Mastery in Tension: a Q&A with Tim Ferriss

As a big fan of Tim Ferriss’ podcast,  I was thrilled to meet Tim himself at a recent mentorship event I attended in Denver.  Truth be told, we only spoke for a few minutes (about the Mayweather v. McGregor fight), so the main event, for me, was a chance to attend an intimate Q&A with him.

As he fielded questions ranging from his thoughts on cryptocurrency to his favorite movie, I noticed an interesting tension in his responses.

On one hand, he pushes people to play to those areas in which they are both naturally gifted and strong.  These are some of the questions he encouraged us to ask:

  • What would this [activity, project, task] look like if it were easy?
  • Am I applying hard work to the right things?
  • What’s easy for me that is hard for other people?
  • Am I playing the right game?
  • Where do I have an unfair advantage?

On the other hand, he pushes people to work harder than they ever have.  Here are a few things he advised us to do and not do:

  • In marketing, do whatever is most unexpected that you can afford.  Don’t stick to the script.
  • Pick a project that truly energizes you, because “great” requires a level of energy and focus that will be uncommon.
  • Don’t try to out-Buzzfeed Buzzfeed.  The only uncrowded market is “great.”
  • Don’t stop at 95%.  Like a marathon, the last 5% is the key to “great.”  And, like a marathon, this last 5% will require everything you’ve got.
  • To leap [in your business, industry, performance] you have to completely change the way you think.

When thinking about the tension in those two groups of bullet points, I can easily trace a throughline back to performance coaching, of which Ferriss is surely familiar.  If you want to achieve uncommon mastery, you have to work very, very hard on those particular habits and skills that will help you to succeed.  Sometimes you have to work hard at what’s easy, building upon initial strength or ability.  Sometimes you have to work hard at what’s hard.  Both approaches require commitment and discipline that begin with clear thinking.  Am I working on the right things, at the right time, in the right order?  Or is there another way entirely?

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