Study Hacks Blog Posts from July, 2009 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Does Living a Remarkable Life Require Courage or Effort?

July 22nd, 2009 · 76 comments

A Non-Conformist ManifestoJamie & Cal in California

My friend Chris Guillebeau runs the fascinating and extremely popular blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. What I like about his site is that: (a) Chris is a good writer; and (b) he actually does interesting things, and then reports back about them.

On his FAQ page, Chris notes the following about the philosophy motivating the site:

  • “My target market consists of people who want to live unconventional, remarkable lives.”
  • “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.”
  • “From time to time, people will try to stop you from pursuing your goals. You can safely ignore them.”
  • “We’re waging war on the status quo, mediocrity, and the passive act of sleepwalking through life.”

These same ideas, of course, show up again and again in the growing number of popular blogs and books that tackle the topic of building a remarkable life. At their core, they all express the following belief: the key to living a remarkable life is mustering the courage to step off the “safe path.”

In this post, by contrast, I argue that having the courage to ignore the status quo is of minimal importance for achieving this goal. The most important factor, instead, is becoming so good at something that society rewards you with a remarkable life.

(I should mention, before continuing, that Chris and I are in agreement about this philosophy — c.f., this recent post from his blog — I’m using the above quotes only to typify the standard thinking about the topic.)

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Should Your Major Be Your Passion?

July 14th, 2009 · 32 comments

Passion PlaysGrand Project

I’m proud to announce that as of this afternoon, I’m officially caught up with the reader e-mail I received during my recent vacation. While working through the final batch of these messages today, I came across a student, from the University of Melbourne, who mentioned the following in the middle of a longer question:

Yes, this particular major isn’t my passion. However, my studies are funded by my disciplinarian father who insists…

What caught my attention was his use of “passion.” I hear this term often from students in reference to their selections of college majors. (They’ll apologize or lament that they aren’t following their true passions, before moving on to enumerate the specific issues that trouble them.)

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Only at MIT…

July 10th, 2009 · 37 comments

From Drinking to Ulcers

Earlier this week, I stumbled across the following letter to the editor, published in the New York Times. It was written in response to an editorial, printed on June 30th, about tackling the binge drinking problem on college campuses.

To the Editor:

The solution to binge drinking problems on campuses is simple: college curriculums need to be more rigorous. If college programs required their students to put in a significant number of hours per week doing work related to their classes, campus drinking would soon find itself limited to one or two nights a week.

Furthermore, those few nights a week would be more moderate, since the students would drink knowing that they needed to get up in the morning and keep hacking away at that thermodynamics problem set.

I suspect that one of the main reasons students who aren’t in college drink less than college students is that they have to get up in the morning and go to work at a real job, where they are accountable for their behavior.

Caroline Figgatt
Munich, July 1, 2009

The writer is a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

What caught my attention, of course, was the biographical sentence at the end of the letter. Only an MIT student would think that the answer to a social problem is to work people too hard to have time to develop the problem.

At first, I found this note amusing, but this soon gave away to a darker thought: why do schools like MIT allow this type of mindset to not only exist, but become the norm? If a large percentage of the student population here were becoming physically injured in unsafe campus buildings, or falling ill due to a disease outbreak, the administration would rush to stamp out the problem. But the issues of the mind that are common here — unhappiness, detachment, chronic stress — are viewed with a tinge of nostalgia, or, secretly, approved as part of what makes MIT unique.

Based on the daily e-mails I receive from students across the country, it seems like this indifference is endemic. Campuses might invest in mental health programs to catch the worst of the sufferers when they make their fall, but there’s little effort to prevent these falls in the first place, or, more importantly, impede the slide into tolerable unhappiness that many students silently accept.

I’m curious about your thoughts. What’s your experience with stress on your college campus, and how your school handles the issue?

Grit, Grinds, and Living the Low Stress Life

July 8th, 2009 · 15 comments

Update (7/8/09): I’ve returned from California and am once again online. (The picture below is of the trip; I’m the guy in the back.) I have 30 – 40 e-mails from readers, built up during my absence, that might take me a while to work through, so excuse the delay in my responses. I will eventually get back to everyone.

In Praise of GrittinessCal in Cal

While on vacation, I read two books. The first was Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, which has been causing an idealistic stir among the usually cynical intelligentsia. The second was Winifred Gallagher’s Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Both intrigued me, though I’ll admit that I’m still processing the ideas. You’ll probably hear more about them from me at some point in the future.

Today, however, I want to briefly mention one piece of social psychology research, described by Gallagher in Rapt, that resonates well with our conversation here at Study Hacks.

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