Build Your Life

Good morning everyone

We’re in March.

I had planned this week’s letter to focus on the tweaks we can make to our work-lives to alleviate stress and burnout.

However, I think we’re all a little gatvol of feeling gatvol (my international readers, please ask Google). To write about ways to alleviate that felt a bit much for today. So, I’ve decided to, turn our attention to how we can intentionally unfold our futures.

It is my sense that today a future orientation rather than a fix orientation was more useful. We’ll return to the latter soon enough. We do need both.

Before we get started, I thought I’d share this heartbreaking post about a baby loggerhead turtle from Maryke Musson, CEO of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation. As beleaguered as we may feel, it is sobering to pause and reflect on the impact of our actions on other living beings.

/ strategy

At 43 years old, Tim Ferriss is a best-selling author, tech investor and host of one the world’s most popular podcasts, The Tim Ferriss Show.

In this episode of How I Built This, Guy Raz explores with Ferriss how his journey unfolded. It is a powerful exposition of the power of intentional action combined with a deep curiosity about oneself and the world.

Raz sets the scene for us, telling us that there are more than a million books published each year and fewer than 10 sell more than a million.

In 2007, Ferriss was an unpublished author. His first book The 4-Hour Work Week has now sold more than 2 million copies, and he has written four others.

Raz says, “although Tim was a small-time entrepreneur before the book came out, after its success, he turned his attention to building a business around his own brand, a brand that is really about Tim’s own curiosities.”

That is always the first step in any strategy, personal or organizational.

Do you care enough to invest the energy it will need?

If it’s close to your heart, if it flows from your soul, it is easier to do the necessary hard work.

Ferriss reflects that “My parents didn’t have much budget for new toys or new bikes or anything like that. But they said to my brother and I, ‘We always have budget for books.’ So, my parents cultivated this love of reading very early on. And as a result, I did well in school and focused on school.”

All good strategy flows from a curiosity about the world.

Ferriss carried this approach into his first job in technical sales. He wanted to be excellent, “So I bought every book you can imagine on sales, I read every biography I could find on people considered to be good salespeople, like Richard Branson. I made a real study of it and I kept meticulous logs of everything that worked and didn’t work. Imagine an athlete recording every workout. I recorded what I did that worked when I was selling to CTOs and CEOs over the phone or in person.”

He studied the strategy. He studied others. He observed himself. The alchemy came from the blend. He learnt what worked generally and how he could make it work in a way that was authentic to him.

Ferris was retrenched after 18 months. But he’d been clear he wanted to launch his own business. By putting himself in a fast-growing business and in sales, he’d learnt valuable skills that enabled him to build the network he needed for his first business.

His first business required a network of highly skilled biochemists and contract manufacturers, and he needed favours from all of them. He was bootstrapping the business. The sales skill he had learned helped assemble the required team and get the breaks he needed.

What skills, experience and knowledge do you have that you can integrate into the next phase of your life?

Ferriss shares great insights into how he built his business. If you’re in start-up mode, or wanting to grow your business, listen from the 36th minute.

Eventually Ferriss got the business to the point it could be run remotely and then he travelled. While he travelled, he immersed himself in things that interested him, all the while taking detailed notes about how he might improve his experience of it. Leonardo da Vinci also carried a notebook jotting down his observations of the world.

It is a powerful tactic.

Observe what frustrates you. It points to blocked energy. What might you do to improve the situation?

Observe where you have flow. How can you consolidate and amplify that?

Eventually, Ferriss got to the point of having so much raw material in his notes, and he was enjoying life so much, that he wondered whether he perhaps had a book, whether others would care about his insights.

He reached out to Jack Canfield, co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul, who he’d met whilst volunteering at a nonprofit organisation. Canfield felt he had something, but still Ferriss’s book was rejected between 26 and 29 times!

He persisted. Each time he was rejected, he reviewed his pitch conversation and approach. He tweaked and improved it. Eventually he got a deal.

Importantly Ferriss didn’t leave it at the writing, he brought his analytical lens to who he needed to get excited about the book to trigger sales. And ultimately this first mega-hit laid the foundation for a life that is continuing to unfold.

He worked in areas that interested him. He was diligent about understanding best practice and observing what worked for him. He challenged himself to do better. When he encountered frustration, he used it as data to refine approach. He connected widely. He persisted.

/ self

Ferriss’s speaks candidly about his struggle with depression.

He said this about the period in which he teetered on the brink of suicide triggered, in part, by the pressure he felt of attending Princeton, “… my parents, extended family have all helped me to attend this expensive school. This has been a significant, huge commitment and sacrifice on the part of not just my parents, but other people in the family. And now, it seems like I’m going to fail. I felt just helpless and hopeless.”

His comments have such resonance in a South African context, where so many students carry the pressure not just of success at university, but of the expectations and sacrifices of their broader family.

The same is true when those students graduate and enter workplaces carrying the pressure, the expectation, and the hope. It can be overwhelming. It is incumbent on all of us to carry that awareness and create systems and processes to provide support.

Ferriss notes that he hasn’t had a depressive episode in 7 or so years. In that there are two things worth noting. One, with intentional action and support one can overcome the darkest night. Two, that even with tremendous success behind him darkness continued to visit him. Success isn’t a cure. It is intentional care that makes the difference.

/ soul

Elana Brundyn, CEO of leading art institution The Norval Foundation, shared poet Siphokazi Jonas’s love letter to South Africa with me. Jonas starts her recitation saying,

“I was given more than 10 names on the day of my birth and I have earned many since…Maleta, Mamntakwende, Khwangeshe, Velemgqubeni…these are the names of my forefathers who made everyday history. They are knitted into my breath. It is how I introduce myself. Clan names are how we carry the past to meet ourselves.”

Our history, and that of those who come before us, carry clues about how we might meet ourselves.

Introduce yourself to your past and unlock your future.

This week perhaps reach out to the people in your past who helped you build your future. Thank them. Share this letter with them.


PS: If you’re wanting to develop a vision for the next phase of your life, you might want to work with me. You can learn more from my website, or simply reply to this email.

PPS: If you’d like to subscribe to this letter, you can do so here.

(This letter was first published on 7 March 2021)

Strategy, Soul and Self

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