(CNN) — Tim Ferriss didn't always have the life skills to make everyone else jealous.
The guy who gained a huge international following by writing the "The 4-Hour Workweek" and other guides says his younger self's lack of experience once left him "destroyed."
To his aid came the experiences he gained during a school exchange trip to Japan.
And while the 38-year-old's multi-million dollar life-hacking empire has since enabled him to travel all over the planet, Ferriss credits that first major foray overseas as his key inspiration.
U.S.-born Ferriss, now one of the planet's leading angel investors in technology, found himself on the other side of the planet after signing up for Japanese lessons during his sophomore year at high school.
Alone and far from home, he forced himself to absorb an alien culture -- and learned to kick ass along the way.
"I was offered the chance to go to this sister school in Tokyo," he recalls. "I'd never really spent any time outside of the U.S. before then."
Ferriss describes the "huge shock" of living with a Japanese family and being the only American in a school of about 5,000 Japanese students.
But he adapted quickly.
"I read comic books under my desk in Japanese, with an electronic dictionary, and that's how I learned Japanese," he says.
"I developed those close friendships through judo," says Ferriss.
Courtesy Tim Ferriss
His other gateway into Japanese culture was more painful -- via martial arts.
"I developed these close friendships through judo," he recalls. "We went to the first judo tournament and I got destroyed.
"I was beaten in seven seconds in one match. By a guy who was much smaller than me.
"And then I realized that I needed to up my game."
The young Ferriss signed up for intensive judo lessons in his attempt to join "the best of the best."
"I remember the first day, I was so demoralized and so demolished and overheated and exhausted.
"I went back a second day, slowly but surely I got a little bit better, little bit better, little bit better, so I could hold my own."
And when it was time to try again at a second contest, Ferriss was ready.
"I steamrolled through everybody and won the tournament."
Ferriss went on to graduate from the Ivy League Princeton University in 2000 and later founded a nutritional supplements company.
Comfortable with uncomfortable
"There are many reasons that I love Japan," Ferriss adds.
Courtesy Tim Ferris
His experiences running that business are credited with inspiring him to write "The 4-Hour Work Week," the bestseller that led him to publish "The 4-Hour Body," "The 4-Hour Chef" as well as a highly influential blog.
Those in turn helped him become a successful investor in tech firms like Stumbledupon and Evernote, as well as an adviser to Uber.
Yet he says it's his trip to Japan that shaped his life above all else.
"What was so beautiful about the experience was I got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I've used that as a way to design my life."
He says the country appealed to his neatnik side.
"There are many reasons that I love Japan," he adds. "It's a clean, external manifestation of my own OCD.
"You go to a place like Tokyo, which is a big, crowded city, and it's clean and there's beautiful design all over the place.
"There's great food and traditions which have existed for thousands of years."
And after years of traveling across more than 40 countries, those impressions have stayed with him.
"If there was one trip that had an enormous impact -- across the board -- on every aspect of my life, it would be that first trip to Japan."