The 4-Hour Workweek is Full of Hype, But That’s Not the Point


Plenty of people have jumped on the bandwagon over the past year to bash Tim Ferriss’ bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek.

Jonathan Mead called the promise of a 4-hour work week a lie. Penelope Trunk said the week Tim Ferriss actually works a 4-hour work week will be a cold week in hell.

They’re both right, but that isn’t the point.

Ferriss is a sensational marketer. By sensational, I mean both that he’s really good at marketing, and that he gets results by exaggerating. Just look at the title of the book. He originally wanted to call it “Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit.” Through a clever use of Google AdWords, he tested potential book titles and came up with the equally sensational and supremely effective title we know so well today.

If you read the book and thought the concept of a 4-hour work week was your salvation, you fell for Ferriss’ hype.

Even he didn’t get to live his life of luxury by creating an income out of thin air and working only one-half of one day per week. He slaved for years creating his first successful business. To propel his book atop the NY Times’ Bestseller list, he probably worked harder than 99% of authors that year. He likes work, but doesn’t consider what he does work exactly.

Cutting work almost entirely out of your life isn’t realistic or even desirable.

Ferriss’ definition of work is very specific. To him, it is that which we don’t want to do, but have to suffer through to earn income. If that’s what we agree to call work, then it should be minimized. Does anyone really want to spend half of their waking hours doing something they don’t want to?

The real gift of The 4-Hour Workweek is that it has led hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people to reexamine what they want from life and what is possible. The most important thing to take away from the book is the idea of lifestyle design.

The boundaries of life that you currently accept are probably arbitrary and self-imposed. Some people are able to live exciting, rule-breaking lives simply because they don’t accept society’s definition of what is possible or acceptable.

Most middle-class people today who feel trapped by their job and situation have created that prison for themselves. Competitive consumerism combined with a sense of entitlement leaves people mired in debt with no motivation to take control and change things for themselves.

The myth that you can earn enough income to live on in just 4 hours a week feeds that self-defeating sense of entitlement and people’s cancerous search to “get rich quick.” But, if Ferriss hadn’t written about it in his book it wouldn’t have sold nearly as well and we may not be having this conversation about lifestyle design.

Luckily, there is an amazing community of people who are building on the concept of lifestyle design in ways that you can really use. Just a few great writers that you should check out (if you haven’t already) are Chris Guillebeau, Lea Woodward, Cody McKibben, Christiaan Hillen, John Bardos, Carl Nelson and Sean Ogle.

Take Ferriss’ attitude that anything is possible and combine it with his incredible “non-work” ethic, and you could really live the lifestyle of your dreams. The first step is to realize it will take work effort to get there.

photo by sandstep

I'm Corbett Barr, founder of Fizzle and Palapa and co-host of The Fizzle Show. This is where I write about building businesses, living the good life, and doing work that matters. More about me »

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