusiastic.Depending on other people for anything is waste just try and keep on trying will surely achieve the goal. The above is giving good ideas and thoughts which is very useful to all.

  10. I saw this book in a book store within the last 6 months and picked it up and read a little. Then I went home and read some reviews online. I agree with the general concept that you should do what you want to do, even if it sounds crazy. However, I have to keep in mind that if everyone lived that way, the world would probably be worse off. No one wants to work at x-retail store, but because some people do, we can buy things when we need them. Anyway, I am trying to talk my wife into thinking like this, but I have had a difficult time breaking through and it has been EXTREMELY frustrating. This book (or something like it) might be the key.

    By the way, AZ is great. Thanks for asking. My wife is pregnant again so we have another kid on the way. She is due in July. We are trying to buy a house between now and then, but that might depend on whether or not I can convince her to think unrealistically. I really want to buy some land just outside of Phoenix and grow all my own food. lol…I always wanted to do that but she does want to make the commute.

    1. Ha! Good luck with the sales job:) Good to hear an update on things. My fiance is not much of a Tim Ferriss fan, she thinks he is too extreme and she barely puts up with me quoting him every second sentence. He is definitely not for everyone but I think he is a good fit for you and your general outlook. You should check out his new book – The 4 Hour Body. Very cool. Just released this Christmas and already a bestseller..

      Very happy for your with the baby on the way. Congrats.

  11. Its a true fact that no one can deny.Most of us are trying harder and harder to achieve what Tim Ferriss say as mediocre.We try to convince ourselves if we cant achieve something saying that ‘this is what we deserve’.There are many proofs in real life scenarios,only who thinks or dream in an unrealistic way mostly succeeds.Who are all thinking conventionally are going behind them or below them in most cases.Most of us are going behind one another like flock of sheeps in the name of going behind the trends.
    One must be very generous or divinely to do selfless services .Some may have differnt opinions but the thing is doing things differntly alone matters and could lead to a realistic life………..

  12. I had no idea about this guy a few minutes earlier, but now i’m gonna but his novels for sure. Tim Ferris has got some mad skills. he is going to be one of the best ‘yabo-sami’ riders if he keeps on practicing. I totally agree with his word mediocre.!

  13. I have actually read the book myself and I must say my perception of so many things have changed after reading the book. It is those people who decide to go against the flow and try to create an identity for themselves who are successful and who, in the end, achieves what many people tries to attain by the more ‘conventional’ route. I would suggest the book for anyone to get a fresh perspective on life.

  14. I spent the first two thirds of this post with a sinking feeling, I thought it was aimed at making money by going after big goals that others haven’t. I’m pleased to find this isn’t the case but in fact chimes well with my personal ideals. I had a dad who I rarely saw as a kid, he had an office job in the city and left early in the morning, returning late at night. When the company decided to downsize they offered him early retirement without any real options to refuse. He then worked in a similar business for a few years before deciding on a total change. He had always loved gardening and decided that he was going to try that as a living. Later he confessed that he should have started out that way when he was younger doing what he loved rather than a mindless job for years only coming to this late in life. His words have influenced my life choices ever since, youth only comes once and should be enjoyed. I’ll never be rich, but I can be happy.

  15. Bertrand Russel wrote a couple of essays with somewhat similar topics (In Praise of Idleness, or his intro to anarchism), claiming (I’m simplifying here) that we could easily work 4 or 6 hours a day, which would reduce unemployment, only if we were ready to accept lower incomes, for everybody, and to reject the idea that work, that is toiling, is what makes us men. His thing is that there will always be dedicated people who will work because they are motivated by an inner passion (you know, artists and scientific researcher and stuff), while some will use their idleness for nothing useful (so what?).

  16. In my opinion, it’s really difficult to know when you should stop doing something… Well, actually it’s even more complicated affirm that this moment truly exists.

    In some countries, perhaps United Kingdom is the most famous example, students enjoy a sabbatical year to put some order on their minds. This a superb chance to change one’s life, and maybe the world. That’s why there “many” Time Ferris out there and no José González, Abdul Mohammed and so on.

    Pretty interesting topic, thanks for sharing it.

  17. Really enjoyed this post. Nothing like challenging yourself to ask: why am I doing this? What am I doing with my life? And then find reason to challenge yourself to do something that you enjoy doing and can look back on your achievements with pride. “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.” That is probably the most potent part of the post.
    Thanks for sharing mate!

    1. Thanks Dave, I am really glad that you enjoyed the post. I really value your input. I do try and ask myself WHY I do things. I actually have that as my screen saver…”why do you to this every single day”… something I got from Chris Guillebeau – http://chrisguillebeau.com/ a very cool guy that your well-traveled self would no doubt enjoy!

  18. now that we have a BRAND NEW computer at home, i have time to start reading your blog again. i started with this one & was not disappointed. i am reminded of how i saw my dad go passionately after what he was called to do, to be, and some of that rubbed off on me. he keeps his leather sandals together with duct tape so he can put gas in his own little Cessna … 80+ and finally has his own humble plan after working hard all his life.

  19. i meant plane ;-). i’ve drawn his drive to pursue that which was impossible to serve even in the face of a life that seems too full … and i am fulfilled beyond belief … and in no need to hurry up & fix my tired couch.

    1. Thanks for the comment Kristen. Glad to have had you as a reader for almost a year and a half now! Congrats on the new computer. And parents can be quite the inspiration… your dad’s drive sounds incredible!

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