The promise of a four hour workweek magically righting all wrongs in your life, is a lie. Not only is it highly implausible, but if you ever do achieve a four hour work week, you’ll probably want to get rid of it.
Why is the Four Hour Workweek (4HWW for short) a lie? Well, there’s two reasons. Number one, it’s come to the attention of quite a few people that Tim Ferriss really defines “work” as something you don’t want to do. Mandatory, unpleasant, tedious, repetitive tasks that you’d rather defer or delegate to someone else. This is quite a narrow definition of work. I would be more inclined to say Tim’s definition of work is more synonymous with a chore.
So that’s the first reason. The second reason is this… The definition most people have of work is totally disempowering. It’s more in line with slavery, toiling and punishment. Work is seen as something you have to do to pay your dues. How many times did you hear your mom or dad say as a kid “I worked hard to buy/make/microwave this food and you better eat it!” We’re brought up with our parents making us think that work is some kind of grueling sacrifice they’ve done to “give us a better life.” (The intended message may have been to instill respect for hard work, but usually the outcome is feeling guilty for being born.)
Since work is seen as such a must — something we must do to pay the bills and to survive — we don’t realize that it’s not required that we see work as something other than a chore. Just because we’re born with a bad definition of something doesn’t mean we have to keep it. Work is more than just a chore, at least to me.
Work is sacred.
Work is giving yourself. It’s creative self-expression. It’s opening your heart and providing value to others. It’s exchanging a part of yourself with someone else. It’s a possibility for you to make a difference in the world.
Seeing work as just something to do to get by is like slapping yourself in the face.
Here’s why I just can’t slap myself anymore:
- I don’t want to spend one third of my life living out of a sense of drudgery.
- I don’t want to rent out my body and mind for five of seven days of the week.
- I don’t want to spend every day counting down the minutes to lunch, then counting again to five o’clock.
- But much, much, much more than that, I don’t want to confine myself to choosing work that isn’t meaningful and doesn’t matter to me.
And that’s really the biggest problem with seeing work as menial labor. By defining work as such, you incarcerate yourself in a narrow field of possibilities of what work could be. Yes, work can be tedious. Doing your taxes, filing receipts, stapling, responding to email, and doing repetitive tasks can be pretty damn boring. There’s no way to trick yourself into believing otherwise. (Non-resistance to the tedium, however, can make it a lot less painful.) But despite the tedium, work can be much more than that. The work you do can be the gift of what you leave behind on this earth when you’re gone. It can be the difference you make in other peoples lives.
When you expand your definition of what work is to a mutually beneficial exchange of value, it becomes more of a blessing and an opportunity.
This is the way I’ve started to think about work; I ask myself, “With the work you do today, how can you create the biggest positive impact in other people’s lives, while fulfilling your own dreams at the same time?”
And if I have work to do that is truly boring (like figuring out how much taxes I owe) I ask myself, “I know this work isn’t what I’d absolutely love to do, but since it must be done, by not resisting it, can I make it less painful?”
I also have to be careful to distinguish between work that must be done (like taxes) and things that seem required, but really aren’t. For example, it might be a good idea for me to spend some time every day networking, but if it doesn’t feel authentic, it would be a waste of time. If I really felt like creating, rather than connecting, I should honor that feeling. When I express myself authentically, I naturally have a greater impact then when I force myself to do something because I think it would be a good idea.
When you start to see work as play, as giving yourself to the world, as being an agent of change, you completely shatter the perception of work as a burden.
Because that’s where all this seeking to escape from work comes from (which is really what the 4HWW is about). Whether it be counting down the days to your yearly two week vacation, setting up a four hour workweek or creating passive income; whether it be the desire to retire early, win the lottery or strike it rich, it’s all in the effort to escape from the obligation of spending your life in a state of endless resistance to doing chores. It’s like we’re six years old again, fighting with mom about cleaning up all the stuff we’ve crammed under our bed. Not much has changed, huh?
But when work becomes something reverent to you, you no longer to seek escape from it. Besides, imagine if you really did find that elusive escape. Would it really solve all your problems? Sure, you’d have a lot of free time, but is that really what you’re looking for? Just free time?
I think it’s something more than that. I think it’s the lack of purpose, the lack of depth in our work that leads us to chase ideas like a four hour workweek and autopilot income.
No amount of freedom of time will quench your desire to make a difference, to live with purpose.
As Rolf Potts represents in his awesome book, Vagabonding, you can only live so long sipping martinis on a beach. Sooner or later, you’ll be bored. You’ll want to actually do something that matters.
Despite all the head-drilling society does to make you think work equates slavery, there are many possibilities for work to be a joy.
(Note: I did learn a lot from The Four Hour Workweek. I think Tim has some great ideas, like mini retirements, following a low information diet, etc. I also think he did an awesome job pointing out the stupidity of “work for work’s sake.” However, I do think the central idea of the achievement of a four hour workweek solving all of your problems is misleading. Tim defines work as something you really despise, and I just think that’s confusing things more, rather than bringing clarity to the situation. I guess it’s all about semantics, though, right? As Clinton said during the Monica Lewinski case, “Please define sexual relations.”)