Before I read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss in 2017, I was a small-thinker. Although I was having a great time traveling in Australia, I had spent the previous year in New Zealand thinking I was working too much. I worked as a car cleaner for a car rental company. The lunchroom crossword-solving, workshop banter and $16/hour barely cancelled out the monotony of up to 60 hours per week of vacuuming, wiping, spraying, and brushing. The words “lunchtime” and “hometime” that my boss would shout will be forever etched in my memory, producing a rush of elation as I was freed from my task. Whenever I was at work, I felt completely replaceable. I felt like I was watching an hourglass, the sand falling continuously, me as a powerless bystander who couldn’t stem the flow.
I happened to be in a bookshop on the east coast of Australia when my travel buddy threw me a book. “I think you’ll like this one,” he said nonchalantly. I think it was probably because he thought I was lazy, and four hours of working per week definitely sounded better than 60 hours! I put the book back on the shelf, but by the time I got on the bus to resume my trip down the coast, I had already downloaded a free PDF copy of the book and started reading.
As I scrolled through the pages, my paradigm completely shifted. Wait, you can actually have a life where you can do whatever you want?
In The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferriss outlines the idea of “Lifestyle Design”. He introduces the concept of the “New Rich”, who value time and mobility over money, and live their ideal life during what would traditionally be their most productive working years, instead of deferring their ideal life for retirement.
“Life doesn’t have to be so damn hard. It really doesn’t. Most people, my past self included, have spent too much time convincing themselves that life has to be hard, a resignation to 9-to-5 drudgery in exchange for (sometimes) relaxing weekends and the occasional keep-it-short-or-get-fired vacation.“Tim Ferriss
People don’t actually want to be millionaires, they just want the freedom that they think $1,000,000 in the bank will allow them. But if most people were to sit down and design the life where they’d be happiest and most fulfilled, they’d probably find that they would need a lot less than seven figures.
I enjoyed the rest of my 60-day trip down the east coast of Australia, and ended up in Melbourne where I started to design my “ideal life”.
I spent a small portion of my day matched betting on my laptop to trying to keep up with the extortionate expense of living in Melbourne, but most of my time was spent reading books, playing snooker, playing table tennis with the university students, and eating delicious food.
This new lifestyle was enjoyable, and it was different to the life I had in New Zealand. Soon enough I learned that it was possible to get bored of snooker, and replaced the time I spent in the snooker club with time in the gym. Eventually, my bank account whittled down to the point where I needed some extra income, and I got a job for two months as a B2B lead generator for a solar energy company.
This period of my life was a vital learning experience. By testing out my ideal life by having a “mini-retirement”, I could decide whether it was actually my ideal life. I’m sure some people get a shock when they retire with a hefty sum in their savings, only to feel lost when they realize the ideal life that they worked toward for decades isn’t what they thought.
My work experience placements in an accounting office when I was 15, and in a physiology lab at 20, were examples in my life of testing ideal jobs. Had I not discovered that they didn’t suit me, I may have ended up in positions that were “too secure to throw away”, drudging through my career, just waiting for it to end.
I believe our ideal lives change as time goes on. It’s so difficult to know what the future version of ourselves will want, as described in Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. I believe it’s okay to immerse yourself in a lifestyle, enjoy it, and then change it when it no longer serves you.
I’m grateful that in the last five years I have managed to live many lifestyles in many different parts of the world. As a child growing up, I never would have believed the journey that life has taken me on to this point. In another few years from now, I wonder if my current self will believe the latest chapter of the journey?
The point of The 4-Hour Workweek is not to turn everyone into a digital nomad who outsources their weekly tasks to their virtual assistant while sipping cocktails in Bali. It is to ask the reader to design their life instead of letting society design it for them.
As Annie Dillard wrote in her book The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”