Study Hacks Blog Posts from February, 2011 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Come Meet Me at 7 PM Monday at 303 Frist on the Princeton Campus

February 27th, 2011 · 10 comments

This is my last administrative post before I return to our regularly scheduled content:

If you’re in the Princeton area, I’m holding a meet-up at 7 PM on Monday. It will be in 303 Frist. Anyone in the area who is interested should stop by.

At 8:30 I’ll then be delivering a public lecture at 302 Frist.

Thus endeth my self-promotion…

Quick Hits: Meet Up in Princeton and the Return of Scott Young’s Study Skills Program

February 24th, 2011 · 11 comments

Greetings from the road. In a nice reflection of my dual-focused life, I’m in the middle of a two week trip that includes both academic job interviews and talks about my books.

There are two quick things I wanted to bring to you attention…

  • I’m giving a public lecture titled “Success Without Stress” at Princeton on Monday at 8:30 PM (at the 302 Frist Campus Center). I think it would be fun to organize a meet up with students sometime before the talk begins. If you’re in the area and you’re interested, write me at We’ll arrange something.
  • If you’re looking for more accountability in your efforts to adopt smarter study habits, my friend Scott Young’s popular Learning On Steroids program just reopened. This program has a monthly subscription model. Its goal is to help walk you through a transformation into a more efficient student. The last time he opened it to subscribers he sold out the available spots the first day, so if you’re interested, act quick. You can find out more here.

How Would You Title a Book about My Ideas on Passion?

February 22nd, 2011 · 124 comments

Excuse the brief administrative post, but I wanted to take a moment to tap the voluminous collective intelligence of my readers…

Here’s my question:

  • Let’s say I wanted to write a book about my unconventional ideas on passion, including, for example, why “follow your passion” is bad advice, and the type of strategies that actually work. What would you title this book?

Here are the constraints for the title:

  • It needs to be positive: i.e., give the reader a sense of how his or her life would be improved. (In other words, you couldn’t call it “Don’t Follow Your Passion,” as that’s only negative.)
  • It would need to be compelling and make it clear my thoughts are different.

Please share any ideas you have in the comments of this post. I look forward to your thoughts.

Zen and the Art of Investment Banking: When Working Right is More Important than Finding the Right Work

February 14th, 2011 · 59 comments

The Seeker

During the summer of 1998, Thomas was working an entry level position in the IT department of a large London investment bank, his days filled with data entry and the occasional light secretarial work. It wasn’t a terrible job, but it wasn’t great either. “I was constantly unhappy,” Thomas recalls, looking back at this period.

The most recent crop of lifestyle advice literature offers a clear directive to 1998 Thomas: Follow your passion to something better!

“It’s worse to tolerate your job than to hate it because, if the pain is painful enough, you’ll make a change,” Tim Ferriss explained in a recent interview with 37 Signals. “But if it’s tolerable mediocrity, and you’re like, ‘Well, you know it could be worse. At least I’m getting paid.’ Then you wind up in a job that is slowly killing your soul.”

According to this philosophy, Thomas needs to escape the tolerable mediocrity of his banker job before it becomes too late. But here’s the thing, Thomas had already tried that — quite a few times actually — and it hadn’t seemed to solve his problems.

Years earlier, right after college, a young Thomas, who was terrified of becoming a Dockers-clad cubicle jockey, followed a “passion” for cycling and quickly moved up the sport’s ranks to join a professional team. He had a tendency to overtrain, however, and admidst the physical grind of professional-level athletics, his mind turned toward greener pastures.

Quitting cycling, he entered academia, earning two graduate degrees, before discovering that his research was too mainstream to be interesting.

Wanting to try something more reflective and less demanding, he tried traveling to Korea to teach English. But even the lush exoticism of East Asia couldn’t dampen his sense that he was destined for something better.

“Every job I did paled in comparison to some magical future passion-fulfilling occupation,” he recalls.

Needing to pay his bills, he moved back to London, took the entry level Banker position, and remained unhappy.

If stopped here, Thomas’ story would be a cautionary tale of the soul-sapping repressiveness of the working world. But it didn’t stop here. Nine months into his job at the bank, Thomas did something completely unexpected; something that would change his life, but not at all in the way he assumed:

He dropped everything and moved to a Zen monastery, tucked into the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, where he would spend the next two years…

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