Having a mentor has always been something I’ve been searching for, whether consciously or otherwise. My original mentor was my father. When you are lucky enough to have a parental figure that you look up to in your life, you can consider yourself blessed, and it’s doubly beneficial if they are the sort of person to take a powerfully vested interest in your development. Often this can be deemed a given, but I know that it is not always the case. My mum is a pretty damn inspiring character too!
But people that I consider mentors have stumbled into my life via any number of avenues. Certain people have become mentors in certain select elements of life, some more wide-reaching than others. They guide you, advise you, steer your thoughts and expand your sphere in ways you may never have expected or foreseen. And you rarely realise in-the-moment quite how beneficial that is for you.
So the question of the day is, can you really derive mentorship from a book?
For a large proportion of my childhood, the answer to that has been yes. Reading lets you into the mind of another, and allows you to use their experiences for the betterment of your own being. The written word, in a format that can be packed up and ported around, is a timeless gift and an empowering one at that.
Tim Ferriss’ latest offering is the aptly-named “Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World“, a book more directly attuned to the purpose of mentorship than many. Following on from the vein of his previous book “Tools of Titans“, it documents a list of questions sent out to a number of his network and their responses – and contained in these responses is a great quantity of wisdom.
The questions are eleven in number, and they cover a wide range of subjects. Some of the questions are repeated from Tools of Titans (What book have you most given as a gift? What purchase of $100 or less in the past six months has been most useful? etc. etc.) but there are some new additions worth specific note. I won’t list them all here, for fear of giving too much of the game away, but enough to give a flavour:
- How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?
- If you could have a giant billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
- What advice would you give to a smart, driven college kid about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
- What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
- When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
Powerful questions, I’m sure you’ll agree. But is this really mentorship? Has this book justified its title?
As suggested above, I would argue yes – all books can be considered mentorship, even if they are purely answering the question of what not to do (a la “What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars“!!) The answers confer more than at first glance.
The question about failure is particularly potent also. It allows reframing of any of the countless setbacks one may face in their lifetime. It is difficult not to feel disheartened when wrapped up in one’s own world, but when told by a mentor categorically that the failure in question is likely to be the thing you will be most grateful for when you eventually reach your success? It’s an awfully calming thing to be told. You will never be able to see your future, but you can at least acknowledge that it will be YOURS. And ten years from now, when you look back on this setback, you may be more thankful for it than you can even comprehend in the present moment.
When you look at the $100 or less question, the simplicity of some of the answers may astound. A great deal of the answers specifically reference sleep or recovery aids. Headphones, stand-up paddleboard leashes and Audible subscriptions all feature, but my personal favourite recommendation came from Ben Stiller – a specific brand of backpack suitable to his working needs, holding his laptop and plenty of convenience for travelling use. I use a backpack almost daily, though mine was kindly supplied by HM Forces courtesy of the Royal Navy (though this may be due an upgrade soon.) It evidences that spending money on expensive luxuries such as cars and yachts is not what brings the real joy to one’s life, as proven by the status of the cast of people answering Tim’s questions. Rather it’s the small things that we use regularly which matter the most.
Finally, I’ll delve into the topics of overwhelm and lack of focus. As I’m sure you can predict, a large proportion of the interviewees mention a meditative practice or the use of exercise, but one of my favourite answers was from Sam Harris:
Tim: When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
Sam: Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I complain to my wife about it. After listening patiently for about 30 seconds, she generally tells me to STFU. Then I meditate or work out.”
This book will be a calming influence on your bedside table, a reminder that all your idols are indeed neurotic and human just as you are. And to close, I’ll include the thoughts of Anníe Mist Þórisdóttir to the above question (Annie Thorisdottir, the 2011 and 2012 Crossfit Games Champion and subsequent Fittest Woman on Earth);
I try to stay centred, focus on myself, and remember why I do this in the first place. My favourite quote is “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become, and the hours of practice, ad the coaches who have pushed you, is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… Play for her”