Feeling Stuck? Read This…


Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Barcelona (Photo: Marcel Germain)

Big successes often seem like foregone conclusions.

In reality, most entrepreneurs (read: creators) who appear to have unique genius suffer through the same frustration as the masses of unknowns. They simply test and persist a few steps further.

Richard Branson will tell you this of his Virgin empire.
Tony Hsieh of Zappo’s shares similar stories.
Steve Martin can prove that it applies to anything creative, not just business.

Below is a piece of paper from 2005 I recently unearthed while purging books and folders from my house.

It reflects a complete failure–protracted over weeks–to find a good title for what later became The 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW). Most of the ideas are horrible beyond belief, and it wasn’t until I tested a few variations using Google AdWords that we decided on “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which I still disliked on multiple levels.

Here are two pages of frustrated attempts, two pages of dozens (click to enlarge, then click again)…

Let me know which title is your favorite ridiculous option. “This Sucks,” perhaps?

But, moving on, what of 4HWW writing itself?

I’m pleased to report that the writing flowed like a crystal clear stream. Perhaps a torrent of genius. Sometimes–how should I put this–I amazed even myself.

Oh, wait a second, I lapsed into fiction. Back to reality: the writing, for the most part, made me want to Hemingway myself. On good days, I’d settle for the impulse to slam my own head in a car door.

I tossed the first four chapters I wrote and almost gave up on multiple occasions. Futility was the brain soup du jour. Draft, doubt self, panic, hate self, throw out draft–rinse and repeat.

To give you an idea of how many rewrites it took to get right, here are two early draft pages of a sample chapter. Far from the worst I produced, but still far from polished (click to enlarge, then click again):

It changed only when I started viewing each chapter as a magazine article: strong enough to be a stand-alone piece, including a clear opening or “lede”, a clear middle with case studies, and a punctuated end with lessons learned.

From that mindset, a few trial runs, I developed a chapter template that involved starting with a dialogue or anecdote (even if it was scrapped later) and moving through the above steps to a resource-rich “Tools and Tricks.” I needed a repeatable process. To sit down to “write a book” was just too overwhelming, even with a table of contents as a blueprint.

If you plan on any creative undertaking, whether business, writing, or art, I strongly recommend the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. If you spend a lot of time working alone and get trapped in your head, it’s required reading.

It saved my sanity and has done the same for several friends who’ve gone from “I want to quit” to New York Times bestsellers.

In Conclusion

Most miraculous successes are nothing of the sort.

Those on front lines, the people who seem to jump into the limelight from nowhere, experience the same plodding frustration and trial-and-error as the rest of the world.

They differ in that they don’t expect luck to help them, nor good fortune to save them. As James Cameron would say: “Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.”

Sporting my game shirt a few weeks before the launch of The 4-Hour Body. The book itself is a “looks like” mock-up with blank pages.

James might also tell you that the best creators are like ducks. They appear to glide along serenely on the surface. Beneath the surface, however, they’re kicking like a motherf*cker.

Keep calm and carry on.


Odds and Ends: NYC Launch Party Highlights!

The following video was shot and edited by the incredibly talented Michael Gebben.

The NYC launch event was an all-around huge success. Sadly, NYC weather decided to serve the coldest day of the entire season, and an unexpected mandatory coat check (due to fire hazard potential) backed up the line and left more than a few people freezing for far too long. This led some people to abandon ship, including many of my closest friends and family. I did my best to take notes, learn from it, and make amends.

For positives, the event helped raise almost $10,000 for DonorsChoose.org, it was a total blast, and I’m planning a summer party in NYC with a slightly smaller crowd.

I hope you enjoy the video:

Tim Ferriss 4-Hour Body Launch Par-tay New York City! from GEBBS on Vimeo.

And for those wondering, the song in the video is “I Want It All” by Copperview.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Maggie J. for all the fantastic pictures she took at the party. You can see all 937 photos she took here.

Posted on: January 31, 2011.

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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380 comments on “Feeling Stuck? Read This…

    • Hi Zack,

      Good question. James actually gave it to me (and a group) when we all did a Zero-G flight together. Anyone else have ideas? I search for “Avatar t-shirts” as it has AVTR on the sleeve, but it might have been a staff shirt.

      It is a sweet shirt, agreed.



      • We could get a whole bunch of these AVTR T-Shirts printed ourselves here in China … but then I guess for someone who goes on Zero-G flights budget is not problem, quality is … ;-)


      • Don’t know where to get the shirts, but while I was listening to a certain webinar today, I was also noodling with some typefaces (squarish) for a logo design. One typeface contender amid the noodlees is the same as on the shirt: Bank Gothic.

        You’re welcome!


      • I bought your new 4 hour body book and you mention cellulite as being no big deal but more of a marketing thing….but you dont really say anything else about it..so how do you get rid of it? thats my question…plus your breakfast video was funny, anyhow write back when you can


      • Lisa,
        He does not talk about it anymore because, as he explained, it is nothing more than just fat. Fat appears differently on particular parts of the body, and around the thighs, it looks like what people have started calling “cellulite”.
        Lose fat, gain muscle, and the “cellulite” will go away.


      • Hi Tim,

        You’ve earned my respect in a huge way (not that you had to earn a lick of it!) and I’d like and am curious about your ideas on who I should go to in the VC world for a green energy idea. This isn’t groundbreaking but it’s pretty cool and mother nature would approve. If you had 5 names that you felt good about and that operated in the environmental space, I would be a happy camper. Thanks! – David

        PS This is obviously not related to the post


      • Darn! I was also interested in that sweet shirt! There’s a youtube content creator called destorm who is selling some awesome shirts with “Success is the sweetest revenge” that I also want. : D


    • Agreed – love the shirt.
      I’m a 16-year-old owner of an apparel company, and would be glad to print up some high (the best) quality Ts like the one shown, if we can get a fair-sized order together.

      Feel free to contact me through my site if interested. TY


      P.S. Loved the post, Tim.


    • Love your books, I’m doing The slow-carb diet now, with a exercise 4 times a week. I’m struggling to ceep up with the calorie intake. but it looks that I will manage after doing some twicks to my meals. And your breakfost, I have hacked that to just take under 6min with coffe. I’ll post something on youtube, when I get the time. Down 5 kg since I started 2. jan. 2011.

      I have some questions about the bread. Here in Norway it is not so easy to follow your method, almost all meals are based on bread, but we have some different breads that are completely different than what you have in the U.S. Whole grian in the US is liek a bad joke her in Norway. When I have reached my goals. I will do some experimenting with different varieties to see their effects over time. I will give you the report when I’m done with it. Probably sometime this summer.

      Can you make a hackfor cycling ? It’s my favorite sport so it would have been fun to see you take a try on it =)

      Best regards from Norway!


      • Hey,

        Seeing as to how you’ve read the book would you mind answering my question (if possible)?

        When Tim discusses the ice age technique he mentions that in order to activate “fat burning bacteria” it is best to use ice packs around the trapezius area and the back of our neck.

        If I’m looking to loose weight on my legs should I put ice packs on my legs or just try out the cold bath?

        My confusion arose after watching the Doctor Oz show that Tim aired on. Oz, said that fat does more work when cold. By that logic freezing my legs with ice packs would be better than putting it around my neck area per se, right? Better as in help me lose more fat on my legs?

        Anyone want to answer PLZ!!

        I’m a 17 year old male so take it easy on me! :-P


  1. thank you. best part for me was: “It saved my sanity and has done the same for several friends who’ve gone from “I want to quit” to New York Times bestsellers.”


  2. I often get the same way with trying to map out ideas for coding projects. I can often begin with a base, but it’s coming up with the stand-alone features that make it work that gets to me. When it finally hits though, coding it isn’t even a problem anymore. It’s hashing it out that is the hardest part at times.


  3. I think Ungodly Riches is probably the worst on the list. I like the 40 Years In A Cubicle Tastes Like Chicken title too. But none of them has the same pop as Four Hour Work Week. For example: I bought the first edition of the book and was about 6-7 pages in when I lost it in a bar after celebrating a upcoming birthdays with “shots!”. I had to go buy another copy of the book later that same week, and I don’t think I would have done that for the “Oracle in the Oasis.”


      • “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

        ~Calvin Coolidge

        You could replace the first line with:

        “Nothing in the world can take the place of Hustling…”


  4. Been turned on recently by the thought of traditional, mainstream ideas of “talent” and “genius” are more results of a process, rather than an inherent character trait — i.e. you either have it or you don’t.

    Had a conversation with a friend about why some of us growing up seemed to be better at skateboarding than others. “He was just talented. I skated way more than he did and I still sucked.”

    Sure, “talent” can be genetically predisposed — but how does that help YOU get to where you want to be?

    Seeing how much experimentation, dedication, trial and error is a factor of Tim’s success helps me believe I can get to where I want to be, whether I am genetically predisposed or not.


  5. One thing that I learned is that it takes a lot of refinement to make something good. It’s impossible to get something right the first time, especially in crafts like writing.


  6. Good post and very true: I probably started my novel about 15-16 times, getting anywhere from 5-40 pages in before realizing it was crap, then throwing the whole thing out. Then I finally got a good first page done and…well, the feeling of finally having something worth keeping was amazing. Almost as good as seeing my book in print. And it wasn’t smooth sailing from then on, but it sure got a helluva lot easier once I had written all the detritus out of my system.


  7. For the record, I would totally buy a book called “Billionaire Beer Goggles.”

    Although as the SEO folks will tell you, people naturally click links where the first word is a number. So maybe it should be called “4 Billionaire Beer Goggles.”


  8. Great post. I actually just picked up Bird by Bird. Looking forward to bring my writing to the next level on my blog and one day having a book that changes lives as well.

    Thanks for the byte of inspiration. :)


  9. This was an interesting article. I often feel like this. I question myself constantly. I want to give up, but I know that it takes persistence. It takes more to continue than to just stop altogether. It becomes increasingly difficult when your friends abort you and you become self-loathing. Thus is the nature of creativity. I have learned through my arduous struggles that all you can do is to move forward. we have no way of knowing what lays ahead for us in the future. All we can do is use the information at hand to make the best decision possible.
    Jeremy Darko


  10. Favorite bad title: The Virtue of Blowing it Off.
    I had several *not family friendly* versions of that occur to me as soon as I read it.
    Glad my near paralysis and internal raving are ‘normal’.