Oct. 1, 2021

Listener Favorites: Tim Ferriss | Making the Impossible Possible

Listener Favorites: Tim Ferriss | Making the Impossible Possible

Do you want to make the impossible possible? Tim Ferriss visited with us to talk about how to do just that. He discusses how to compensate for your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths while developing new skills along the way. Make your “imposs...

Do you want to make the impossible possible? Tim Ferriss visited with us to talk about how to do just that. He discusses how to compensate for your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths while developing new skills along the way. Make your “impossible” dreams become reality!


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Srini Rao: Tim, welcome to Unmistakable Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you. I'm glad to be here. Yeah.

Srini Rao: You don't really need much of an introduction. It'd be ridiculous because I would assume that just about every single person listening, unless they've been in a cave for the last 10 years, probably knows who you are. You've actually been a guest on our show before when we were called blogcast FM. And this was when The 4-Hour Chef came out. And this time I wanted to do a sort of dive into parts of your story that have never been told before. Really where I wanted to start is looking back, before high school, before Princeton, all of that, into sort of the pivotal moments growing up that have led you to where you're at in your journey. Formative Experiences from Tim Ferriss' Early Life

Tim Ferriss: I think there were some early formative experiences that shaped a lot of what I did later and maybe some contexts that people haven't heard before. Let me start at the beginning and I'll let you guide me as needed.

I don't want to give you some long-winded Dr. Evil-type life story, but I was born and raised on Eastern Long Island. I was a townie, very proud of the fact, in basically the Hamptons. So it was a very bifurcated have-not/have an environment where you saw a very sharp contrast between the locals who mostly worked in the service industry and very wealthy people who'd come out from Manhattan for the weekends, for the summer.

And that is where I went to elementary school and high school for part of my time. I was born premature and had a lot of health issues early on. I was in the intensive care unit for a very long time. Had my blood volume transfused, I think, five times because my left lung collapsed. Couldn't oxygenate my blood properly and still have lung issues to this day for that reason.

Srini Rao: Having grown up with that stark contrast of haves and have-nots, and you yourself now having been exposed to wealth and accumulated a significant amount

Tim Ferriss: Of wealth

Srini Rao: Shape and change your view around wealth

Tim Ferriss: And money. That's a big one. It's a good question. I haven't really thought of it. I would say a few. A few things. The first is that when I was growing up and working in the summers as a busboy, typically I noticed a huge difference between the three classes of rich people. Number one, you had the old money. So people who'd had millions, tens of millions, billions of dollars for decades.

And those people were fine. They were actually very well-behaved and polite for the most part because they were over the fact that they had money. Does that make sense? It would be in poor taste for them to flaunt it in a really obnoxious way. And so I think, in that respect, they had integrated money or wealth into an appropriate place in context, in their lives.

Those people were fine. The people who married into this family are not always the case. There were some real nuisances, really entitled, like duchesses of fill-in-the-blank, who would have a 10-person dinner with 20 kids crying and screaming, throwing bread around, and then not tip at all. It was really egregiously bad behavior, but generally speaking

Srini Rao: How has all of that affected the social dynamics and relationship-building that you do with influential and wealthy people? What is it that separates these people who are wealthy from a mindset perspective from the ones who struggle?

Tim Ferriss: Let's see, let me answer the first question first. The answer to the first question is I am actually in a process of reducing my network, so to speak, or loosening ties that required heavy management. Then I am in the process of building my network, and what I've realized is that this is another reason why I'm actually cutting down on the number of books I read: I want to specialize in not just-in-case information or just-in-case relationships, but just-in-time information and just-in-time relationships.

And the reason for that is there's a 90% decrease in cognitive burden when you approach it that way. Instead of reading like 10 business books in the case and highlighting things, in which case if the information is actually needed, you just need to go back and re-read everything.

What if I could establish a network of—and really when I say that, I mean a group of friends because it's a lot less effort to do the hard work on the front end to find world-class performers you can actually be friends with, including outside interests and personal conversations and so on. Can I have a group of say 10 to 20 people who have access to

Tim Ferriss: And I've never taken that approach even when I was fresh out of college and really didn't know anybody. I knew I volunteered at events, business events put on by startups, nonprofits, and so on, or for paid organizations as a volunteer. And I got to the point where I had more responsibility because I would take on additional responsibilities they didn't ask me to do. And that really separates you as a volunteer. Most volunteers do barely enough just to get by because they feel like they've earned that since they're not getting paid, which is a stupid perspective to have. So I would take on additional responsibility until I was at a point where I could interact and help organize panelists and speakers, all of whom were very well-known and powerful, and successful in their own right. And that is how I got to know, at least on a very minimal personal level, to make a good impression on people who are like a thousand pay grades above you. So I took that approach in terms of wealth vs. money.

Tim Ferriss: I don't think having a lot of money and being wealthy are the same things. I know a lot of people who literally have hundreds of millions of dollars who are very unhappy. But then, so I'll answer your question in two ways. So what makes someone truly wealthy in my mind and what makes, and what allows someone to imagine that amount of money? The first question. What makes someone truly wealthy, I think is a combination of not just achievement because it's easy. It's very easy to default to racking up sort of feathers in the cap and more money and obsesses on those types of measurables by focusing as a type personality on it. Just doing more and earning more. The bigger challenge for people who are hardwired that way and I'm certain this way is balancing that with appreciating what you have. And that is a necessary component because if you don't, for instance, if you don't appreciate what you have now, you will never appreciate what you get later.

So what is the end goal of all of this achieving and amassing a? So I build in a gratitude practice and journaling in the morning, three things that I'm grateful for and so on to make a habit of present state awareness of things

Tim Ferriss: Also, another thing that I noticed is they are, they have trained themselves or are predisposed - and I think it's a combination of both - to not waste energy. And what I mean by that is I remember to give a very clear example. I was in Vietnam, traveling. I had worked with Room to Read and a few other organizations to build libraries and schools in Vietnam, and my readers helped with that. And I went on a trip to document it, take photos and videos, and so forth. And we were playing pool a group of my friends and me, and one of them was Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic, and I saw a tweet from a very well-known journalist who was like, not happy, looks like WordPress.com is really slow right now.

And I talked to Matt and he was like, yeah, one of our two data centers is down. I told him that we were working on it. And he was just like sipping a beer and playing pool at the end of the day in Vietnam. And I was like, wait a second. One of your two data centers is down - isn't that a big freaking deal? And he was just like, does

Srini Rao: Interesting. So, we'll get into some

Tim Ferriss: Of the things. Yeah, those guys, just as a side note, I think that it's important to think about not just time management, which is a, it's a buzzword that is used a lot, but energy and attention management. You can have all the time in the world, but if you're distracted, or preoccupied with something that's happening. For instance, if you check your email first thing Saturday morning, even though you had committed to do it on Monday morning, and then you find a bunch of problems that you can't fix until Monday morning, your weekend's gone. You're not going to have any relaxation. You're not going to have any productivity. So you have all the time in the world, but you have no energy because you're dissipating it with that preoccupation. So that's the type of thing that these guys would not do because they understand the value of not just the time; the time is worthless without attention and energy, but the attention, the energy itself.

Srini Rao: So actually I have some questions about that, but I want to go back to an earlier part of our conversation about wrestling and a coach. This is something I've asked in some form or another to a bunch of people. And I probably have asked it a dozen times, 'cause I haven't found an answer that satisfies me yet. And I don't know that I ever will. Because it's one of those types of questions, but you had this pivotal moment in your life and you recognized it and I'm wondering why you think we miss those moments. And what we can do if we do happen to miss them?

Tim Ferriss: I didn't know, realize what I was getting at the time. It's a very Mr. Miyagi-type experience. It was only in retrospect that I realized how valuable that was. So it's not like at the time I was like, oh, thank God. I'm getting this incredible education through these horrible drills that he's making me do until they vomit in a bucket. It wasn't like that. I was like, oh my God. I am so exhausted. How am I going to do my next set of classes? When I transferred to New Hampshire, I went to a boarding school. We had classes from 8:00 AM to six something PM mandatory sports, and mandatory chapel in the morning, it was brutal. So I was more preoccupied or concerned with just keeping afloat and, making sure my coiffed hair looked good for girls or who knows what at that point, 15 years old, 16 years. Yeah. But what can you do if you missed it? I don't think it's too late. You can engineer these types of things.

I didn't know or realize what I was getting at the time. It's a very Mr. Miyagi-type experience. It was only in retrospect that I realized how valuable that was. So it's not like at the time I was like, oh, thank God. I'm getting this incredible education through these horrible drills that he's making me do until I vomit in a bucket.

It wasn't like that. I was like, oh my God. I am so exhausted. How am I going to do my next set of classes? When I transferred to New Hampshire, I went to a boarding school. We had classes from 8:00 AM to six something PM, mandatory sports, and mandatory chapel in the morning, it was brutal.

So I was more preoccupied or concerned with just keeping afloat and making sure my coiffed hair looked good for the girls or who knows what at that point, 15 years old, 16 years. Yeah. But what can you do if you missed it? I don't think it's too late. You can engineer these types of things.

Tim Ferriss: It's and that's the entire ethos of everything that I've done right. At the four-hour workweek for our body, our chef is. It's not too late. There are too many examples of people who start multi-million dollar companies in their fifties and sixties who have massive breakthroughs or published their first award-winning novels in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. It's the idea that you can't manifest this type of outsized, incredible success in multiple areas or renegotiate, basically the genetic limits you thought you had for muscle gain or fat loss, or endurance. There are so many of my readers who have taken what I've done in say the four-hour body and in every chapter like ultra-endurance or the effortless superhuman or the breath holding any of these readers have destroyed my results. Which people thought were crazy when they first read them. I have dozens and hundreds and thousands of readers who have just demolished my results and have two XS, three XS my results in every one of those chapters. And people can find them, I usually start a lot of them when they come up on Twitter. So if you go to my Twitter favorites at T Ferriss with two RS and

Tim Ferriss: And ideally, model people who not only have the success in a given field that you want but also who have holistically the life that you want, because you can find people with hundreds of millions of dollars who yell at their kids, whose wives or husbands hate them who do a lot of drugs on the weekend or on the evenings just to live with themselves. And you need to keep in mind the total picture. Do I think Steve Jobs was an amazing creator on many levels, a visionary product guy as well as CEO? Absolutely, of course. Do I think he was a happy guy? Probably not. Do I think that he was a pleasure to be around? No, he was not definitively. So it's good to look at it holistically and not just piecemeal. There are things you can borrow from someone like Steve Jobs, of course, namely things like, and this is another one that groups these types of ultra-performance together; he said something along the lines, to do anything great, you have to say no to a thousand small things. And I'm paraphrasing that, but that is also the advice Warren Buffett has said: what separates the people who are good from those who are great, are the people who

Srini Rao: Of the things you brought up earlier was that wrestling gave you an individualized style of competition. And, the reason I'm interested in this is the idea of capitalizing on your strengths and compensating for your weaknesses and how you figure out how to do that in your own life.

Tim Ferriss: Does the last part perhaps a little easier to answer? I think the comparison, the desire, and the impulse to compare yourself to others is an, it's elements of being a human being. I don't think it's very hard to eradicate that completely, but what you can do is realize, as is very popularly said here in Silicon Valley, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with physically, and emotionally, financially, and so on. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so you need to try to choose that inner circle very carefully and look at the people you're spending time with.

So for instance, this doesn't mean you have to move to Silicon Valley and know the people. I know you could join a local EO chapter, Entrepreneurs' Organization chapter, for instance, and within that group in any given city, you will find ballers. You will find just killers who are doing amazing jobs. And if you have dinner with such a person and you sit down and talk about certain problems you're facing, you will probably have your mind blown at their perspective or how they look at the problem. And that has always just been a game change

Srini Rao: When you first started pitching the Four-Hour Work Week, I know you got rejected by 27 or 29 publishers—I don't remember the exact number.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, lost count somewhere between 26 and 27 publishers. Yeah. So, my question...

Tim Ferriss: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Srini Rao: I'm actually interested in managing your own psychology through this process of the entrepreneurial journey. And I'm interested in a couple of different things here. One is

Srini Rao: Do you think that grit is something that certain people just inherently have built into them? Or is it something we can cultivate? And if so, how, and in your own journey to getting to where you're at, have you ever had any really rock-bottom or dark moments where you just felt like you could see no hope for your future?

Tim Ferriss: Okay, so grit or sticktoitiveness I'm guessing is how we could define that. I would imagine there's a genetic component, there are genetic components to just about everything, but it is also a coachable and learnable skill, I think or attribute. And one of the things that Matt Ball and Matt Toomey of the 'Mo the Babble Show' said to me long ago when I was asking them is it this or is it that? And he said that's a false dichotomy. That's a fancy way of saying it doesn't have to be either. So whenever somebody offers me, like, you can do A or B, I'm like, could we do both? What's option C? And Henry Ford would say, no, when you think you've looked at all the options, just remember you haven't. So I would say that grit can be developed by progressively exposing yourself to discomfort in different ways.

And that makes you more comfortable with plowing through pain or temporary embarrassment and things like that, which is why there are these comfort challenges in the Four Hour Workweek, which people resonated incredibly with; got a great response from it. It's like every chapter is like

Srini Rao: You think these depressive tendencies are just a part of a hero's journey. If you're going to do anything of great significance, you have to go.

Tim Ferriss: Through a tough. Yeah, I like it's a rite of passage almost. I think so. If you're going to do anything extraordinary by definition, it is extraordinary. You will be unaccustomed to experiencing the stresses that go along with that. And the stresses can be internal. It can be external. They can be used too. You know, euphoria, good stress that builds you up and helps you grow, like lifting weights, that you can experience that in a business capacity or it can be distress, which is tearing you down. And oftentimes it's a combination of both, depending on how you look at that stress, your perspective, and the lens through which you look at it. But yeah, I've been doing some screenwriting as just a hobby recently and it's I have the Writer's Journey right next to me, which is talking about Joseph Campbell and how that fits into movies like Star Wars and so forth. The all-is-lost moment is pretty real. I got to tell you and what was funny about it? Funny, in retrospect, not when it was happening, filming The Tim Ferriss Experiment where you were tackling these crazy skills every week, like PR professional poker. I know nothing.

Srini Rao: Something that I was really curious about is how you choose what you're going to work on.

Tim Ferriss: With great difficulty, I read a book recently with several chapters, which I thought were fantastically good called Who. And it is a book about hiring and it's written by, or at least coauthored by, the son of the author of a book called Topgrading, which is considered by a lot of CEOs to be the book on hiring. But those who've read both say that Who is more direct and more actionable. And that book takes the perspective, which is okay - maybe a contrast to say Simon Sinek is that you start with why then you figure out the how, and so on. But these guys start with who, which is you pick the people you want to work with, and that dictates the projects that you choose. Now, I don't a hundred percent fall in either of those camps, but I do think that the ladder is very interesting to ponder because I so strongly believe that you are the average of the five people you associate with most. So it's like, all right, what if I picked the people I wanted to work with and that dictated my projects, even if I do that for a six-month period of time, what would happen? And I have

Srini Rao: Interesting. Cause I may be subconsciously doing that without even realizing it. Like, I've realized that almost every project I have chosen to do that I really enjoyed doing has always involved some sort of creative person or an artist in the

Tim Ferriss: Last two years. I'm like, "If I don't get to work on this now, I'm never going to."

Srini Rao: With someone like that, then I'm like, why are we doing this? If it's just mechanics and marketing, I'm bored to death.

Tim Ferriss: We could talk about all the different aspects of how people choose projects. I also am choosing projects with certain minimum thresholds. So if there is a financial component and there sometimes is a financial component, if you say yes to everything that is cool, you will not have the bandwidth to do the really amazing, game-changing things. Does that make sense? Oh yeah. And I heard of a demo that was done in a classroom at one point that really stuck with me.

And I think I read about this where a professor took a Mason jar, one of these large-ish glass containers. And he said, "Watch this, I have a cup of sand, a cup of smaller rocks, and then I have two big rocks," and he put in the sand, then put in the mixed rocks, and then he couldn't fit even one of the large rocks in. Then he said, "But what if we do this a different way?"

And then he took another Mason jar, put the two big rocks in, then the smaller rocks, and then the sand, and everything fit. And he said, "You have to choose the big things first, or you won't be able to fit them in later." And that is

Tim Ferriss: You have to get comfortable saying no to almost everyone and recognizing that there's no one path to success, but the path to failure is certainly trying to make everyone happy. And in a digital world where everyone expects an immediate response, of course, people are going to get hurt feelings and you have to establish a meditative practice or some type of preparation for your day that will allow you to accept that and not try to put a band-aid on everyone by making commitments.

And Marcus really is a Stoic philosophy fan and proponent. And I read Stoic philosophy all the time because I think it's a great operating system for high-stress environments. But Marcus really is into meditation. One of his letters and I'm going to probably massacre this because I'm paraphrasing.

But if something is like, today you will be faced with ungrateful people who are petty, who have trivial vendettas, who are going to be obnoxious and rude and otherwise make your life difficult. It's like basically just preparing for that so that he's mentally prepared and isn't blindsided, doesn't react in a non-conscious way that compromises him. Does that make sense? That he's like, this is going to happen.

Srini Rao: Close to about an hour here and I haven't really given you a chance to talk about the TV show, but I wanted to go into one specific thing that you learned just because I'm an avid surfer. That was the one that I picked. Let's talk about that whole experience. And you talked about each show being a hero's journey of sorts. And it's surfing. What happened to me? My favorite one, because I remember when somebody told me, I was like, "How's that going?" As a surfer. I know one thing, the variables are never the same. Like it's always inconsistent. So I'm really interested in what that whole experience was like for you.

Tim Ferriss: Surfing was tough. Surfing was really tough. Not surprising. As you said, because it's not, you're not just learning how to balance on a board. You're not just learning how to pop up. You're not just learning how to ride once you are up, but you have to learn, like you said, to navigate and try to predict a constantly changing environment and terrain. And so it's completely unlike something like snowboarding, for instance, it's also a completely unlike snowboarding in the sense that there are many more physical attributes that are developed over time for surfing specifically, I had Laird Hamilton helping me, which was pretty awesome. That guy's just a beast. Yeah. For those people who don't know, he's considered the undisputed king of big-wave surfing for very good reasons. He's been on the cover of Surfing magazine just with the title "Oh My God" as the headline and he's 50, 51 and the guy is a better athlete than every 20-something professional athlete I've ever met, the guy is just a monster.

And one of the things he said to me is, they should really call surfing paddling because that is 99% of the time

Srini Rao: I've been doing it for about seven years. And the minute you stand up for the first time, that's it, your life is divided into two distinct moments.

Tim Ferriss: Before and after surfing. Yeah. And I think that's true with a lot of skills, having learned to swim in my thirties it's before and after like there is before swimming and after swimming and the scope of things that seem possible to me is infinitely larger as a result. And I think that's true with a lot of skills. And that was true for me, tenfold over with all the experiments. Wow.

Srini Rao: Tim, I know you've got to get going here. It seems like we could talk for another hour easily about all the things that you have going on. So I want to wrap up my final question, which is how we close all interviews here at The Unmistakable Creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?

Tim Ferriss: Something that makes someone unmistakable is being different and not just better. And part of doing that is knowing yourself and being true to yourself. Be. Be that weird person, which is yourself. You're not normal. No one is normal, there's no such thing. And embrace the things that make you unique. Even if you might view them as weaknesses, like me, like my impatience, for instance, I've noticed I've harnessed that and channeled it into specific categories of activities where that is rewarded to the extent possible.

And it does not always help, but take that and, if you think you're quirky and weird, guess what? I bet there are 10,000 people out there who love exactly that type of quirkiness and weirdness. And that is what I've done in my books. That is what I've done on the podcast. And the challenge is with pressure from people outside who might say, "Do this because you'll hit a bigger market, do this because it'll appeal to these people," is sticking to your guns and being consistent. And if you are just yourself and have that consistency, it will set you up.

Srini Rao: Tim, this has been really eye-opening and insightful, and I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share some of your insights and your story, and parts of your journey that we haven't heard before with our listeners.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, totally. My pleasure man. And I would encourage people. I fought for a year to get the rights to, make these resurrected, but the TV show I'm putting out all 13 episodes, right? There were the most incredible teachers you've ever seen. And it basically delivers a playbook for becoming a world-class performer that anyone can use. And it's The Tim Ferriss Experiment. So on iTunes, you can find it at iTunes.com/timferriss with two Rs, and two Ss. And then if you want extras and extended scenes, conversations with guests that didn't make it into the show, for instance, then you can go and find that at fourhourworkweek.com/tv.