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How a library book and a “one-in-a-million accident” saved Tim Ferriss’s life

If you were writing an “About Me” section on yourself, what would you want it to say? Maybe being named to Fortune’s “40 under 40” list, a #1 bestselling author, a Top 20 Angel Investor, a speaker of 5 languages, a National Chinese kickboxing champion, or the “Greatest Self-Promoter”? Achieving just one of these feats would be quite impressive. Well, Tim Ferriss has achieved them all. Maybe you’ve never heard of Tim Ferriss, or maybe you’ve heard of his five #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, his business/interview podcast that was the first to exceed 100 million downloads, or his blog that was ranked #1 on the Top 150 Management and Leadership Blogs list. Whether the name Tim Ferriss is new to you or you’re his biggest fan, his journey from his troubled past battling with depression to his current fame and success is one that everyone should be familiar with.

Ferriss clearly has enough accolades for a few lifetimes over. However, the path to success wasn’t easy. Ferriss had a few of his closest friends commit suicide when he was younger and has struggled with depression dating back to his college days. During his senior year at Princeton, he realized he wasn’t going to finish his senior thesis in time to graduate. Around the same time, his longtime girlfriend broke up with him, accelerating his downward spiral. It was at this time that Ferriss decided he was going to commit suicide.

“By this point, I was past deciding [to commit suicide]. The decision was obvious to me… The decision was made, and I was in full-on planning mode.”

What happened next is a “one-in-a-million accident”. Ferriss had ordered a suicide book from the Princeton library, but he had forgotten to change the address on file. This meant that the postcard declaring his book was available for pickup went to his parents’ house instead of his. When his mother got the card, she immediately called her son. This conversation with his mother was enough to get Ferriss to “snap out of his own delusion” and ended up saving his life.

After coming so close to taking his own life, Ferriss took a few months off to regain his mental health, returned to Princeton, finished his thesis, and graduated. After graduation, he caught the startup bug of Silicon Valley and started his own business, BrainQUICKEN. Ferriss was doing what he loved (working with nutritional supplements), but no matter how hard he worked, his company seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere. Hitting a wall with his business, in addition to a friend dying and another relationship ending, he decided to take some time off and escape to London.

While in London, Ferriss spent time compiling lessons on productivity that he had learned from BrainQUICKEN; these lessons later became The 4-Hour Workweek. While trying to get his book published, he received countless rejections before finally landing a small book deal. As we now know, The 4-Hour Workweek was a massive hit, becoming a New York Times #1 bestseller and leading Ferriss to become Silicon Valley’s new “productivity guru”.

This is an inflection point in Ferriss’s journey. While many people would have been satisfied with the success of his book, he did not want to be a one-hit wonder. He took the momentum and capital he gained from his book and began investing in tech startups. He surrounded himself with Silicon Valley’s best and brightest, leading to even more opportunities. These opportunities included writing The 4-Hour Body, another #1 New York Times bestseller, and launching his own TV show called The Tim Ferriss Experiment. After these ventures, Ferriss wanted to take some time off and bide his time with a podcast. He never wanted it to be anything more than a side project he did for fun; however, the podcast became a little more than a side project. As previously stated, The Tim Ferriss Show became the first business/interview podcast to get over 100 million downloads, and today it has over 500 million. Tim spends his time interviewing the likes of LeBron James, Hugh Jackman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Brandon, and countless others.

A self-proclaimed specialist of pattern recognition and accelerated learning, Ferriss spends his day doing what he loves most: learning. Whether participating in experiments or interviewing the leaders of their respective fields, Ferriss has made a career learning from the best and passing those learnings onto others.

The point of this story is that Ferriss was at rock bottom, one accident away from taking his own life, but he turned his life around to become one of the most successful people in the world. The path is still bumpy, but he has learned habits and techniques to deal with his struggles. Tim Ferriss was a big motivating figure for me starting The Bundle, and I think we can all learn a little from him.

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