James D’Souza fills us in on his “geek” heroes and the impetus to learn, listen, and ultimately, to grow.
We all have heroes—more often than not they’re pretty standard. Watching Daley Thompson at the Olympics is etched in my brain. I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and was incredibly inspired.
But sometimes it’s time to re-evaluate.
Just because some men fly under the radar does not mean they’re not worthy of a mention. As I moved into my thirties (and now approaching my forties), three people stand out for me—partly because I could identify with them more readily, partly because of their credibility and notoriety, but also because they’re my contemporaries who inspire me to do more with myself.
They also make me feel better as self-defined, self-confessed, self-aware geek—because I think they’re geeks too. Risk taking is one thing—but to put yourself out there is another. Three of my heroes have done this: Neil Strauss, Ramit Sethi, and Tim Ferriss.
Neil Strauss is best known for his book The Game. He’s the guy who transformed himself from being hopeless with women to the world’s best Pick-Up Artist? I could identify; years of having little success with women and I had reached the point of living with my fiancée with a date set for our wedding. I bought and read the book, found it insightful and proceeded to tell my friends about it. I lent it to my wife-to-be, followed by my sister. They too thought it was hilarious. Soon I was having in-depth discussions with my (then single at the time) sister using the terminology in the book. Its appeal was that I identified with Neil’s journey from socially awkward, unattractive, intelligent-thinking writer to an attractive, self-aware, well-dressed man. His authentic prose is inspiring. It’s subconsciously informed my blogging and writing ever since.
Ramit Sethi is an entrepreneur, but he’s more than that. He’s a student of psychology and habit; someone who unpicks fears to address them. He deals in brutal truth and practical action. I am a middle-class, university-educated, Catholic-brought-up, British-Asian; it’s not very often that I saw people I could readily identify with on books. I saw Sethi’s book and though it looked like a scam: some barefoot Indian guy sitting cross-legged on the front cover? I Will Teach You To Be Rich it screamed. So I picked it up. I leafed through it. I made a note of the title and website (iwillteachyoutoberich.com) and dutifully went home and read more. His website material matched the book—and I continued to have the feeling that he was speaking directly to me. I bought one of his courses and used it to increase my earnings on the side as I continued to work as a teacher. An extra £2k per year from applying his material. Not bad! I continue to read his blog and use his ideas in my job as a teacher.
Finally, Tim Ferriss is a writer and entrepreneur. But he’s also someone who learns relentlessly by experimenting with ideas – mainly on himself. A very close friend recommended his book The Four-Hour Body. He explained the five rules of the slow-carb diet.
My cynicism was palpable in our conversation. At that point, I had been married for four years; we had both lost weight in the year after the wedding (I was embarrassed at my stag-do at not being able to touch my toes), but my weight started creeping up. I could not keep it off. More deeply, I did not experience myself as a man with physical presence, awareness or strength. So, after prevarication, I bought The Four-Hour Body. I read it, and used the ideas in the book. I’ve lost (and kept off) four inches from my waistline. I can do more press-ups at 39 years old than I could at 29. I’m in better shape as I approach my forties than I was in my twenties. From these results, I was ready to absorb all Ferriss’ material. I worked my way through (and still refer to) The Four-Hour Chef. I actually cook for my wife – and she likes my food! His podcast is a regular listen for me, and I’m looking to use the ideas in The Four-Hour Work Week to shift my career.
It’s the “Hero’s Journey” aspect of each of these men that inspires me the most: the process by which they were called to alter themselves, and the courage to share it. Reading about men who have the same (crude) concerns—women, money and my body—and think in the same geek-ish way makes their journey accessible. Strauss, Sethi, and Ferriss address each area respectively. More than that, they’ve continued to develop themselves – which is, perhaps, verging on greatness.
After reading their books, I started seeing references to their material everywhere. A bit like buying a new jacket and then noticing all the people that bought the same one. Even more intriguing, I noticed that they talked about each other in their podcast or videos. They actually know each other. This made me wonder even more about my heroes and how much things changed with the advent of the internet, social media, and the digital world. Did other generations have heroes who were their contemporaries? Did other generations have heroes who were (essentially) the geeks of their time who transformed themselves publicly?
Perhaps what makes a geek is being willing to learn, to listen, and ultimately, to grow.
And then, maybe, the geek shall inherit more than just the earth.
Photo: Caroline Frantz/Flickr