Saturday, 26 July 2014

The 4-Hour Workweek revisited

First things first, let me make it clear - not only I love "The 4-Hour Workweek" (4HWW), I also follow closely Tim Ferriss's projects from the very moment I read it in 2009. That said, I think it would be fun to look back critically at it. At least for the sake of not letting gurus think for us. Cause the Bibles of the world aren't free from glitches, are they.

Forget about the marketing of the book, which was gigantic and unconventional. The refreshing, straightforward  language and detail-oriented content guaranteed the book would stand out. So much that I honestly think his later books, despite what the very Author claims, are barely footnotes to this first one.

I find it imperfect anyway. It's partly because of personal preferences. But then some of my reservations are based on more universal grounds. And this is where things become a bit grimmer.

1. Rivalry Obsession

I was never into record-breaking. I find rivalry somewhat sad. Competition turns easily into fetish, an unhealthy obsession to win. It's either hurtful or boring. 

In 4HWW we are under fire of record lists. From infamous Ferriss's tango spins or kick boxing trophy to all the "success stories", it all is served to prove the point. Next thing you see is an invitation to the heat of hyperactivity & the heat of achievements. How about faster? How about better and more? 

But wait, weren't we suppose to fight with over-stimulation here? 

2. Selfishness

It's interesting to examine what in 4HWW is assumed as good without question. For one, it's free time. Second place take money, and third - achievements. In short: Me! Me! Me! The spirit of the book is a bit antisocial, isn't it. Free yourself from this, free yourself from that. But, like, what about the others?

Try to think about it this way: would you like to bump into one of the New Rich? Would you like to do business with them? Would you like to use their services? With all these automatic responses and cutting off clients agenda? Exactly.

3. Callosity

Why "The New Rich" in the first place? As unfortunate as it gets, this is actually what in Eastern Europe we call those who have got rich quickly, and didn't have time to adjust their culture to their money. 

Employing local fishermen in Panama or personal guide in Argentina, aren't The New Rich unscrupulous abusers of cheap workforce, cheap services, cheap countries? 

4. Triumphalism

As much as this book is different from the American Way, it couldn't escape certain exaltation. Frankly, the book aspires to change lives. But does it always have to go together with this amount of PR? At the same time disclaimers of all sorts are as many as they are tiny.

Success stories, I get it. What about failure stories?

5. Corporate thinking

There's nothing more natural in this book as corporate words and phrases. Here's market selection, there's product brainstorm, micro testing, automation, units shipped per week, etc. 4HWW is a product of the capitalist society to the capitalist society. Capitalist by default. Uncritical and bluntly ignorant, I'm afraid. 

It's cool to take advantage of the modern world. But why without thinking about the side effects? It's not only producers-consumers pivot that matters. Have you seen "The Lion King"? Oh, your PA from India did.

6. Scumbug syndrome

Manipulate your employer! Manipulate your client! Well, it's not for the first time that The New York Times bestseller list hosts a guide for douchebags. The risk of becoming guru for the petty-minded, self-obsessed ignorants is high. These books attract people convinced that they're special and deserve more.

I didn't realize I will say it when I was starting writing this post, but now it seems so clear. In giving answer to the pathologies of global capitalism (home of busy and ineffective, distracted minds, enslaved with dull, full time jobs) Ferriss gives answers that are settled comfortably in the same capitalistic world view.

Effective product marketing tips? Here you go! Cheap flights? Brilliant! Assistants from India? You can't go wrong with them! These are Questions and Actions in the making. It's like saying: conquer capitalism with capitalism. In a way - fair enough.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

"Stream test" - excerpt from "Maps"

- Knock knock.
- Who is it?
- Messiah.
- Vacuum cleaner Messiah?
- Well… yes… And I’m bringing you a special offer, my child.

I wish it was a real Messiah. But when someone knocks repeatedly, it’s usually a salesman, wearing his salesman smile. Kindness of strangers is rare. Hence while garbage is nicely wrapped and promoted as an exclusive offer, revolutionary ideas are rarely announced on billboards. They might as well be poorly printed on creased paper.

Quality doesn’t shout. It doesn’t desperately persuade you to join in. Just as a rich man doesn’t need to expose his golden watch to impress you. He doesn’t even need to have one. It’s the poor who will ask you to admire his wrist over and over again. Showing by this very behaviour that he’s not yet where he aspires to be.

On that note, what if the message is loud in order to silence other messages? What if it’s overly extensive only to cover something that’s deep? In that case it’s up to you to inquire what exactly is not on show. What is being hidden? What has been unsaid?

Quality is not always big and shiny. It’s not always on the side of the winners. That’s why, when faced something new, it’s worth asking: was I reaching for it or was it reaching for me? When it is you who make an effort, when it is you who’s stubborn in searching, there’s a chance to get to something valuable. I call it: the stream test.

There is also the source test. You don’t want to go for spiritual advice to the notary. Nor for financial one to a hippie. Now look who’s talking. But since you were brave or reckless enough to read “Maps”, working title “Message of a loser”, let me tell you this: do look who is talking.

Pick up artists and stocks brokers are often very nice. But they will lie to you. They have to. It’s the name of the game. Is it irrelevant for you that you are surrounded by liars? Doesn’t it bother you at all?

They want you to ask questions, but not all the questions. The priest will ask you to follow Jesus, until you’d like to follow Jesus without the priest. What if you could follow Jesus without the priest? Or even against the priest. The car company will help you to feel free, until you can feel free without a car. What if you could feel free without a car?

It’s not the conspiracy, it’s ignorance. The mainstream encourages to be active, but in all the wrong things. It turns recipient’s head in the wrong direction, avoiding the depth. Consequently, it promotes staying passive in all the right things, like learning about the cosmos or building honest relationships.

But instead of learning about the cosmos, we consume new credit card offers served along with news about bombing in the Middle East. And who has time to build honest relationships? There are so many well running fake ones, aren’t they? Dived in Halloween marches, dancing in masquerades.

In the world of amusement parks and costumes parties seriousness is wiped out. It's covered with makeups and masks. Now the message is noise. It is flat and annoying. That's why it should be penetrated by rehearsing the stream test & the source test. Both carefully & insightfully.

If a prison looks like an amusement park, it doesn’t change the fact, that it’s a prison. After understanding just once, even briefly, the beauty of the depth, the nature of the depth - you know the way. The shallow stuff loses its attractiveness. It’s too vulgar, too blind.

It’s going to be easier now. you have seen the promised land. Truth to be told, it’s not given forever. It is simply cold, just like freedom. And equally worth the effort.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Patron of "Maps"

Seeing a child drinking from his hands, Diogenes threw away his cup and remarked: "A child has beaten me in plainness of living." 

Monday, 31 March 2014

"The Antidote"

There is a type of man that becomes a comedian, and there is a mountaineer. Speaking of the latter, it turns out that during expedition one risks his life much more than necessary. Studies have shown that many climbers tend to be obsessively attached to their previously set goals. Especially in Himalayas, in changed weather conditions or with injured member of a team, much appropriate flexibility is not there at all. Many climbers show extreme stubbornness in such situations. Target must be met and turning back is not an option. This specific syndrome has been called goalodicy. One of many discoveries of yet another book enlisted in anti-self-help genre, "The Antidote". 

But dangerous doctrine of achieving goals at all costs is not the main theme there. Author Oliver Burkeman focuses rather on glory of - wait for it - negative thinking, as opposed to global industry of positive thinking, positivity run amok, orthodoxy of optimism. In his journalistic journey the very rational Cambridge educated Brit provides an alternative attitude to self development.

What I found interesting was his interview with Eckhart Tolle. Not much what the self-appointerd sage said, but the hilarious, well written description of his thought. Entering Tolle's apartment journalist stumbled upon first obstacle.  Even ‘How are you?’, I had suddenly realised, was a potentially problematic opening question when the word ‘you’ – and what, exactly, that might mean – was the very thing I had come to discuss. Burkeman managed to deliver Tolle's message in surprisingly entertaining fashion, since the author of "The Power of Now" is not very charismatic. But the message is strong, and even sceptical Burkeman was under influence of peaceful atmosphere of the house. When is was over he noticed that he doesn't feel like going anywhere. Instead, he would prefer to enjoy the moment in silence for few more hours. And this time he wasn't ironic.

Another surprise came with a Buddhist retreat, which despite earlier doubts turned out to be worth recommending. Not identifying with thoughts, not identifying with ego opens a new perspective.

One of the strongest points the Author makes is this: our constant efforts to eliminate the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy. In a long run convincing yourself that you are someone else than you are, you're in a situation you're not, simply fails. As painful as naked truth might be, it's the only real path to progress.

I still have a lot more to say than this, so my work on "Maps" continues. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

"This is How"

Speaking of charlatans. There's someone out there with a message again. He has all qualities which regular preachers lack of. And what he has to say is somewhat surprising.

Augusten Burroughs carries a history of writing very personal books, recognized by critics and loved by readers. It's not usual for serious, successful authors to turn into self-help gurus. The more intrigued I felt reaching for it. 

The book is promoted as a satire, but I would argue it is pure in the genre. However again, it would be hard to find another self-appointed teacher, who explains his work as follows: I am a complete and total fuckup. Which is exactly why I am equipped to write this book and tell you how to live.

Except of being an acknowledged author already, he has at least two more strong reasons for taking a stand. First one is that he was supporting a close, terminally ill person and witnessed death. Second is that he is a an alcoholic, AA groups veteran. That makes him believable and interesting in many ways.  

He finds AA groups useful, but feels that philosophy behind it is a joke. He states: My problem with admitting to powerlessness over alcoholism is that it isn’t true. In getting rid of any addiction he advocates immediate, harsh and complete quitting. You need to discover something you would love more than alcohol or drugs or you name it. Because it's impossible to quit what you love.

Opposed to the mainstream, author doesn't recommend any new age solutions like mantras, karma adjustment, feng shui upgrade nor prayers. When multiple bad things happen, it can feel like “life is out to get you.” It’s not. And it’s not a sign, either. Which is both good and bad news, but most remarkably a real one. 

He strongly objects obsession of significance and hardcore individualism. Fate is not fully to be shaped by us. The life you have is a life you were given. There were people there already. And a town that had a name. 

If these things are so obvious, why do we get stuck so often? It's because we over-analyse and avoid the most simple and direct solutions. Dry truth is worth swallowing. So, here we go: there's no such thing as soul mate waiting for you. However destiny and chance are the oldest poker buddies in town. If you're looking for someone, go out more often. As simple as that. Shake you pattern of daily commute. Change your entertainment habits. Go to a place that you don't usually visit.

Imagination is shown as a double-edged sword. It's been developed to help us in life, to come up with solutions. But it brings burden along, either in ideology or in regret. The past—and all the moments it contained—are no longer sharing this world with us. They are no more real than Cinderella.

Burroughs is like a child shouting in your face: The emperor is naked! That might come as a surprise from a gay New Yorker. One could expect him to be metropolis-biased & exalted. He defended himself from this threat by discovering the power of plain distinctions.  
Pain can make you want to die. Discomfort can make you want to kill.
Confidence isn’t competence
Limits are actually opportunities.

Tired already? How about some death, life and love quotes?
Death, when it finally arrives, does so in a surprising fashion: it adds nothing to the room, not a light or a spark or a sound; death does not stir a molecule of the air.
Life is too huge for you to possibly hate.
Love does not maintain a list of your flaws and weaknesses.

Everyday life is tricky. Laundry won't do itself. But we shouldn't explain ignorance with being busy, as we do. We shouldn't agree on some presumed reality, which is defined by salesmen. Burroughs slides in the middle of it with his honest message. I argue it's worth hearing. 

Friday, 31 January 2014

Charlatans advantage

We’re being stuffed with minor stories. Ordinary obligations. Entertainment. When has everything become flat? What about life in general? 

What about the world in general? The world that deserves to be watched in full sharpness. With no looking away. With no denial, when you see something different than you expect to see. 

That's why I'm fascinated by those who are specifically wrong and generally right. The charlatans chasing the very big picture, like De Mello, UG Krishnamurti, Robert Pirsig, Tim Ferriss, or Ken Wilber. Primarily Ken Wilber actually. 

Sorting out their obsessions, they proclaim fresh views. They don't wait for acknowledgement. They are focused on their visions, which are often quite mad ideas. So wonderfully mad. 

Encouraged by their example, I decided to face a new genre: self-help book. Yes, soon I'll be launching my own village philosophy product. Working title: “Maps of Exits”. It's American and you know it. 

I'm aware of doubtful status of these books. They heavily earned it with pathetic, reader offensive manner. Filled with authoritative impulses, reductionist world views, overly simple solutions, they were too often promoting extreme narcissism. 

Self help is like sat nav in the dark. But let's face it: we need help, walking among people who need help. I aspire to deliver a post-modern-and-beyond book. It’s going to fly high!

We tend to avoid banality. Maybe that's why more people focus more on VAT than the meaning of life. I'd like to get back to the essence sharing my discoveries on crisis and time of change. To prove, that passion of awareness pays off.

It pays off also in notion, that nobody will read it anyway. And if someone will, there is going to be a queue of tweets and youtube videos waiting for them to be browsed. They'll bring an immediate effect of erasing the previous messages. But we charlatans love Sisyphean tasks.
(C) Giorgia Arena

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