The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode 41 · 10 months ago

Finding direction in a distracted world with Cal Newport

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

With the increasing encroachment of the digital world on our personal and professional lives, we are in desperate need of guides.

Cal Newport might be one of them.

Newport is a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and a New York Times Best-selling author of seven books, which include So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion In The Quest For Work You Love (2012), Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (2016), Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019) and his latest, A World Without Email (2021).

He is also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Wired, and is the host of popular podcast, Deep Questions.

On this episode of the Entrepreneur Podcast, Newport shares his thoughts on how to stay focused in a world of digital distractions, the benefits of being impatient, and the fallacy of following your own passion.

It’s an episode full of honest reflections and practical takeaways from a world class teacher, and writer.

...life is hard and often in arbitrary or unfair ways and so it's sort of that's the foundation and then the next question is like, okay, so how do we like navigate and build something meaningful and satisfying knowing that there's all of this sort of arbitrary and unfair hardness that may or may not come down and at times you're not expecting it, it's like you have to assume that's the precondition. Okay, now how do we still do something interesting? How do we still do something meaningful? Yeah, mhm mm. You're listening to the entrepreneur podcast from the western Morris said Institute for entrepreneurship powered by ivy in this series. Every entrepreneur and every faculty member eric Jansen will anchor the session. I've interviewed incredible world class entrepreneurs, mentors and investors and always come away with great takeaways and insights. But today's guest was a bit different because I was a huge fan and consumer of his content and lessons long before he was a guest in my class or on the podcast, he's had a truly huge impact on the way that I approach my personal and professional life. Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who is also a new york times best selling author of seven books including digital minimalism, deep work. So good, they can't ignore you, which by the way it could be a textbook for my courses and his most recent book, a world without email. In addition to writing books, he's a regular contributor to the new yorker, the new york times and wired a frequent guest on NPR and the host of popular podcast, deep questions cal's ideas have changed the way that I work, the way that I use my phone, the way that I parent my kids and my approach to how I spend my most valuable resource, my time in this episode. I speak with Kala Boat the fallacy of following your own passion. Yeah, you heard that right? Why you should not follow your passion and a more practical and realistic alternative how to stay focused in a world full of digital distractions, the benefit of being impatient, the specific tactics and habits that he's used to build. A hugely successful writing career, as well as ideas on failure, rejection, imposter syndrome and anxiety. This episode is full of practical takeaways in an inside look at a truly world class teacher and writer. Here's my conversation with Professor cal Newport cal I want to I want to go way back, this is an entrepreneurship course primarily called hustle and grit. You know, now you're Professor um your father, you're a writer but also very entrepreneurial and your entrepreneurial inkling sort of started early on. Do you mind rewinding way back to when entrepreneurship sort of became a part of your life? Pretty early. Pretty early. I started a company, I think I was 16 years old, Is when I started a technology company, this would have been in the late 1990s, so Probably before people in this classroom remember, but there was this first.com boom, just as the public facing Internet was really taking off in the 90s. And a lot of this tech was new. And one of the consequences of that is that everyone assumed, I think somewhat wrongly that young people seem to know a lot about technology. So we had this moment where it's like a 16 year old people would give me a lot of money to do technology stuff that maybe should have vetted me a little bit careful, a little bit more carefully. But I started a web development business with a good friend of mine named Michael Simmons and we we pretty quickly grew it, we realized that the actual coding and graphic designing, we were okay at it, but not great, but that we could actually outsource that work and we could focus more on the client service and client acquisition because we lived in a place of some arbitrage where we lived in a place where there's plenty of clients and sort of the Princeton area of New Jersey. And so we ended up outsourcing, we had a team that was actually doing an India mainly impartially in Pakistan that was doing the coding and designing. We were the client facing part of the business. The hard part is we were in high school in an age before email before smartphones before even cellphones. Right, So we were literally...

...unreachable. So we we had built out a very complex client extra net with these processes and you could go look at a calendar and there's a work blog, you could see exactly what was done that day when the next deadline was every form they've signed was there where they could download a pdf version, We had to do this because we were unreachable and so all through high school and into my first year of college, we were a pair of teenagers running this business not very well, but learning a lot along the way, wow, so started started in high school for you. So that went on, did you start study hacks that as the next gig sort of based on the learnings that you got out of that first web development project? Well, actually, so the sequence it study hacks actually came after I had published two books, so the entrepreneurship, you can draw a line from that to me entering writing to some degree. So part of what happened is I went to college, but I went to college having spent the last two years up to my ears in business books, business advice books, businesses, strategy books, because you know, I was trying to run a business and didn't know how to do it. And so then I arrived at college and I said, okay, I'm take it on a lot of loans and this was back when they actually let the individuals take on the loans, I mean, you know, now that you can kind of do it with your family, but I was paying for a lot of this sort of, with with huge loans and so I want to get my money's worth. So I said, great, let me go get the equivalent of the great business advice books for how to do really well in college and they didn't exist. No one was writing straight business style, here's how to study books, here's how to get ahead in college books, everything was like quirky at the time, The best selling book of the time was called the naked roommate, sort of like crazy Tales from college. And there was another book called Major and Success, and it was written by a motivational speaker and he was doing a cookie pose on the cover. And there's just since in the publishing industry that students won't, won't think a book is cool if it's too serious? And I said, no, you misunderstand misunderstand students, college students take themselves very seriously. And so that bridged the gap because at some point I realized, well why don't I write a book of advice for college students in the style of the business advice books I've been reading as a teenager. And so that was actually the origin of me shifting over to professional writing, is that urge to why can't we have a book like this over in this other world over here. And so I have to attribute that entrepreneurship in part for kicking off my professional writing career, So a huge amount of discipline I've, I've not yet written a book, I do a lot of writing online, blogging, a lot of podcasting, but not, I haven't written a book yet, huge amount from what I hear about it and doing my own homework on how it gets done a lot of discipline and focus time and it was that sort of the basis for then some of your future books, like a lot of the practices and lessons that you learned are applied in order to successfully publish those few sort of led to the future ones, you know, I'm I'm a disciplined guy, I'm also a systems guy for whatever reason, that's just my personality. So what happened before I wrote my first book is I had applied an entrepreneurial mindset to my study habits and I had very systematically experimented with a lot of different habits for managing my time for writing papers or working on math classes, just experimentation, experimentation and figured out a set of things that work to set of systems and rules and strategies that work and they got very good grades. Suddenly after I got these systems in place, but not before, which is an interesting uh interesting inflection point. So I was very systematic in college because my systematic approach was getting me really good grades and I was studying after I put these systems in place at most half of what the people around me were doing. So I was in that mindset when I started writing the books, it was just like one more, one more thing...

...to add into my systematic view of life because already at that point I realized everything's hard. So the key thing is don't take on too many hard things because you don't have time for it, but like of course you're going to have hard things going on your life whether you want it or not, so you might as well sort of aim that energy at some things that will be sort of worth the effort. And so I was always very, here's what I do when I wrote that book in college, I just woke up and wrote every morning while everyone else was still sleeping. It was simple, like there's a system, let's go and just boom, boom, boom. And you know, that type of work adds up after awhile. Simple, I guess simple, not easy to your point, it's sort of accumulates right? You get up early one saturday and do it, that's a start, but you must have had to do it every single day over the course of a year in order to actually get into a place where I was ready to publish. Yeah, I mean, I'm a big believer in be very picky about what you commit to, so do a lot of the work up front. Do I really want to commit to whatever writing a book or developing this skill, but once you've committed to something, you don't want to commit to too many things. I'm a huge believer in just every day, you know, jerry Seinfeld don't break the chain, you just go, go, go, go, go and you see this in a lot of things. I do study hacks, I just write a study hacks article every week and once I've locked in, that's what I do. I've just done that since 2007 or when I started my podcast over the summer. Like this is the schedule I want to do it on And then that's just what I do. And we're about 50 episodes in now. We're coming up to a million downloads. It builds, everything builds. So yeah, I'm a big believer in just go, go, go, go, go, steady, steady, steady. Never too hard. This was a distinction. I wrote about this early in my grad school career, I wrote about this on study hacks. There's a difference between hard work and hard to do work. You never want any one day to be impossible. You want to be doing something hard and focused. But the actual session does not have to be hard, you know, an hour at the keyboard for me in college was not a huge deal. The record for an hour and a half, once a week is not a huge deal. But then you, but if you concentrate hard and trying to produce something good, but it's not hard to do, it's just kind of hard thing you are doing and that's a key distinction and then you just repeat And it's to repeat where you really start to get the benefits. I've done this 100 days in a row, I've done this 50 weeks in a row that really starts to add up to something meaningful. So how did you are getting into your personal tactics here? What did you do either early on when you started these habits and practices? Either in high school or college, like all these students are here or did you develop later on that helped you keep yourself accountable? I think the challenges everybody has these good intentions, but a lot of us myself included from time to time will slip and you sort of beat yourself up over it. It seems like you you don't slip. Is that was that a gradual build to get into that place or did you develop some techniques or tactics to help yourself to get there? I think, I think I have a mix of techniques, some which are probably better than others. So there's some concrete techniques, I mean something as simple as metric tracking and I used to do this even in college, I wrote about this in my first book, How to Win at college, but in my planner I released last month, it's still in there. The notion of you just record at the end of every day, Here's the key things I track. Like did I do my my writing hours if you're writing a book? Did I do my exercise if you're training for something, whatever it is. The thing that you're trying to do a lot of you're trying to consistently, you recorded just take five seconds and the habit that you really work on locking in is just I write down my metrics at the end of the day, I used to call us a work journal when I was in college. Now, I call it metrics just knowing that you're going to be writing that down at the end the day gives you a lot of motivation during the day because when it's earlier in the day you're thinking, man, I don't want to put down zero hours of work. I don't want to put down X instead of a check mark next to. Did I do my daily pages that I read my chapter, Did I did I run my whatever. So that's a psychological habit that really works. Is that you really don't...

...want to miss what you write down there. So you say why might as well just sort of get into it. Like I do this. For example with exercise. I just for time purposes, I do very intense but very time constrained sort of exercise. You have a sort of core thing I do and I have a little check every day if I do it or not, which means a lot of times, you know, I have kids, I'm busy, I'm doing this, everyone's in bed, I'm doing this at night, I'm doing, it's freezing outside or whatever. I don't want to miss a check and if I didn't have that check come on school, I'll do it next time I'll do it next week or whatever. So I think that's something that helps. The other thing that really drove me is I had, I had a chip on my shoulder and I don't really know where that came from and that can be a double sided coin here. One side, positive, one side that was negative. But I really, I really felt like I wanted to do something. I was impatient at your age when I was in college, I was very impatient, very impatient that I wasn't good enough to be doing certain things at certain levels. Yet I just had this chip on my shoulder of, I want to do something and that was surprisingly motivating that notion of, I'm not happy in stasis I wanted, I feel like I can do more and fostering that sense of potential. I think a lot of people have probably a lot of people who are taking of course with this name probably has right now listening on zoom cultivating and fanning the flames, you know, that drove me a lot. I sort of was a public school kid in this fancy ivy league school and with all these private school kids and I was like, okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna figure out how to study better than you. I'm gonna get better grades than you. I'm gonna, I'm gonna out whatever what I'm going to write this book and I business, whatever it was. I just felt driven. I mean, I just was uncomfortable not trying to do things and I really was fanning that And I think that really helped to is having this image. If I want to build myself up into someone who is going to have an impact, have some nota bility and fostering that image. Making that image really clear, studying and reading about people who were like that and taking inspiration from them having that clear image. I was moving towards a positive image I was moving towards. I think also really helped me get the work done. Mm It's interesting you say, chip on your shoulder. It's almost like it's a good thing, right? Like because I have this belief about myself that because I don't think I'm naturally as I q wise as intelligent as other people. I think that I need to legitimately put in more work and time in order to make myself prepared. So I take things like this. Things like this class in my, in my soul feel like I need to, if I just showed up and winged it, it would be an awful experience for everybody. And I feel like I have this obligation, this monkey on my shoulder that I need to put in more work than everybody else because if I don't, then I'm not going to be able to show up at the quality or the level that everybody is expecting me to. So it's, it's interesting to dissect. Yeah, no, I think it's there that, that drive, that drive of, oh, I want to, I want to do this, I want to do this. Well, oh man, that's gonna take some work. Okay. You know, let's get after it. I think that we shouldn't underestimate that mindset and it's a little bit complicated to pin down. I mean, I had a switch. I mean if you look at me throughout high school into my first year of college, I didn't have that as much. I mean, I think I felt potential, but I was relatively lazy and I was not a super disciplined person, was not a super disciplined student and I don't know, you know, something switched and I can't quite put it back. Maybe it's just moving into adulthood. Maybe it was the size of those student loan checks. Maybe it was just being surrounded by, uh, like examples of people who inspired me, You know, you're, you're seeing people coming and giving lectures at colleges, reading more. I don't know exactly what it was, but it really was like a switch, that flick where suddenly it wasn't just happy feeling like, well I have this potential and I'm kind of coasting.

I felt like, oh, I have to have to start bringing my a game now and so I'm not exactly sure what it was. I had, there was some failures I had around that period of my life. That might have been what spurred me, but it's hard for me to say, yeah, I appreciate you digging into the backstory cal and I've spent so much time on that and not jumping right into what you focus on your writing because I find that There's sort of a disconnect between a lot of the guests that students at schools like ivy get in that it's often, you know, a very typically older, very financially and by other means successful person that may not remember what it's like to be 22 years old and not knowing what you want to do. And so at least for me and hopefully for some of the students listening, knowing that you didn't know and that there, you were a little bit lazy when you first got going and that you had to develop this I think is helpful to know that you didn't have it figured out from the very beginning. Yeah, I mean, other things I think people don't, don't talk about enough is that there's, there's tons of periods while you're doing things like this where you're just stricken with imposter syndrome. There's tons of setbacks. I mean all this is still fresh for me. I'm young enough to remember all the like this is not going well just again and again, that sort of you get knocked down again and again in all different types of things. Like I wrote those student books, like couldn't for example, I had a hard time, it took me a long time to get momentum after those. I was really sort of stuck going to M. I. T. Was a real awakening experiences. People were so smart. I mean I was at Dartmouth which is a small school and I was studying computer science there and it's not it's not a huge engineering school, so I was just sort of head and shoulders above the other computer science students there and go to MIT and it's just literally getting knocked down, remember getting a failing grade on the first test, I took my first course there and and and thinking like, am I even gonna I'm not even gonna make it, I'm not even gonna graduate, forget, you know, it's just again and again, just having things get knocked down, having this sort of imposter syndrome, people don't talk about it, like psychologically things are difficult, like what if you go through a period of anxiety or a period of insomnia or depressive episodes, like I was just listening to jerry Seinfeld being interviewed on tim Ferriss show and he was talking about he goes the depressive episodes all the time, but you don't really, you want to really pick that up. And so I'm glad you're bringing this up, because I think there's it's a whole messy interesting process and it's not, I think when people are late in life, looking back, it's just I just knew this is what I want to do, and then once I figured that out, I just was locked in and everything kind of worked itself out. And I think the reality is like way messier. Like the interesting part of the story is perseverance through hardship, not, oh, if I figure out what I want to do, then I'll just be easy and therefore if something bad happens or hard happens, that must be a sign them on the wrong track. And so I'm glad to have a platform to deliver that message. Is life is hard and often in arbitrary or unfair ways, and so it's sort of that's the foundation, and then the next question is like, okay, so how do we like navigate and build something uh meaningful and satisfying knowing that there's all of this sort of arbitrary and unfair, hardness that may or may not come down, and at times you're not expecting it, it's like you have to assume that's the precondition, okay, now, how do we still do something interesting? How do we still do something meaningful? So let's let's get there because uh so good, they can't ignore, you could be a textbook for this course. So I think I'm gonna try to squeeze it in next year and it'll just be the book that we follow throughout the entire semester. I love the idea of totally blowing up this myth of passion, and we had it specifically a class on how to start to figure that out. But in your own words, cal I'd love you to break it down for us. We talked about the struggles and the realities of what it's like to you personally fight through that sort of messy stage, but then you wrote a book on how to figure out how to be so good, they can't ignore you, can you help us unpack that a little bit? Well, I think the the simplification that we we often make, especially again when you have the typical speaker at a class like this who's maybe later in their career is that you look at what you have towards the end of your career, which...

...is, you're very passionate about your work and you rightly assess that's positive, like this is good, it's better to be passionate about your work and to be someone who's not the mistake is when you then extrapolate from that and say, oh, so then what you should do is just follow your passion, like what people really mean when they're saying that is you should follow the goal of cultivating a career in which you feel real passion for your work, but it gets simplified to yeah, follow your passion and then once you simplify it to follow your passion that gets operationalized in the story of like, oh you're, you're uh you're wired to do one thing and then when you find that thing that's just, you know, it's in your genes somehow, somehow, our genes know about the jobs that are available in the early 21st century knowledge economy in your genes somehow, and if you find like, oh, I'm meant to be a social media manager for a sports broadcasting firm or whatever, uh that match, well then suddenly give you a sense of passion, you'll enjoy your work and you'll be happy for the rest your career and if you miss and don't get the right job, they're gonna be unhappy, it gets operationalized like that, and that story is largely a fairy tale in the sense that it's way too simplistic, it's not how people end up feeling passionate about their work for the most part. I mean obviously there are cases where that's true, but there's also a lot of cases where people are looking back with hindsight and unintentionally changing their story into that, so what is more common? Well, you know, it seemed to me as I went out and studied people who are passionate about their work is that it is a messier process, but what's down there at the bottom of the process is building up rare and valuable skills now, building up these skills should be in something that's interesting to you, you don't want to just throw a dart if you have some pre existing skills or talent? Well that gives you a head start. So aiming that direction is good. You want to really train yourself to find meaning in the actual, just craftsmanship of getting better at something, but basically, as people get better at things that are valued, they gain more autonomy over their working life and is in the exercising of that autonomy that they can actually begin to shape. Or what the research listener sometimes calls career crafting, you can start to shape the reality of your working life towards things that resonated away from types of things that don't and that can differ between different people and eventually form a career that you're very passionate about. So I the point of that book is like, that's actually the real story is you build up rare and valuable skills and then deploy them and as you do this, you gain more and more passion. It's not that you get the passion at the beginning and then you will feel that passion consistently from then on out, you had an uh interesting, it was maybe it's just a few pages, but you told the story of Derek Sievers and it's top of mind because he just came up with his new book, I've got a copy that I've just read upstairs, so it's called Hell yes or no, and I think something that we sometimes struggle with in this class when we were talking through is does everything, is it all for money? You know? And his point, what you write about in his book is he has this, this lens where he says do things that do things that people are willing to pay for. And the negative side is like, well, what do you mean? Should you really only do things for money? Is money all that matters? It's not really his point, right? This is a guy that sold his company for $25 million dollars and gave it all away. What was he getting at when he said do things that people are willing to pay for? Well, the term I like that he told me was money is a neutral indicator of value. So basically he says, let's say you're trying to decide should I make this side hustle into my full time job, Should I switch from doing this to doing that? Something he did twice in his life when he moved from being a music executive to a full time musician. And when he moved from being a full time musician to a startup entrepreneur. So he made two similar transitions and he said, the problem is you may think your idea is really good, but you could be wrong, you can ask people, you know, but people tend to tell you nice things because they like you, they said, people don't what they don't lie about where they're very honest is when it comes time for them to give you money.

People won't actually give you money for something unless they actually value what they are getting in return. And so he said, let money be your neutral indicator of value. Like a really objective feedback on your skill is where it needs to be to do this. Your idea is good enough, that you should jump into it full time. And so, you know, for example, he didn't jump from his desk job to being a full time musician until his gigs as a musician, we're generating enough money. He was doing it on the side was generated enough money that he said, okay, I could replace my salary. That's when he made the jump, same thing. He didn't go full time into his startup until he was selling enough product. This company was called CD Baby until he was selling enough product. He said, oh, this company can support me. So that must mean the idea has some traction and then he jumped into it full time. So I think Derek is, as you said, the right ambassador of this idea, because he really doesn't care about money. He gave away essentially all of the money from the sale of CD Baby, but he always uses money, not just how much have I accumulate, but just will people pay me for this? Will people hire my band, Will people buy my product is the best neutral feedback he can get on? How good a current skill or idea actually is cool. Yeah, I thought helpful to touch on because it's something that we've gone back and forth, debate, debate is a strong word, but we've discussed it quite a bit in this class, I want to switch gears a little bit because I hope you appreciate my cell phone jail back here. So I encourage my class to do it wasn't in the class budget this year, folks, but I'm gonna work it in next year so that everybody in the class has the cell phone jail. So part of cal I think a lot of your work, specifically digital minimalism and deep work has been incredibly influential on my professional, personal life and professional career. So from the, you know, timer that sits on my desk where I'm working at a very focused specific time, to literally the idea that I need to get my phone out of my hand and put it behind you in a different room to be able to focus has been a game changer for my productivity. It's challenging right now. However, because the default is that we're online, right? The default is that your I feel like I'm spending a lot more time than I have in the last few years interacting with people digitally responding to digital messages. And so I'm getting a lot of questions from students on, you know, in a primarily online world where you're spending most of your time in front of the screen. How are you blending your, you know, your previous thoughts on digital minimalism and trying to stay away from a lot of those types of things with this new reality that we're all in. Well, I think first we have to draw a clear distinction. There's two different types of digital diversions that feel very similar because their effect feel similar but have very different causes and very different solutions. So there is the professional diversions by which I'm talking about things like email and slack professional communication that if you're working at an office job, you have all these email that's always coming in and you feel like you always have to be checking it or if your company uses slack, you have to keep going on all these channels and it distracts and diverts us a lot. And then there's the non professional realm of digital diversions and this is like what happens on your phones, like social media, This is looking at Youtube videos and Reddit, this is video games, right? It feels very similar because here again, it's something trying to pull your attention all the time. And it's it's a attracting a lot of your attention. But these are two really different magisterial to so in some sense, a deep work and then the book I have coming out in March, really go at technology in the professional world. And then my book digital minimalism really tries to understand and get at these diversions and how to make best use of them in the personal realm. So I guess because they're so different, I'll bounce it back and and actually ask which of those two realms do you think is the one that's that's uh relevant to start with first, let's let's start with personal and then we'll get into...

...professional because I think that I'm having read digital minimalism, I did the full digital detox and gradually did add back the things that I found were net additions to added something to my life. I restricted them a bunch more. I put them in a folder that's hidden on the third page of my phone. I deleted all my turned off all my notifications, but I find that as a I don't know if it's escape is the right word, but I'm finding that I am using a lot of those things more than I had in the previous year. And I'm not sure if it's because of an escape from the pandemic or what else? So long way of saying, let's start with the personal right? Well, so my philosophy about personal technology use is where it actually is empowering is when you apply a minimalist style philosophy, which means you start by figuring out this is what I care about this is what I want to spend my time doing. These are the components of my life well lived and then you work backwards and say are there places where I can deploy technology to amplify these things I care about? So that's the scenario in which having these technologies that exist today makes your life better then if these technologies didn't exist. The other approach this tech however is that you bring it into your life much more haphazardly. You know you download something because you heard about it, maybe it sounds interesting, maybe you know you think maybe you could do some marketing on this and so you sort of haphazardly by things, download things, sign up for things and what happens is these become so diverting that they actually keep you away. They keep you away from the things that you really want to do. So you can get two effects out of the same tech, you can amplify the things you really care about or you can block yourself from spending time with the things you really care about and it's this the second scenario in which people really begin to feel uneasy about their relationship with these tools. Now I think something that we've experienced in the pandemic is where this this gets most powerful. This this sort of keeping you from things you care about gets most powerful is when you get in a cycle of using these tools for avoidance or numbing. I think a lot of us dabbled with throughout the pandemic which is I don't want to deal with hard things, I don't wanna deal with hard thoughts. I don't wanna deal with hard realities of my life. I just want like a numbing and man those services can offer it. I mean they have billions of dollars of servers that do nothing but try to figure out like what can I show you that's going to hit some button, give you a little chemical rush and it's an escape. You can look at this thing and not have to deal with all of this and all of this is pretty bad. Yeah and this will this will keep you away from it. But we know of course from the addiction literature is that when you have something that can elicit a powerful emotional or neurochemical response and you're using it to avoid things that are hard, that's where you really get. So you really get the hooks in, that's where you really get. I can't stop looking at this thing and then you're really getting distant from the things that you care about. This whole thing is also confusing because it's the same tools. That's the hard thing and so the social media companies will come back and say they always try to frame the debate as well. There's like these cal Newport's out there that are like neo luddites to think we shouldn't use technology and well I think that's a it's a hard to defend, you know point and I think that's not true. This good stuff happens with technology, but no one ever actually argues this point that we shouldn't use technology. So it's more subtle. It's in my deploying these same phones in the same apps that make my life better Or am I using it to avoid my life and therefore make my life words. And so you can't understand the effect of this technology in the abstract, you can't ask questions like is facebook good is twitter bad? It's too abstract. The only makes sense. These discussions only makes sense when you think about is the way I use this service in my life, good or bad. Is it making my life better or worse? And once you personalize it, then you really have room to understand where things are not working and a path for making things I...

...think much better. Well, thank you for summing it up. I'm not sure that people have referred often in the Class two. So good. They can't ignore you but haven't yet. Uh, I think deep work when I was a student maybe wouldn't have hit me in the right way. Same with digital minimalism, but right now, whether it's my age or just a because of the times, I just feel like it's a very, it's been so impactful on me. So people haven't had a chance to read it in uh in depth. I don't think switching gears cattle a little bit because I want to save some time for questions from the class, was there a moment in your career where you felt like you made it? Oh yeah, but that goes away so quick. Um so let me, let me think about that. I kind of two careers, just my academic career in my writing career. Yeah, I would say in my academic career, getting 10 years a big deal, right? So getting 10 year gives you a sense of, okay, you know, I can be a Part of this world of people that produce research. I think 10 year was a big deal for me in academia in writing. Yeah, it's interesting. It's up and down. You know, my my goal in writing after I'd written the student books, I was very young. I really wanted to write hardcover idea books like the type I published now, but it's really hard, you know, as if you're 24 25 to just say I'm going I'm going to write one of these. And so my breakthrough there was so good. They can't ignore you. That was the editor, you know, they're sort of late, let's take a risk, let's invest in this, a young guy, but a really good idea. That was my first sort of uh big hardcover idea book on the table in Barnes and noble, but it didn't sell very well at first. And in fact deep work, they paid me less for deep work than they had paid me for. Uh so good, they can't ignore you. So, you know, you kind of, I kind of thought like, okay, here when I got that deal for so good, here it is. I'm now going to be a hardcover idea. Book writer. It's all going to happen, but it didn't sell well out of the gate. And then, you know, they didn't pay much for deep work and it's not like deep work the first month it was out. I mean, it had a good launch, but it wasn't, it wasn't world beating yet at that point. And so it's like I had made it and then kind of fell back down again. But then I think deep work caught on and it was a slow burn and then it sold and sold and sold and sold. And so probably in writing when I, when I signed the deal for uh digital minimalism in the book that's coming out in March. That was sort of my that was a shifting point where I think I I finally jumped it here in the writing world. And so that was probably a point, I was like, okay, I think I can feel as if I've establish myself to some degree, but the point I'm trying to make with this is that you think you've made it and then you feel like you haven't made it and then it kind of comes back up and it's it's all pretty Rocky. Do you feel if you were to track like your general level of happiness over time, has it gone peaked when you feel that professional success? I mean by all intents and purposes you're a person who seems to enjoy your professional work, has a good balanced family life as a very good uh freedom and flexibility to travel. Um assuming you know, financially everything is okay, so your general level of happiness over time, how is that fluctuated? I think it's been, my professional happiness has been, has been good having the two different careers though this wasn't necessarily my intention at first was a very good counterbalancing because when something was going bad with one, I could lean on the other to feel better and when something's going bad with that one, I could lean on this one to feel better. So for example, in academia, I'm coming out of from a research perspective, a very bad year, probably my, my worst year I've had just, it was a tough year. We had the pandemic. I was a director of graduate studies, there was a lot of issues we had to face. My kid's school was closed. Um I just didn't really published much the first time I haven't really published and, and that's hard, even though I feel like I'm 10 years and I'm established, I've been sighted...

...thousands of times, I feel like I'm an established person, it's like really hard because, you know, I appears that don't have kids and it's like this has been a boon for them. Like this is great. Like I don't have to commute the campus, I get more work done right, but I could lean on the same year that that was happening. I did a lot of writing for the new yorker for example, which was, which was a really good experience for me and something that I'd really had been on my bucket list and that could kind of compensate. It's like not having a great year here, but I'm really happy about what's happening here and during those grad school years where I couldn't get out of the student book where I was just stuck in this place and it wasn't necessarily selling a ton of copies of books and all I wanted to do was write big books that no one would have me. I was doing pretty well. You know, the grad school stuff was rolling and I was publishing it like a kind of lean on that so they even each other out to some degree. And, and so I think that's that is good. And I will say once you're producing things, they're successful in her, like it doesn't give you a background, just give you like a background sense of stability or satisfaction. It does feel good. But beyond that background, your day to day ups and downs which are caused by things that are way more minor and immediate, like, you know, a pipe burst in your house or trying to deal with a stressful relative, just in terms of your subjective well being like that way swamps out these background things, which I, which I think is really interesting is that you can be like really things are going well and you're successful and you have a good background home of like, okay, I feel proud about that, but man doesn't matter if you're having a hard time with your neighbor, you're gonna feel terrible that day. So it's interesting how the immediate can really swamp your momentary subjective sense. Yeah, interesting. Thanks for uh thanks for reliving some of your past. There Any advice either to your younger self or you know, try to think back. I know it wasn't that crazy long ago for either of us, your 22 year old in your final year of university about to just get started. Any advice to these people that are going to start their professional lives now. Yeah, I say a few things, so first of all, just more more generally focusing on a small number of things and sticking with it. I've tend to have found that that's a pretty good strategy both in your personal life and your professional life and we could think even in terms of your hobbies it just to do something well to have built up a kind of stewardship for it. It just makes life more interesting. Is richard opens up interesting options. So I'm a big fan of this is I call this steve martin's definition of diligence, which is not just returning to something, but repeatedly say no to other things. So I'm a big fan of picking a few things and kind of just letting that become a part of your life and letting that build a piece of advice I actually wrote. So I wrote to myself when I graduated from grad school, what advice do I wish I'd given myself when I first arrived at grad school and I think this is applicable in any job is go talk to people who are farther along and whose path and you're field resonates like, okay there, that's what I want. Actually talked to him and find out like, okay, what really matters and what really does it because something I did a lot of in grad school, and I think a lot of people do this in a lot of context is that we write our own stories about if I want to succeed in X, and this is what matters because we write a story about, you know, what we kind of want to do, like what we'll tell ourselves a story is like, well what's important is that whatever I write my 1000 words or do this or that our network we kind of create a story about how we want the world to work, and it's usually a story where we kinda have to do things are hard, but not too hard and it's not too scary and it's often has nothing to do with how that world actually works. Like I advise aspiring writers all the time. And I I wrote this article, here's how the publishing industry works. I'm always amazed how much aspiring writers kind of don't want to know that they want to do what they have a vision of what they want to do. Like I want to sit down and write every day and I want to write about this and that vision is more compelling to them, then the reality of how publishing works. But if you know how it works, you can get a lot more.

And so I always advise people confront the reality whether you like it or not, if this is how people actually accomplish the thing I want to accomplish and then you get so much more return on the energy invested because you're investing it in the right place. And then the third thing I would say just in terms of entering the world of work is you want to be, uh, at first dependable and then second indispensable. So dependable means just you have your act together on the basics of time management and organization, you have full capture systems, you control your time, your calendar, nothing, nothing falls off the plate, nothing falls through the cracks. People know that if they mention something to you, it will not be forgotten, you have it, it's in a system, this is all technical stuff, but you get the technical productivity game really locked in. And then after you prove yourself dependable, then you say, how do I make myself indispensable? And that's where you start to say, okay, now I'm seeing, I'm talking to people, I'm seeing what's valuable, how you succeed in this industry. Now, I'm gonna start putting in those reps to build up the skills and start to be able to do things that are very value producing, and now you're someone that they need around, they'd be in your employer, if you're running your own company, being your customers or whatever. And so that's always the advice they give the young people be absolutely dependable and on that Foundation, make yourself indispensable. It's great advice. Last one for me, before I turn it over to questions, is there anything we can do to help you cal I know you've got a new book coming out, is there anything either personally, professionally we can do to be helpful? No, I just love to hear that there's people like the students here in this class that are thinking critically about how do I want to live? How do I want to get after it in my professional life? You know, what are the right tactics? What's not? I think just having that mindset versus it just let's roll with it mindset, that's the foundation for everything. Once you actually start asking what's the right or wrong way to do my studies, what's to right a wrong way to do this job was to right a wrong way to choose a career, what's actually asking those questions and seeking out advice? That makes all the difference. So the thing that makes me happy, like what you can do for me is, you know, you can take or leave my specific advice but keep asking the questions and keep looking for people that are offering advice and weigh it judiciously, but stay curious and hungry and aggressive about, I am going to keep crafting and adjusting and improving the way I'm building a life of being satisfaction knowing that there's people out there your age, which I'm not that far beyond thinking that way, that's the biggest reward I can get. Well, thank you again, I know the group, I wanted to say just a few words before we send you off. Perfect, thank you and thanks cal yeah, so on behalf of the class to thank you for your time and your insight and then to represent your love of continuous learning and staying off social media, we have donated $40 to the children's book bank in your name. So this organization helps get books to kids in need and thank you again, That's fantastic. I really, I really appreciate that the entrepreneur podcast is sponsored by Quantum shift 2000 and eight alum, Connie clarity and closing the gap healthcare group to ensure you never miss an episode, Subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player or visit entrepreneurship dot u w o dot c a slash podcast. Thank you so much for listening until next time. Mhm Yeah.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (52)