The 4 hour workweek
reading time: 15 minutes
Five years ago, I read a book that has had an enormous impact on my life. It led to experiences that I could have never imagined. Thinking about it, me before reading that book is a completely different person then who I am today. The book is called the 4 hour workweek by Tim Ferris.
While writing this I notice that it makes me feel pretty uncomfortable to put this on paper. My hands tremble, my heart beat pounds in my throat…
Why? Because although the book has brought me great personal Freedom and wonderful experiences, it also forced me to challenge many ‘truths’ our society holds. Therefore I had to face my own fears, as well as other people’s fears that were projected on me during this whole process. This made me feel very lonely, not understood and hence not worthy at times. However, it also opened up so many doors to wonderful experiences and boundless opportunities. Such as moving to Tenerife, having had the privilege of spending so much time with my son Tom, receiving so many people here and travel the world for longer periods of time.
I hope to take you through that journey caused by reading the 4 hour workweek and share with you the good, the bad and the ugly. I also hope it inspires you to pursue your own dreams & passions although fear will be holding you back and at times change sucks. However, if your dream is based on proper values and not specifically harming others it’s, in my noble opinion, more than worthwhile!
As said earlier, the 4 hour workweek changed my life big time. First, I started to apply the techniques in my corporate job as a financial restructurer. It freed up a lot of time by following the suggestions on how to be more productive instead of more busy. I invested that freed up time in setting up my first internet business concerning a tax rule (being a finance specialist that was the logical way to go) with the idea to create automated income streams as mentioned in the book as well. That specific initiative ‘failed’, although it did learn me a lot about entrepreneurship and the learnings during that project have proven golden afterwards.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only looking for automated income streams. So was my brother in law and he, with an IT background, had created a website called the Fortune Teller. The whole concept had this 4 hour workweek principle written all over! Visitors found the website, through Google and income was earned by advertisements through that same Google. I decided that my interest for spirituality, together with my business background and entrepreneurial drive would be a great match with his skills. This co-operation was very fruitful. We added lots of content and translated the websites into twenty languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Hindi and Indonesian. It was a great experience where we learned so much about entrepreneurship, online business, spirituality and more. We managed to quadruple the profit within one year and had over 150.000 visitors on our best day ever! The content I wrote has been read by millions and millions of people all around the world. Next to that it gave us both an income that was actually sufficient to live off. It seemed we nailed the whole thing by doing it our way.
I decided to see what all this freed up time could contribute in my life. Looking back at it now, this journey has been amazing, unpredictable and mind blowing. It brought me great highs and also unexpected lows. In the end, it has been all worth it. However, I don’t think in a way I could have expected when this journey started.
Here I share some take-aways from my 4 hour workweek.
You create your own reality and you will have to live with the consequences
The book starts with radical mindset changes. This needs to be done, because you need to be freed of certain deeply rooted beliefs that basically hold you back from thinking outside the box. It forces you to challenge everything around you that is popular in order to step out of that collective conditioning. For instance, working 9 to 5, be productive and to retire after 65 years. Our whole system is built to support this belief and it takes courage and perseverance to do it differently. An example of looking differently at things is the following quote from the book and if you are able to apply it, it is actually very true and I can confirm it…
“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 the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy-consuming.”
As cool as this may sound I also discovered a negative to this. Namely, by doing something that is not exactly mainstream, I felt a social outcast and pretty lonely and not being understood at times. Not only my direct surroundings, but even online marketeers laughed at me when I told them we did not optimize anything, we did not have a mailing list, we did not use social media. However, they turned pale when they heard how much we earned compared to the time spend. We worked so effective that even a senior partner of an international law firm would be impressed by hour hourly rate.
Not feeling understood is a difficult one to me. Because as much as I value Freedom and the potential for improvement I also value Harmony. I experienced personally that these two values were bound to clash big time. Many times I felt that I was not taking into account other people’s wishes & feelings and perceived myself as an egotistical asshole. However, if I would take the wishes & feelings of others too much into account I would not stay true to myself.
Facing your fears
Looking back my biggest fears that I had to face were:
Social status / Recognition
What would people in my surroundings think of me? I was climbing the corporate ladder pretty well. I owned a nice apartment in Amsterdam, drove a fancy car, had (and still have actually :)) a beautiful girlfriend and earned a more than acceptable salary for which I actually did not had to work that hard. Saying goodbye to that life could be seen as crazy by others and I suppose it was by many. I don’t think that many people would have invested a single euro in my business as an online fortune teller. So, at that time I discovered how sensitive I am to the opinion of others. Of course, I did not want to admit that, but hell was I scared that I would not pull this one off. Really scared that people would be able to say “told you so, what were you thinking..” and scared for being seen as a retard. Looking back, I wish I had been more open & honest about this fear. This fear at times really was suffocating and did not allow me to enjoy the situation I had created for myself. Of course my image of ‘homo universalis’ , who does not show vulnerability, did not help here either…
Giving up financial ‘security’
I have had many sleepless nights about my financial situation in the past four years. Many what ifs? Too many…. When we just moved to Tenerife I woke up at 5.00AM (and no Tom wasn’t born yet). Restlessly thinking of new business initiatives for if my income streams would cease to exist. I never actually started any of these businesses as I knew that the fear was not rational or at least not at that point in time. However, this is just the rational approach to the fear and that clearly does not solve the problem… In order to dissolve these fears, you need to go deep into what’s behind those fears and that’s a pretty tough job. As mentioned earlier facing these fears can be so intense that here as well I thought of just quiting the whole thing. Luckily these thoughts were mostly temporary as I was also enjoying all the benefits that are of the situation.
The creation of my automated income streams enabled me to: move to Tenerife, spend considerable time on personal development and travel the world enabling me to experience so many differences. These experiences made me extremely aware on how socially conditioned we are. Everyone lives his or her own reality, which is largely based on their surroundings. In my opinion over 95% of what we do is based on our social conditions. Our upbringing, our society, our teacher, the media, our friends… And this is stored in our subconsciousness. According to theory 99% of what we do is subconscious. Hence, we just live by patterns imprinted upon us by society, our parents, our teachers and our surroundings. This all happens without having too much consciousness regarding what’s happening to us. Hence, if you do not consciously make the choice to live your own life, you will be living someone else’s life. This links perfectly into the last and most important insight for me, namely:
For me it was quite a shock to ‘suddenly’ have lots of time at my hand and enough money coming into my bank account. As this shook my perception of the world where everyone needs to work in order to earn a decent living. That reality suddenly did not seem so real anymore. However, everyone around me was still living in that reality. On the one hand it felt great and I felt privileged but on the other hand it raised the question: “What the hell am I going to do with my time?” Spending it with my friends was not an option as they were all working. Spending it with my family was not an option either as they were also working. And I was afraid that they would disapprove of me ‘just hanging around, doing nothing’. Soul searching was a good option; however you don’t want to be spending 40 hours a week on that either. So, I tried a bit of everything. Some soul searching, living on a slower pace, some voluntary work, a little more kitesurfing and cycling, some traveling…
This experience, which was both great as well as very scary, made one thing very clear to me. We humans need some kind of purpose that is bigger than ourselves. This higher purpose makes life generally more worthwhile although it can also be challenging. An example here is having children. Most people will agree that it makes life more worthwhile. However, you have to sacrifice lots of your time & energy for this higher purpose. Purpose is realizing what’s important to you and what’s not. And the only way to find that out is by experience.
Please don’t get me wrong working 9 to 5 can be completely in line with someone’s purpose. It’s purpose is at least to take care of yourself (and your family) and maybe the work in itself has a great purpose as well. However, in my case by letting go of the ‘need’ to work 40 hours a week and ‘contribute’ to society in that manner, I sort of retired at the age of 32 and suddenly understood what people go through when they actually do retire. Namely, possibly losing meaning in life as well as their social status and identity. The 4 hour workweek shows a hammock at a beach on the cover. I can assure you that this is not what anyone wants. At least not for very long. Understanding of what is important to you is in my opinion essential and it is a pretty difficult task if you dive deeper into this. This can be very discomforting at times. Looking back I am very glad that I followed through and gave this part so much thought. I can imagine that if someone would not do that you can start to live a very destructive life.
Although the 4 hour workweek has worked wonderfully for me. I also have come to the conclusion that it is not my purpose in (working) life. Hence, I will not be investing my time into recovering the business as my business plummeted twice last year. Instead, I will be focussing myself on my passion: helping others, for now through training & coaching. Even when this implies that I will be working more than 4 hours a week…
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