The First Rule of Worklife Freedom: ‘Fight Club’ or ‘The Four-Hour Work Week’?

What I discovered when I read Fight Club and The Four-Hour Workweek together

As a notoriously slow reader, I compensate by reading 4 to 6 books at once. There is usually a variety: one is an audio book, one is on my Kindle, and one is a non-fiction. Sounds like I’ve been procrastinating on my homework, doesn’t it? But it is actually my preferred way of reading. Sometimes people are shocked: “How do you follow the storyline of so many books?”

To them I respond, “Do you watch only one television show from start to competition before watching anything else?”

Most often, the books I’m reading don’t really share any parallels. In fact, they are usually as different as Jonathan Franzan and Kurt Vonnegut. Sometimes there is some sort of shared theme — at least, I get that feeling when I transition from one to another.

I know that few authors will recommend you reading their books in between other people’s books, but the liberty of a reader is that I get to enjoy it — or not enjoy it — in any fashion I choose.

I digress.

I’ve recently finished reading two books that shared some eerie thematic similarity about society, class, freedom, and identity: Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Workweek and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

If you judge books by their cover, they don’t have any visible similarities. One is non-fiction, encouraging want-to-be entrepreneurs to abandon the old route towards wealth by innovating and automating their lives, thus becoming the New Rich. The other book is the source material for the famed Brad Pitt-Edward Norton movie about a man suffering from insomnia, meeting a mysterious individual named Tyler Durden, and starting a terrorist group that spawned from an underground fight club.

What association am I seeing? What am I even trying to say? Well — let me connect the dots for you and you can tell me if you see it too.

The First Rule:

Let’s start with the part everyone can recite. Say it with me:

The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.

While that is the line everybody knows, we must also acknowledge the few rules that come after:

When someone says stop, or goes limp, the fight is over.
Only two guys to a fight.
One fight at a time.
They fight without shirts or shoes.
The fights go on as long as they have to.
If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.
Nobody is the center of the fight club except for the two men fighting.
The fight club will always be free.

Even within this unruly society there are still rules. It’s controlled chaos and that is an important balance to achieve in our lives.

In North America, we always say, “This is a free country, I can do what I want.” But you can’t. You can’t steal. You can’t murder. You can’t even pay someone to have sex with you. Yes, we can have all the freedom to fly, but we can’t shit on people’s heads as we do. We can do what we want, but we are still accountable for our actions.

Like Fight Club, The Four-Hour Workweek offers its own guiding principles. Ferriss explains the acronym, D.E.A.L., which is the framework of his book and the guidelines for becoming the New Rich. In it he sums up the philosophy that anybody who desires the lifestyle — where work only last four hours per week — can achieve it. However, what he teaches is essentially going against the grain of what our culture has established: the nine to five.

In Fight Club, somewhere in Chapter 6, there is a tender scene where the narrator is discussing the stages of his life:

My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what? My dad didn’t know. When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn’t know, so he said, get married. — Fight Club

Don’t ask people how they want you to live your life. They rather care too much or care too little. Regardless, it doesn’t help you. Live your own life and deal with it. It’s not about following all the rules, it’s about which rules is worth breaking.

Notice how so many people broke the first rule of Fight Club?

D = Definition:

Ask yourself these questions:

To work for yourself or to have others work for you?
To work when you want to or to prevent work for work’s sake?
To retire early and young or to have mini adventure throughout your whole life?

Tim Ferriss wants you to define your ideal life. He says it’s about rethinking the game. The game I like to think about is Snakes and Ladders. And how would I like to rethink it? How about by moving the ladders where I want it. This means I can have a ladder that puts me one step closer to reaching my tour of Mediterranean countries. Maybe I’ll place the other ladder somewhere closer so I can get a higher education. The positions of my ladders are unique to me and my goals. I can control it. I can redefine what I consider to be rules and thus, I have to redefine my fears; for you see, I can control the ladders, but I still have no control of the snakes. And so it goes with life.

E = Elimination:

So much of work is about being busy for busy’s sake. Why do we show up at the office at all when we can be more effective at home?

What’s the difference between being effective and efficient?

Ferriss describes the best door-to-door salesman as being efficient — that he can go to as many doors as possible and play the game of averages — but that style of sales is grossly ineffective, and annoying. With improvement in technology, the death of the salesman is an actuality. According to Forbes, by 2018, the occupation of door-to-door salespeople will decline by 18%. Many businesses already know that we shouldn’t waste our time and energy yielding minimal results.

Horrifically, in Fight Club, the book reveals the gamble for profit corporations make. The protagonist works as a recall specialist for an automotive company. His job is to go around the country investigating auto accidents and determine whether a recall of faulty parts is necessary. If the accidents, the insurances, and the cost of human lives are monetarily cheaper than the cost of recalling the parts, the recall will not be made. It’s business. It’s more efficient to keep the faulty vehicles on the road, but it sure as hell isn’t effective, not unless you are talking about profits.

Which brings us to the famous 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule, or sometimes called the Pareto principle, is the statistical theory that 80% of the effect is the result of 20% of the cause. For example, a door-to-door salesperson will make 80% of his revenue from 20% of the households he inquired. Or that, 20% of your work day is responsible for 80% of the day’s output.

Once you find the right 20% to devote your energy to, you can reach 80% of your goals. I’ll leave you with this to chew on:

“Just because something has been a lot of work or consumed a lot of time doesn’t make it productive or worthwhile.” — The Four-Hour Workweek.

A = Automation:

Look at all the services out there in the world. People will do the shitty stuff you don’t want to do. Yes, you’ll have to pay them, but you’ll end up saving time.

Imagine how much easier your life would be if you had to do one thing less everyday. What task would you take off your plate by automating? Commuting to and from work? Cooking your meals? Responding to emails? Gosh, how do I choose? Any one of them will create some kind of bliss.

While we like to think that only executives and celebrities can have an automated lifestyles, that is not true. Ferriss used automation to make himself into an executive and a celebrity. If you want freedom, you need to be able to delegate task and entrust people to accomplish them. Demand accountability, but don’t micromanage. Give those who you outsource your work to the freedom to succeed on their own. The key is to know which tasks are worth delegating — and which tasks are worth eliminating all together.

So, if you are starting a soap company, why not find people who will get you supplies, make your soap, and distribute the product for you?

L = Liberation:

You don’t have to kill or blackmail your boss to achieve freedom. Trust and results is worth a higher price, and every employer should know that. Why should it matter that you are not working in the office and on a beach resort in Thailand, if the work is above par?

If that’s the case, why are so many people caged in cubicles?

Because while automating life can be logistically challenging, freeing a life from the convention can be utterly frightening.

In Fight Club, the liberating moment was the first punch thrown. Once the narrator was hit and survived, he had control.

You can get control too!

Book that flight, enroll in that school, or ask for that raise. You can’t make people do anything, but you can take the wheel of your life. You can’t change the road, but you can choose where to drive. Propose to their lover. Go bungee jumping. Stare wife and death in the face. It’s true, things might not work out and you might get hurt, but you’ll have control and you’ll feel liberated.

What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

This poignant line from Fight Club says it all:

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

Ferriss too offers a simple, related idea: Anything you gave up, you can get back — in as quickly as a few years. That is if you want to go back to your old life.

The fear that many people have is that the work they put into climbing the ladder to get to where they are, an unhappy rung, would be wasted should they bail and strive for something new. On a new ladder they will have to start from the bottom. You know what Ferriss says to that?

Bail!

So what if you’ve climbed this far, you can probably climb it again if you have to. But let’s be honest though, you probably don’t want to. Don’t climb the ladder, take the staircase, take the elevator, take the fireman’s pole up — do something different.

In the beginning of Fight Club, the main character’s apartment and possessions get blown to smithereens. But what did he actually lose? His shitty IKEA furniture.

Don’t measure your life by the materials you collect. The materials weigh you down and anchor you to a stationary life.

You buy a big screen TV and now you are obligated to watch it every night. Hey, you paid for cable, so you might as well make the most of it. Oh shit — now you have Netflix, Shomi, Crave TV, and a satellite dish with six trillion channels. What?! Apple TV can view YouTube as well? Damn, there is no reason to leave the couch.

Get rid of the TV, disconnect the cable, and see what happens to you. It’s a TV, you can always get another one. Now what if that TV was your job? If you feel like it is wasting your life, get rid of it. I’m certain, if you wanted to, you can find another one to replace it. Maybe off Craigslist or something.

“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off” — Fight Club

Continuing with the idea of losing material goods, it is even more critical to be minimalistic if you want to live nomadically.

You wake up at Sky Harbor International

Can you live your whole life from one backpack? You must, if you plan on traveling like Tim Ferriss.

You wake up at O’Hare.

One week of provisions, insurance, and some form of currency is really all you need to get started. Everything else, you can buy while you’re there.

You wake up at Meigs Field.

For me, I loath checking my luggage. It’s not just the fear of the airline losing my belongings, but once I had to rush across the Phoenix airport in order to catch a connecting flight. In the process, I was forced to retrieve my checked bag and of course, clear customs and go through security once more. A part of me just wanted to abandon my dirty clothes. Your problem now, Sky Harbor.

You wake up at SeaTac.

Possessions do not equal wealth. Possessions are liabilities and causes for stress.

The things you used to own, now they own you. — Fight Club

Here’s an Ultimatum:

In one of my favourite scenes, Tyler Durden attacks a clerk and holds the gun to his head. Durden asks what the man — Raymond K. Hessel — wanted to be when he was young. Hessel says he wanted to be a veterinarian but there is too much schooling. Durden tells him, if the next time he sees him he is not on the way to becoming a vet, he will kill him. Quite a motivation.

Ferriss’s tactic to inspire is more benign, but he too believes that not pursuing one’s aspirations would be a life wasted.

“Life isn’t like the movies,” Ferriss wrote. People will go on doing whatever they do, because reality has a certain momentum. To create change, they have to push life in the other direction. Movies have a driving force: plot development. Life doesn’t. Many of real people strive just to make it to the weekend. Until some sort of force breaks them from that pattern, they will continue to think that working at a convenience store makes sense. They’ll save money, and once they have enough money, they’ll do what they want to do. Once they save enough, they’ll go to college and study biology and become a veterinarian. Once they pay their dues, they’ll retire, they’ll travel the world, they’ll live their lives. People mortgage their lives just to feel safe, which would make a really boring movie.

Ferris reminds us: “Boredom is the enemy, not some abstract ‘failure.’”

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” Fight Club

You are now at a fork in the road, one direction leads towards to the life of Tim Ferriss’s New Rich and the other leads towards the life of Fight Club’s protagonist. Which do you pick?

The thing is, we get to pick. That is the brilliance. That is freedom.

It’s easy to be held captive to the life we have, the stuff we own, the debts we keep, the children we feed, the work we do, the people we please, the places we go, but what happens if we break free? Will we die unfulfilled?

“I want you to do me a favor. I want you to hit me as hard as you can.” I didn’t want to, but Tyler explained it all, about not wanting to die without any scars, about being tired of watching only professionals fight, and wanting to know more about himself. About self-destruction. — Fight Club.

So, do it!

Throw a punch back at the world that has been beating you down. Take control. Take back the freedom you were given at birth and go live somewhere far away from your elementary school. I’m not going to put a gun to your head, but I’ll conclude with this little gem to remind you that you can now go and do something else.

Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don’t you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can’t think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you’re supposed to read? Do you think everything you’re supposed to think? Buy what you’re told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned. Fight Club

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