The Ferriss Questionnaire

I borrowed this questionnaire from Mr. Leyre says that this questionnaire represents a set of standard interview questions used by American angel investor, entrepreneur and business podcaster Tim Ferriss. I have no reason to doubt him, even though I was unfamiliar with Ferriss before today. I like the questions, though, and thought I’d make an honest effort to answer them.

You’ll find out some things about me that you may not already know. Perhaps I will, too.

When you think of the word successful, who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?

This sort of question seems to require much careful thought and consideration. Therefore, I’m going with my immediate, gut-level response.

Kevin Smith

“Not so Silent” Bob

Yes, I know he’s written and directed some crappy movies. I’m not going to single these out. He’s written and directed some pretty good movies as well. Personally, I count Clerks, Chasing Amy, Jersey Girl, Clerks II, Dogma, and Red State as shining examples of the good. Mallrats is also one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t think it is a “good” movie, but I enjoy watching it, if that makes any sense to you. I may be a masochist, but I’m looking forward to watching Clerks III as well.

The reason I think of Kevin Smith first when I think of the word “successful” is the story of how he got his first movie made and eventually sold reads like a Horatio Alger tale. Smith maxed out his credit cards and shot his movie, in black-and-white because the film was cheaper, in the convenience store he once worked at. The movie is driven almost entirely by dialogue and is filled with the type of pop culture references engineered to appeal to a Gen-X’er like me.

Smith parlayed his glorification of the slacker caste into a decades-spanning career. He’s been able to continue making movies while building a podcast and public-speaking empire, spending time talking about the things he loves, like comic books (especially Batman), Star Wars and weed. I’m not measuring success by net worth (although Smith is doing okay by that score as well). Instead, to me, success is defined as supporting your wants and needs while doing the thing that you love to do. I think he’s nailed it.

He also survived a “widowmaker” heart attack he had while on-stage. He claims his doctor credited his weed smoking for helping to keep him calm enough to survive it.

What is something you believe that other people think is insane?

Saying that I believe in God, which some people think is insane, seems somehow trite and “safe.” Let me hit you with some seriously batshit crazy things I believe but cannot support with anything remotely like evidence.

I believe that everything that has ever happened or that ever will happen is all happening at the same time. This doesn’t negate Free Will and doesn’t mean I believe in predestination. Not exactly. The reason why we can’t “remember” the future is because we exist as a single infinitesimal point in the timeline, and it’s difficult to see a pattern when you live inside of one.

I also believe that if you were able to travel to the most distant point in the universe, you would find yourself back where you started, like emerging from the opposite side of the screen in the video game Asteroids. It’s all about curves, baby. Straight lines are an illusion.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift?

I gave both of my brothers copies of Neil Gaiman’s wonderful novel American Gods as gifts. I also once gave a friend in Virginia, who would re-read The Lord of the Rings every year or so (he was a big fan), a complete set of Stephen R. Donaldson’s original Thomas Covenant trilogy from the late 1970s so that he could experience some of the fantasy influenced by Tolkien. But the book I’ve given most as a gift is Maurice Sendak’s 1963 picture book Where the Wild Things Are. It has become my favorite baby shower gift choice, and people keep making babies.

What is your favorite documentary or movie?

I’ve watched a lot of documentaries and movies. Let me just put that out there up front. Plus, I really hate to name a favorite because I feel like I’m somehow slighting all of the rest of my potential choices.

Just to bolster my wishy-washy reputation, I’m going to add that Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Shawshank Redemption were all in the running for this dubious honor. All three are darned near perfect in story construction and execution. But my clear choice is, unsurprisingly, Star Wars: A New Hope (which was simply Star Wars when I saw it the first time in 1977).

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last 6 months?

About six months ago, I purchased a new pair of black New Balance uniform shoes to wear at the window counter of the post office where I work as a clerk. They were just shy of $100 as I recall. Take care of your feet, kids.

What are your morning rituals? What do the first 60 minutes of your day look like?

Five days a week, I wake up at 6 a.m., shower, shave, perform any other necessaries before dressing in my work clothes.

Then I load myself with my work supplies. I clip a couple of ink pens to my uniform shirt—pens with black ink because that’s what the U.S. Department of State requires for passport applications. I put a clean handkerchief and some foil-wrapped eyeglass cleaning cloths in my left rear pocket. Two Sharpies and a slim, razor blade style boxcutter in my right rear pocket. My wallet and keys go in my right front pocket, and my cell phone in my left front pocket.

I pull my pillminder from the kitchen cabinet and take my morning pills for the day, then pull out Sharon’s ‘minder as well, moving her morning pills to a shiny metal ramekin dedicated to that purpose.

I start my first cup of coffee as I’m packing my lunch. Lunch is never elaborate, usually fruit and maybe a pack of cheese-and-peanut-butter crackers, sometimes nuts or yogurt. I check to see if my wife is awake, and if she is I’ll make her a cup of coffee as well. Then I go to the living room or our home office to watch an episode of the television series I have on my list for the week. By the time the episode is finished, it’s past 7 a.m. I’ve probably freshened my coffee at least once during this time as well.

If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, I’m probably awake before 6 a.m. Even without setting an alarm. I don’t shower, shave or dress first thing, except maybe in shorts and a t-shirt, and I don’t pack a lunch, but the rest of sequence above is pretty much the same.

What obsessions do you explore on the evenings or weekends?

I’m a writer. So mostly I write.

I also watch television episodes or movies or read. Or play video games on my PS4. I fancy myself a story scientist. I absolutely love deconstructing a television episode, movie or book to figure out how the story was built and how certain effects were achieved.

What topic would you speak about if you were asked to give a TED talk on something outside of your main area of expertise?

If Mr. Ferriss were asking me these questions on his podcast, my answers would probably be closer to monosyllabic, perhaps just grunts or raspberries. But when I seriously think about this question over what would be way too much dead air on a podcast, I think I have an answer.

The bulk of my adult career has been in retailing management. The topic of my TED talk would have to be about managing from the middle. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I have a lot of life experience to pull from. Successes as well as failures. Plus, I’d like to think I know a little something about being a leader and building a team.

Do you have a quote you live your life by, or think of often?

I stole it from my brother-in-law about twenty years ago, I think. Before he retired, my brother-in-law sold used mobile homes. His favorite response to “How are you today?” was always “Every day is a good day.” It sounded better than mine, which might have been “Same ol’, same ol’” or “Whatever you survive makes you stronger.” I decided then that “Every day is a good day” sounds much more positive.

If you spend any time thinking about the phrase, it’s obvious that it is a Zen koan as well. Every day isn’t really a good day, is it? So, how is a “bad” day a good day, since every day is supposed to be “good.” This is good fodder for meditation.

So, that’s my catchphrase these days. “Every day is a good day.”

Sometimes, I get a customer who will finish it with “…when you wake up on this side of the dirt.” Apparently, that’s the entire quote according to regional tradition. Not the way I first heard it, but I can’t disagree with the sentiment.

What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in your world?

“Don’t worry about things you can’t change.”

That’s a lot of what’s wrong with the world at the moment. We are all agents of change, and we should all be willing to at least speak up and be heard when it seems like someone should take action. Things won’t change if you don’t worry about them.

Favorite failure?

When I was still working for Target, I took a year-long sabbatical to begin working on my master’s in history. I use the word “sabbatical” when I really mean “quit my job.” I was accepted into the master’s program in history at the University of Memphis, where I and my future wife were living at the time. (Memphis, not the university.) I began working on my postgraduate degree (many many years after my BS), but then my fiancée was transferred back to Arkansas. I moved with her, of course, but never enrolled in another college even though there are three in the town we live in.

My original thought was that I would go on to teach history and perhaps continue on to get my doctorate. Then I realized I didn’t want to do that. This is my favorite failure because, if I hadn’t tried it, I never would have known it was possible. Now that I have, I realize I never want to go back to school again. After moving back to Arkansas, I returned to work for Target for an additional eleven years, ending my retailing management career with them.

What is something weird or unsettling that happens to you?

This may sound like a little problem to you, but it’s something that bothers me a great deal. I’m frustrated when my brain can no longer retrieve information as quickly as I want it to. I’m getting older. I’m sure arteries are hardening and the blood flow to my brain isn’t what it once was. I’ll try to think of the name of an actor or movie or book, and nothing seems to be forthcoming.

In times like these, I think back to my college days, when I was learning database programming. In those days it was all about sets and subsets, and the intersection of circles on Venn diagrams. I find that if I alter my memory-retrieval process at times, I can access the information I’m wanting. Memories are easier to access when you can associate them with other things.

For example: perhaps I can’t come up with the name of the actor who played the lead role in the Hitchcock movie Rope. But I know he was also in Rear Window, and It’s a Wonderful Life, and Rich Little used to do an impression of him . . . And then the name Jimmy Stewart pops into my head because I took a different path to get there.

I don’t believe I’ve ever actually forgotten Jimmy Stewart’s name, but you get the gist of my process.

What have you changed your mind about?

Legalizing marijuana. And that’s all I have to say about that.


3 thoughts on “The Ferriss Questionnaire

  1. I love posts like these because I think it does help get to know the writer just a bit more. I have great difficulty as well coming up with any “Favorite Movie” designations. That being said, it is hard to find fault with those you have mentioned. Your answer to the “insane” question is really, really interesting. I don’t know how I would answer just yet, but I will definitely be thinking about that question for awhile. 🤔

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a delightfully informative post! I’m not going to drone on giving my answers to these — when you look up “nobody” in the dictionary, you find my picture — but I will answer one, “Do You Have a Quote You Live Your Life By?” This was purportedly from a Great Klingon Admiral, but it never appeared in any of the shows. It was instead presented as a half-inch of column-filler in the rules to a ST boardgame from around 1980, and it reads, “Never fight a battle you don’t have to win.” One of the most profound statements I’ve ever encountered, and in the forty years since I first read it, it has saved me more hassles than all other concepts combined. There’s a lot of wisdom to be found in Trek if you just keep your eyes open…

    Liked by 1 person

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