The first book I downloaded — for free! — on my recently-purchased Kindle was Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. I am far from the first person to review this book on this platform. I decided to download the book after stumbling upon this story.
Before diving into my main takeaways and how it has impacted my outlook as a recent college graduate that’s entry into the “real world” is being severely impacted by the coronavirus, I would first like to talk about how fun of a read this book was.
I bought a Kindle because reading a real, physical book made me too tired at night, limiting me to only taking in 10-to-20 pages. The free version of Kindle on my laptop did the opposite; the late-night screen exposure helped me stay awake to read more, but made it tougher to fall asleep.
Whether it was at night in bed or late evening on my back patio, I enjoyed every bit of the three-or-so weeks it took me to read Tribe of Mentors. The idea drew me in — a lengthy, in-depth project featuring over 130 interviews of successful people in almost any field you can think about, from money managers, to musicians, to chefs, to athletes. They all answered the same 11 questions.
While answers to these questions varied widely, depending on specific experiences, many themes were aligned.
Failing Is Good…Or Can Be
This is probably cliche at this point. But it’s true. Failing sucks, but in every success story, there is a failure that helped motivate or shape an idea into becoming bigger and better.
While some of the following themes were not formed by design, this one was. One of Ferriss’s 11 questions was, “How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a ‘favorite failure’ of yours?”
My favorite story that came out of this question was from Terry Crews, who spoke on the time he missed a game-winning shot in a high school basketball game.
“The coach afterward told the whole team that I had no business taking that shot and I should have passed it to our star player. It was in the paper the next day that I failed, and I was beyond crushed. A dark cloud covered me everywhere I went as I internalized the loss.
“A few days later, as the fog of failure began to lift, I remember having a rare time alone in my room (I usually shared it with my brother). As I sat in the silence, another thought pierced through my sadness. ‘I took the shot.’ It was invigorating, even exciting. ‘Hey, when all the chips were on the line, you didn’t leave your future up to others, YOU TOOK YOUR SHOT.’ Instantly I felt free and in control. I knew from then on that I could have the courage to fail on my own terms.”
This is one of the best failure stories I’ve ever read or heard, if not the best. Many of the failure stories in this book relate to the field the person ended up becoming successful in. Crews took a missed shot in high school to his bedroom, soaked in anguish and the disappointment of his coach, local paper, and probably fellow students, and came out with a changed mindset that propelled him forward.
For Crews to reflect and feel comfortable with his failures at a high school age, it is no shock that he has become what he is today.
With all the positive failure stories, however, it was nice to see some pushback on the idea from Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp.
“Further, many people will tell you there’s a lot to learn from failure. Maybe… But there’s more to learn from success. Failure may tell you what not to do again, but it doesn’t help you figure out what to do next time around. I’d rather focus on the things that work, and try those again, than try to take lessons from the things that didn’t.”
It feels weird to say this was an outlier opinion in this book. And Fried had a failure story of his own (“I loved the rejection. It made me.”). But it was, and it was good of Tim to include it. While failing is good, and as proven in the book, can lead to success by the right people, learning what actually does work and using that to improve should be a goal of ours, too.
Meditating Is, Like, Awesome
Meditation has been something I’ve wanted to try practicing for years. You hear enough people talk about it and figure it’s probably worthwhile. But, like many things, it got pushed off because I didn’t feel I needed to do it or that it was a waste of time.
After reading this book, however, I almost feel like I’ll never become what I want to become if I don’t meditate at least a little bit.
It doesn’t take long to see this theme develop in the book. In the book’s “Subject Index,” which Tim was so kind to put together, the “Meditation” section has many subcategories listed beneath it: “bodily awareness in,” “breathing techniques in,” “to improve your life,” “mindfulness,” and many more. Transcendental meditation was discussed five separate times and Vapassana mediation was discussed twice.
When reading through the stories, and practicing once thus far, it is no shock why successful people with so many strings tugging at them on a daily basis need that time to practice. Being able to clear the clutter from your mind is a relief and helps channel your focus.
“Meditation is one of the most practical, powerful, productivity-enhancing tools ever created, and learning to meditate is one of the best investments I ever made.” — Adam Robinson, chess master and author
Exercise Is Great, Too
I didn’t need a book to tell me this. I started working out somewhat consistently in high school (about six years ago) to lose weight. I succeeded in that goal, but I didn’t stop working out. Yes, the aesthetic benefits are great. But the saying “Look good, feel good” couldn’t be more true. When I need to clear my mind or shake off a bad day, I go exercise. Preferably, a run. I have yet to meet a high better than runner’s high.
The “Exercise” section of the Subject Index also has many subcategories, including “for basic fitness,” to improve life,” and “for stress relief.”
There aren’t any game-changing stories to tell here. It’s just a simple fact of life that exercising will help you look better, feel better, and perform better. Go for a walk, ride a bike, go for a run, play a sport. Anything is better than nothing. And maybe even try leaving your phone at home, or at least in your pocket. I’ve done this lately — no texting or even music — and feel so much more present in the world around me and in my own mind.
Recounting Your Gratitude Can Center You
So much of life is seeing curveballs. We’re uncomfortable, uneasy, and forced to react. Many crumble at the plate, succumbing to the pitcher and creating excuses after each strikeout. The rest learn from their strikeouts and step up the plate ready for another curveball.
Striking out isn’t easy, but how we react in a situation can help lay the foundation for the next situation. Digging a hole and lying in it guarantees failure the next time around. Harping on the bad and negative will get you there as fast as you want.
Thinking positively in a negative situation can be liberating. One exercise is to think of what we are grateful for in life and realize things aren’t so bad. I have been doing this for a few weeks now — writing down something I am grateful for at night before I go to bed. After a bad day, it feels good to think of something positive, no matter how long it takes. Even seemingly small things, like hanging out with friends, getting in a good workout, or having a fun day at work, count and help shape who we are.
“It sounds kind of cheesy, but I started to keep a gratitude journal. If you [have a habit of writing] things down that you’re grateful for, then some part of your brain is constantly looking for those things, and you feel happier. It’s absurd in its simplicity.” — Ben Silbermann, CEO of Pinterest
We Should Seek Suffering
This sounds so dumb. Who wants to suffer?! But suffering means growth. Whether it’s the pain you feel in your muscles when you’re working out hard or the pain you feel in your heart when you’re getting over a girl (or guy), getting through it makes you stronger. But you can’t get that strength without the pain.
This becomes a popular topic early on in the book.
“I think suffering is probably the most absurd thing that I love. Suffering is the greatest teacher I’ve ever had.” — Kyle Maynard, the first quadruple amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without prosthetics
“Suffering is a moment of clarity, when you can no longer deny the truth of a situation and are forced into uncomfortable change… Inside suffering is the seed of change.” — Naval Ravikant, CEO of AngelList
Suffering is never fun in the moment. But if we are able to step out of our mind for even a brief moment and acknowledge its benefit, maybe we will be able to realize its worth.