I loved reading Tribe of Mentors. The whole time, I felt like a fly bouncing between walls, witnessing excellence. For the book, Tim Ferriss got more than 100 experts in a variety of fields to answer the same 11 well-crafted, thought-provoking questions.
Reading the responses, I got to know some of my heroes—Naval Ravikant, Gary Vaynerchuk, Ray Dalio, David Lynch— in a much more nuanced way.
And I believe there is a clear reason for why the book works so well.
Not all questions are created equal. Some are deep, some are shallow. Some produce scripted responses, some are impossible to answer, and then there are these questions: unique yet specific, quirky yet accessible.
Over the holidays, I got to ask some of my family members a few of them, and it was a lot of fun having them come up with their own answers. It was my own eagerness to offer answers (which I could barely contain) that made me realize that I should write them down and share them.
Disclaimer: I am not a "mentor", nor do I consider myself to be of the same calibre as the legendary icons interviewed in the book. That won't stop me—and you(?)— from having fun answering them!
Q#1: What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Atomic Habits by James Clear. I have gifted this book to multiple family members and friends. It is worth its weight in gold. It has changed my life radically by helping me develop tools for improving at anything and authoring my identity in a way that supports my deepest ambitions.
Before I read the book, I was a wandering mess. After reading it, I became a more focused writer, musician, and athlete.
Q#2: What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.
A Moleskine ruled journal, and a Mala prayer bead bracelet from the Taipei City Mall. The Moleskine got me into the practice of daily journaling, which has fundamentally changed the way I interface with the world. Putting on the Mala bracelet signals my transformation into a confident, decisive writer.
Q#3: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I taught for one term in a remote First Nations community in BC, Canada, and then resigned. I learned so much in that time about my purpose and direction in life. The way that I interact with people has changed drastically from living there.
It was an experience that taught me to smile and wave at everyone. I vanquished a lot of fear, and built up a lot of courage that will serve me well, wherever I go. I also learned that my environment is a direct contributor to my successes and failures, and I can do a lot to control and shape it.
Q#4: If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)
"Live all you can; it's a mistake not to." - Henry James
Death is a work-in-progress.
So many people—myself included—end up living, for a while at least, a pale shadow of a life; it could be for weeks, months, or years at a time. We accept our lot, and our courage and zest for living shrivels up like a month-old flower. If this quote was on a giant billboard and woke one person up who was sleepwalking through life and instilled in them a sense of urgency, then it would all be worth it.
Q#5: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
An Alesis Recital digital keyboard. It helped me realize that I can learn nearly anything—even if I am a total beginner—with hard work, deliberate practice and tons of patience.
Q#6: What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Word savouring. When I read an elegantly, or even verbosely, written phrase or paragraph, I will often pause, go back and read the word (or words) that ignited my logophilia. I will read them out loud, slowly, and lean into each crisp syllable.
They can be familiar or unfamiliar words, as long as they are exotic, mesmerizing, and charged with mellifluous (there's one) sounds or provocative meanings.
I will also see how many such words I can collect and recollect from a night's worth of reading (last night: stonewalling, bravura, incredulity).
Doctors were perplexed at first, but most of them have agreed that I am fine.
Q#7: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I started valuing the simple act of showing up. Related to this is an injunction I picked up from James Clear: Never miss twice. Making sure to show up for the things I care about and not break stride has made me more consistent than ever before, and I've developed skills more rapidly that I ever thought possible. I wrote a poem every day for a year, worked out almost every day for a year and have gone from not knowing how to play the piano to being able to play a variety of songs.
Never underestimate the power of showing up.
Q#8: What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
Don't chase money for its own sake; down that path lies chronic dissatisfaction. Find something that you would feel okay working at forever, and find a mission, a cause, that you feel is worth working for. There are lots of problems in the world: pick one or two and work vigorously to solve (or mitigate) them. Always remember: other people matter.
Ignore any advice that is untested, or that comes from stodgy, unhappy people.
Q#9: What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
"Student X is unable to perform at Y level because of learning differences, challenges, or behavioural matters." This is pure fixed-mindset thinking. Believing in every student's vast potential for improvement and acting in accordance with that belief is what shows students that they can learn (nearly) anything.
Q#10: In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
I'm still very bad at saying no, but I think I've gotten a bit better. Time is one of my most precious resources, and I try to do everything I can to protect it. Recently, I have felt comfortable saying no to requests for unproductive hang-out time with friends, and have clearly defined boundaries for solitary time.
The problem is, every time I change environments, I backtrack and become hyper-agreeable again. This area of my life is a work in progress.
Q#11: When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
I take a few deep, slow breaths through my nose and ask myself: "what can I learn from this?" and "how can I use this experience to develop my patience muscle?"
I might also repeat the sentence: "if patience were easy, it wouldn't be a virtue."
If none of that works, I pace or stretch or do something physical.
If that doesn't work, crying hysterically is always an option!