Whether he is doing the tango in Beunos Aires, performing ballroom dancing in Argentina, practicing horseback archery in Japan, breakdancing in Taiwan, or kickboxing in China, Timothy Ferriss has created an adventurous lifestyle that brings new excitement and ideas to him while exploring the treasures of the world and working minimal hours per week at the same time.
Before he was known, the idea of working under 40 hours per week and retiring early was not only unrealistic, but risky as well. The belief that people would have to work 9 to 5 every day except Sunday’s for 20, 30, maybe 40 years until retirement was the path that every full-time worker was headed towards. He is best known for his cavalier and unorthodox style of breaking out of the rat race, living a life that only can be dreamed of. As a graduate from Princeton University, one might think that doing something like this was easy for him. Frankly though, it wasn’t at all. It was a journey of failure, mistakes, overwhelm, and self-defeat.
Tim started out a cleaner for an ice cream parlor when he was 14 years old. At this job, he would get minimum wage for his work. He realized however that he could finish the work in 1 hour instead of the 8 hours that it would take his boss to do. He would finish his work in 1 hour and then spend the rest of his time reading kung-fu magazines or practicing karate kicks outside for fun. One day, he would be able to use his kung-fu and karate for a real purpose. The boss however didn’t like or accept Tim’s minimal work ethics, so he fired him.
“Maybe someday you’ll understand the value of hard work.”
He put his job searching on hold for a while and traveled to Japan at 16 years old to volunteer for a one-year exchange program. When he went there, he witnessed the hard working ethics of the Japanese people, remembering the word karooshi, a phenomenon where people work themselves to death. Understanding this, he went back to America and studied hard in high school with the goal of going to Princeton University.
After he took the SAT’s, the scores he got were 40% lower than the average scores in the United States. When he told people about him wanting to go to Princeton University, his high school admissions counselor told him to be more realistic. Even though his boss who told him to understand the value of hard work and his counselor who told him to be more realistic, he eventually got into Princeton University, majoring in East Asian studies there.
During his early years in college, he decided that he wanted to become a millionaire or at least give it a try. It was mostly every college student’s dream to graduate college and be financially stable. He would use all his money saved up from the three previous summers to manufacture 500 tapes. His idea was called How I Beat the Ivy League and he went on to try and sell these tapes to people, but nobody bought them from him. He ended up selling none and his mother would throw away all of these tapes a few years later.
He wouldn’t give up though. A year later at 21, he tried again by developing a speed-reading seminar. He plastered signs everywhere on campus that said, “Triple your reading speed in 3 hours!” This time he sold 32 spots at $50 each for a 3 hour event, making $533 per hour. The two previous experiences taught him that he needed to find a market before designing a product in order to turn a business into a successful one.
However, his happiness wouldn’t last long. When he was about to graduate college, he had a fear of becoming an investment banker. Not being able to cope with the fear of doing something that he wasn’t interested in for the rest of his life, he broke down. Instead of going through with this job, he tells the Princeton University registrar that he would quit school until further notice.
He picked up a job as a curriculum designer and an analyst for a political asylum research firm but quit after three months of doing that. Not knowing what to do, he traveled to Taiwan to create a gym, but his gym was eventually be shut down. He then returned to the United States and decided to learn kickboxing. Four weeks later, he won a national championship with a way that people didn’t expect (pushing people out instead of actually fighting them).
After his victory, he decided that he was ready to return to Princeton. He finished college even with a year-long delay that the other students didn’t have. After college, he heard that people around his age were making millions. His friend David Koresh had already sold a company for $450 million. He decided that he wanted to take his chances trying to do the same thing in California.
As he stayed in California, he tried to find a job, but no one would hire him for 3 months. Frustrated, he would persistently send one startup CEO 32 consecutive emails until the CEO finally gave in. He was hired to work for TruSAN, a networking company with 150 employees.
When he starts out, the newly appointed sales director told him to start with “A” in the phone book and dial for dollars. He asked the director why they are doing it like retards and got a very unfavorable response.
“Because I say so.”
For a year, he would follow his boss’s orders and work 12 hours a day. He was the second lowest paid person in the entire company. Wondering what the point of all this was, he decided one day to just go on the web and surf all day.
He was tired of taking orders from his boss. He was tired of working like a robot with the other hundred or so coworkers doing the same thing. He was tired of being paid second lowest in the company. As he was surfing online, he came to an epiphany. How hard would it be to start a company from scratch?
Doing a little bit more research while on his job, he realized that he could outsource everything from manufacturing to ad designs. He decided to take this risk and in two weeks goes $5,000 in debt in order to start up company with a website. One week later, he was fired from his job by his boss.
“Somewhere between college graduation and your second job, a chorus enters your internal dialogue: Be realistic and stop pretending. Life isn’t like the movies.”
Eager to turn his own company, BrainQUICKEN, into a success, he ould work 15 hour days for 7 days a week. Every day, he would wake up before dawn to make calls to the United Kingdom, handle the United States during the normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day, in which he would answer between 100 and 200 emails concerning customer problems. After 5 p.m., he would then start making calls to Japan and New Zealand and this would run until midnight. He would then go to sleep under his cubicle, and repeat the cycle for everyday for 4 years between 2000 and 2004.
Although this hard work was giving him $40k per month, compared to $40k per year, he hated his job and felt completely miserable. He says that period of his life was a very “depressing scene.” Eventually, his long time girlfriend would also break up with him.
“I was working across multiple time zones with clients, and she gave me a parting Dear John letter equivalent, but it was actually a plaque I kid you not that said, ‘Business hours end at 5 PM’.” –Tim Ferriss Interview with Leo Babauta
He had realized that income had no value without time. He wanted to change. He knew he was making a lot of money, but there was no difference between this and a 40 hour workweek; at least those people got a break for Thanksgiving where he was sending out emails or on regular weekends. His hours became worse and he realized that he didn’t want to work like a karooshi; in other words, he didn’t want to get in the cycle of working himself to death. He decided to do something crazy in order to escape this surreal work life that he trapped himself into.
“How do I pry myself from the tentacles of workaholism and the fear that it would fall to pieces without my 15-hour days? How do I escape this self-made prison? A trip, I decided. A sabbatical year around the world.”
During June of 2004, Tim took a backpack in hand and goes to the JFK Airport in New York City, buying a one-way ticket to Europe. He arrived in London and then stayed in Spain for four weeks. His business was still running back in Silicon Valley and if he didn’t plan soon, it would collapse. Understanding this, he started to become worried and depressed. He wanted to live the lifestyle of a millionaire; he wanted to travel the world; he wanted to experience adventure and different cultures. But he couldn’t do this any of this if his mind was constantly occupied by work.
He decided that once and for all that he needed to settle this. Time was ticking. If he was going to seriously escape from work to journey across the world, he needed to ask himself the one of the most important questions: what was the worst thing that could possibly happen as a result of his trip?
Pondering this idea, he goes through the scenario. His business would fail and get shut down. He might get a legal warning letter and get sued. The inventory would spoil on the shelves. He would be somewhere in Ireland on a cold shore picking his toes and crying in the rain. His bank account would crater by 80 percent and his car and motorcycle in the storage might get stolen. He also writes that somebody might spit on his head from a high-rise balcony while he is feeding food scraps to a stray dog.
This was the played out worst case scenario that he had. When he went through this, it relieved him. He realized that it wasn’t so bad after all, and in fact, he might be able to handle it. And if all fails, he could have gotten back to the States getting another job.
“I could always take a temporary bartending job to pay the rent if I had to.”
So for an entire year, he would simply travel and try to manage his business through the internet overseas. It would require him to outsource the majority of his workload towards selecting the right virtual assistants that were not only bright, but cost-effective as well.
He would experiment how to operate his business to make it not only efficient, but effective. This meant using less time to do the things that only improved the business. He would limit checking his e-mail one day, on Monday morning, and one hour each week. Doing this allowed him more time to be allocated somewhere else.
Doing less but more effective ironically helped his company profits to be increased by 40%. This freed up time for him to do have fun and work around the world for 15 months.
In 2006 and at the age of 29, he returned to the United States in a Zen-like state. His idea of working a 9 to 5 job until retiring was completely gone. He realized that traveling the world and working fewer hours was difficult to do, but possible because he had achieved this. He learned about liming tasks to the important to shorten work time which is also known as the 80/20 rule. He also learned about shortening work time to limit tasks to the important – Parkinson’s Law.
At the end of his journey towards breaking free from the workforce, he wanted to help others break free as well by showing them that there one doesn’t always have to work 40 hours a week for many years until they retire. For about a year after he returned to the United States, he would spend about a year writing a book teaching others how to escape the 9 to 5 job and live anywhere through sharing his own experiences. In 2007, the book he wrote was published. It was called The 4-Hour Workweek and went on to become New York Times #1 Bestseller.
“Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty. For years, I set goals, made resolutions to change direction, and nothing came of either. I was just as insecure and scared as the rest of the world.”