Tribe of Mentors is a 2017 book by Tim Ferriss.
The premise is pretty simple. Tim asks over one hundred experts (in the fields of business, sport, science and technology), the same questions. They can choose to answer some, or all of them. The end result is a book of short life advice from the best in the world.
There’s one question where I found the answers to be consistently more interesting than the others;
“When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?”
Whilst it’s unlikely that Tim is going to be asking me for advice any time soon, here’s what I do when I’m feeling either of those things. I go for an hour long walk on Hampstead Heath, and listen to two podcasts;
“It’s useful to begin with a blunt but unexpectedly liberating truth: that what you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much, and when it comes to how you’re using your ﬁnite time, the universe absolutely couldn't care less”
So whatever happens to be going on in my head, after time in nature listening to the distilled wisdom of some smart people, I always feel better.
At the beginning of last week I was on the heath, earphones in. I knew it was going to be an intense five days, and I wanted to get ahead. A pre-emptive therapy session if you like.
Thankfully what followed was great, from both a work and family perspective.
Some of the highlights included bumping into (and having a chat with) Simon Sinek, pitching for (and winning) a great new listing, two milestone family birthdays, and then during dinner on Friday night, a deal I’d been working on for two years finally materialised.
For maybe the first time since I started my business, I allowed myself a moment of real pride in how far I’d come. And a celebratory drink too.
After dinner had been cleared away and the kids were in bed, I went back to my desk to finish off a few things before the long weekend.
Just before turning off the computer, I logged into Instagram for a quick scroll. Because despite deleting the app from my phone a few years ago, I still need the odd hit of dopamine.
And It was at this point that life reminded me not to get too carried away.
I saw a post on Fred’s account, and something in the copy caught my eye. The post wasn’t written by him, it was written by his Mum. Letting people know that the day before, Fred had suddenly passed away.
I don’t know exactly when I met Fred. It might have been fifteen years ago, it might have been twenty.
I can’t remember how we met either. He was also an estate agent, and his office was around the corner from where I spent sixteen years of my professional career. Maybe I showed one of his properties, or maybe he showed one of mine.
We weren’t close friends. Not in the traditional sense anyway. We never shared a meal, or more than an hour in each other's company.
But despite all of that, what I can definitely tell you is that Fred was a special person.
He wore his heart on the outside and he didn’t hide his emotions. In fact instead he seemed to embrace them and use them as a strength.
But more than anything, the feeling that I really got from Fred was that he genuinely, authentically got pleasure from seeing others succeed. Not in a public or self serving way, but in private.
He would send me messages about the good things he’d noticed about my work. I’d reply politely, thanking him for his kind words, telling him that I hoped he was well and that we should meet for a coffee soon.
And then I’d return to my own life, my own family and friends.
The thing is, finding people who sincerely want the best for you is hard. And I wholeheartedly believe that Fred was one of those people.
But I never entirely leaned into that. And nor did I tell him how much I admired him. For his persistence, his vulnerability, and his infectious spirit and personality.
And now it’s too late, because Fred has gone. And it’s knocked me a little bit sideways.
Because he was so young. Because his parents are going through the unthinkable and mourning the loss of a child. Because of a sense of guilt that maybe I wasn’t as kind and generous to him as he was to me. Maybe I was focused on other things.
And now I find myself wondering what these things I’m so busy focusing on really mean. Some of them are important for sure. Like having breakfast with my children most mornings, and dinner with them most nights. And doing work I can be proud of.
But can I also have the humility to accept that at least a few of the things I’m focused on might just be bullshit? Things that I’ve been algorithmically persuaded to care about?
This isn’t a call for nihilism. Just both a recognition and a reminder that for me, the important parts are also the easily dismissible, smaller moments. How I think about, and take pleasure from unassuming, daily things.
Which brings me back to that chapter in Oliver’s book. Cosmic Insignificance Therapy.
“Cosmic insignificance therapy is an invitation to face the truth about your irrelevance in the grand scheme of things. Truly doing justice to the astonishing gift of a few thousand weeks isn’t a matter of resolving to “do something remarkable” with them.
In fact, it entails precisely the opposite: refusing to hold them to an abstract and over demanding standard of remarkableness, against which they can only ever be found wanting, and taking them instead on their own terms.
Dropping back down from godlike fantasies of cosmic significance into the experience of life as it concretely, finitely, and often enough, marvellously, really is”
Somewhat stupidly, I might have only just realised that four thousand weeks isn’t a given. We’re lucky if we get that.
Fred’s passing has brought me lucidly back to what really matters, and my own mortality is somehow much more obvious than it was.
Because I can guarantee that at the end, when we’re all praying for a few more moments on this earth, that almost no one will regret spending too little time in the office. Or worry that a social post didn’t get the number of ‘likes’ we were hoping for.
But what you might regret is not taking the opportunity to tell someone who you genuinely admired, how much you thought of them.
Dedicated to Fred Zoromba. May his memory be a blessing.