Tribe of Mentors

Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors was published in 2017, and arrived in my collection as a gift in 2018. It took me three years—until 2021, March of this year in fact—before I was finally ready to read it. I have a couple, (and “couple” always means two,) of things to say about the book.

Excellence is the next five minutes, improvement is the next five minutes, happiness is the next five minutes. This doesn’t mean you ingore planning. I encourage you to make ambitious plans. Just rememeber that the big-beyond-belief things are accomplished when you deconstruct them into the smallest possible pieces and focus on each “moment of impact,” one step at a time.

~ Tim Ferriss

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As I was reading, I marked about 50 quotes. I didn’t count the markers I inserted, and some of them are at sections with several quotes. There are quotes from the people in the book, there are quotes that Ferriss included in single-page, “quotes I’m pondering” section breaks, and there are precisely three quotes from Ferriss himself. (All three are here, in this post.)

The first thing I want to share about this book is that it’s not really Ferriss’s book. He didn’t write a book. The vast bulk is other people’s work and writing. Some of those people impressed me, some were “just” solid humans being their best, and some struck me as self-deluded; which makes it a superlative book. Where—let’s be honest—can one get insight on 100 different people and tuck it under your arm? Insight on people you’ve heard of, people you’ve not yet heard of, and even some people you’ll probably never care to hear of. Furthermore, having myself done a bunch of, “you’re just capturing what other people say,” work, I’m qualified to say: He did the deceptively difficult work of asking. He asked and followed up and nudged and organized (and indexed and cross-indexed) and cast light on people he thought were worth giving a platform.

To paraphrase Jim [Loehr]: The power broker in your life is the voice that no one ever hears. How well you revisit the tone and content of your private voice is what determines the quality of your life. It is the master storyteller, and the stories we tell ourselves are our reality. For instance, how do you speak to yourself when you make a mistake that upsets you? Would you speak that way to a dear freind when they’ve made a mistake? If not, you have work to do. Trust me, we all have work to do.

~ Tim Ferriss, but see also, https://tim.blog/2020/12/28/jim-loehr-2/

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Which brings me to the second thing: There’s a very slim section hiding at the back. If I noted its existence when I read the Table of Contents, (I always read Tables of Contents,) six months later I’d certinaly forgotten the section existed. I could very easily have put the book down most of the way through and completely missed it. If you read nothing else in the book, this last section is the part you should read. I checked and it’s not published as a blog post by Ferriss, (but it’s small enough it could be.) Borrow or buy the book if just to read the last section.

Based on everything I’ve seen, a simple recipe can work: Focus on what’s in front of you, design great days to create a great life, and try not to make the same mistake twice. That’s it. Stop hitting net balls and try something else, perhaps even the opposite. If you really want extra credit, try not to be a dick, and you’ll be a Voltron-level superstar.

~ Tim Ferriss

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If you’ve not already guessed, all three of those quotes from Ferriss are from the last section of the book.

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Click

I’m a child of the vinyl album era. We had a collection—about 5 feet of shelf space—of classic rock, some jazz, the usual suspects collected during the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. There was sublime magic in that vinyl. My dad wasn’t an audiophile per se, but he had a few nice things that comprised the stereo system, and the crown jewel was a Marantz turn-table. We had special soft-cloth cylinders for gently lifting dust off the surfaces. We even had a little space-ray-gun-looking thing that [as far as I recall] neutralized static charge on the vinyl, (which apparently can accumulate when you pull them out of their sleeves.) A classic Pioneer amp… at one point he found someone who rebuilt his speakers for him—repair rather than replace was, at one time, the norm in America. There was a dedicated cabinet for the gear, with a built-in power strip, and lighting…

And the CD was invented while I was a kid. We—society at large—had endless arguments about sound. I even did a high-school presentation about how CDs actually work to encode the sound digitally, and how that encoding uses compression, and how quality is lost… and I bought more and more CDs. I skipped right over collecting cassette tapes; I made countless of my own from albums and CDs, but I don’t believe I ever bought a single one. The Sony Walkman was the driver for my recording cassettes. Then the portable CD players arrived and all hell broke loose. I only purchased a handful of vinyl albums and I never ever set up the Marantz after my dad died. (I passed it to my cousin who did get into collecting vinyl as a kid. I made him promise to spin the helll out of it, and play music loud— damn loud.) And my CD collection grew to thousands. Then I mixed in my dad’s extensive CD collection which had almost zero overlap with mine. My stereo? I keep a scary-old little AirPort Express plugged in, with a cheap-ass set of “computer” speakers, with a woofer, plugged into the AirPort’s 3.5mm headphone jack.

This morning… “I think some Mozart would be nice.” Click, click… and click… and Symphony no. 39, recorded in 1977 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra streams from the little stereo. Rather loudly I might add.

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Grunt work

It’s important to take time to think about what we’re reading and not merely assume the thoughts of the author. We need to digest, synthesize, and organize the thoughts of others if we are to understand. This is the grunt work of thinking. It’s how we acquire wisdom.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2015/08/schopenhauer-on-reading/

That’s a tiny taste from a delightful and sublime collection of thoughts on reading and books. Which will serve perfectly as an on-ramp to Schopenhauer’s actual essay, On Reading and Books. Which, furthermore, is even linked as a modern PDF from that same page. Wonders never cease.

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Deluded

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.

~ David Foster Wallace, from https://fs.blog/2017/01/most-respectful-interpretation/

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As usual, therein lies a collection of thoughts nicely arranged into a constellation. I sometimes repeat the phrase, “assume positive intent,” to myself and to others as a caution against defaulting without thinking. It seems a base part of our nature—although the ancient benefits seem obvious it’s still only anecdotal evidence—that I default to defense. “Dead last” seems aptly named from the historical perspective, and “first” feels like we’re missing a catchy adjective. (“first fatality” maybe?) What might be called “herd middle” simply feels like the right choice most often. But that’s still defensive; Don’t stand out means blend in means wait and see means be cautious means they’re out to get me.

Boundaries? Yes, please. Rights and safety? Yes, and yes. But if the vast majority of us are really just like me… how great would it be if we assumed positive intent? …or, well, maybe we could do that at least half the time?

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Awkward

I want to be really clear that this post is not me passive-aggressively asking you, Dear Reader, for money. This is a post about asking people for money.

Lately I’ve been trying to focus more on finding additional bits of funding for some of my projects. The obvious idea—and a suggestion I often get—is to directly ask people. Yes, ask them politely, appeal to their good nature, be clear, and don’t bury the ask. But it’s still straight-up asking: “Hey can you give me some money?” I’ve always resisted doing that, but I’ve never been able to express why I’ve been resisting. Until today.

Here are some reasons why I think it’s not appropriate to ask. I’m not claiming these are the only reasons not to ask. I’m also not claiming there are no reasons to ask. All I’m doing here is teasing out a few strands from the knot that is my muddled understanding of what’s going on with my resistance to saying, “can you give me some money?”

First, a lot of what I do—in fact, all the stuff that I do for which I’ve recently been trying to find some funding—is put out free for the taking or use. These are all things people can read, listen to, or use without my having said up front, “here’s a price tag.” That means I’m being passive-aggressive about asking for that money afterwards. I made a thing. They used the thing. Then I said, “can you give me some money?” while I’m making a little pouting face implying they really should pay me for that thing. When in fact, the whole situation didn’t look like a transaction when they started considering that thing I made. Transactions are fine, and money and accounting are fine. But my trying to change, (or even appearing to try,) the nature of the interaction afterwards is not fine.

Second, many people don’t have spare cash burning a hole in their pocket, and most people don’t value the thing I made. (They were on board when I said “here, it’s free,” but they’d have walked by, disinterested if I’d put a price tag on it.) I’m not being whiny here, just stating facts. We’ve all walked through markets and felt the prices were fair, but we don’t buy things simply because the price is right. So a lot of people are going to be on the “no” side when I ask. And every one of those people now has to either ghost me, (say “no” via ignoring my request,) or they have to actually say “no”. (And forcing people into that awkward situation is actually a sale tactic!) All of which is to say: I believe too many people are going to feel awkward about it when I ask. Well, that’s a second thing that I don’t like—I don’t need to be making anyone feel awkward.

Side trip about lovers’ triangles: If I have to get a 3rd party to pay me, so I can give this thing to you for free, that’s always going to be me exploiting you. What does that advertiser want? At best they just want your attention, (but it can be much worse.) In essence, I’m turning you into the product. Ick! So to me, advertising is never the right answer.

What does work? I’m not certain. Recall I started by saying this post is just me picking out a few threads. What I’m trying these days is to have clear asks that are visible from the start. Rather than shuffling up to someone later, with my hat in hand, to ask for some money. I’m trying to be sure that everyone’s aware, from the start, of how things work. I’m trying to deploy earlier, more messaging like, “this project is made possible by a few generous patrons,” and “please support my work so I can do more of it.” Then the magic that I bring to the table is: How much can I accomplish with the resources I’m given?

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State of Franklin

As I headed out of Asheville, North Carolina it occurred to me to wonder why I was heading north on Interstate 26. It was clearly labeled “North,” I was currently pointed north, and as far as I could tell—glancing at the dashboard’s big bright display while negotiating the swerving and undulating roadway—it was going to take me very-much northward. None the less, even-numbered Interstates are usually east-west routes. Also odd: The signage in North Carolina said “future” I-26, but it looked pretty in-existence to me.

North Carolina’s license plates say, “from sea to mountains.” Or something like that. Asheville and surrounds take that seriously. Lots and lots of hills and mountains and valleys for my little 4-cyclinder van to lumber up and down. Dang pretty though. Lots of evergreens, but enough deciduous trees that I bet the fall foliage is a spectacle.

At which point Siri announced: “Welcome to Tennessee!” Wait, wat?

I really should look over the map route before I start driving. I was expecting to go straight from North Carolina into Virginia. In hindsight, I see that was an option if I’d gone east from Asheville and northward from, like, Charlotte. And so I got an extremely brief glimpse of an extremely beautiful part of Tennessee.

But first, I drove up and down 42 steep hills like this one:

Somewhere along the way I saw a sign for the almost-was-a-State of Franklin. I’d read about that years ago, and—serendipity!—here I was driving through it. (The entire far-eastern pointy bit of Tennessee was once almost-sort-of Franklin.) Anyway.

Eventually I reached that quintessential American experience: The scenic overlook. I parked here:

I can tell when I’ve been sitting too long, riding in a car for days… I get the urge to bound up the stairs, one might even say the urge to run. Same shot, selfie-mode:

Two tricks to better selfies: Look at the camera lense, not the screen, as you trip the shutter, and intentionally lower the shoulder of the arm holding the camera. The one shoulder scrunched up is the dead-giveaway in selfies. Also, dude, get a hair cut and shave.

As I was strolling away, I realized there was a side trail. It mentioned 800 feet, and 150 feet vertical. I didn’t “run” up. I briskly walked up while thinking, “oooooh max heart-rate cardio… didn’t see that coming either.” But it was worth it:

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Chaos and disorder

During my recent road trip my finely-tuned pattern of sleep was annihilated. It’s one thing to have simplicity forced upon you; That has some benefits. But once my sleep was off the rails, everything fell apart. It wasn’t quite Escape-from-New-York-level chaos. It was close though. On one day, I wasted an hour, driving all the way to an entirely wrong address because, the night before I didn’t feel I had 2 minutes to spare to doublecheck.

I’m often viciously critical of myself if I’m still up even a few minutes beyond my desired go-to-bed time, or if I’m still in bed after my get-up time. None the less, for the 10 days of my trip, my sleep times were all over the map. On the one hand, I didn’t die and things got done. On the other hand, it was reminiscent of the old days before I got my sleep sorted out.

Sleep, (when, quantity, and quality,) and daily planning, (what am I doing, when and where,) are related. Back in the day, I cut the Gordian knot by setting a consistent sleep schedule. In a return to Primary School days, I gave myself clear and unchanging go-to-bed and get-up times. Then, arranged around those times I can schedule a specific “plan the day” session. (I’ve tried both “plan for tomorrow” just before bed, and “plan for today” fairly soon after getting up.) With improved sleep and some basic daily planning—which can be literally to simply sit on the beach all day—my life took a serious turn for the better.

But after my recent experience I’ve given this another prolonged bout of thinking and I’ve had a new [to me only, I’m sure] idea: Sleep and planning are not just related, they are circularly dependent on each other.

Here’s a sample pass around the circle: Today’s been busy, and I’ve some things I’d like to finish before sleeping. What time should I go to sleep? What time do I stand up and excuse myself from the current goings on? I need to know how much sleep I’d get if did that at different times. So what time do I have to get up tomorrow? I don’t know. What am I doing tomorrow? I need to spend some time planning for tomorrow, but that’s best done as part of my “alone time” as I’m winding down to sleep… And I cannot simply leave it to luck tomorrow morning. If I have to drive an hour, be some where at a certain time, a shower would be smart too…

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Fruit of these teachings

What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated—tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say that only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.

~ Epictetus

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Tetris

As I mentioned last week, I was recently on a rather long road trip doing some recording for the Movers Mindset project. I took a lot of stuff on the trip, but here’s the two bags which comprised the complete podcast setup—everything I need to press record is in these two bags. The rectangular bag is a proper, no-cheating, most-stingy-airline carry-on size.

And here’s what’s inside: Two full-size (albeit lightweight) mic stands, 2 sets of full-size headphones, and 3 containers of all the podcast recording and listening electronics. (And it’s all battery powered to boot.)

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Forced simplicity

I’ve talked previously about simplicity. In particular, the idea that imformed simplicity, following from a beginner’s mind which has moved through understanding the complexity of a topic, is the hallmark of mastery practice. But forced simplicity is an entirely different animal.

Occassionally, I really need to stretch out and tear into some hard work. This week I did 8, long-form recordings in 5 days. Driving, sometimes eating, more driving, arrive, set up, record, drive, sleep, and on and on. At night I’m trying to quickly come up with a plan for the next day; I have to be where, when? …drive time? …traffic? And before I can be comfortable I have the next day under control, I need to get to sleep. Small bits of online work need to be done here and there—

I’m literally sitting by a campfire. My Mac is wifi’d to my iPhone’s cell service. I’m uploading a 90mb audio file to Movers Mindset’s project management system, as I type this blog post.

—then it’s time to sleep. Then jump up and leap into the next day. Organize the van. Is there time to shower today? (This is a real decision, and the answer was not always, ‘yes.’) Can I do my journaling? …not this week? My usual reading? …not this week. Everything I did for 6+ days was laser focused on what happens between when I press “record” and “stop.” Arrive at the location and bring my A-game. Under- or over-caffeinated, sleepy, prepared or not, … game. on.

Forced simplicity can be brutal. But, I got the good tape.

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