Study Hacks Blog Posts from April, 2013 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Louis C. K. on Career Capital

April 24th, 2013 · 19 comments

The Power of Diligence

The comedian Louis C. K. lives a remarkable life. How did he make that happen? Here’s an interesting quote from a recent New York Times interview:

There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

Notice his use of the phrase “horrible process” in describing his rise. This is exactly what is wrong with telling people: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” — you’re providing them a flawed description of reality.

Careers you love require a lot of work. Sometimes even “horrible” work.

You can’t escape the necessity of career capital

(Hat tip: 99u)

In Choosing a Job: Don’t Ask “What Are You Good At?”, Ask Instead “What Are You Willing to Get Good At?”

April 10th, 2013 · 46 comments

I recently received the following note from a career counselor:

I regularly counsel students on their career paths and I was having a hard time giving a student guidance today without referencing passion.  ‘What are you good at?”’ I asked instead, and she replied that she didn’t know.  She doesn’t know because she hasn’t tried enough things.

I like that this counselor is thinking critically about passion. I didn’t, however, agree with her alternative suggestion.

Asking “what are you good at?”, in my opinion, can be essentially the same as asking, “what is your passion?”

In both cases, you’re placing the source of career satisfaction in matching your job to an intrinsic trait.

And this is dangerous.

As readers of SO GOOD know, career satisfaction almost always follows: (a) building up a rare and valuable skill; then (b) using this skill as leverage to take control of your working life.

If you lead a student believe that making the right job choice is what matters for career happiness (whether you’re choosing based on “passion” or identifying “what you’re good at”), you’re setting them up for confusion when they don’t feel immediate and continuous love for their work.

My advice to a student in the above situation is the following:

Pick something that you wouldn’t mind investing years in mastering. If you already have some skills, then it might make sense (though is by no means necessary) to start there, as you already have a head start on mastery, but you should still expect years of deliberate improvement before deep passion can blossom for your work.

The key thing, in other words, is to direct expectations away from match theory — which says passion depends primarily on making the right job choice — and toward career capital theory — which says passion will grow along with your skill.

Deliberately Experimenting with Deliberate Practice — Looking for Subjects to Test My Advice

April 8th, 2013 · 27 comments

The Deliberate Practice Pilot Program

I’m fascinated by deliberate practice.

I’m convinced this advanced practice philosophy can help knowledge workers rapidly pick up skills that will make them invaluable and provide control over their career. It is, as I’ve argued here, in my last book, and in the Wall Street Journal, perhaps one of your most effective tools for building a working life you love.

But it’s also really hard to figure out how to adapt these ideas to the world of knowledge work.

I decided a good way to proceed with my investigation of this topic would be to: (1) take my best shot at distilling what I know into a formal system; then (2) recruit a group of people, from a variety of different knowledge work careers, to try out my recommendations and report back what they experienced.

This is exactly what I’m going to do.

Over the past few months, I’ve worked extensively with Scott Young (a master of rapid learning), to create a four week pilot program that walks you, step-by-step, through our best understanding of how to identify key skills and then apply deliberate practice techniques to dominate them in a small amount of time.

Now we want to recruit an (extremely limited) group of participants to give this pilot course a try and tell us how it went. In other words, I want real people, in a variety of real jobs, to kick the tires on these ideas Scott and I have been writing about for so long.

Learn More About This Experiment

I don’t want to clog Study Hacks with tons of logistical posts about the experiment — more details, how to sign-up, etc. — so I created a separate e-mail list for this purpose. If you’re interested in learning more about this pilot program click the link below to sign-up for the list.

This will be the only place where you can hear more details and receive information about the first-come-first-served sign-up that will likely happen as soon as next week.

Click here to sign-up to learn more…

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

You Can Be Busy or Remarkable — But Not Both

April 3rd, 2013 · 57 comments


The Remarkably Relaxed

Terence Tao is one of the world’s best mathematicians. He won a Fields Medal when he was 31. He is, we can agree, remarkable.

He is not, however, busy.

I should be careful about definitions. By “busy,” I mean a schedule packed with non-optional professional responsibilities.

My evidence that Tao is not overwhelmed by such obligations is the time he spends on non-obligatory, non-time sensitive hobbies. In particular, his blog.

Since the new year, he’s written nine long posts, full of mathematical equations and fun titles, like “Matrix identities as derivatives of determinant identities.” His most recent post is 3700 words long! And that’s a normal length.

As a professor who also blogs, I know that posts are something you do only when you have down time. I conjecture, therefore, that Tao’s large volume of posting implies he enjoys a large amount of down time in his professional life.

Here’s why you should care: Tao’s downtime is not an aberration — a quirk of a quirky prodigy — it is instead, I argue, essential to his success.

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