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If you want a 4-hour workweek, your job sucks

Reading the mega-hit "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Timothy Ferriss was like gorging one's self on ice cream and potato chips. It starts out amazing, towards the middle you start slowing down, and when the message from your stomach finally reaches your brain, you feel this overwhelming urge to vomit.

It all starts in such a promising way. Ferriss' premise is obtaining the freedom to pursue life's most important goal - individualistic hedonism. Ferriss defines the New Rich (NR) as people who have both money AND time. Its a neat concept and appropriate for a generation weaned on entitlement and jealous of their baby boomer parents' success.

But here's where things being to go astray: he tells us the perfect job is the one that takes the least time. That makes no sense to me. Isn't what makes a job perfect the fact you look forward to spending time doing it?

Well, not in Ferriss' world of becoming a Chinese kickboxing champion, competing as a ballroom dancer in Latin America (the stuff this guy has done of determination and willingness to learn is amazing), and filming a TV show in Japan. How many people are like Ferriss? He is a thrill-seeker who has the motivation, drive, and competence to actualize almost everything he dreams. You don't see that combination of attributes very often.

Anyways, Ferriss has four steps in how to become NR. Define, eliminate, automate, and liberate. Define and eliminate were very helpful and practical. I learned a lot here. In definition, he challenges conventions such as saving retirement for when we're old, thinking less time spent is laziness, etc. I admire him for his audaciousness. Its so un-Chinese (especially the advice about asking for forgiveness instead of permission). His style is brash, up-front, and bold.

Elimination is also helpful. Check email as infrequently as possible because it is a time and attention suck. Same thing for reading about news. These activities don't help you, they only distract you from what is important to get done each day. This is practical and helpful advice. But there's some crazy stuff here - like avoiding small talk with your coworkers, like being a jerk to people so you can get more work done and be "effective", like avoiding meetings like the plague, like pretending you're on the phone when coworkers stop by to chat. That's a great way to make friends and make your perfect job perfecter! I mean I get what he's doing, but its as if relationships are not all the important to him. And for my generation and others after me, that's kind of the attitude - who cares about everyone else?

Automation is where things get interesting. Ferriss talks about outsourcing details of his life like having a virtual assistant in India or Canada who schedules his calendar, does on-line research, sets up interviews for $4 - $25 an hour. Why do stuff that is painful to do that you don't like? Its a radical idea and he has some very good advice for outsourcing that I wish I had used in my former life when I was working with programming teams from India, Minsk, and China. Overall though, I'm not sure outsourcing aspects of your life is going to work with most people - mainly because it requires sophistication and phenomenal communication skills to make that work. And then he's got this long section about starting your own business. He makes it sound really easy - like you could do it in 4 hours a week. I'm thinking not. Nothing he writes about here is remotely appealing to me. Build a business so you can go and have a free time.

Liberation is kind of a travel guide for extended vacations of a month or more. He makes a good case for this type of travel being much economical than brief vacations. And he spends a lot of time telling you how to justify it to your boss by being way more productive. I'm getting tired at this point because I simply don't share his urge to travel. He talks about being bored and lonely while traveling. Hmm. . . Ferriss, how about get a job you enjoy with people you enjoy being around?

The book's popularity testifies to the narcissism of my generation and the subsequent generations that worship this guy's teachings. If I worked with someone who tried to practice everything this book teaches, I would totally hate them. If everyone applied this book, the social ties that connect people in community would cease to meaningful. You accumulate friends but lose depth. You form temporary ties. Ultimately, the book is about living for yourself.

This week's New Yorker has an article about this guy and after reading it, you get the sense, he doesn't drink all that much of his own Kool-Aid. Obviously, he's aware of its nausea-inducing side effects.


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