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.
Episode 41 · 2 weeks ago
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Episode 41 · 2 weeks ago
Finding direction in a distracted world with Cal Newport
ABOUT THIS EPISODE
Cal Newport might be one of them.
...life is hard and often in arbitrary orunfair ways and so it's sort of that's the foundation and then the nextquestion is like, okay, so how do we like navigate and build somethingmeaningful and satisfying knowing that there's all of this sort of arbitraryand unfair hardness that may or may not come down and at times you're notexpecting 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 dosomething meaningful? Yeah, mhm mm. You're listening to the entrepreneurpodcast from the western Morris said Institute for entrepreneurship poweredby ivy in this series. Every entrepreneur and every faculty membereric Jansen will anchor the session. I've interviewed incredible world classentrepreneurs, mentors and investors and always come away with greattakeaways and insights. But today's guest was a bit different because I wasa huge fan and consumer of his content and lessons long before he was a guestin my class or on the podcast, he's had a truly huge impact on the way that Iapproach my personal and professional life. Cal Newport is a computer scienceprofessor at Georgetown University who is also a new york times best sellingauthor of seven books including digital minimalism, deep work. So good, theycan't ignore you, which by the way it could be a textbook for my courses andhis 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 afrequent guest on NPR and the host of popular podcast, deep questions cal'sideas have changed the way that I work, the way that I use my phone, the waythat I parent my kids and my approach to how I spend my most valuableresource, my time in this episode. I speak with Kala Boat the fallacy offollowing your own passion. Yeah, you heard that right? Why you should notfollow your passion and a more practical and realistic alternative howto stay focused in a world full of digital distractions, the benefit ofbeing impatient, the specific tactics and habits that he's used to build. Ahugely successful writing career, as well as ideas on failure, rejection,imposter syndrome and anxiety. This episode is full of practical takeawaysin an inside look at a truly world class teacher and writer. Here's myconversation with Professor cal Newport cal I want to I want to go way back,this is an entrepreneurship course primarily called hustle and grit. Youknow, now you're Professor um your father, you're a writer but also veryentrepreneurial and your entrepreneurial inkling sort of startedearly on. Do you mind rewinding way back to when entrepreneurship sort ofbecame a part of your life? Pretty early. Pretty early. I started acompany, 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 thisclassroom remember, but there was this first.com boom, just as the publicfacing Internet was really taking off in the 90s. And a lot of this tech wasnew. And one of the consequences of that is that everyone assumed, I thinksomewhat wrongly that young people seem to know a lot about technology. So wehad this moment where it's like a 16 year old people would give me a lot ofmoney to do technology stuff that maybe should have vetted me a little bitcareful, a little bit more carefully. But I started a web developmentbusiness with a good friend of mine named Michael Simmons and we we prettyquickly grew it, we realized that the actual coding and graphic designing, wewere okay at it, but not great, but that we could actually outsource thatwork and we could focus more on the client service and client acquisitionbecause we lived in a place of some arbitrage where we lived in a placewhere there's plenty of clients and sort of the Princeton area of NewJersey. And so we ended up outsourcing, we had a team that was actually doingan 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 inhigh school in an age before email before smartphones before evencellphones. Right, So we were literally...
...unreachable. So we we had built out avery complex client extra net with these processes and you could go lookat a calendar and there's a work blog, you could see exactly what was donethat day when the next deadline was every form they've signed was therewhere they could download a pdf version, We had to do this because we wereunreachable and so all through high school and into my first year ofcollege, 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 foryou. So that went on, did you start study hacks that as the next gig sortof based on the learnings that you got out of that first web developmentproject? Well, actually, so the sequence it study hacks actually cameafter I had published two books, so the entrepreneurship, you can draw a linefrom that to me entering writing to some degree. So part of what happenedis I went to college, but I went to college having spent the last two yearsup to my ears in business books, business advice books, businesses,strategy books, because you know, I was trying to run a business and didn'tknow 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 theindividuals take on the loans, I mean, you know, now that you can kind of doit with your family, but I was paying for a lot of this sort of, with withhuge loans and so I want to get my money's worth. So I said, great, let mego get the equivalent of the great business advice books for how to doreally well in college and they didn't exist. No one was writing straightbusiness style, here's how to study books, here's how to get ahead incollege books, everything was like quirky at the time, The best sellingbook of the time was called the naked roommate, sort of like crazy Tales fromcollege. And there was another book called Major and Success, and it waswritten 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, youmisunderstand misunderstand students, college students take themselves veryseriously. And so that bridged the gap because at some point I realized, wellwhy don't I write a book of advice for college students in the style of thebusiness advice books I've been reading as a teenager. And so that was actuallythe origin of me shifting over to professional writing, is that urge towhy can't we have a book like this over in this other world over here. And so Ihave to attribute that entrepreneurship in part for kicking off my professionalwriting career, So a huge amount of discipline I've, I've not yet written abook, 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 anddoing my own homework on how it gets done a lot of discipline and focus timeand it was that sort of the basis for then some of your future books, like alot of the practices and lessons that you learned are applied in order tosuccessfully publish those few sort of led to the future ones, you know, I'mI'm a disciplined guy, I'm also a systems guy for whatever reason, that'sjust my personality. So what happened before I wrote my first book is I hadapplied an entrepreneurial mindset to my study habits and I had verysystematically experimented with a lot of different habits for managing mytime for writing papers or working on math classes, just experimentation,experimentation and figured out a set of things that work to set of systemsand rules and strategies that work and they got very good grades. Suddenlyafter I got these systems in place, but not before, which is an interesting uhinteresting inflection point. So I was very systematic in college because mysystematic approach was getting me really good grades and I was studyingafter I put these systems in place at most half of what the people around mewere doing. So I was in that mindset when I started writing the books, itwas just like one more, one more thing...
...to add into my systematic view of lifebecause already at that point I realized everything's hard. So the keything is don't take on too many hard things because you don't have time forit, but like of course you're going to have hard things going on your lifewhether you want it or not, so you might as well sort of aim that energyat some things that will be sort of worth the effort. And so I was alwaysvery, here's what I do when I wrote that book in college, I just woke upand 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 toyour point, it's sort of accumulates right? You get up early one saturdayand do it, that's a start, but you must have had to do it every single day overthe course of a year in order to actually get into a place where I wasready to publish. Yeah, I mean, I'm a big believer in be very picky aboutwhat you commit to, so do a lot of the work up front. Do I really want tocommit to whatever writing a book or developing this skill, but once you'vecommitted to something, you don't want to commit to too many things. I'm ahuge believer in just every day, you know, jerry Seinfeld don't break thechain, you just go, go, go, go, go and you see this in a lot of things. I dostudy hacks, I just write a study hacks article every week and once I've lockedin, that's what I do. I've just done that since 2007 or when I started mypodcast over the summer. Like this is the schedule I want to do it on Andthen that's just what I do. And we're about 50 episodes in now. We're comingup to a million downloads. It builds, everything builds. So yeah, I'm a bigbeliever 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, Iwrote about this on study hacks. There's a difference between hard workand hard to do work. You never want any one day to be impossible. You want tobe doing something hard and focused. But the actual session does not have tobe hard, you know, an hour at the keyboard for me in college was not ahuge 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 somethinggood, but it's not hard to do, it's just kind of hard thing you are doingand that's a key distinction and then you just repeat And it's to repeatwhere you really start to get the benefits. I've done this 100 days in arow, I've done this 50 weeks in a row that really starts to add up tosomething meaningful. So how did you are getting into yourpersonal tactics here? What did you do either early on when you started thesehabits and practices? Either in high school or college, like all thesestudents are here or did you develop later on that helped you keep yourselfaccountable? 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 ofbeat yourself up over it. It seems like you you don't slip. Is that was that agradual build to get into that place or did you develop some techniques ortactics to help yourself to get there? I think, I think I have a mix oftechniques, some which are probably better than others. So there's someconcrete techniques, I mean something as simple as metric tracking and I usedto do this even in college, I wrote about this in my first book, How to Winat college, but in my planner I released last month, it's still inthere. The notion of you just record at the end of every day, Here's the keythings 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. Thething that you're trying to do a lot of you're trying to consistently, yourecorded just take five seconds and the habit that you really work on lockingin is just I write down my metrics at the end of the day, I used to call us awork journal when I was in college. Now, I call it metrics just knowing thatyou're going to be writing that down at the end the day gives you a lot ofmotivation 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 downX instead of a check mark next to. Did I do my daily pages that I read mychapter, Did I did I run my whatever. So that's a psychological habit thatreally 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. Forexample with exercise. I just for time purposes, I do very intense but verytime constrained sort of exercise. You have a sort of core thing I do and Ihave 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'mdoing this at night, I'm doing, it's freezing outside or whatever. I don'twant to miss a check and if I didn't have that check come on school, I'll doit next time I'll do it next week or whatever. So I think that's somethingthat helps. The other thing that really drove me is I had, I had a chip on myshoulder and I don't really know where that came from and that can be a doublesided coin here. One side, positive, one side that was negative. But Ireally, I really felt like I wanted to do something. I was impatient at yourage when I was in college, I was very impatient, very impatient that I wasn'tgood enough to be doing certain things at certain levels. Yet I just had thischip on my shoulder of, I want to do something and that was surprisinglymotivating that notion of, I'm not happy in stasis I wanted, I feel like Ican do more and fostering that sense of potential. I think a lot of people haveprobably a lot of people who are taking of course with this name probably hasright now listening on zoom cultivating and fanning the flames, you know, thatdrove me a lot. I sort of was a public school kid in this fancy ivy leagueschool and with all these private school kids and I was like, okay, I'mgonna, I'm gonna figure out how to study better than you. I'm gonna getbetter grades than you. I'm gonna, I'm gonna out whatever what I'm going towrite this book and I business, whatever it was. I just felt driven. Imean, I just was uncomfortable not trying to do things and I really wasfanning that And I think that really helped to is having this image. If Iwant to build myself up into someone who is going to have an impact, havesome nota bility and fostering that image. Making that image really clear,studying and reading about people who were like that and taking inspirationfrom them having that clear image. I was moving towards a positive image Iwas moving towards. I think also really helped me get the work done. Mm It'sinteresting you say, chip on your shoulder. It's almost like it's a goodthing, right? Like because I have this belief about myself that because Idon't think I'm naturally as I q wise as intelligent as other people. I thinkthat I need to legitimately put in more work and time in order to make myselfprepared. So I take things like this. Things like this class in my, in mysoul feel like I need to, if I just showed up and winged it, it would be anawful experience for everybody. And I feel like I have this obligation, thismonkey on my shoulder that I need to put in more work than everybody elsebecause if I don't, then I'm not going to be able to show up at the quality orthe level that everybody is expecting me to. So it's, it's interesting todissect. Yeah, no, I think it's there that, that drive, that drive of, oh, Iwant to, I want to do this, I want to do this. Well, oh man, that's gonnatake some work. Okay. You know, let's get after it. I think that we shouldn'tunderestimate that mindset and it's a little bit complicated to pin down. Imean, I had a switch. I mean if you look at me throughout high school intomy first year of college, I didn't have that as much. I mean, I think I feltpotential, but I was relatively lazy and I was not a super disciplinedperson, 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 movinginto adulthood. Maybe it was the size of those student loan checks. Maybe itwas just being surrounded by, uh, like examples of people who inspired me, Youknow, 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 havethis potential and I'm kind of coasting.
I felt like, oh, I have to have tostart 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 havebeen what spurred me, but it's hard for me to say, yeah, I appreciate youdigging into the backstory cal and I've spent so much time on that and notjumping right into what you focus on your writing because I find thatThere's sort of a disconnect between a lot of the guests that students atschools like ivy get in that it's often, you know, a very typically older, veryfinancially and by other means successful person that may not rememberwhat it's like to be 22 years old and not knowing what you want to do. And soat least for me and hopefully for some of the students listening, knowing thatyou didn't know and that there, you were a little bit lazy when you firstgot going and that you had to develop this I think is helpful to know thatyou didn't have it figured out from the very beginning. Yeah, I mean, otherthings I think people don't, don't talk about enough is that there's, there'stons of periods while you're doing things like this where you're juststricken with imposter syndrome. There's tons of setbacks. I mean allthis is still fresh for me. I'm young enough to remember all the like this isnot going well just again and again, that sort of you get knocked down againand again in all different types of things. Like I wrote those studentbooks, like couldn't for example, I had a hard time, it took me a long time toget momentum after those. I was really sort of stuck going to M. I. T. Was areal awakening experiences. People were so smart. I mean I was at Dartmouthwhich is a small school and I was studying computer science there andit's not it's not a huge engineering school, so I was just sort of head andshoulders above the other computer science students there and go to MITand it's just literally getting knocked down, remember getting a failing gradeon 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, likepsychologically things are difficult, like what if you go through a period ofanxiety or a period of insomnia or depressive episodes, like I was justlistening to jerry Seinfeld being interviewed on tim Ferriss show and hewas talking about he goes the depressive episodes all the time, butyou don't really, you want to really pick that up. And so I'm glad you'rebringing this up, because I think there's it's a whole messy interestingprocess 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 figuredthat 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 ofthe story is perseverance through hardship, not, oh, if I figure out whatI want to do, then I'll just be easy and therefore if something bad happensor hard happens, that must be a sign them on the wrong track. And so I'mglad to have a platform to deliver that message. Is life is hard and often inarbitrary or unfair ways, and so it's sort of that's the foundation, and thenthe next question is like, okay, so how do we like navigate and build somethinguh meaningful and satisfying knowing that there's all of this sort ofarbitrary and unfair, hardness that may or may not come down, and at timesyou'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 dosomething meaningful? So let's let's get there because uh so good, theycan't ignore, you could be a textbook for this course. So I think I'm gonnatry to squeeze it in next year and it'll just be the book that we followthroughout the entire semester. I love the idea of totally blowing up thismyth of passion, and we had it specifically a class on how to start tofigure that out. But in your own words, cal I'd love you to break it down forus. We talked about the struggles and the realities of what it's like to youpersonally fight through that sort of messy stage, but then you wrote a bookon how to figure out how to be so good, they can't ignore you, can you help usunpack that a little bit? Well, I think the the simplification that we we oftenmake, especially again when you have the typical speaker at a class likethis who's maybe later in their career is that you look at what you havetowards the end of your career, which...
...is, you're very passionate about yourwork and you rightly assess that's positive, like this is good, it'sbetter to be passionate about your work and to be someone who's not the mistakeis when you then extrapolate from that and say, oh, so then what you should dois just follow your passion, like what people really mean when they're sayingthat is you should follow the goal of cultivating a career in which you feelreal passion for your work, but it gets simplified to yeah, follow your passionand then once you simplify it to follow your passion that gets operationalizedin the story of like, oh you're, you're uh you're wired to do one thing andthen when you find that thing that's just, you know, it's in your genessomehow, somehow, our genes know about the jobs that are available in theearly 21st century knowledge economy in your genes somehow, and if you findlike, oh, I'm meant to be a social media manager for a sports broadcastingfirm or whatever, uh that match, well then suddenly give you a sense ofpassion, you'll enjoy your work and you'll be happy for the rest yourcareer 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 inthe sense that it's way too simplistic, it's not how people end up feelingpassionate about their work for the most part. I mean obviously there arecases where that's true, but there's also a lot of cases where people arelooking back with hindsight and unintentionally changing their storyinto that, so what is more common? Well, you know, it seemed to me as I went outand studied people who are passionate about their work is that it is amessier process, but what's down there at the bottom of the process isbuilding up rare and valuable skills now, building up these skills should bein something that's interesting to you, you don't want to just throw a dart ifyou have some pre existing skills or talent? Well that gives you a headstart. So aiming that direction is good. You want to really train yourself tofind meaning in the actual, just craftsmanship of getting better atsomething, but basically, as people get better at things that are valued, theygain more autonomy over their working life and is in the exercising of thatautonomy that they can actually begin to shape. Or what the research listenersometimes calls career crafting, you can start to shape the reality of yourworking life towards things that resonated away from types of thingsthat don't and that can differ between different people and eventually form acareer that you're very passionate about. So I the point of that book islike, that's actually the real story is you build up rare and valuable skillsand then deploy them and as you do this, you gain more and more passion. It'snot that you get the passion at the beginning and then you will feel thatpassion consistently from then on out, you had an uh interesting, it was maybeit's just a few pages, but you told the story of Derek Sievers and it's top ofmind because he just came up with his new book, I've got a copy that I'vejust read upstairs, so it's called Hell yes or no, and I think something thatwe sometimes struggle with in this class when we were talking through isdoes everything, is it all for money? You know? And his point, what you writeabout in his book is he has this, this lens where he says do things that dothings 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? Ismoney all that matters? It's not really his point, right? This is a guy thatsold his company for $25 million dollars and gave it all away. What washe getting at when he said do things that people are willing to pay for? Well, the term I like that he told mewas money is a neutral indicator of value. So basically he says, let's sayyou'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 inhis 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 thinkyour 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 itcomes time for them to give you money.
People won't actually give you moneyfor something unless they actually value what they are getting in return.And so he said, let money be your neutral indicator of value. Like areally 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 timemusician until his gigs as a musician, we're generating enough money. He wasdoing it on the side was generated enough money that he said, okay, Icould replace my salary. That's when he made the jump, same thing. He didn't gofull time into his startup until he was selling enough product. This companywas called CD Baby until he was selling enough product. He said, oh, thiscompany can support me. So that must mean the idea has some traction andthen he jumped into it full time. So I think Derek is, as you said, the rightambassador of this idea, because he really doesn't care about money. Hegave away essentially all of the money from the sale of CD Baby, but he alwaysuses money, not just how much have I accumulate, but just will people pay mefor this? Will people hire my band, Will people buy my product is the bestneutral feedback he can get on? How good a current skill or idea actuallyis cool. Yeah, I thought helpful to touch on because it's something thatwe've gone back and forth, debate, debate is a strong word, but we'vediscussed it quite a bit in this class, I want to switch gears a little bitbecause I hope you appreciate my cell phone jail back here. So I encourage myclass to do it wasn't in the class budget this year, folks, but I'm gonnawork 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 minimalismand deep work has been incredibly influential on my professional,personal life and professional career. So from the, you know, timer that sitson my desk where I'm working at a very focused specific time, to literally theidea that I need to get my phone out of my hand and put it behind you in adifferent 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'reonline, right? The default is that your I feel like I'm spending a lot moretime than I have in the last few years interacting with people digitallyresponding to digital messages. And so I'm getting a lot of questions fromstudents on, you know, in a primarily online world where you're spending mostof 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 froma lot of those types of things with this new reality that we're all in. Well, I think first we have to draw aclear distinction. There's two different types of digital diversionsthat feel very similar because their effect feel similar but have verydifferent causes and very different solutions. So there is the professionaldiversions by which I'm talking about things like email and slackprofessional communication that if you're working at an office job, youhave all these email that's always coming in and you feel like you alwayshave to be checking it or if your company uses slack, you have to keepgoing on all these channels and it distracts and diverts us a lot. Andthen there's the non professional realm of digital diversions and this is likewhat happens on your phones, like social media, This is looking atYoutube videos and Reddit, this is video games, right? It feels verysimilar because here again, it's something trying to pull your attentionall the time. And it's it's a attracting a lot of your attention. Butthese are two really different magisterial to so in some sense, a deepwork and then the book I have coming out in March, really go at technologyin the professional world. And then my book digital minimalism really tries tounderstand and get at these diversions and how to make best use of them in thepersonal realm. So I guess because they're so different, I'll bounce itback and and actually ask which of those two realms do you think is theone that's that's uh relevant to start with first, let's let's start withpersonal and then we'll get into...
...professional because I think that I'mhaving read digital minimalism, I did the full digital detox and graduallydid add back the things that I found were net additions to added somethingto my life. I restricted them a bunch more. I put them in a folder that'shidden on the third page of my phone. I deleted all my turned off all mynotifications, but I find that as a I don't know if it's escape is the rightword, but I'm finding that I am using a lot of those things more than I had inthe previous year. And I'm not sure if it's because of an escape from thepandemic or what else? So long way of saying, let's start with the personalright? Well, so my philosophy about personal technology use is where itactually 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 whatI want to spend my time doing. These are the components of my life welllived and then you work backwards and say are there places where I can deploytechnology to amplify these things I care about? So that's the scenario inwhich having these technologies that exist today makes your life better thenif these technologies didn't exist. The other approach this tech however isthat you bring it into your life much more haphazardly. You know you downloadsomething because you heard about it, maybe it sounds interesting, maybe youknow you think maybe you could do some marketing on this and so you sort ofhaphazardly by things, download things, sign up for things and what happens isthese become so diverting that they actually keep you away. They keep youaway from the things that you really want to do. So you can get two effectsout of the same tech, you can amplify the things you really care about or youcan block yourself from spending time with the things you really care aboutand it's this the second scenario in which people really begin to feeluneasy about their relationship with these tools. Now I think something thatwe've experienced in the pandemic is where this this gets most powerful.This this sort of keeping you from things you care about gets mostpowerful is when you get in a cycle of using these tools for avoidance ornumbing. I think a lot of us dabbled with throughout the pandemic which is Idon't want to deal with hard things, I don't wanna deal with hard thoughts. Idon't wanna deal with hard realities of my life. I just want like a numbing andman those services can offer it. I mean they have billions of dollars ofservers that do nothing but try to figure out like what can I show youthat's going to hit some button, give you a little chemical rush and it's anescape. You can look at this thing and not have to deal with all of this andall of this is pretty bad. Yeah and this will this will keep you away fromit. But we know of course from the addiction literature is that when youhave something that can elicit a powerful emotional or neurochemicalresponse and you're using it to avoid things that are hard, that's where youreally get. So you really get the hooks in, that's where you really get. Ican't stop looking at this thing and then you're really getting distant fromthe things that you care about. This whole thing is also confusing becauseit's the same tools. That's the hard thing and so the social media companieswill come back and say they always try to frame the debate as well. There'slike these cal Newport's out there that are like neo luddites to think weshouldn'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 withtechnology, but no one ever actually argues this point that we shouldn't usetechnology. So it's more subtle. It's in my deploying these same phones inthe same apps that make my life better Or am I using it to avoid my life andtherefore make my life words. And so you can't understand the effect of thistechnology in the abstract, you can't ask questions like is facebook good istwitter bad? It's too abstract. The only makes sense. These discussionsonly makes sense when you think about is the way I use this service in mylife, good or bad. Is it making my life better or worse? And once youpersonalize it, then you really have room to understand where things are notworking and a path for making things I...
...think much better. Well, thank you for summing it up. I'mnot sure that people have referred often in the Class two. So good. Theycan't ignore you but haven't yet. Uh, I think deep work when I was a studentmaybe wouldn't have hit me in the right way. Same with digital minimalism, butright now, whether it's my age or just a because of the times, I just feellike it's a very, it's been so impactful on me. So people haven't hada chance to read it in uh in depth. I don't think switching gears cattle alittle bit because I want to save some time for questions from the class, wasthere a moment in your career where you felt like you made it? Oh yeah, butthat goes away so quick. Um so let me, let me think about that. I kind of twocareers, just my academic career in my writing career. Yeah, I would say in myacademic career, getting 10 years a big deal, right? So getting 10 year givesyou a sense of, okay, you know, I can be a Part of this world of people thatproduce 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 writingafter I'd written the student books, I was very young. I really wanted towrite hardcover idea books like the type I published now, but it's reallyhard, you know, as if you're 24 25 to just say I'm going I'm going to writeone of these. And so my breakthrough there was so good. They can't ignoreyou. 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 firstsort of uh big hardcover idea book on the table in Barnes and noble, but itdidn't sell very well at first. And in fact deep work, they paid me less fordeep work than they had paid me for. Uh so good, they can't ignore you. So, youknow, you kind of, I kind of thought like, okay, here when I got that dealfor 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 thefirst month it was out. I mean, it had a good launch, but it wasn't, it wasn'tworld beating yet at that point. And so it's like I had made it and then kindof fell back down again. But then I think deep work caught on and it was aslow burn and then it sold and sold and sold and sold. And so probably inwriting when I, when I signed the deal for uh digital minimalism in the book that'scoming out in March. That was sort of my that was a shifting point where Ithink I I finally jumped it here in the writing world. And so that was probablya point, I was like, okay, I think I can feel as if I've establish myself tosome degree, but the point I'm trying to make with this is that you thinkyou've made it and then you feel like you haven't made it and then it kind ofcomes back up and it's it's all pretty Rocky. Do you feel if you were to tracklike your general level of happiness over time, has it gone peaked when youfeel that professional success? I mean by all intents and purposes you're aperson who seems to enjoy your professional work, has a good balancedfamily life as a very good uh freedom and flexibility to travel. Um assumingyou know, financially everything is okay, so your general level ofhappiness over time, how is that fluctuated? I think it's been, myprofessional happiness has been, has been good having the two differentcareers though this wasn't necessarily my intention at first was a very goodcounterbalancing because when something was going bad with one, I could lean onthe other to feel better and when something's going bad with that one, Icould lean on this one to feel better. So for example, in academia, I'm comingout of from a research perspective, a very bad year, probably my, my worstyear I've had just, it was a tough year. We had the pandemic. I was a directorof graduate studies, there was a lot of issues we had to face. My kid's schoolwas closed. Um I just didn't really published much the first time I haven'treally published and, and that's hard, even though I feel like I'm 10 yearsand I'm established, I've been sighted...
...thousands of times, I feel like I'm anestablished person, it's like really hard because, you know, I appears thatdon't have kids and it's like this has been a boon for them. Like this isgreat. Like I don't have to commute the campus, I get more work done right, butI could lean on the same year that that was happening. I did a lot of writingfor the new yorker for example, which was, which was a really good experiencefor me and something that I'd really had been on my bucket list and thatcould kind of compensate. It's like not having a great year here, but I'mreally happy about what's happening here and during those grad school yearswhere I couldn't get out of the student book where I was just stuck in thisplace and it wasn't necessarily selling a ton of copies of books and all Iwanted to do was write big books that no one would have me. I was doingpretty well. You know, the grad school stuff was rolling and I was publishingit 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, justgive you like a background sense of stability or satisfaction. It does feelgood. But beyond that background, your day to day ups and downs which arecaused by things that are way more minor and immediate, like, you know, apipe burst in your house or trying to deal with a stressful relative, just interms of your subjective well being like that way swamps out thesebackground things, which I, which I think is really interesting is that youcan be like really things are going well and you're successful and you havea good background home of like, okay, I feel proud about that, but man doesn'tmatter if you're having a hard time with your neighbor, you're gonna feelterrible that day. So it's interesting how the immediate can really swamp yourmomentary subjective sense. Yeah, interesting. Thanks for uh thanks forreliving some of your past. There Any advice either to your younger self oryou know, try to think back. I know it wasn't that crazy long ago for eitherof us, your 22 year old in your final year of university about to just getstarted. Any advice to these people that are going to start theirprofessional lives now. Yeah, I say a few things, so first of all, just moremore 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 yourpersonal life and your professional life and we could think even in termsof your hobbies it just to do something well to have built up a kind ofstewardship for it. It just makes life more interesting. Is richard opens upinteresting options. So I'm a big fan of this is I call this steve martin'sdefinition of diligence, which is not just returning to something, butrepeatedly say no to other things. So I'm a big fan of picking a few thingsand kind of just letting that become a part of your life and letting thatbuild a piece of advice I actually wrote. So I wrote to myself when Igraduated from grad school, what advice do I wish I'd given myself when I firstarrived at grad school and I think this is applicable in any job is go talk topeople 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 outlike, okay, what really matters and what really does it because something Idid a lot of in grad school, and I think a lot of people do this in a lotof 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 wekind of want to do, like what we'll tell ourselves a story is like, wellwhat's important is that whatever I write my 1000 words or do this or thatour 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 toohard and it's not too scary and it's often has nothing to do with how thatworld actually works. Like I advise aspiring writers all the time. And I Iwrote this article, here's how the publishing industry works. I'm alwaysamazed how much aspiring writers kind of don't want to know that they want todo what they have a vision of what they want to do. Like I want to sit down andwrite every day and I want to write about this and that vision is morecompelling to them, then the reality of how publishing works. But if you knowhow it works, you can get a lot more.
And so I always advise people confrontthe reality whether you like it or not, if this is how people actuallyaccomplish the thing I want to accomplish and then you get so muchmore return on the energy invested because you're investing it in theright place. And then the third thing I would say just in terms of entering theworld of work is you want to be, uh, at first dependable and then secondindispensable. So dependable means just you have your act together on thebasics of time management and organization, you have full capturesystems, you control your time, your calendar, nothing, nothing falls offthe plate, nothing falls through the cracks. People know that if theymention something to you, it will not be forgotten, you have it, it's in asystem, this is all technical stuff, but you get the technical productivitygame really locked in. And then after you prove yourself dependable, then yousay, 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 yousucceed in this industry. Now, I'm gonna start putting in those reps tobuild up the skills and start to be able to do things that are very valueproducing, and now you're someone that they need around, they'd be in youremployer, if you're running your own company, being your customers orwhatever. And so that's always the advice they give the young people beabsolutely dependable and on that Foundation, make yourself indispensable.It's great advice. Last one for me, before I turn it over to questions, isthere anything we can do to help you cal I know you've got a new book comingout, is there anything either personally, professionally we can do tobe helpful? No, I just love to hear that there'speople like the students here in this class that are thinking criticallyabout how do I want to live? How do I want to get after it in my professionallife? You know, what are the right tactics? What's not? I think justhaving that mindset versus it just let's roll with it mindset, that's thefoundation for everything. Once you actually start asking what's the rightor wrong way to do my studies, what's to right a wrong way to do this job wasto right a wrong way to choose a career, what's actually asking those questionsand seeking out advice? That makes all the difference. So the thing that makesme happy, like what you can do for me is, you know, you can take or leave myspecific advice but keep asking the questions and keep looking for peoplethat are offering advice and weigh it judiciously, but stay curious andhungry and aggressive about, I am going to keep crafting and adjusting andimproving the way I'm building a life of being satisfaction knowing thatthere's people out there your age, which I'm not that far beyond thinkingthat way, that's the biggest reward I can get. Well, thank you again, I knowthe 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 thento 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 thisorganization helps get books to kids in need and thank you again, That'sfantastic. I really, I really appreciate that the entrepreneurpodcast is sponsored by Quantum shift 2000 and eight alum, Connie clarity andclosing the gap healthcare group to ensure you never miss an episode,Subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player or visitentrepreneurship dot u w o dot c a slash podcast. Thank you so much forlistening until next time. Mhm Yeah.
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