After interviewing 140 people at the top of their fields, Tim Ferriss has 2 key pieces of advice for 20-somethings starting a career


Tim Ferriss said that when you’re starting out in your career, you should focus on “learning instead of earning.”

  • “The 4-Hour Workweek” author and hit podcast host Tim Ferriss has made a career of collecting best practices from people at the tops of their fields.
  • For his new book “Tribe of Mentors,” bestselling author and star podcast host Tim Ferriss sent 11 questions to 140 people at the top of their fields.
  • He said most young people chase money at the expense of learning.
  • He also believes young professionals should focus on adopting skills that can work across industries.

When Tim Ferriss was an undergraduate at Princeton, he saw the majority of his classmates fiercely competing for high-paying consulting and finance jobs, regardless of their personal passions or backgrounds. He knew pretty quickly the path wasn’t for him.

After moving to Silicon Valley and starting his own company, Ferriss took a break from it all and embarked on a journey that resulted in his becoming a self-proclaimed “human guinea pig” who seeks out and learns from people at the top of their fields, from musicians to hedge fund managers, writers to chefs.

We recently spoke with Ferriss for Business Insider’s podcast “Success! How I Did It.” After asking him about his own career and what he learned writing his new book “Tribe of Mentors,” we asked him what he recommended for young professionals just beginning their careers. He had two tips.

1. Initially prioritize learning over money

Ferriss said that it’s worth fighting the urge to go for the job that will get you the biggest paycheck when you’re establishing yourself.

“If you optimize for money too early, you will be minimizing for learning, almost without exception,” he said.

“So look at the first few years out as an apprenticeship where you cover your costs,” he said. “And if you’re looking in business, I would say, be in the room as much as possible to observe the decision-makers and dealmakers.”

He said, for example, that if there were someone interested in technology startups and they had a choice between a 1,000-5,000 person team in a hot company and a fast-growing 30-person team in a field as unsexy as waste management — but with the opportunity to work alongside the leadership team — he’d recommend the garbage industry job without hesitation.

2. Learn transferable skills

He then explained that when undertaking this early career education, it’s worth focusing on the material that will help you when you are ready to start going after high-paying, respected jobs.

Ferriss said that if your job entails something niche like placing ads on Instagram, by all means learn how to do that well, “but spend equal time developing the higher level skills like negotiation, persuasion, copywriting.”

He explained: “These are skills that transfer to many, many other domains, which gives you a lot of flexibility and a lot of leverage.”