Ep 232. The Lumberjack Paradox
Transcription for the video titled "Ep 232. The Lumberjack Paradox".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
Cal's intro (00:00)
Why are lumberjacks happier than lawyers? I think by unpacking this, we're gonna get some interesting insight into how to get more depth and meaning out of almost any type of job. I'm Cal Newport, and this is Deep Questions, the show about working and living deeply in an increasingly distracted world. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ. I'm joined by my producer, Jesse. So Jesse, this weekend, I was reading my physical copy of The Washington Post, because as I often emphasize on the show, in my leisure life, I strive to be as much as possible like a depression error farmer. I read newspapers and listened to the radio, and I sit on the porch with a rocking chair holding a pitchfork, maybe not the pitchfork part, but I aspire to be in my leisure life like a depression error farmer. Anyway, so I'm reading the physical newspaper, and I come across an interesting article in the business section of The Washington Post. This is from Sunday. The title is The Happiest Least Stressful Jobs on Earth. So it looks like here there is new data, new data on how people feel about how happy their job makes them as well as how stressful their life makes them. And I'm looking at this here. This is a beer of labor statistics. They were adding these new questions to their standard American Time Use Survey. So they kind of wanted to understand what jobs make us happy, what jobs make us unhappy, what jobs dress us out, what jobs. Don't stress us out. I was a little surprised actually by the top choice. So what was the happiest least stressful job from the survey? I was less surprised by the bottom. What was the least happy most stressful job? Let me quiz you, Jesse. What do you think the happiest least stressful job in America is according to the survey? Probably some volunteer job was somebody that's like retired, you know? I thought I was gonna say podcast producer. And the fact that you didn't say podcast producer tells me everything I need to know. You're out of here. All right, good guess. And what about least happy most stressful job? What would you guess? Most stressful job I think is air traffic controller, or something. Okay. And then you think that's also the least happy? Least happy lawyers. So you are 100% correct about least happy. Least happy most stressful does turn out to be lawyers. The surprising question, the surprising response was happiest least stressful, lumberjacks. Really? Lumberjacks. Followed closely by agricultural, various other agricultural jobs of farmers, and then also foresters. Yeah, exactly. So if you're like a forestry agent or something like that. So I thought this was a good deep question for us to dive into in today's episode, which is why are lumberjacks happier than lawyers? I think by unpacking this, we're gonna get some interesting insight into how to get more depth and meaning out of almost any type of job. All right, so let's actually jump into this article to get an answer.
Exploring Lifestyle Gaps And Career Choices
Why are lumberjacks happier than lawyers? (03:30)
I have the physical copy here, but we also loaded it up on the tablet. So if you're watching at youtube.com/calnuportmedia, this is episode 232, you'll see this on your screen. If you're just listening, I'll narrate it. So I have the article here. I should give credit to the writer of course. This is Andrew Van Damme. This came out on January 6th, 2023 online, the physical paper much more recently. All right, so to start off in this article, we get what I was just talking about here. We have an analysis based on thousands of time journals from the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey. And they found the researchers quoted in this article found agriculture, logging, and forestry have the highest levels of self-reported happiness and the lowest levels of self-reported stress. This is over all major industry categories they looked at. Here's the actual questions they added. So in four recent surveys, they added to the time use survey instead of just asking what activities are you doing, they were asking people how meaningful their activities were and how happy, sad, stressed, pain, and tired, they felt on a six point scale. So these were the questions they used to get this data. All right, some other things I want to point out from this article. Healthcare workers and social workers rate themselves as doing meaningful work. In fact, they're at the top of the meaningful work ranking scale. By far, they're most likely to say they're doing meaningful work, but they rank low on happiness. They also rank high on stress. If we look at stress in general, the most stressful sectors were finance and insurance, the single most stressful occupation lawyers. Right, so interesting. Even jobs that felt very meaningful could be low happiness and high stress. Jobs like lumberjacks weren't particularly highly ranked on meaning scales, but they were happier and they were less stressed. Now this is a bit of a puzzle. I mean, let's give this a name 'cause I like to give things names. We can call this the lumberjack paradox. Why is this the case? And the reason why this is a bit of a paradox is if we think about it, I mean, lumberjack jobs and farmers and forestry, but we'll focus just on lumberjacks here. It's not particularly meaningful in the sense that what I'm doing is connected to a bigger cause that I feel is really important. That's rarely the case. It's also physically perilous. I have this on the screen here. They point this out. This job, especially lumberjacks, is particularly perilous. They report the self-report, the highest levels of pain on the job. So it's a physically demanding job. You're more likely to get hurt on the job. The actual activity from moment to moment is often, let's say not road, but very physical and demanding. Yet they're happy, yet they're less stressed. So what is the answer? Well, when it comes to this particular survey and that particular observation of lumberjacks and related jobs being happier than white collar jobs, the answer they honed in on for this particular example is just what Jesse pointed out. They take place outside. So when they were doing this time you survey, they found that being in the great outdoors ranks in the top three for both happiness and meaning among locations in which measured activities occurred. Only places of worship consistently rated higher on those meetings. So they said, look, our data shows that, whether you're working or not, when you're outside, you're more likely to be happy. You're more likely to be less stressed. Lumberjacks, farmers, foresters, they're outside a lot. And so they're reaping that benefit throughout the day. If you're a lawyer by contrast, you're not outside. So you don't reap that benefit. And you have high stress because of the nature of your job. So this leads us to a broader answer to the lumberjack paradox. And this is the thing that the idea that we're gonna explore throughout today's episode, which is the idea that the characteristics of your workday matter as much as the content of your work. Especially in American thinking, we tend to focus a lot on the latter. What specifically do I do for a job? We assume that this is where we're gonna find meaning, it's where we're gonna find happiness, and it's gonna be the main thing controlling our stress. Am I a doctor, am I a lumberjack, am I a podcast producer, or am I a drug dealer? Similar professions in terms of their drain on society. And that right, Jesse? - Yeah. - No, I'm just joking. I'm just mad. I'm still just mad you didn't say podcast producers the happiest job on earth. So we care a lot in American culture about what is my job. The reality that I think is being emphasized by the study summarized in the Washington Post article is that the characteristics of your workday, independent of the specific content of your job, the characteristics of your workday can matter just as much. Those lumberjacks are happy, not because on paper, there's something abstractly really exciting or meaningful about being a lumberjack, but because of the characteristics of the workday. They're outside, they're fresh air, and other things going on, I'm gonna summarize here in a second, but the characteristics can play a huge role. So what I wanted to do here was list, I wrote down four different characteristics of a workday that are relatively independent of the content of your job that seem to have a big impact on how happy you are in your job. So I wanna go through these four, because what I wanna do of course is generalize our toolkit here beyond just telling people quit your lawyer job and become a lumberjack. Let's have a more nuanced approach on this. So I'm gonna enumerate four characteristics of workdays that really has an impact on your subjective experience of work. Number one, the setting of your work. This is what we got with the lumberjack data. Being outside, for example, tends to make human beings happier and less stressed. Things like stressful commutes, busy offices, having an ugly home office. It's in your laundry room and it's loud and it's cluttered. All of this can matter for how your subjective experience of your workday, so where it is, you do your work, what it takes to actually get there. Number two, the stress generated by your work. I say this is a characteristic of your workday as well is how much stress you encounter independent of the specific source of this stress. This also shows up in the data summarized in that article, lawyers and healthcare workers, one of the reasons why they're not happy is that their jobs have many moments of stress and humans don't like to be constantly exposed to stress. So if your job has these constant rate of moments of your cortisol going up, that heart rate getting going, that feeling of anxiety growing, if that's happening all the time, you are likely to be less happy about that job. Again, independent of the specifics of the content of your work. I would say the major source of stress is overload, especially in white collar work. So this would be your job has too many things coming at you, too many things on your plate for you to be able to really juggle. So you're constantly context shifting, which is painful, constantly falling behind on things that you think need to be done, not even sure about everything that's on your plate. That is probably the most common source of acute stress in white collar jobs. This type of thing matters. The third characteristic of your workday that we're gonna talk about is the clarity or simplicity of your work. Humans are upset when we have lots of ambiguous tasks and obligation to deal with and it's unclear how to deal with them, it's unclear what to do next. Let me just tell you a specific example from my life that I think highlights this. It's a trivial thing, a logistical and active logistical organization I needed to do with my teaching assistants. And there was a little bit of ambiguity about how to do it. I wasn't quite sure if I had the right information or it's complicated in the details, but it's trivial is the main thing I'm trying to emphasize here. It was I don't really know how to take the next step towards organizing it was office hours or something like that because I'm missing some information or something was unclear. That was a huge source of stress for me. I didn't want to do it. It was hanging over me. Something that is on paper, a very simple, let me just think this through and send some messages, but it was ambiguous what to do next source of stress. So the more of that type of work you have on the plate, the more stressed you're gonna be. If you're constantly contact shifting, constantly trying to figure out how to put out fires whose entire scope you don't quite understand, it's gonna hurt your subjective experience of work. Remember, this makes me think of the movie office space. Do you know office space, Jesse, the mic judge movie? Yeah. Do you remember the ending of that movie? No. So for those who don't know office space, the mic judge movie, I think this was like 1999 or 2000 and the main character had this job at a generic office park office building doing something vaguely involving software development, he filled out TPS reports, et cetera. So it was a it was a send up, right? It's a send up of the an entity of modern knowledge work. And I won't spoil the whole plot, but where he ends up in the end, he's very happy is a construction crew where he's just shoveling debris. Now it's actually the building, I will spoil it. It is the building of his company because it got burnt down to the ground. So, but the reason why he's happy is not because it has company burnt down because of the simplicity. He's like, he shows up, I'm moving this stuff into here. This is what you want me to do. And he had this sort of great piece about it. So that's a sending up a true point, which is clarity and simplicity about what you wanna do. The lumberjacks have this, of course. That's the job is clear. We're cutting these trees, removing these logs. Here's what has to happen. The final characteristic of a work day that really matters for your subjective experience is control over your work. So this is about having autonomy about your hard and easy periods, not that your job is always easy, but you can control it. All right, we're gonna have a busy period here so I can pull back here. I have the reins of my own career. I can slow it down. I can speed it up. I'm not always being evaluated by a boss. I don't always feel like I'm in a performative state of trying to act like I'm busy. That's sort of autonomy over how you actually apply your efforts. That's natural. When we don't have that, that can also be something that pulls down our happiness, pushes up our stress. All right, so we have four characteristics here. The setting, the stress, the clarity, and the control of your work, all of this, again, is agnostic to the content of your job. These are characteristics that are more general than that and really matter whether or not you're happy or not really matter about how stressed your job actually makes you. So the practical implication here is that when we're thinking about the deep life, and in particular, the craft bucket of the deep life, how does our work fit into our vision of the deep life, we should care as much about the characteristics of these jobs as we do the specifics of what the jobs actually are. We should engineer for the characteristics of our work just like we might engineer to get in better shape, or just like we might engineer to live in a place that has more activities that make us happy. We should care and engineer for those characteristics. So what I wanna do is go through those four characteristics again, and for each give you a concrete example of someone who has engineered their career to emphasize or push that characteristic in a good direction, just so we get a sense of what this type of lifestyle engineering actually looks like. All right, so let's go back to the setting of the work. I mentioned the setting of the work can really matter. So I wanna give an, oops, it's the wrong browser. I'm gonna give an example here. Again, if you're watching at youtube.com/calinuportmedia, you'll see this on the screen, otherwise I'll narrate it. I wanna give an example here, this is Nate, I guess I'll call him Nate Frugal Woods. It's not really his name. I don't think his name is private, but he has a blog, him and his wife Liz, who I know and who I interviewed and wrote about in digital minimalism, they have a blog called a Frugal Woods. They refer to themselves as the Frugal Woods. And so I have a picture of Nate and his two daughters up on the screen now from their website. But what I really wanna show was his house. So here's what Liz and Nate did. And I'm gonna focus on Nate's job in particular. They were living in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so near Harvard and MIT. It's actually closer to MIT, well it's in between MIT and Harvard. They lived there in a row house and they were stressed. He worked in computer programming, IT type stuff for a nonprofit, she worked in a different like policy shop or nonprofit. And they decided they were going to leave the city. And they moved to the house that I'm showing you on the screen now. It's in Vermont, Central Vermont. It's 66 acres on a mountaintop, beautiful house showing it on the screen. And most of it's forest. I have another picture to show you here. I'm showing very scenic pictures. All right, here's what I wanna show. Most of it's forest, but they have meadows with, they have farms on here, a barn. And then they have all these hiking trails that they maintain. So it's very scenic, isolated up on this mountain side. What's interesting about what Nate and Liz did is that Nate kept his job as a computer programmer for this nonprofit because he was good and he had career capital and he said, "I wanna work remotely before that was fashionable." This farm is isolated, but it has due to some rural internet programs, high speed fiber for the internet. So he can work from this isolated farm. So he worked from this isolated farm, still doing his normal job. But now interspersing this work on the computer screen with a growing list of outdoor activities that he found to be meaningful or stress relieving or engaging. And I've heard the whole list from him. And I won't go through it all, but he chops a lot of firewood because they heat their house off a wood burning stove. They have this long driveway that's sort of the bane of their existence. So he's constantly tending to the driveway, cutting logs to fall in across it, tending rivets or ruts. I mean, I don't know about this stuff, but you know what I mean? Driving skid steers and doing things with chainsaws. He grows food, he manages the chickens. They started doing sugar, mapleene. He maintains the trails on the property. So like all this outdoor work, whenever I would see a picture of Nate, he was almost always in car heart coveralls. Whatever those suits are you wear, those car heart suits when you're living in New England and working outside. And he just back and forth, working on that stuff, working, taking breaks, ending his work early, going out and doing that. This is someone who engineered the setting in which their work happened in an extreme way. He's a happy guy. He loves doing all that stuff. When I see how much he loves doing all that stuff, I feel bad for 10 year ago, Nate living in Central Square in a small row house, that version of him. He must have been way less happy than he realized. All right, example number two, let's talk about controlling stress in your job. I'm gonna point towards Paul Jarvis here. So those who are watching the YouTube channel, we'll see, I've loaded an article from Bench called Entrepreneur on the Island, a conversation with Paul Jarvis. There's a picture of Paul here. It's probably a theme you're probably seeing here, Jesse. He's in the woods, walking a path in a field on his property towards a greenhouse that him and his wife use the grow vegetables. I like the outdoor rural settings. Here's what you may recognize the name Paul, 'cause I've talked about him before on the show. He wrote a book that I blurved that was called A Company of One, where he made the argument that you shouldn't grow your small business as you get better. Instead, use that career capital you're growing to make your business have a smaller footprint on your life. So if you get really good at what you do, instead of saying, great, I can triple my business and hire five people, you say, great, I can work half the hours and make the same money. So it was a really cool book. I thought it was a really good idea. Well, anyways, he has done this in his own life. So he was a web developer and he was good at it. But dealing with clients for Paul, like a lot of people is a stress vector. There's demands that you have to answer. There's personalities that sometimes clash with your own, and there's an unpredictability about it. And if you're like Paul or someone like me, that's unpredictability stresses you out, that was a big source of stress. So he shifted from client work to now he does more, I would call it like esoteric, one-off projects. He'll build a software tool. He'll write a book. He has a newsletter. He'll build a different software tool. And in that tool, eventually he'll move on and do something else. So it's things that he completely controls the schedule for. Now it's not highly lucrative work, but that's fine because him and his wife moved to this rural plot of land on Victoria Island off of Vancouver, that again has good enough internet for him to do his work, but they live cheap. It's near a surf break. She likes to surf. He has our greenhouse. They tend their land, and he works on projects on his own schedule. So this is someone who, again, engineered the characteristics of their workday away from what they identified as specific sources of stress. Let's look now at the third characteristic we mentioned before, the clarity or simplicity of your work. So I'm pulling up here a blog post I wrote about John Grisham, the author of John Grisham. We've talked about him recently before on the show, but I think he's a great example of this. He has a very simplified approach to life as an author. He doesn't have 15 different irons in the fire. He's not trying to develop television shows and write movie scripts and direct and have products and build a James Patterson-style partnership deal with his publisher where he has seven authors working under him and they publish 10 books a year that are all John Grisham presents. He doesn't want to do any of that. He wants to write one book a year that makes him more than enough money, and then he wants to go on and do other things with his life. So in this article on my blog, which is from May of 2017, I summarized some things I learned deep diving on Grisham's routines, and I'll just point out a couple things here. Grisham primarily writes his novels during the winter months on his farm. During this period, he works five days a week, starting at seven and typically ending by 10. So you do that math. That is a 15 hour a week work week. He writes in a period out building on his property that used to house an antebellum summer kitchen. He and his wife refurbished the kitchen to maintain his period details, adding only electricity and air conditioning. Crucially, it has no internet. Grisham says, "I don't want the distraction. I don't work online. I keep it offline." Grisham maintains strict rituals for his writing. He starts work on a novel on the same day each year, starts writing each day at the same time. He works on the same computer. He drinks the same type of coffee from the same cup. He always starts a new novel on January 1st, and is usually done by the end of March that he shifts over to editing. He aims to have the manuscript polish and submitted by July, which leaves them half the year to do other things. So this is someone who engineered the characteristics of their workday towards simplicity. That was a conscious decision he made. Clearly, he had a lot of other options. Final example is about having control over how your work unfolds. We saw a little bit of that with Paul Jarvis. Another example is friend of the show, Ginny Blake. I've loaded up here on the page. So if you read her latest book, Free Time, and there's an interview I did with her on the show, God, it must have been a year or so ago. I don't know. I lose track of time with the show, but I have had Ginny on the show to talk about this. In her book, Free Time, she talks about how she left her job at Google, started a company. The company got to be too demanding a source of stress, a source of unease. So she simplified it around sustainability. What makes this company maximally sustainable? And I wrote down some things here. She works with what she calls a delightfully teeny team. Which is not too many people. She doesn't want a huge amount of employees. She is very into processes now. She does not want to be a bottleneck for any of the things their company does. So she focuses more, for example, on licensing her material as opposed to doing individualized coaching of different clients. She has a huge amount of control over her workload and schedule, which is, I think, best exemplified by the fact that she takes off two months each year to not work. She just builds her schedule around that. Now, as she says, she could be making more money if she was whatever, hammering the big keynotes or the one-on-one consulting. But her goal is not to make more money, it's to make enough money with a job that's very sustainable and interesting. So again, she engineered the characteristics of her work. Here's the point I want to make about all four of those examples. We don't know this if we just write down what is these people's jobs. These type of details are not captured there. If I say, what are these people's jobs? So it's a Nate is a computer programmer. Paul Jarvis is a software developer. John Grisham is a writer. Jenny Blake runs a small business consulting company. There are so many different ways you could experience those four jobs I just mentioned. And the examples I gave, the characteristics of the workdays that these individuals experience were engineered radically to make that experience better. So the content of your job is not the sole determinant of how you experience it. You can engineer these characteristics and by doing so, really change how you experience your job. All right, so we don't have to become lumberjacks, but we do have to care about whatever our equivalent is of working outside, how we work matters as much as what. We work on. So Jesse, that's my conclusion from that piece. - I like it. Well, some rise. - Outdoor matters, but this other stuff matters too. And I think we get stuck. Young people get stuck on that in particular. They really get stuck on just, what is my job or what do I want my job to be as opposed to how do I want it to actually feel? - Yeah. - Yeah. So what I wanna do is as we now do, I have five questions in case studies I pulled that are all relevant to this general topic of engineering the characteristics of your workday. So I wanna do five questions and then at the end we'll switch gears and I'll talk about the books I read in December. First, however, I wanna mention a brand new sponsor of the Deep Questions podcast. I'm excited about this one. This is HUEL. HUEL Black Edition is the product I wanna talk about in particular. It's a high protein, nutritionally complete meal and a convenient shake. So this is a meal replacement shake. It has everything your body needs in just two scoops, including 27 essential vitamins, minerals and 48 grams of protein. This is why I was interested in having HUEL and in particular their HUEL Black Edition product as a sponsor is because as I've mentioned multiple times on this show, the way I deal with food and nutrition is that during my work hours, my fixed work hours, I want to automate eating. I don't wanna think about it. I don't want this to be a source of energy drain. I don't want it to be a time sink. Oh, I'm gonna go walk halfway across town, to a restaurant or something like this. I automate my eating so I don't have to think about it. And as long as I'm automating it, then I might as well automate it towards something that's gonna be maximal energy and good for me. So HUEL works perfectly into that plan. I think the arguably, at least in my opinion, the most effective way to use it is just for breakfast replacement. One scoop, you get your 200 calories, two scoops, you get 400 calories, which is about a standard meal. You have all of those vitamins you need. You have all that protein you need. You get vitamin C, calcium, omega three, iron, magnesium, the stuff you need, the energy you need, not all the sugar, not all the stuff that's gonna make you run down. And it takes a minute. Just do scoop in the shaker, you got it, you take it, you move on with your day. So my thought is if you're gonna enjoy eating, enjoy eating, wait, when the work day is over, take your time, let that be a source of relaxation. Let that be a ritualistic aspect. But when you're in the middle of getting after it, your time blocking, your working, automate your food, that's where something like HUEL, I think, plays, or could potentially play a really big role. It's also cost effective. $2 and 50, it works out to about $2 and 50 cents for each 400 calorie meal.
Cal talks about Notion and Huel (29:00)
They give you that shaker I talked about for making the protein shake. They'll give you one of those as well when you order at HUEL.com/questions. So that's huel.com/questions. Go to that URL with a slash questions to get the free shaker when you order. When you're working, don't think about food. Use something like HUEL. When you're done working, then you can care about it. All right, another sponsor I wanna mention. This is a product that we use heavily here in my life and at my media company. And that is Notion. So Notion is one of these electronic note-taking companies that is not nearly a detailed enough explanation of everything that Notion does. This is what you need to know. There's a lot of these companies that offer interesting products for building sort of roughly Zetalcast and inspired note-taking database interfaces, et cetera. Notion is the one I use most often. It's the one that the people I know who are into this type of technology use most often. Here's a couple of different ways we use it. It's how we interact, ironically, given that I'm reading the ad. It's how we interact with our ad agency. They built a custom Notion view where what happens is every ad we're supposed to do has its own entry in this underlying database, but using the magic of Notion, we can display it all sorts of different ways. So there's a calendar view where we can just see what are the ads we're supposed to read today. There's a view by sponsor. What are all the different ads that we have done for this particular sponsor? The click on one of these items, we see all the information about the ad. Here's the script. It's where we can go back in. Jesse does this each week and says, "Here's the timestamp and where the ad showed up. "The sponsors have their own views to quickly pull out. "Can I see all the reads and my ads among different shows?" All of this is very useful, simple to build in a tool like Notion. Here's a completely different use. So I recently talked with Jenny Blake, and we actually recorded this. I haven't released it yet on the podcast, but we plan to. She walked me through how to build a idea database using Notion. Blew my mind. I was like, "I am absolutely going to do this." She was showing me a step by step how she did it with her own idea database where you can have different ideas with different categories that link together that you view in different ways. Flexible, powerful. If you need to keep track of information, collaborate with other people on your teams or clients, you need a tool like Notion. This is why I wanted them to be a sponsor of the show because I think they do it best. Now here's the way they say it. Whether you're starting a new gym routine, organizing a trip with friends, or even planning your company goals, Notion is a flexible collaborative workspace that helps you make meaningful progress in every part of your life. Get started in seconds by choosing from thousands of templates for every task that make it your own from to-do list to OKR trackers and so much more. Notion lets you build the exact system you want so you can work the way you work best. You need these processes in your business. Notion's the way to do it. So start your year off right and get organized with a free Notion account at notion.com/cal. That's all lowercase letters. Notion.com/cal to learn more and get started for free right now.
Should I leave a good job to gain more autonomy? (32:20)
Using that/cal link supports the show, so go right now to notion.com/cal. All right, so now we're gonna do some questions. Again, I'm trying to make the questions we pull, be relevant to today's deep question. Today's deep question is about engineering the characteristics of your work to make your work more happy and less stressful. All right, what's our first question, Jesse? - Hi, first question is from Josef, a 36 year old programmer. I like my current job as an AI developer, but I'm considering learning web development. My motivation is lifestyle design. Data and AI are mostly related to large companies, which means working as a full-time employee. Web development is more flexible and suitable for freelancing or consulting, doing multiple small projects. You could be your own boss, leave me time to follow my passions like music and philosophy. What should I do? - Standard question when thinking about happiness in your careers is, should I leave my current job to go to another job that's more flexible? There's a story I tell in my book, so good, you can't, what is it, so good? Why can't I remember my own book title, Jesse? So good you can't ignore you. - They can't. - They can't ignore you. - Yeah. - So good they can't ignore you. Let me remember my own books. I don't know if that's a good sign, maybe it means I'm productive, or maybe it means I'm getting old. All right, so in so good they can't ignore you. In that book, I talk about this exact question and I tell a story and I believe the woman's name was Lisa and she was, I'm trying to remember here, I think in marketing or something like this. So she was in marketing, her particular position was somewhat stressful and she's like, I want more control over my time, I want a more flexible, slower paced job. And so she took a yoga instructor certification course, quit her marketing job to become a yoga instructor. And the point I made in that book is that within whatever it was, six months, that had not worked nearly enough to replace her income and she was actually on food stamps at that point. And the argument I made is, you have to be careful just thinking about, what is this job gonna offer me? Oh, a yoga instructor, that's more flexible, that's less stressful, you don't have to do email, that's fine, but what do you have to offer to the world of yoga instructing? And in this particular example, Lisa just had an online certification, there's a lot of yoga instructors, it's a very competitive business, she was not able to offer enough in that marketplace to actually build up the sort of demand that would allow her to have a stable income and actually live this much more flexible life. The answer I then concluded is, you have to care about career capital. Career capital is my term for the rare and valuable skills that you possess, the things that are of actual value to the marketplace of jobs. So if you have career capital, rare and valuable skills, that gives you leverage, you can use that leverage to try to get in your work things that you desire. So this, Joseph, is how I want you to think about more autonomy. Having more autonomy while still being financially sound is very desirable. Lots of people want that in their work. So you should expect a need a substantial amount of career capital to offer in return. Just because you want your job to be more flexible doesn't mean you actually can get that in your life unless you have something to offer in return. So I want you to do this calculus and thinking through what you're doing with your career through the lens of career capital. Right now you're working on AI development, data science and AI development. If you shifted to web development, you're starting from scratch, that's a very competitive marketplace. To make a good living as a web developer and enjoy flexibility, you have to be really good at what you do. And even if you're really good at what you do, you might not get it. Remember earlier in the program, I gave the example of Paul Jarvis, who was a very good web developer, but still eventually switched to living cheaply and doing one-off software projects because the stress of dealing with the clients was something he was just done with. But let's say you do get really good, you can pick and choose your clients, you do two at a time, they pay you really good money, you take a few months off, that's gonna require a lot of work. You're gonna have to be better than a lot of other web developers. So think through what would really be involved in getting that good. Don't delude yourself into thinking, "Hey, if I do a summer course online in web development, that'll be me by the fall." So think about this all through the context of career capital. The flip side to that is in addition to just trying to evaluate how much skill would I really need for this other job to give me these traits I want, these characteristics I want. Ask the question of, in my current job, with my current career capital, which for you has to do with your ability to do AI relevant programming, are there other ways I can apply this leverage? And they might be unusual, they might be somewhat radical, but if I was to really take my skills and my current profession out for a spin, what is the full range of possible modifications or ways forward I might be able to imagine or ask for? That's often the more fruitful direction. I'm an in demand AI programmer. They really like me here. Hey, like Nate Frugalwood, who we talked about in the first segment of the show, I'm moving up to the mountains in Vermont, but I've got good fiber and I'm gonna work project based, but I'm done at three every day because I have to chop wood. That's often where you're likely to find the tractable solutions because you already have the capital, the career capital developed. It doesn't mean you might not be able to develop new capital in another area. You just have to correctly assess how long of a path that's going to be. So that would be my advice, Joseph, is in addition to thinking about what is really required to be a really autonomous web developer, ask if I could even better at what I'm doing now, are there options I'm not thinking about? They might be non-standard. You might be the only person at your company doing that, but if you're good and they want you, you would be surprised by how many options you actually have for manipulating or modifying the characteristics of your work day to be things you enjoy more.
Should I quit my trainer job? (38:27)
All right, so good, they can't ignore you. That makes sense. Like what do we got next? Next question is from Nick, a 28 year old personal trainer. Hi, Cal and Jesse, I have a question about my career as a strength and conditioning coach and my interest in creating a deep life. I love the training side of what I do, but I work long hours and my pay is stagnant. So I'm starting to resent my boss and the company. Unfortunately, there are no better gyms for me to go. I'm currently looking for a junk teaching positions. I have a master's degree, but I'm not sure about leaving fitness. Many personal trainers building online are contracting business, but these take months or years to build. Any advice you may have is appreciated. Well, Nick, I think your solution is I'm gonna hire you. We're gonna work two hours a day into building the Skarsgard body from the Viking movie. And that's just what we're gonna do. It's just me and you, and I'm just gonna get unreasonably large. Actually, Jesse, yesterday my sons and I were watching a series on Disney Plus called Limitless. I mentioned this to you maybe, with Chris Hemsworth, the guy who plays Thor. Yeah. And this particular episode, it kind of overlapped him starting to film the new Thor movie. So they kind of gave some insight into how he prepares for those movies. So let's give some insight into what Nick and I will be doing together. It turns out, I mean, he stays in good shape because he's been doing these movies for a decade. He has to add in the six month period before one of these shoots, 30 pounds of muscle. Really? 30 pounds of muscle, which means he has to eat, he eats like 10 meals a day. Wow. Yeah. And then the other thing we learned from that is, when they're on set, if it's a shirtless scene, there is like a long weight lifting session he has to do right before he goes on camera, to get pumped. So they're doing like all of these like curls and pullups and all this type of stuff right before they run and get on camera so that they have like the, he has the pumped muscles. I mean, I don't know how that works. And then also the dehydrate themselves. And then just so the bodybuilders, they're super dehydrated so that the veins will pop. And then they pump up right before and then they have like 30 extra pounds of muscle that's almost impossible to maintain because of how much food they have to eat to keep it there. So anyways, Nick, you and I, that's what we're doing. All that. Just me, I'll be like the liver king. Still doing the same podcast material? No shirt, four muscles, 20 minutes of pumping upright before every episode so they can get bainey. I mean, I think this is what the audience is looking for, Jesse, when it comes to content about living deeply is bainey muscles. All right, Nick, let me, let me give you my, my first reaction from your question is that my concern is that you're in your mind right now taking a, what is essentially a random walk through the career space. You're just bouncing off one idea to another. I don't know, I guess I could be an adjunct professor or maybe I could just do like an online thing but that seems like really hard and I don't like my boss but there's no other gym so I can't do anything else. You're just ping ponging. You're ping ponging off a different career ideas without any actual grounding in research or systematic thinking. So what I wanna do is first of all slow you down and say, okay, you're unhappy in your current situation that I get. You don't like your boss in the way he's treating you, that's an issue. You know, my book's so good they can't ignore you. I really talk about that as being one of the small number of things that really disqualifies a job regardless of all the other attributes. So we need to find you something different but we have to take our time here. I don't want you to jump haphazardly from one thing to another. So number one, go through the Lifestyle Central Career Planning Exercise. We always talk about really lock in your vision of what you want your ideal lifestyle to be like. All aspects of your life not just work. Now we have a target that we're working backwards from when thinking through different career opportunities. Our goal now is not just, is this a thing I could do? Our goal is, is this on a path I can articulate that brings me closer to my ideal lifestyle? And that might lead you to very different options. Next, as you explore these different options, pretend you're a business journalist and you're writing an article on the reality of that industry. Talk to people. What is the job really like? What's the pay like? How does it fit into their overall income streams? What's it like being an adjunct professor? What do these people do in addition? Are any of these people happy? Or do they have a lot of complaints about it? What's going on with people doing online coaching? Who's successful and who's not successful? Can you build a whole livelihood on it or is it just an adjunct? All right, you say there's no gyms nearby. Where are there gyms you would like to work? Maybe they're in different parts of the country but that's actually a part of the country that might satisfy some of the other things on your list that goes into your ideal lifestyle. Maybe you need to leave where you're living and maybe there's something holding you back there. Like, well, there's whatever, one family member there but what if you moved over here and then you had access to outdoor fitness and you could start an online presence from which you could build an online coaching. Meanwhile, there's gyms there that are hiring so you could start doing personal training there with an ad. I mean, you could start to get options that are grounded in research on the reality of options and guided by your vision of an ideal lifestyle. So this is what I'm trying to get you to do here, Nick, is to slow down and be more systematic. Don't bounce, don't just random, that's no good, that's good, maybe I should just do that. Let me fixate on this. I see that all the time. Someone just fixates on an idea. Doesn't really necessarily make sense. It has all these other issues to come with it. It's going to make these parts of their life worse to fix this but if you're just bouncing around, we're just going to stick to things randomly. So let's get more systematic lifestyle articulation, research options, consider different locations, and then really work through things carefully. What's going to get me closer to my ideal lifestyle? The combination of decisions you come up with in the end might be very different than anything you're considering now. - Stranking, conditioning coaches are hard, especially for the ones like small colleges and stuff like that. - It's a hard job or it's hard to get. - It's a hard job. - Yeah. - You have to be there for like really long hours. - Yeah, I edited the question down but he talked about evening hours. Like he's there a lot. - Yeah. - Yeah. - And then the other thing about those coaches, you have to be so energetic for each client. - Why do you, what's the appeal of that job? Like is that on a trajectory towards like, I could be a strength and conditioning coach for like a D1 sports program or something? Like what's the-- - If he's at a college and yeah. - That's a dream. I mean, I think there's like five college strength and conditioning coaches or whatever that make over a million dollars a year. - Right, so there is a winner take all kind of trajectory in there. So each would understand that as well. Like this is the thing that those trajectories is figuring out like am I actually on this trajectory or not? - Yeah. - Or have I already started, I'm over at the small college. If this is where I'm starting, I'm never gonna be, you know, the Notre Dame or USD head strength and conditioning coach.
What does Cal’s workday look like? (45:52)
- Yep. - Yeah. - Interesting. - All right, what do we got next? - Oh, we got a question from Ben. Hey, Cal, I'm curious, what does your typical workday look like? Is it closer to a typical nine to five or are you up early burning the midnight oil? - Well, Ben, I'll tell you about my workday in a second but I gotta say I was having fun walking over here, imagining what my critics think my typical workday is like. So I know that I do have some critics out there that are pretty vocal and there are assumptions about my workday are probably quite different from the reality. So I thought it'd be fun to go through a critics assumption about what Cal Newport's normal workday works like. So I would say the critics would probably assume that I'm up at something like 4.30 in the morning. This is when the head of my extensive household staff would come in and prep me on what was gonna happen in the day. Maybe the head of the household staff would say, Dr. Newport, I wanted to tell you something about one of your children and I would say, enough, away with you. Do not bother me with such trivialities. I have productive work to do. My worth and meaning as a person is based off of the labor that I produce for the owners of capital. Do you not realize this away with you? After that, I would then go to my extensive underground layer paid for by a massive inheritance that I came into very young in my life. In this underground layer, I would don Minority Report style art augmented reality goggles where I would have a souped up Trello board where I could move cards around like Tom Cruise, a Minority Report at extreme speeds. Next to me would be a coach who I insist dress like early 20th century labor consultant, Frederick Winslow-Paylor, including the mustache with a stopwatch looking for any inefficiencies in my action because again, as I would tell people frequently and declaratively throughout my day, my worth as a person is defined by my labor, which I owe to the owners of capital. I would take a break maybe around lunchtime. This is when James Clear and Tim Ferriss would come over. We'll take supplements and wait lift for two hours before confidently convincing each other that we understand how everything in the world should be done. Another couple hours of quick work on my Trello board. At this point, I would then take some time to go to whatever manuscript of a book I'm currently writing and then look for any examples that feature women that I could swap out for examples featuring men instead. So I'll go through and do that swapping out. Patriarchy preserved, I'll then return to more work. Maybe by the evening, I'll take some time to just stare at a poster of Marcus Zuckerberg and just mutter, you, you. Five minutes face timing with my family, seven more hours of work, boom, 2 a.m., I'm back in bed. That is what I imagine my critics think my workday is actually like. The reality is much less interesting. From the very earliest days of my grad student career, I've maintained what I call fixed schedule productivity where I fix and advance the hours I wanna work and then work backwards to make my career fit into those hours. For me, that is roughly nine to five. So when I drop my kids off at the bus stop, I'm usually home by like 830, but then it takes some time, you know, maybe a shower or some other thing. So usually I'm starting work by nine and I like to be done by five, though I'm often done earlier. When I'm writing, I'll also put in writing sessions on Sunday mornings. I'll occasionally also do like an evening writing session for my newsletter or something like this. That's just an old tradition of mine, but that's 90 minutes once a week. What I do during those roughly nine to five schedule, it just depends on the time of year. So if it's the summer or like it was last semester for me when I had a teaching release and I was writing a book, those days are gonna be very heavily focused on three to four hours of deep work writing right off the bat, then anything else that has to be done before I shut down for the day. Other parts of the year look different. Right now, for example, I'm in a teaching semester. I'm not writing a book. I just submitted my manuscript and so I have a much more standard sort of professor schedule. And just see, I actually brought my computer. So I thought what I would do is I'm gonna grab it and just a little bit of my calendar for this week. I'm not gonna show it to you, but I will walk through and just quickly summarize like what each of my days looks like if this is helpful. All right, so I've grabbed my calendar now for those who are watching the YouTube channel. You see I'm looking down at my screen. So for this time of year where I'm just sort of in a normal teaching semester not book writing. All right, here was my week. Just looking at the things around the calendar. Monday was Martin Luther King Day, the Monday of the week we're recording this. So there was actually, I didn't have to teach. I had nothing on my calendar actually for that Monday, Tuesday was also a very light day in terms of appointment. So I don't even remember what I did on Tuesday. I think I watched a movie. In the afternoon, I think I actually over launched, I watched Downhill Racer with Robert Redford, 1969. Fantastic sports movie, I highly recommend it. Wednesday was a teaching day. So I did some work on my course in the morning, drove into campus at 10, taught office hours, taught, came home, worked out, day was over. Today, I was actually up early today 'cause my oldest kid had an early morning orthodontics appointment, so I woke up. My wife came to that and while I was waiting for my other kids to wake up, I actually did some podcast work in the morning. Then I did some administrative work, now we're podcasting. And then I'm gonna do a relatively early shutdown and workout before I pick up one of my other kids at three. Tomorrow, I'm going in for, oh, tonight I'm also gonna do some writing, I'm kicking off a New Yorker piece. So I'm gonna do writing probably at the local coffee shop tonight because I need to get out of my normal routine to get something hard started. Tomorrow, I'm going to campus for a faculty meeting and then adventure working. So I'm gonna go to a scenic library to continue writing. That's my week. So it's like not that interesting. No day, am I working past four or five? Some days I have appointments, other days I have less appointments. So it's not exciting. - Where's your adventure writing gonna be? - I don't know. It depends how crowded various libraries are. I think we're early enough in the semester that I might still have options. - You mean at school? - Yeah, because my thought is if I'm going into Georgetown for a meeting, I might as well take advantage of the fact that I'm in a new location to work in interesting places. So I like, for example, the bio ethical library in Healy Hall at Georgetown. If that's crowded, I'll go to a lesser used floor of the main library on campus. If I have thinking to do, I like to walk through these trails that go up through Glover Park, down from the canal up through Glover Park, intersected by Reservoir Road. I love those trails, I used to live by them. It's all off and leave campus and walk up and down those if I have thinking to do. When the weather's nicer, I have a bunch of outdoor spots on campus where I'll bring my laptop to write. It's too cold this time of year. But you know, when I'm writing a hard article and it's hard to get started and get a hard article going. So I like to do this trick whenever possible. Use interesting locations to try to get the juices flowing. If you're on chapter seven of a book, six months into the writing, you're just, let's just go. You start each morning at your office. When you're starting something and you're like, this needs to be, I don't know how I'm going to even do this. You know, you want to be at the, whatever, at the coffee shop or in the woods or somewhere kind of interesting to shake it out. But the reality here at Ben is my work day is not that interesting. I don't work crazy hours. Now the two things I will say is during my actual work hours, I'm locked in. I time block plan, I don't waste time. I mentioned that I watched a movie on Tuesday. That was scheduled well in advance. This 90 minute block that I'm going to sit and watch this movie. It's not something I just casually did because I was procrastinating. So I do work really hard when I'm working, but I don't work in unusual amount of hours. The key to my apparent productivity is that over time, a lot of things pile up. So when I work, I work hard. I'm careful about what I work on. I am usually working on a couple things at a time. I keep making slow but steady progress on multiple things at a time. And things finish. And then you look at the end of the year and say you wrote all these articles and finished this book and did all these things, but they weren't being done simultaneously. It's just the steady application of a reasonable amount of intense effort over time aggregates with some pretty cool results.
How can I create a career without skills? (54:49)
All right, let's do, I have a case today. Let's do one more question. I didn't have a case today I want to share. - Sounds good. Our next question is from Moritz, a high school student from Germany. I worry that to create it the career I want, I need to be really skilled at something. I worry that I don't really have found an activity which I find so fulfilling as to accomplish that. Do you have any recommendations on getting started? - Well, Moritz, it's good that you're thinking about this at an early age. I also want to reassure you that you're still at an early enough age that you should not need to have your whole career figured out. Now, I think what you're expressing here is maybe the German equivalent of the follow your passion mentality that's here in America. At the core of follow your passion is this notion that you can figure out in advance at the beginning of your career journey what it is that you're best suited to do and therefore use that certainty to actually guide you through the work required to get there. My big argument is that that's rarely the case. Really cool careers that are meaningful, that require a lot of skill, that create impact. They often unfold more haphazardly than in a less predictable fashion than most young people imagine. So as a high school student, I would focus on, you know, figuring out how to be a student, treating it like a job, letting that open up various university opportunities. As you go to university opportunities, choose a field of study that matches the skills you already have and interest of yours. Do well at the university level. Again, treat your studying like a job, the type of things I talk about in my book, how to become a straight A student, be efficient autopilot schedule, time control, et cetera. That's gonna open up opportunities. Choose an opportunity that is well matched to your skills. You're getting, at this point now, the career capital you've built up in college or university, you're actually now really able to deploy it and use it as leverage. And it's interesting to you and that has interesting opportunities down the line if and when you continue to get good and then just start doing that. I mean, really it's often not until you're five years in to a career opportunity out of university that was well suited to your skills and interesting, that you really get to start doing cool things, that you've built up enough skill that now you can shift your job role or go over to another company or start your own thing. So that's down the line. Right now just be a good high school student, get the university, figure out how to ace that particular job. Open up opportunities, choose an interesting one, put your head down, do really well, look up after a few years and say, okay, now I'm ready to take my career capital out for a spin. And that's when things really do start to get interesting. Jesse, I think I have it in the library, but the German edition of So Good They Can't Ignore You. This is, maybe this says something about Germany, but in America the book is called So Good They Can't Ignore You, it's focusing on the positive. The German edition, it's a newspaper on the cover and the headline translates to, I think it's called the dream job delusion. I like that, it's very German. So the Americans are like, yeah, be so good and you're gonna find meaning, but this is just an alternative way. And the Germans are like, ah, that dream job delusion. You're delusion to think that dream job, that's not how it works. Efficiency, efficient effort applied towards a pragmatic goal. So dream job is delusion. Bon, I don't know, Bon is, I don't know what that means, road or something like that. Oh well, let me do a quick case study before we get to the books I read. All right, so our final case study, again, all of these questions and case studies are trying to relate to the central theme of today's episode, which is engineering the characteristics of your workday to be more satisfying.
Case Study - The Slow Lawyer (58:38)
All right, this one comes from Dana, a 40 year old lawyer from British Columbia. So she, Dana, or it might be a he, I'm not sure, wants to redeem the profession of law. We said earlier in this episode that it ranked last in terms of happiness, ranked last in terms of stress. So it's the most stressful, least half full job. Are all lawyers doomed? Dana says not necessarily, let's listen to this case study. She says, I work as a lawyer in civil litigation in a small firm. It is a deadline driven client service profession. You're suggesting that people focus on lifestyle centric career design, where you try to figure out how work fits into your life has been very informative. For example, I have turned down jobs as well as offers a partnership in this firm because they offered less freedom in my schedule. At present, I work more as a contractor who can dictate my schedule and quota of cases. If I took a more traditional path of buying into a partnership, then I'd probably have to take out a loan or repain money to the partners for a share. Alternatively, if I went into the public sector or a larger firm, then I would lose autonomy. I have found that lifestyle centric career planning is indispensable. That's what it looks like when you engineer the characteristics of your workday. You reject the inertia towards what everyone else is doing and say instead, these are the characteristics I want in my job, I'm pretty good. I have some leverage. I have some say over how my working life unfolds. What can I do to get more of these and less of that? For Dana the lawyer, she said, "Okay, I know everyone else thinks being a partner is the ultimate goal because I guess ultimately that's the highest prestige and/or the highest income, but who cares? I make more than enough money as a non-partner lawyer. What I want is autonomy. So no, I don't want to be a partner. I want to stay right here. I want my relationship to be a contractor type relationship where I tell you how many cases I want to take on and then I will do those cases really well. I will control my workload. I'm happy with the money I make here. That's engineering the characteristics." Now, I didn't read these details in the episode, but Dana sent a huge amount of information about her organizational systems that her and her legal assistant use. That's the other aspect of that. Is she's really dialed in. It's really kind of cool. I mean, inside our baseball, so I didn't want to get into all the details on the show, but they have these really detailed systems for keeping track of each case, what needs to be done each week. They group together tasks by type so that if the legal assistant's going to go pull records for one case, she can see all the other cases that need records pull so she can do it all at once. They have a system they use to pass notes back and forth on cases without having to just interrupt each other. They use agile style weekly check-in planning. So that's the other aspect of this. Is that Dana plugged in the organizational system to try to shave the rough stress edges off of the work that she does do. Let's get the processes dialed in. Let's make this less haphazard. Let's make this less interrupt driven. That's controlling the characteristics of your workday. So I thought that was a good example to end on. All right, so that's our discussion of today's theme. I want to end the show by talking about the books I read in December. First, I want to talk about another sponsor of the show. The show is sponsored by BetterHelp. Now, we talk a lot on the show about treating your brain as something that needs to be trained and protected and fed in the same way that you might do that with your body. You need to give it good ideas, high quality ideas in the forms of books. You need to set up the proper conditions for it to be able to concentrate. If you want to do deep work, you have to have locations where you work. You have to have rituals around your work. You have to have systems around your work so that you can make your mind more comfortable focusing. Well, another thing that we have to care about if you want to function in a cognitive economy is what about how you deal with negative thoughts, stress, anxiety, ruminations, thought stuff that can draw your attention away, make you unhappy, make it difficult to execute.
Cal talks about Policy Genius and Better Help (01:02:40)
This is something else you need to work on systematically. Therapy is what is going to work here. Therapy is like the personal trainer for your brain that helps you learn through practice, evidence-based and experience-based practice, how to actually deal with the difficult things that pop up in our mental lives. So if you're thinking of giving therapy a try, better help is a great option. It's convenient, flexible, affordable, and entirely online. You just fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist and you can switch therapists anytime for no additional charge. If you have anything in your cognitive life right now that really is a drag on you, the anxiety, stress, rumination, a hedonic affect, you have any of this going on in your life right now? Go to BetterHelp. Let's get a trainer for your brain involved in your life. So if you want to live a more empowered life therapy can help you get there, visit betterhelp.com/deepquestions to get 10% off your first a month. So you have to do the/deepquestions to get the discount. That's BetterHelp. H-E-L-P.com/deepquestions. I also want to briefly mention our friends at Policy Genius. If you have a family like I do, you have a million things to do. One of those things is having good life insurance. This is something that we often procrastinate on because we don't really know how to get started. Where do we go? Who do we talk to to actually get this in place? This is where Policy Genius can help. It was built to modernize the life insurance industry. Their technology makes it easy to compare life insurance quotes from top companies like AIG and Prudential in just a few clicks to find your lowest price. With Policy Genius, you can find life insurance policies that start at just $17 per month for $500,000 coverage. If you don't have life insurance and you have a family, you need it, Policy Genius is going to make this easy. Look, we just went through this again. My wife and I just went through it again where we set down our advisor and figured out what we had to adjust our numbers to. So I know how complicated and confusing the industry can be if you don't use something like Policy Genius, that makes it simple. So your loved ones deserve a financial safety net. You deserve a smarter way to find and buy life insurance.
December Book Recommendations
December 2022 Books (01:05:34)
So head to policygenius.com or click the link in the description to get your free life insurance quotes and see how much you could save. That's policygenius.com. All right, Jesse, it's late, but better late than ever. In this final segment, I want to mention the books I read in December 2022. As you might recall, December for me is thriller December. It is the month in which I like to read adventure or thriller novels. That's the genre that I'd say genre I really like. There's a lot of holidays in December. So it's a tradition of mine is to read more thrillers than normal in December. So I read three thrillers in December, Jesse, and I will go through them all right now. All right, the first one I read, The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfeld. This is a action thriller that takes place in an alternative timeline. So it's in the 70s and it's a, it's positing an alternative timeline where we did a few more Apollo programs and I don't want to give too many details away other than there's gun battles happening in space with the Soviets. What was cool about this book, what attracted me to it is that Chris Hadfeld, the author, is an astronaut. So this actually has realistic details of how all this 1970s era Apollo space program technology actually worked. He actually understands space and what this world is like. So I like that idea that it was written by an astronaut book about astronaut murders. It's pretty good. The next one I read was Recursion by Blake Crouch. I wanna flag this book for a second because I read a lot of thrillers. Recursion is about as platonic of an example I have found of perfection in pacing. It's like a master class in thriller, structure and pacing. Really this piece of it is brilliantly done. It's date lined chapters and you're moving back and forth between two timelines and those timelines kind of catch up and back and forth, the way it moves back and forth, back and forth and ratchets up is just a precision plot construction. It's a book that's really hard to put down once you pick it up. I was really impressed by it. I mean actually I was so impressed by it that I was a little bit disappointed when I went back to read a prior book of Blake's which was good but man with Recursion he has the pacing just locked in. It's the best thriller pacing I've read. One of the best thriller patients I've probably ever read. - Why was it written? - This book would have been, I don't know the last 10 years or something like that. It's like a time, I won't give away everything that happens but the way it opens is it's plain with time. So he's a technothriller writer. He's like, "All right, he's not like, "I used to say relatively young, "I guess we're not that young anymore." But there's this virus sort of happening where people are having memories of different lives suddenly appear and it seems to be contagious. People nearby have the same thing happen and there's a detective that's trying to unwind like what's going on and then it starts to unravel. And then you get a plot line from back in time and it catches up and then it gets crazy at the end. Anyways, perfection in structure and pacing. The last thriller I read in December was The Last Jur by John Grisham. I just had it from a little free library here in Tacoma Park. It's just, here's the thing about being a writer like John Grisham. If you have that one or two huge successes early on, you can just keep writing books that don't have to be blockbusters. Like if The Last Jur was written by someone else, you know, like us. Nice. Yeah. But because he wrote The Firm, because he wrote The Pelican Brief and The Client and he became such a superstar, you could just write these books where they don't have to be bangers. It's just interesting. It's just that's a guy starting up a newspaper in the small Mississippi town that he likes to write about and there's a trial and 20 years later, like some of the jurors start dying off, like being killed, right? And then they kind of figure out what's going on. That's the book. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. But if this was the book you read instead of The Firm, you wouldn't know the name John Grisham. So it's a good gig if you can get it. There's another thriller I didn't quite finish in December, so I'll get to that in the January. So I really read four in December, but the fifth one I didn't finish until into January, so we'll get it with the next list. All right, I read two other books as well, Non-Thrillers. One was called Living with Frankenstein by Stephen Scolny, Scolny. This is, I'm working on some things with artificial intelligence. So this is like a small philosophical tract about machine sentience, and this is like a gentleman scholar has this thesis about, you know, what does it really mean for technology to be conscious? And he has a much lower bar for that, and things were already there. I needed it for something I was doing. - Mm-hmm. - What I enjoyed more was John Meachums, and there was light. It was John Meachum's new Lincoln biography. It was very good, very good. So Meachum is taking a, he's looking at Lincoln through the lens of, in part ethics and in part religion. So the virtue ethics worldview of Lincoln, and then also the impact of religions on Lincoln. I think the early part of Lincoln's life, I really enjoyed the way this Meachum treated it, because what he does good in this book, and I've read a lot of Lincoln books, but he does good in this book is set context. So there's a lot of primary sources that he pulls from the set to context. So it's one of the better, for example, depictions of southern culture, and during the pre-war period. Because he pulls from sermons and newspapers and headlines to try to really understand the reactionary culture that was emerging in the south, in defense of slavery. And like understanding that really helps make sense of some of the big historical things that happen. He goes to primary sources to get there. Another thing I learned from Meachum, which was really interesting, was, I didn't know this, and I read a lot of Lincoln. That Lincoln's family, when he was a young kid, was attending a church, one of these rural churches, that was, it's very anti-slavery. So he was exposed to anti-slavery thinking, in part because of, this was the early exposure he had to it was in church, which I hadn't heard. I had heard about the, there's a labor argument. His dad was a working, poor working class, white and Illinois were worried about the economic ramifications of slave labor coming into their state. So I had heard that piece of it. So he grew up in an anti-slavery household, but he was inculcated with a religious anti-slavery message. And Meachum went back and found, here's the preacher, and here's the type of things they talked about. So I thought that was all good. Once they get to the war, and the presidency, it's like real fast. He just covers it in 70 pages. It just, it moves by really fast, but enjoyed it. All right, Jesse, those are my five books from December. Next month, we will talk about the five books I read in January. We'll try to do a little bit sooner next time. All right, well, that's all the time we have for today's episode. We'll be back next week with a new episode. If you want to submit your own questions, there's a link right in the show notes. If you want to watch these episodes instead of listening, go to youtube.com/calmnewportmedia. See you next week, and until then, as always, stay deep.