the four(ty) hour workweek


After reading Timothy Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek I was struck by what I viewed as one of his main concepts: work is something to be avoided. The book explains how to set up a business that (largely) runs itself. His idea is to have a passive (for lack of a better word) income stream and then use that stream to back away from work altogether in favor of visiting new parts of the world, learning new things and enjoying what he calls “mini-retirements.” His point that far too many of us hammer away at difficult jobs with long hours during the best years of our lives simply to grasp at “freedom” once we are too old to enjoy it.

I have written many posts about my desire to generate “passive income” or “alternative income.” After reading Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” I spent years wondering whether I, too, could ever achieve financial freedom. I’ve worked my way through a steady progression of what I’d loosely lump together as “financial freedom” books: Your Money or Your Life is one of the best examples. What Ferriss’ book helped me realize is that based on my recent “mini-retirement,” I am in no way ready for the four hour workweek. If you don’t have a sense of what you want to do with the other 164 hours of the week a mini-retirement can be long and unproductive.

Curmudgeon, a frequent contributor to brip blap, wrote this a year ago:

As young adults, we try on various persona, defined by our behaviors and job roles. Not surprisingly, some fit better than others. Hopefully, we gravitate into the roles that fit, gaining an understanding of our own preferences and character in doing so. In doing so, we’ll likely find that we don’t have a true taste for large and fancy homes, luxury automobiles, fine clothes, and corporate ladder-climbing. But many people engage in these behaviors, perhaps because others around them do so, or because of some ill-conceived notions of the meaning of success and belonging.

link: guest post: who am I?

Focusing on lists and goals and “things we’d like to achieve” can be a trap. You may think that “trekking across the Gobi on camel back” is a more admirable and exciting goal than “re-read the Lord of the Rings at least one more time,” and you may tell others (and yourself) that you want to do the former.  What you really want, though, is to do something else – because that’s who you really are. You need to understand who you are before you can set goals – I didn’t think this in the past but now I do.

Maybe you want a four-hour workweek so you can “play” at writing a book (which is hard work). Maybe you want financial freedom not because you want just enough income to live a moderate existence, but so you can quit your corporate job and concentrate on making “big money” doing something else so you can buy a Mercedes.  Maybe you want financial freedom to sit on a couch and complete watching every episode of Doctor Who ever made. Just be honest about what you want.  I suspect that dreaming about a fancy car means you are really looking for some other sort of meaning in your life, but for all I know some people might be truly passionate about cars – learning about them, driving them and owning them.  I’d like to have an ocean view home – which doesn’t come cheap – but I don’t need that home to be 4000 square feet.

I often dream of “freedom” – but now that I’ve had freedom for the last half year, I’ve started dreaming more of meaningful or interesting work; for lack of a better word, let’s call this a “purpose.” I have fooled myself for a long time into thinking I want free time to do what I really “want to do” but I don’t want free time – I want my time occupied. I think too many people confuse freedom with indolence and that’s why they can’t achieve it – freedom isn’t achieved by lazy people (unless they have the good fortune to inherit it). Laziness may actually guarantee that you’ll work very hard – you’ll just be working hard at something you don’t want to do. Someone who buys a book with a guy swinging in a hammock (as Ferriss’ book does) hoping to find a shortcut will soon realize that a lot of hard work is needed to get to that hammock. I doubt that Ferriss spends his days watching Flintstones reruns.

Ferriss’ idea of work, or purpose, or whatever you would like to call it would simply be learning and traveling. For someone else it might be accounting, or animal husbandry, or selling custom t-shirts.  Nobody really wants a four-hour workweek.  They want a forty-hour income off four hours of effort, so the other 36 hours can be spent doing what they would do if income was no issue.

photo by Jesse Wagstaff