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

Lessons from Rosie O’Donnell’s Ten Year Big Break

July 28th, 2013 · 21 comments


O’Donnell’s Ten Year Big Break

Last month, Rosie O’Donnell appeared on Here’s The Thing, Alec Baldwin’s NPR interview show.

The episode, if heard casually, gives the impression that her break was rapid and inevitable. As a high school senior, we learn, she wrote comedy skits for a school variety show. A local comedy club owner liked the skits and invited O’Donnell to perform a set. She killed.

At this point, it was clear that she would become a comedian. Her break came later when Lorne Michaels and Brandon Tartikoff (former NBC chief) happened to hear her perform at a club where they had come to audition Dana Carvey.

Tartikoff came up to O’Donnell after the show and said simply: “Hi. I want you to call this number at NBC tomorrow. We have a job for you.”

Television, then movies, then her talk show — it all fell into place after that key moment.

This is a classic big break. But if you listen closer to the episode it becomes clear that it was not out of the blue. While telling this story, O’Donnell, as an aside, clarified the timeline of that fateful night by noting: “[Remember that at this point] I had had a decade under my belt of doing standup, right?”

O’Donnell’s big break, in other words, was ten years in the making…

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Why Did Most of Dartmouth’s Valedictorians Become Investment Bankers and Consultants? The Need for a Deeper Vocabulary of Career Aspiration

July 3rd, 2013 · 46 comments

The Brain Drain

My alma mater, Dartmouth College, graduated five (!) valedictorians this year. The majority are moving on to jobs in finance or management consulting.

Dartmouth, of course, is not alone in sending a disproportionate number of its best and brightest to these narrow sectors. In recent years, to name an oft-cited example, Princeton sent 36% of its students to finance jobs while Harvard sent 17%.

There are many reasons proposed for this brain drain (whether or not this is really a “drain” is a different debate, though I tend to agree it is), including: prestige, money, the need to pass a new competitive admissions process to signal value, and psychologically-astute recruiting tactics.

I’m particularly interested, however, in an explanation offered by David Brooks in a recent column:

“Many of these students seem to have a blinkered view of their options.”

According to Brooks, elite students assume their choices are limited to: (a) making lots of money in finance and consulting, or (b) saving the world by working for a boots-on-the-ground non-profit. [Stanford students, Brooks notes, get an extra option less popular on the East Coast: (c) starting a tech company.]

This rings true.

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