Book Summary - Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss
What You’ll Learn
- High-achieving individual’s keys to success and personal growth
- Advice and wisdom top performers in their field would give to recent college graduates
- The importance of maintaining physical and mental health, maintaining strong personal relationships, and establishing personal and professional boundaries
- A recommended reading list from high-achieving individuals.
Who Is This For
- Recent graduates looking to start their careers
- Professionals who want to advance in their fields
- Any individuals seeking advice from top performers and high achieving professionals
Tech expert and fitness guru Tim Ferriss set out to compile advice from 140 successful individuals who were top performers in their fields, which ranged from finance and tech to film, academia, sports, and even poker. Ferriss asked each of these high-performing mentors a series of 11 questions and recorded their answers.
Ferriss asked each mentor questions about their beneficial habits, good investments, and professional failures. He also asked about how they prioritize and filter out distractions, their techniques for dealing with stress, and what wisdom they would give to recent college graduates or display on a billboard, as well as for book and purchasing recommendations.
Most mentors mentioned the benefit of hard work and the importance of pursuing personal passions and embracing failure. They also stressed the importance of maintaining physical and mental well being, by investing in strong personal relationships and meaningful experiences, continuing education, and improving health through exercise and meditation. Individuals have the power to make choices that positively benefit their lives, increase their well-being, and improve their chances of success.
Most of the high-performing individuals Ferriss interviewed attributed the bulk of their success to hard work. The life coach Marie Forleo described hard work as “going above and beyond.” However, many people are hard workers and do not achieve the same level of success as other high-performing individuals. Luck and social status also play a big role in individual success.
However, most successful people attribute the majority of their success to hard work, rather than external factors. According to the Cornell University economics Robert Frank, this is due to a cognitive bias known as the halo effect. This phenomenon causes one impression of a single aspect of someone’s life to influence their perception of all other aspects of their life. Therefore, if someone is successful, they are more likely to also be perceived to be smart and talented. Another reason people are more likely to credit hard work for their success is attribution bias. This causes people to attribute their individual successes to their personal accomplishments while blaming their failures on negative external causes.
People are also more likely to remember the times when they worked hard, which makes it easier for the brain to attribute success as a result of their individual efforts while remaining blind to outside factors and internal biases.
You Need To Fail To Succeed
Rejection and failure, while painful, can also cause some people to take an internal assessment of their life and consider what their true goals and desires are, which can be an impetus for self-improvement and personal growth. Failure can help build character, personal strength, and motivation. It can also help inspire the freedom to pursue something different because it releases the burden of expectations.
For example, the writer Steven Pressfield had been rejected by publishers for fifteen years before he moved to Hollywood and found success as a screenwriter, selling scripts like The Legend of Bagger Vance and Joshua Tree. The Beastie Boys had also experienced professional failure when their second album did not sell well. However, instead of becoming discouraged, they refocused their artistic and creative vision and ended up releasing their very successful third album, Check Your Head.
However, the merits of failure are not always the same for everyone. People who have a more privileged societal position are more likely to have increased opportunities to fail and learn from their past mistakes. People with less privilege, however, often do not have the opportunity to pursue second chances after a big failure.
For example, people of color in America are often more likely to get stuck after a setback. According to a 2014 John Hopkins study of 800 poor and middle-class black and white children in Baltimore, both low-income white and black children used drugs at roughly the same rate. However, black youth were more likely to be arrested and charged with a drug crime, therefore giving them a criminal record that negatively impacted their future employment opportunities and income. Additionally, 89 percent of white students who dropped out of school were able to find employment by the age of 22, compared to only 40 percent of black students. White children were, on the whole, more likely to have the opportunity to bounce back after a failure. Additionally, of the interviewees who responded that they believed failure contributed to the success, about 80 percent of them were white.
Passion Improves Performance
Many mentors emphasized the importance of pursuing a passion, rather than a secure, socially-accepted life path. Studies have shown that pursuing intrinsic life experiences like meaningful relationships, fulfilling causes, and spiritual growth leads to a better quality of life than pursuing external validation, like wealth, fame, or social status. However, that tends to only hold true for people that already have a degree of social and financial security, rather than lower-income people.
According to a study published in Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan’s 2001 book Life Goals and Well-being: Towards a Positive Psychology of Human Striving, intrinsic goals tend to be more fulfilling because they meet important psychological human needs like personal growth, deeper meaning, connectedness, and strong relationships, and individual freedom. People who fulfill these needs by pursuing intrinsic goals are generally healthier, happier, and more confident and content. They also tend to have stronger relationships and get along better with others.
Alternatively, people who pursue externally validated goals, like money, fame, or social status, tend to be less psychologically and emotionally healthy, and have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. They are more competitive and less cooperative and often have less fulfilling and meaningful relationships. External goals are also not intrinsically self-fulfilling, so people tend to continue to seek validation by pursuing these goals even more intensely, making them less content and more insecure.
Personal Investments Are Essential For Well-Being
Most mentors agree that making personal investments in continuing education, close personal relationships, and health is essential for long-term well-being. Investing in education, or even unpaid internships where one can build skills, improve long-term opportunities. For example, the relationship therapist Esther Perel invested in furthering her education by teaching herself nine languages, which helped her advance professionally because she can now communicate with clients from all over the world. Additionally, spending time cultivating close friendships with family and friends is also a worthwhile investment for personal well-being.
Furthermore, investing in personal health, including cutting back on sugary foods, reducing screen time, and getting plenty of sleep, are also essential for happiness and well-being. Exercise also plays a critical factor in improving both physical and mental health.
According to a 2007 study, exercise was similarly effective in helping treat the major depressive disorder as antidepressants. Exercise can also reduce anxiety and improve mood. According to the American Psychological Association’s journal Monitor on Psychology, it could be because exercise releases serotonin in the brain, which reduces depression. Other scientists believe that exercise also improves sleep and contributes to a feeling of personal accomplishment, both of which can help improve mood.
The founder of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, discovered the importance of maintaining health the hard way after she suffered a collapse from exhaustion at work in 2007. After that experience, she focused on maintaining balance and investing in her own health and well-being.
Meditation is another key practice that improves mental health. Meditation, yoga, and other breath-centered practices can help reduce stress and anxiety. Top performing individuals who swear by the effectiveness of a meditation practice include everyone from director David Lynch to TV host Jimmy Fallon and investor Ray Dalio.
Transcendental Meditation is particularly effective in treating a host of issues, from reducing negative symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD to improving sleep, heart health, and cognitive function, and it has even been shown to help with addiction. According to one 2012 study, Transcendental Meditation led to a 51 percent reduction in HIV-related physical problems for patients with the virus, and the Resilient Warrior Program found a 40 to 55 percent reduction in PTSD and depression in veterans.
Transcendental Meditation, founded by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is a meditation technique that involves repeating a mantra. It does not require maintaining mindfulness of thoughts that is typical in other types of mediation. It is supposed to be practiced for 20 minutes a day, and there are even retreats and courses for individual instruction available. They typically cost between $500 - $1,000 and federal grants are sometimes available.
However, some people are skeptical of the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation. Two separate studies claimed in 2003 and 2004 that previous studies claiming the positive effects of Transcendental Meditation were written by researchers who were affiliated with the organization and were not peer-reviewed.
The Importance of Saying No
Saying no to nonessential invitations and obligations is essential to reducing distraction and defining priorities. Some mentors, like actress Richa Chadha, say no to anyone who she feels depletes her energy. Invitations should only be accepted when they align with your goals and priorities, and all others merely clutter your schedule and should be turned down.
It is important to take time to recenter, declutter your mind, and assess your priorities. Some mentors explained the benefit of having restorative practices, such as long walks, naps, or practicing gratitude, to clear your mind and realign your focus. Weightlifting champion Aniela Gregorek practices “forest bathing,” which is a Japanese technique that involves walking in the forest and allowing the sights, sounds, and smells of nature to envelop you. Restorative practices help you refocus your priorities and ensure you are only agreeing to obligations that align with your long term goals.
However, it is easier to turn down commitments that are happening soon, and easier to accept invitations that are scheduled for months away. When an event is far away, it doesn’t feel real and you don’t have to find a way to fit it into an already busy schedule. So, to avoid agreeing to obligations too far in advance, imagine the event is really happening in a few days before agreeing to commit.
It is also difficult to turn down obligations when social expectations dictate their necessity. According to Suzannah Weiss, women are socially expected to perform many obligations for free, including the emotional labor of providing support in personal and professional relationships, without pay or acknowledgment. For example, emotional labor can include lending an ear to listen to someone’s troubles, giving out advice, mentoring new employees, and improving general office culture and smoothing over conflicts. This type of work is emotionally draining, but it is almost never socially acceptable for women to say no to these obligations.
Buy Experiences, Not Products
Spending money on experiences is more meaningful than spending money on objects, assuming all an individual’s basic needs, like food and shelter, are met. The most highly recommended purchases are those that contribute to or improve an experience, such as accessories for exercising or sleeping, or a fee for an enjoyable activity, like going swimming.
According to a 2009 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology, 154 different people were surveyed about the last time they had purchased something to make themselves happier. Half were asked to remember an experience, and the other half recalled a product. The participants who recalled an experience, such as a nice dinner or a vacation, reported the purchase made both them and others happier and was worth the money. Experiences contribute to increased happiness because they often involve improving personal relationships with others while avoiding the temptation to compare yourself to others that is sometimes caused by purchasing goods like clothing or jewelry.
A 2014 Psychological Science study also found that anticipating an experience is more pleasant than anticipating purchasing an object. Therefore, spending money on experiences improves well being both before and during the purchase, while material goods do not.
A High-Achieving Reading List
For most high-achieving individuals, reading plays an essential part in personal growth and development. The three books that the majority of high-achieving mentors recommended most strongly were Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger by Charlie Munger, and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
Sapiens uses history and biology to explore human evolution. Poor Charlie’s Almanack is a compilation of Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger’s speeches.
Man’s Search for Meaning is psychologist Viktor Frankl’s memoir of his time in Dachau concentration camp during the Holocaust. While there, he wrote that the prisoners who were able to survive were those who were able to hold onto a sense of meaning in their lives.
Frankl was released in 1945. Afterward, he developed the psychological practice of “logotherapy,” in which people try to determine a sense of purpose in order to find meaning in their life. Frankl wrote that the drive to find meaning is human beings’ most important motivation, and people can find meaning in a multitude of ways, including art, generosity to others, or adjusting one’s mental state when faced with adversity. It was named one of the Library of Congress’s most 10 influential books in the United States in 1991.
Some mentors even found valuable life lessons from children’s books, like Jon Stone’s The Monster at the End of the Book, which emphasizes the importance of developing bravery, or The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, which helps spark the imagination.
The Main Take-away
Top performing individuals in their field offered their wisdom on the importance of working hard, pursuing passions, and building up resilience by embracing failure. Prioritizing physical and mental health, practicing meditation, and cultivating strong personal relationships and meaningful experiences are also essential to promoting well-being and long term success. Individuals who choose to cultivate these traits and focus on personal growth increase their chances of personal and professional success and long term well being.
About the Author
Timothy Ferriss is an investor, entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Chef, and Tools of Titans.
He is the founder of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast and the blog Fourhourblog. He has been featured by The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, CNN, and CBS.
Ferriss has been named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People” and one of Fortune’s “40 under 40.” He holds a B.A. in East Asian studies from Princeton University.