So, though I usually use this blog as a sort of online portfolio of my own creative work, I am opeing it up a bit to include more and more of my process. I am starting a series here on this blog called "Book Reports" and I will do my best to put down why and how these books affected me and how I am currently benefiting from them.
To start off, I pick one of the most controversial books on my shelf... Timothy Ferriss' Four Hour Work Week.
My friend Alia gave me The 4-hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Richas a gift in the summer of 2007. I had landed in NYC and stayed with her for a week and a half right after I returned from a year abroad in Hong Kong. She had already torn through the book and all she said when she handed it to me was "it's a little better than the same kind of self-help/business books because it lists actual resources, websites and plans of action..."
Over the next few days I read over half of it sitting on her third-story patio in Green Point, Brooklyn with the Manhattan skyline rising up into view just across the river.
I ended up devouring the book twice through and then bought the audio version so I could listen to it in my car. I burned copies of it to give to friends.
With such an endorsement, you'd think that this book became super important to me. And it did, but not in the way you might think.
Initially I fell full-crush both for the concepts in the book and for the charismatic author, Tim Ferriss. The book is about optimizing productivity to free yourself up from the cubicle. With this newfound freedom, Ferriss advises "mini-retirements" (or relocating for a few months to another country). Work can become more efficient and mobile and ideally, you'd only have to put in 4 hours any given week to earn enough to be considered a member of "the new rich."
Ferriss himself walked the walk of his book. He seemed a good choice for modeling behavior and lifestyle... he was super smart, wealthy, very fit and had an extremely apparent gift for marketing himself. But he's not a super-speciman. He is weird looking ang kind of diorky and throws off a frat-guy vibe.
I wanted some of what he had. Even more enticing, he made it all seem really accessible and possible. If he could do it, I could do it.
Earn millions, travel the world, own your time, make your mark.
I dug into the book and, like many people, learned through a series of non-starts and failures that the concepts in the 4HWW were not simple and not nearly as accessible as Ferriss had made them out to be,
Here's my list of companies that did NOT even get going...
- A website that sells digital versions of play scripts, because soon, I reasoned, everyone would be reading print stuff off their phones (and soon after that came tablets). This was, by far, the best idea I had of the lot. I could see the future and I could see how I could leverage that to my advantage. Unfortunately, the execution of the idea was technically way over my head. I considered hiring someone to help with the user interface part of the website itself. Then, right after I had the idea, Amazon's Kindle books started taking off and websites like StagePlays and Original Works Publishing showed up. Then traditional play publishers like Dramatists and Samuel French began to release digital versions of their collections. I missed the window.
- A website that does tutorials on well-known plays. This sounded promising when I was brain-storming, but I quickly realized anyone who would want a short cut to understanding a play would just go to SparkNotes or Cliff's Notes. SparkNotes and the like are really remedial and usually a bit off-base. My idea was to put together a real deep-dive into a play, far superior to the surface fluff offered by short-cut resources like Cliff's Notes. But, as I laid out an action plan and started researching, I realized there was very little market for this idea. Those folks who used SparkNotes obviously didn't have time or inclination to read the play itself, so concise, better analysis was not going to be a draw. And those people who would want a deep-dive into a play would have read the work itself and gone to the library and found their own resources. Plus, again, technically difficult to get a bunch of plays researched and get them packaged and online. Plus, it was an extraordinary amount of work for such a very small demographic (thus small chance of profit).
- An improv/directing/ dramatic writing coaching/consulting business. Which is something I kind of still do, but I didn't make a full-on business out of it. Plus, it was not automated at all. I would have to always show up to teach classes. And the only way to make it scaleable was to make multiple levels so I could have returning students several times. I considered coaching via skype, but on close investigation I realized there really wasn't a huge market for people who wanted me help. Too much work, again, for a small chance of profit. And it didn't offer mobility, which is really what I wanted the most.
- An online shop that sold fez hats. I was really into tiki stuff in 2007 and I saw that I could have fez hats manufactured in China, sell them and then drop ship them to customers in the States for cheap. I was going to make fez hats THE THING. Bulk orders for bachelorette parties, for birthdays, for insert-excuse-to-have-a-party parties. I only got to the planning stages of this. There was only one real competitior online, who made over-priced handmade fez, but the marketing behind making fez an in-demand item seemed a huge barrier. Plus, it seemed off-message for me once I started really investigating it. I don't wear a fez that often. I make art and theatre. I couldn't see being enthusiastic about selling fez hats for very long.
So, I was back to square one.
I went from really digging Tim and his book to feeling like the thing was a scammy Pyramid Scheme of some sort. Or at the very least, that once again, my situation in life fell outside the normal assumptions these kinds of self-help/business books were written for.
But here's what I've come to realize... the journey of trying and failing, thinking and evaluating would not have been part of my growth without the 4HWW. The real vaue of the book is the reframing of my points of reference. I underwent a paradigm shift. I began to think a lot more was possible. What did I need the income for? How much did I truly need to amke to live like I wanted? Could I travel and make things and get by without worry without getting a standard 9-to-5? I also came to realize just how much work would really be needed to make dreams come true.
The 4HWW changed the way I thought about the world and my place in it.
This didn't seem to be the explicit purpose of the book, but it has become, over time, a valuable take-away for me. This shifting of perspective came in 2008, about the time I was revamping Audacity Theatre Lab to be more artist-centric and getting my solo performance career off the ground in order to travel more and share my art.
That's the real reason why The 4-hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is on my Book Report list.