On the latest episode of The Thrive Global Podcast with iHeartRadio, Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington sat down with Tim Ferriss, productivity guru, entrepreneur, author of the new book Tribe of Mentors and host of the The Tim Ferriss Show podcast to talk about why he uses his platform to talk about mental health and why he asks the countless successful people he interviews about their hardships, not just their wins.
Ferriss, perhaps best known for his wisdom about how to be healthy, happy and productive, understands the necessity of speaking about difficult times, too. Ferriss has spoken about his struggles with mental health before, and told Huffington that his family has a predisposition for manic depression. Ferriss also wrote a blog post in 2015 called Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide, a piece he considers “the most important thing I’ve ever written, by far, not even a close second.” He told Huffington, “it was the scariest thing I’ve ever hit publish for. And I am so glad I did it.”
But he didn’t always talk about these subjects during public appearances. At his first time speaking on the main stage at TED (which happened just this past April), he gave an entirely new talk about his own “darkness and the suicidal thoughts,” having scrapped his original talk just a week before.
“The reason I scrapped” the original talk, Ferriss told Huffington, “is because it’s relatively easy to to find recipes for success and advice related to success, especially at a place like TED.” And Ferriss noted that “it would be kind of ridiculous for me to get up and lecture Jeff Bezos on how to be successful.” So instead he spoke about how he’s “learned to create different safety nets for avoiding self-destruction. Because without that, if for whatever reason you go off the rails, the recipes for success don’t matter very much.”
It was a fan who inspired Ferriss to start talking about his own experience with mental health in the first place. After one talk, a man came up to Ferriss to ask him to sign a book for his brother. The man “explained that his younger brother had been a huge fan of mine,” but had committed suicide. Ferriss told Huffington that the fan asked him, “Have you ever thought about talking about mental health or suicide? Because I think you could really help or maybe save some people with your platform.”
Ferriss told Huffington that he was speechless. “I had all the reasons in the world to talk about it, but I was worried about terrifying my family, frightening close friends, maybe losing friends, perhaps having business partners that who would then view me as unstable, so on and so forth.”
That’s part of the reason why Ferriss makes a point to ask the many successful people he interviews, including those he spoke to for books like Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors, about their struggles, not just their triumphs. “It’s so important to me to paint a real picture of these people,” he said, noting that magazine covers and features (not to mention social media) create portraits of people that often gloss over the fact that even the most “productive” or “acclaimed” people endure hardships. “Many people get the impression that all of these high achievers are just superheroes,” he told Huffington, creating the idea that these people “don’t have the insecurities, they don’t have the neuroses, they don’t have the dark moments, they don’t hit snooze 10 times on certain days when they don’t want to get out of bed, it never happens to them, and therefore, I, as the hypothetical reader, feel uniquely flawed.”
Ferriss has come to see tackling the topic of struggle and speaking about his personal experiences with it as essential. In that conversation with the fan, Ferriss told Huffington that he said to himself, ‘This is just too important, and I’m being too…’ Selfish isn’t the right word. Fearful. And even if all of those things happened, if I could save one other older brother or older sister, or mother, father, from losing someone like this guy’s younger brother, well, that’s an obligation. That’s not optional.”
To hear the full conversation, click here.