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01.09.2017

It’s been a decade since an instant cult was created around Timothy Ferriss’ self-help book, which released in the summer of 2007. Americans strapped onto Blackberry leashes and addicted to surfing Priceline couldn’t wait to hear how this Princeton graduate / tango dancer/ scuba diver/ Chinese wrestler left the world of capitalist drudgery to pursue “the life millionaires lead” without having the bank balance to match. After four full years on the New York Times Bestseller list, The 4-Hour WorkWeek gradually disappeared from public imagination. After all, fans had to go back to doing what they always did: busting their asses for much less than they deserved.
 
Ferriss is back on our minds. This has to do with our personal reading cycle – we’re digging out dog-eared copies of The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao and Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games too – but also because ten years later, 4-Hour seems to be enjoying a bit of resurgence. For instance, it’s been popping up on our Instagram feed, with celebrity endorsers like Freida Pinto and photos of Tim Ferriss posing with fans in the Hamptons. While this highlights perhaps the book’s biggest flaw – that its relevance is largely limited to the gliterazzi – we spent an afternoon revisiting 4-Hour.

Ferriss is back on our minds. This has to do with our personal reading cycle – we’re digging out dog-eared copies of The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao and Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games too – but also because ten years later, 4-Hour seems to be enjoying a bit of resurgence. 

Read against the backdrop of the last ten years – biggest American recession since The Great Depression, widening of financial inequality, the rise of a full-blown Gig Economy (excuse us while we roll our eyes) -  the book assumes renewed relevance. More than ever, twenty-something’s want to be part of what Ferriss calls the New Rich – people who possess both money and free time. His central idea, premised on the freedom to live semi-retired through your life, take regular mini-vacations and spend Tuesday mornings on hobbies, is what bloggers with perfect haircuts on Instagram now tag as the #blessed life. They’re Ferriss’ new audience, compared to the burnt-out bankers and their bored spouses who bought stacks of his first edition, enthralled by the dream of, some day in the bright future, procuring a Virtual Assistant.
 
Well, we have plenty of virtual assistants now, along with virtual office spaces, virtual friends, virtual lives and virtual incomes to match; in fact, Ferriss’s description of the secret to happiness looks a lot like the current Gig Economy. But what he didn’t mention is that often, freelancing is linked not to choice but to job insecurity; that it underpays and comes with no health benefits; and it makes you as dispensable as that bikini you bought for your next mini-vacation.
 
Moreover, while we agree that in order to Live Large one must Travel Big, Ferriss’ work needs to be re-examined in the context of tightening borders and fewer visas, especially for those whose passports come in Third World colors. 4-Hour’s jet-set dream, even if executed on the careful budget helpfully worked out by Ferriss, loses some of its sheen with the refusal stamps, racist sub-letters and increased terrorism threats that increasingly lie at the heart of globe-trotting.
 
But even once the dark real world comes in to play, something still remains. A re-reading of 4-Hour reminds us of important things: that learning for the sake of learning needs to be prioritized above work for the sake of work (W4W); and that it’s worth taking that Spanish/tango/Sunday poetry class, because boredom is the real opposite of happiness.

Getting there: Buy The 4-Hour WorkWeek on Amazon, Rs 437 for the paperback version.

This story was contributed by Meher Varma.

Image Credit: Bloguettes Book Club

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