Periscope Depth

you'll never back up an inch ever; that's why you will not survive

This is one of those introspective posts.

I had the following thought about a week ago, probably while riding the train. Until recently I’d always regretted the things I had done more than regretting the things I hadn’t – an inversion of the classic aphorism. I felt like an ass for talking to that girl (while drunk), or for making that joke (in front of my boss), or for going to the gym (while my finger was still broken). Sometimes I would relive the moment itself and actually wince in embarrassment that I should have felt at the time.

I wondered why this was: why I never regretted missed opportunities, when everyone said that was the big downside of life. Then the other day it hit me. I never regret missed opportunities because I never think of the door as closed.

So I should have gone out more in college? Probably. I’m not dead yet, though: I can go out more now. And I have. Maybe those hours I spent beating Fable in 2006 would have been better spent writing? Without question. So I’ll just start writing now. And so on, and so forth.

Anthony Robbins may carry water for a lot of quacks, but the core of his motivational philosophy remains absolutely true: it’s never too late to start making changes. Deciding to make a positive change in your life is the first step to transforming yourself. Of course, sticking to that change are steps two through forty, so it’s not magic. But you never really lose the power to change until you die.

(If you haven’t seen it already, I strongly recommend Anthony Robbins’ TED talk from 2006, if only to watch him piece Al Gore at about 1/3 in)

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I’ve talked a lot about Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week over the last few months. I will probably talk about it more in the future. To convince you people that I haven’t joined a cult, I want to stress a key point here: Tim Ferriss is a bit of an asshole.

All great motivators are assholes. They have to be. A great motivator cannot let you sit where you are. You have a thousand excuses to keep doing things the way you’re doing them; he has to tell you they’re all bullshit. He has to get you uncomfortable. Change requires change; it’s not something you can do from your armchair.

Gandhi was an asshole (“stop buying British-made clothes? sure, Bupu”). Dr. Martin Luther King was an asshole (“I already gave $10 to the NAACP; you want me to take a fire hose to the face too?”). Anthony Robbins is an asshole – he tells an anecdote in Awaken The Giant Within about encouraging a chocolate addict at one of his seminars to go ahead! stuff your face! eat as much chocolate as you like! And he did for two days’ straight, got miserable and never touched the stuff again.

Tim Ferriss is no different.

Here are a few of the ways that Tim Ferriss is an asshole:

  • He ends e-mails and requests with “Thank you in advance,” which is a time-honored asshole move.
  • He spends a tremendous amount of time talking about himself and his own accomplishments. Take this video, for example, from the Do Lectures in Wales.
  • He insists that you stop reading the news. Okay, that one’s not so bad, but he also insists that you stop reading non-fiction. He advises you to read nothing but fiction (to relax) and his book. If you want to learn about something – how to parasail in Guatemala, how to drop-ship merchandise – he suggests asking someone who’s done it, rather than reading up. So, yes, Ferriss says with a straight face to stop reading all other non-fiction books except his own.
  • He won the Chinese National Kickboxing Championship in 1999 – on a string of technicalities that would make Bill Belichick wince. Since the weigh-in was the day before competition, he dehydrated down to 163 pounds, then hyper-hydrated back to 193. Since the rules forbade leaving the rope circle on the ground, he pushed every one of his opponents out of the ring until they were disqualified*. And he makes no secret of how he won! It’s right there in the book! It’s an object lesson in thinking outside the box, I suppose.
  • And even though he points out several times in the book about how a desk-free, income-streaming lifestyle can be used to support a family, the Four Hour Work Week is inherently self-centered. There’s no way around that. Consider: you’re cutting yourself off from the 8:30-5:30 lifestyle that most people recognize. You spend a good portion of your year traveling the world, having adventures that your peers can’t even conceive, much less experience. Even after you overcome all the doubts that keep you from taking risks, the people around you will constantly refresh those doubts (e.g., “you’re quitting your job? really?”). So living this New Rich lifestyle requires you to ignore your peers. That can be a very bold, life-affirming move if it frees you from drudgery. But it also makes you an asshole.

A lot of Four Hour Work Week is not for me. I cannot see myself generating income from home-made products that I kludge together with iMovie and CafePress and sell at an 8x markup. Tim Ferriss does not have it all figured out for everybody. And, on top of all that, he’s a bit of an asshole.

But I’ve known for sixteen years that I was meant to be a writer. I’ve known since I left school that I would never find fulfillment – that passionate excitement that we touch too rarely – at a desk job. So anything that frees me from that by a few more degrees pays its own way.

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* Soul Calibur fans, take note: the Chinese are no more a fan of “RING OUT” than we are.