The Lazarus Philosophy: The Danger of Expectations and The Beauty of Duty


Here are some excellent tenets of self-interested (not self-centered) lifestyle design from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long by the inimitable Robert Heinlein:

Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.

But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad [a thief] than it is to deal with a leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please – this won’t take long”… Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time – and squawk for more!

So learn to say no – and to be rude about it when necessary.

Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.

This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.

[Hat tip to Joe Polish]


Odds and Ends: Help me beat Steve Jobs!

I need around 300 votes to beat Steve Jobs on Wired’s ‘best self-promoters’ list under ‘top rated’ (also check ‘new’ or other categories if you can’t find me). Please be sure to vote on the profile of me with 600+ votes and the dance photo, as there are multiple profiles of my name.

The page is great for a few laughs. Take 10 seconds to help a brother out!

[Update: I won! You guys rule! Check it out: Timothy Ferriss Takes’s Self-Promotion Prize]

If you tweet or blog it to rally troops, I’ll send you some positive karma and rainbow and kitten vibes :)

Posted on: March 26, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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59 comments on “The Lazarus Philosophy: The Danger of Expectations and The Beauty of Duty

  1. Okay okay, I won’t bug you with more stuff to do for me anymore!

    Really though, it’s a difficult balance to wanting to be helpful vs doing what’s best for onself–this quote captures it. Good stuff.


  2. Is that why my asking to meet you at SXSW was met with such a vociferous “no”?

    Kidding! Kidding! He is very, very nice, everyone!

    I tossed you a vote—hey! you were nice!!!—but I gotta say, that page creeped me out. No, WIRED, no!!


    LOL… I don’t recall any vociferous “no”s at SXSW! I do recall telling people who e-mailed me before SXSW that they’d have to find me there, though. Pure Schwarzenegger/Buffett schedule move :)



  3. Dear Tim,

    Am a great fan of yours, check your blogs every day – and so voted for you as well. Best of Luck – I’m sure you’ll make it! :)

    2 questions –

    1) by any chance, have you written down your goals for the next 10 or 20 years?

    Looking at the amount you’ve already accomplished, I (and I’m sure many people) wonder how much you are going to accomplish in this life… its very inspiring!!

    2) Ever planning to come down to India?

    Warm regards
    Manan from India


  4. I’ve worked in an office and i’ve worked at home on the same task. I can certainly attest that working at home is more productive. Where it could take ofice workers 6-8 hours to complete a task, a home-worker could do it in 4 or less. In the office, people want to chat, people stop by looking for things, the phone keeps ringing, etc. etc.


  5. Tut tut Tim,

    You start this post by warning against people who say “just a few minutes of your time, please – this won’t take long.” and then finish it with “Take 10 seconds to help a brother out!”

    …its not compelling me to click that link! :-)


    LOL… nice catch. But, but… it’s just 10 seconds! Ha ha… If I had to sell you on voting, I’d just point out that you can end a website visit whenever you want, whereas a conversation you accept due to a “just a minute, please” request is often a black hole :)



  6. “Triggering the Grand Irrationality?”

    Cowering in an obscure corner of the food pyramid

    somewhere between the tofu and the unflavored yogurt

    contemplating the juxtaposition of intangibles for all you are worth…..



  7. Okay, I kinda feel like an idiot here, but I clicked on the link to vote for you and I can’t figure out how to vote! Happy to do it if someone can tell me how!


  8. Thanks for the quote. I have not thought about Heinlein in a while and I have some great memories of his work. I got hooked on Sci-fi as a teenager through his books. Here is a quote about writers.

    “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” -Robert A. Heinlein

    I bet Robert would have been one a hell of a blogger!


  9. Hey Tim-
    Voted for ya – hope it was on the right spot as there are 3 dancing photos of you. I just cast my vote where the most were.

    Also, what a kick to be in the runnings with Branson & Madonna – both of whom I’ve admired in my life. I know, it feels weird to say “admired” about Madonna – it’s just that she made her way pissing everybody off – as a kid, I thought that was “cool” – those teen feelings of wanting to get under people’s skins seemed justified by her success at nastiness. Likewise, Branson is a rebel too! All you hellraisers “get it” – Congrats, I’m sure that’s an honor for your lifetime.


  10. I think Lazarus is one of RAH’s most memorable character’s, having traveled through time to hit on his own mother. In the same vein of Heinlein quotes to live by:

    ‘A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.’

    -Robert A. Heinlein

    I’ve always considered those word a challenge to forever improve.



  11. I cast my vote also, looks like you have overtaken Jobs at this point. I couldn’t resist voting for Colbert, too. He is pretty far behind you and Jobs at this point, but if he calls out to the Colbert Nation on his show, you could both be in trouble …
    I couldn’t agree more with the post – having gone thru some pretty dramatic life changes over the past year, I have reshuffled my priorities and put a premium on my time. My prior life was completely dictated by my calendar and my inbox, and I am committed to not letting that happen again!



  12. Received a MoGo Mouse yesterday. Yippee! Thank you, Tim.

    I voted for Tim and Stephen Colbert, and yes – twittered about it for what it’s worth.

    As for duty, I try my best to set boundaries and expectations up front because I do not like the mess of dealing with renegotiating them later. Sometimes I know full well that the other party is creating an alternate reality, but as long as I’ve spoken my truth I have a clean conscience. There is no discerning duty without a clean conscience. Even so, witnessing grown up tears still sucks.

    I am unfamiliar with Robert Heinlein, but will check him out.

    Persian food rocks. Fessenjan, adas polo and barley soup are my favorites.


  13. Whoa. What goes around comes around.

    O.K. I get the point which is, I think, not to sacrifice important dreams and goals and to be mindful of one’s time. But I don’t think it hurts to lend an ear on occasion to someone seeking advise. My view is that MOST people aren’t “leeches” who are out to suck me dry.

    I would think most of us on the blog, including Tim, have said the exact words, or something very similar to, ““just a few minutes of your time, please – this won’t take long.”

    I agree it’s important to set limits and to be mindful of our time — I just don’t think we should think it is good, shall we say, to shut the door completely on other’s who might benefit from our giving a few minutes of our, albeit valuable, time.



  14. Tim, I just voted for you and it seems that you will win by far. I’ve also enjoyed the “Notebooks of Lazarus Long” although I don´t read much fiction (contrary to your advice, sorry!).

    Many blessings,

    Art Gonzalez