Full Length Episode | #177 | February 28, 2022

Transcription for the video titled "Full Length Episode | #177 | February 28, 2022".

1970-01-01T01:08:44.000Z

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Introduction

Cal's intro (00:00)

I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 177. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ, joined by my professor professor. You don't know this about Jesse, everyone. My producer, Jesse, is also the professor who taught me everything I know about optimization and distributed algorithm theories. Is that not true, Jesse? It's not true. We are having, so we're off to a difficult technical start today. I think this is a fair assessment. We've had multiple issues as we're preparing to record today's episode. And Jesse, correct me if I'm wrong, but both issues had an incredibly technically nuanced solution. You're correct. Turn it off and turn it back on. This is right. Multiple unrelated issues were solved today by turning off different things, mind you. Not the same component, completely unrelated problems that we have fixed so far by turning it off and turning it on. That is why I hired the professor in the first place. This is his specialty, his complex. So we've turned it off and turned it on. That's why I keep, I keep, like, I'm glancing at our equipment here with a trepidation. I keep checking that it looks like things are actually recording. We also had the mouse. Oh, our mouse died. Yes. Our mouse died. I think there's a 50% chance there's going to be a power outage in the next 15 minutes. You know, there was, this is before your time, Jesse, but there was a period when I was recording, I was recording an episode and there was a lightning storm. And so I'm recording and there's lightning and there's this huge lightning strike that was nearby. Like you could just hear the thunder or whatever and like immediately began hearing a hum, right? In my equipment and that hum has been with us ever since. It's like the bat in the natural. Something about that lightning strike has added a hum to the equipment that we've been battling ever since. So I don't know. I don't know what to turn off and turn on to fix that one, but we can only go uphill or downhill. I don't know what's better. We can only get better from here, technically speaking, now that we're actually recording. Oh, well, all right. So here's what I'm thinking. I think we'll do a deep dive. I always enjoy doing those and then we'll get into our normal collection of questions. So for today's deep dive, the topic I want to tackle is the following provocative question is ambition worth it?


Discussion On Productivity And Mindset

Deep Dive (02:40)

Now, let me give a disclaimer before I set up this discussion. The disclaimer is this is not a topic for which I have polished evolved thoughts that I am now going to convey to you. It's instead a topic that I have found interesting off and on and particularly recently I've been thinking about. So this morning I just jotted down some thoughts. So what this is, what you're going to hear today is me thinking out loud, not delivering well thought through conclusion. So this, this should be fun. You know, buckle up for that. So what made me start thinking about ambition recently there has been recently as there happens off and on it feels like over the last couple of years, a big collection of various essays and articles that have come out that are all taking a negative stance against the idea of ambition. People often send these to me and so I encounter them quite often. I'm cited in some of these. What's interesting is sometimes I'm cited as the villain and sometimes I'm cited as the non villain depending on how you think about me or what part of my writing you're actually citing. So these come to me because they often, they often cite me, but it got me thinking recently about this topic of ambition. So if you look at these, what I call anti ambition essays, there's really two pieces to them. There's the piece which is personal and interesting and compelling, which is often people talking about their own struggles with ambition and the difficulty they have with it and the attempts they're making to perhaps disentangle their life from this ambition. And then there's a, maybe the explanatory part that's saying why, why is ambition something that is so popular? Why was I as the person writing this essay so entangled in ambition? In some sense, that's less interesting to me because you just see whatever frame that person's cultural context lies within will just give them that answer. So if you read anti ambition essays coming from, let's say, a sub stack writer who lives in Brooklyn, they're going to look around their cultural world and say, well, ambition is, it's from capitalism. Let's have like an economic materialist approach to this where we say if we can just get rid of capitalism, we can get rid of the sort of disordered affectations, these disordered compulsions towards accomplishment. Whereas if you read an anti ambition essay, let's say from someone who lives in Montana and is really into the bow hunting or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the frame there might be a much more throwy in type frame about simplicity and, you know, focusing on things that really matter and getting clutter out of your life. So it really just depends. Right. So I don't care about the explanation, but I care about the phenomenon. About the phenomenon of these essays, once again, becoming something that we read quite a bit about. So I want to jump, I want to jump into this and try to actually tackle this. So let's define ambition. Number one, the drive to do things of increasing impact. So it's that drive to do things that are notable that have impacted or rewarded or numerative, depending on what your metrics are, but generally that drive and it's often insatiable. So if you hit one level, then that next level begins to be appealing. And what I want to try to do here is go over the pros and cons of ambition. So let's get into that. Let's start with the cons. What's the issue with ambition? Number one, it leads or it can lead to burnout. We talk about burnout often on this show. And if we're talking in particular about professional burnout for people who do computer screen and email type jobs, there's really two big sources of burnout that people suffer from. One is chronic overload. I talk about this, for example, in my writing and my core ideas video on slow productivity. But if you have more on your plate consistently than you can even imagine accomplishing just too much on your plate, that can be quite distressing. You can short circuit the planning parts of your circuits. It can lead to an overhead spiral where you spend more time tending to all of these pending tasks than actually executing them recipe for burnout. The other main source of burnout among this particular context is when you spend too much time in a high arousal emotional state, so high stress state, high anxiety state. So, your work is such that there's crises happening that keeps you at a high level of alertness. You can basically just burn out those systems. That's too much cortisol in your system. Your mind gives up on it. Burnout can happen as well. Ambition can amplify both those issues because if you're ambitious, you are putting more and more stuff on your plate probably because you see these opportunities. You want to keep moving. You want to get after it. Like overload is a real hazard. Also if you're ambitious, that means you're taking on responsibility and making moves that are more likely to expose yourself to those high arousal states. So I'm going to start my own business. We're going to build this thing big. That's going to set you up for a lot of situations where there's a crisis with your business. You can't get the funding together. You're not going to make payroll. It's going to set you up for a lot of situations where you might have that consistent stress. Ambition can make it more likely that you burn out. It amplifies our human instinct to compare. Compare to other people. Now we all do this. I mean regardless if you're ambitious or not, you look on Instagram, you see this, you get a little bit jealous. But when you are ambitious, it can become close to intolerable when you see the success you want that you're not getting. And I want to say I'm speaking from some experience here. I am, I have ambition. It is an odd mistress of mine that has both given and taken away. But I have felt this amplification of comparison issue. It's almost weird how it works. It's like your brain is being taken over by someone else. Like here's something that I have periodic just to make this personal. I have periodic bouts of this where I'll go through a period where I will feel bad about my status as a writer. Like man. I just, I didn't hit where I want to get. Now by some standards that's preposterous. Like I'm a successful writer. I have multiple books, I think four books at this point that are healthily into the six figures with sales. So I can consistently sell six figure books. I have a seven figure or a seven figure sale number book. I'm relatively well known, done well financially with the books. I've made impact on culture. I've introduced new ideas into the vernacular. Like I am a successful writer by most standards. But then I'll say, but here's what I'm not. I've never had a book where right out of the gate, it is on the New York Times bestseller list for a while. Notice how I'm subtly shifting the goalposts. My last two books have been New York Times bestseller. So my mind shifts it. You've never had a book that stays on the list. I've never had one of those books where it's just on that Amazon chart top 10 for six months when it comes out. Now we're talking about in my space. There's like five people who do that. But my mind will say, why aren't you one of those five? And then I'll come back to earth and be like, oh, it's crazy. I feel great about what I'm doing. But I'll have those bouts. And I point out that personal example just to talk about the way that ambition can rewire your mind in these ways that are malformed. As far as the outside world is concerned, that is crazy talk. But it'll hit you hard. Another issue with ambition is that it can keep you from other things that are important in your life. If you're not careful, this is often one of the big points that's hit when you read the modern anti-emission essays is that if you're all in on, I am going to start the next uber, you're not spending time with your kids. You're not spending time out in nature. Your mind is probably always moving. You're probably not very involved in your community and becoming a leader and sacrificing time and energy on behalf of people you care about. You're doing this one thing. So this is a real danger of ambition. It's easy to fall there to get very out of balance in your life. This is why when I talk about the deep life and my bucket system for the deep life, we have these various aspects you should focus on to try to keep that balance. And the final thing about ambition, the piece we don't talk about even when we encourage people to follow their dreams or do whatever they want to do is that you probably won't succeed. So the things that we are ambitious about are very hard. That's what makes them a target of ambition. Most people won't succeed. So you go to a really good school, you worked really hard to get there, you've taken an elite job, like I'm going to be a writer, I'm going to move to New York, I'm going to be a writer, maybe I'll be the next Joan Didion and most people won't be. And so 10 years later, you're writing essays about, well, ambition is stupid anyways. So it's hard, man. It's hard. People don't get anywhere close to where they're going. There are also pros of ambition. Let's lay out the other side of this. So first of all, the pursuit of big goals is life affirming. I mean, this is the one thing I don't think the anti-ambition people acknowledge enough is that there are few results that are better understood in human psychology than if you take away people since efficacy, take away their sense of here's something you're in charge of that's important that you're working on. They will just wither. There's almost nothing worth you can do to a human than put them in a situation where they can't do anything. There's nothing I'm working towards. There's nothing I'm taking care of. There's no challenges I'm facing. That makes humans miserable. They need that and they need sociality. You take away either of those two things and it's a problem. So there is something life affirming going after something that's important or ambitious. It gives a focus to your energy. The human brain does not want to do nothing. I mean, for very brief periods, it gets uncomfortable with doing nothing. Also, accomplishment does make people feel good. Again, the anti-ambition essays tend to downplay this, but actually it feels good to accomplish something. There's like the burst of chemicals in the moment. Yes, that goes away. You're not going to have that opioid style high permanently, but there is a background hum of confidence and satisfaction that does come from accomplishment. And I think that is worth acknowledging. If you're doing something at a high level and you're recognized for it, you get a steady state sense of pride, of self-worth. You have more confidence. It feels good. So it's not all invented, right? So it's not all just constructed as part of a conspiracy to help certain groups exploit others. There are real benefits that you get there. And of course, society needs at least some people to be ambitious. That's what moves forward whole technologies and industries. I mean, you take someone like Elon Musk and when he is discussed in sort of elite cultural circles, everyone's just focusing on does he believe the right things? Does he talk about things properly? Is he on our team? Is he on the other people's team? And I say, I don't know. I don't really care about that. He's kind of a weird guy. Yeah, I think we all kind of acknowledge that, but he's single-handedly made basically every automaker in the country have a serious electric car strategy. He single-handedly reduced the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 10. That's crazy ambition. I don't want to live Elon Musk life. It's brutal. But I'm glad there's people living Elon Musk's life because we have a cool electric cars now. And you can do this again and again with medicine and science, with the practitioners there. We wouldn't have relativity if it's not for the fierce ambition of Einstein. His whole family broke apart about this. His hair went white. Einstein's hair went white at a younger age than mine from the stress of trying to make these theories come together. His family life got terrible because of this. His health faltered because of this. I wouldn't want to do it. But relativity was absolutely foundational for understanding the modern world. So we also need ambition in the world, even if not everyone is doing it. All right, so we have pros and cons. So we get to the conclusion then. All right. So who wins? If the question is, is ambition worth it, we have two possible answers here. A, no, it's just an invention. It's a cultural construct that is exploitative of you, stop it, focus on just being present, do less, and we'll just get rid of capitalism or move them on Tana and we'll be okay. The other answer is no, no, it's critical to feeling good. It's critical to self-affirmation, it's critical to the society. So what answer is right? I'm going to say neither and I'm going to say both because this is where I'm beginning to fall on this issue. Beginning is the key word here. I do not have a comprehensive take on this yet, but where I'm beginning to fall on this issue is that ambition is novelistic. It's novelistic in its scope and impact. When I say novelistic, I mean messy and human and tragic and inspiring all at the same time. I think ambition gets to core contradictions in the human experience. We're miserable when it's removed from our life, but as we pursue it, it takes out of our life other things that we need to not be miserable and there's tragedy in that. But there's also great inspiration in that. That's why I say it's novelistic. It's not something that we look at through an economic lens. It's not something that we necessarily look through a philosophic lens. It is messy and it's very human. Just like when you read a deep novel, a deep good piece of literature, you're able to actually revel in the complexity because that's part of what you try to get out of a good novel. We need that mindset, I believe, when we're thinking about ambition. I think there's probably an evolutionary explanation we could put behind this messiness. I never hesitate to throw in some ill-conceived, ill-thought-through pop evolutionary psychology. Let's do that real quick. Probably if you really were going to pull back to cover here, here's what you're going to find. In the Paleolithic, you have humans living tribally. We evolve a strong drive to be a respected member of our tribe that is critical to survival and passing on your genes. We know this is true in part because nothing makes us feel more immediate, uncontrolled, positive feelings than when we encounter a story of someone sacrificing on behalf of their tribe. It just hits us at a core. Yes, that is right. Look at this person who stood up and took the arrows on behalf of his or her people. That instinctively feels well and nothing makes us feel more uncomfortable and squirrely and weasily than hearing a story of someone who is betrays their tribe or is weak or cowardly. Those are deep instincts. Deep instincts mean deep evolutionary past. This thing has evolved. The issue, of course, is the Paleolithic gave way to the Neolithic and suddenly we had cities and city-states and eventually nations. Now we have this drive to be respected and be a leader except for the people in our immediate surroundings are no longer 15 people that we have lived with intergenerationally for 15 generations. It's 15,000 people in a city-state. And that gave rise to this new type of Neolithic ambition which we weren't evolved for. It is the evolved instinct to be a leader in the tribe applied to a much bigger context and that's what gives you suddenly political ambitions. You have the pharaohs. It's what gives us intellectual ambition. You get Aristotle. You get Socrates. It gives us these theological ambitions. You get Siddhartha. You get Jesus Christ. You get people who are trying to think through religious thoughts that are going to impact the entire world. This is a parochial instinct applied on a scale that was never evolved for. And so I don't know if this is true but I would wager. It is that tension between an instinct that was evolved to make sense among 20 people. Apply to a world of 6 billion that we now can communicate with and see and have an audience amongst that creates this weird tension that we feel in our life where this ambition to keep going farther and get that ambition is taking us away from the things that are important to us like being with our family and with our community. And that's because there was a time when that was all the same thing. That time was 100,000 years ago. I don't know if that's true but I think that's one way of trying to get at this fundamental novelistic, tragic, inspirational tug of war that is at the core of so many people's life which is the fight over ambition. So I don't have a nice clean story to give you. I don't have a nice clean answer. This is what you should do. Do these three steps. Put this card on your trailer board and use a time block planner. Boom, you're good with ambition. I don't know the answer here yet but I'm increasingly feeling that the answer is going to evolve cutting each other some slack and seeing ambition as this complicated, wonderful, terrible, interesting piece of the human condition and not just a simple football we can kick back and forth. It's good, it's bad, that team likes it, this team doesn't. Something interesting going on here and we should be okay with that nuance.


Blinkist and Athletic Greens (20:41)

So that is my, those are my thoughts on ambition. So there we go. All right, Jesse. Well, I'm ambitious to get on to some questions but we should probably take a brief moment to talk about a couple of our sponsors. Let's start with Blinkist, longtime sponsor of the show. Blinkist is a subscription service that allows you to get short summaries, 10 to 15 minute summaries of best selling nonfiction books, important nonfiction books. You can get these short summaries called blinks of thousands of important nonfiction titles. Now there's a lot of ways you can use Blinkist. What I've been talking about for a long time is that it is a great way to try to figure out which books are worth reading and where just a summary is enough. I read a lot of books but there are way more books out there than I can possibly ever handle. Blinkist gives me a way of wading through these opportunities. If I'm interested in an idea, I can look at the blinks for multiple books in that idea, get the lay of the land almost immediately. Here's the main topics. Here's the main theories and decide if there's any particular books in that genre that now I should actually go out and buy and dive in more deeper. I'm no longer flying blind. I can move through the world of books with some guidance. I was looking at Blinkist just the other day in particular looking at the technology and future category because this is a space I care about and there's a lot of big ideas and it's impossible to figure out which books you should and shouldn't read. But just to give you an example here, if you're interested in Yuval Harari who wrote sapiens and you see he has this follow up book, homo deos and you're trying to figure out should I read this or not? What's it about? Here it is right here on the list, technology in the future, 10, 15 minutes later, you have the main ideas. Blinkist is a must have tool for those who want to play in the world of books and ideas. Right now Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience. If you go to blinkist.com/deep to start a free seven day trial, you will get 25% off a Blinkist premium membership. That's Blinkist spelled B-L-I-N-K-I-S-T. Blinkist.com/deep to get 25% off and a seven day free trial. That's blinkist.com/deep. Let's also talk about athletic greens. Now Jesse, you can confirm you have heard me talk frequently about my athletic screens habits. I do indeed take athletic greens every morning. Can you confirm this sir? I can confirm it. All right. So Jesse is the official voice of confirmation. What is athletic greens? Let me use their exact wording here so that I don't get it wrong. So it is a powder that you put into a drink. I add it to 12 ounces of waters. That includes 75 high quality vitamins, minerals, whole food source super foods, probiotics and adaptogens. You drink it once a day. You drink it in the morning and it makes sure that you have all of the different vitamins, minerals, super food, probiotics, adaptogens, all the stuff you want to get out of your diet and you make sure you have it all. We could try to eat clean, which I do. You're not going to get all the things you need. So you do one scoop of athletic greens every morning. You are covered. Jesse, a couple of weeks ago we were trying to figure out what adaptive gins are. I looked it up. Do you have a guess? Or you might already know, you don't know do you? I don't know. All right. So what's your guess as to what adaptogens do? Recovery, assistive recovery. That is incorrect. No, they give you the power of flight. So I don't know if you need that. Am I a dunk? Yes, you can dunk. No, actually I heard it helps with anxiety. So I think this is a good selling point for these current times. So that is athletic greens. I take it every morning. What I like about them, and I've said this before because I talked to them before I agreed to be their sponsor, this is all they do is this one product. And every year they call it a new version. They upgrade it again and again to make sure that the quality of the ingredients is better. They obsess about this, right? Getting just the right best sourced versions of these things. Jesse and I talk about this all the time. I cannot go into GNC to try to figure this out on my own. If I go into GNC, I will be immediately punched in the face by a bodybuilder athletic greens allows me to avoid that. So to make it easy for you, let's see what we got here. Athletics Green is going to give you a free one year supply of their immune supporting vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase. I will just say briefly the vitamin D they figured out needs to be in solution to be stable. So you add the vitamin D with the dropper at the last minute. So it's the only thing not in the powder that just shows how much they care about getting this right. They will give you a free vitamin D addition for your athletic greens and five free travel packs with your first purchase. All you have to do is visit athletic greens.com/deep. Again that is athletic greens.com/deep to take ownership over your health to pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance and to gain the power of flight. So I think that's pretty good offer. I think there's probably a note on here somewhere that says do not claim that this product gives people the power of flight. Because we've just created a lawsuit there. But you know sometimes you got to do what you got to do. Alright Jesse I think we should do some questions. I have so many papers these days. Our show is becoming too complicated. I have so many stacks of paper in front of me these days that- Good thing the prayer worked today. Yeah this was one of the big additions to the HQs when Jesse brought us a printer. We use that thing. Yeah it's good prayer. Good prayer. Black and white.


Should you ditch your to-do list with slow productivity mindset? (27:02)

Yeah I like it. Alright let's do some questions. Let's start as always with questions about deep work. Our first question comes from Brandon. Brandon asks does adopting a slow productivity mindset mean you should ditch your to do list and capture systems. Am I doing too much if I need a full fledged capture system? Well Brandon in an ideal world where you had complete control over what your working life look like and you had no concerns about money. You're independently wealthy so you could completely control your working life. I would say yeah it would be great if you didn't need all the things I talk about when I talk about time management. Don't need complicated capture systems. You don't need weekly and daily time block plans. That would probably actually be ideal. And there are some people who do actually more or less accomplish this. The example that I like to give comes from probably the first article I wrote to begin to scratch the surface on some of these ideas. It's also one of the favorite articles I've written in the past two years. And it was for the New Yorker and it was called the rise and fall of getting things done. And the narrative spine of this article was Merlin Mann. So this name is familiar to a lot of deep questions listeners but Merlin Mann in the 2000s started this blog called 43 folders that was all about using modern technology to build these hyper optimized digitally enhanced productivity systems. He had a job as a project manager that he took in the 90s that as we fell into more and more of a culture of constant communication and constant email and constant work overload the culture I talk about in my book A World Without Email. He got more and more overloaded that he stumbled across David Allen and getting things done and he was a real tech guy so he was like man I think if we could just build the right tools I could stop feeling this way where I'm completely overwhelmed and completely stressed out. And so he started writing about trying to build those tools and a lot of other people felt the same way so that website got very popular and he became a real leader of the productivity movement. Eventually he was doing that website full time and giving talks about it and he got a book deal to write a book about it and that's when the wheels came off. And this is the narrative that was the spine for that article is that Merlin Mann eventually figured out I can't fix this problem by organizing better the deluge of things that are coming towards me by having better tools, having better systems, better processes for dealing with the deluge is coming with me. He said ultimately I can fix this problem by reducing the deluge. But instead of having a better system for having too much to do what if I changed my notion of work so I didn't have that much to do. So that having these productivity systems that are so complex would be unnecessary. And that's roughly what he did. He shifted into podcasting pretty early on. He was like this is just what I'm going to do. And the way he explained it to me when I talked to him about it for the article was he doesn't really need those systems because his life is really simple. He has a recording schedule. This is when I need to be in the studio to record my podcast. And that's kind of it. He keeps to-do list for household stuff. What do I need to buy at the grocery store or whatever? But he basically simplified his working life down to the point where he didn't really need to manage it. So I think yes kind of ideally a slow productivity ideal would be such that you're working on a small number of things one at a time. It's clear what you're working on. There's not that much to track. You don't have to squeeze as much as possible out of an eight hour day because you're juggling sixteen different tasks and projects. You have to make progress on each without losing your mind. You don't need six trellibords each for different roles because you only have one role. There's only one thing you need to do right now. You're writing or you're recording. So yes I think Brandon you're onto something ideally you would not need all of these systems. Now in the real world it's hard to get all the way to that point. If you can't get all the way to that point then having all these systems is what you absolutely need. This weird step function here. So if you've simplified things but there's still a non trivial amount of work on your plate by taming that with systems you can actually get closer to the slow ideal. So having more systems is actually important when you're close to the slow productivity ideal but not quite there. I've been working through some of these thoughts recently about slow productivity. I mean I think for example part of what you can do with systems if you're trying to be embrace more slow productivity is you can be much more automated about your small tasks. With the right systems you can push these small tasks into certain times on certain days so that they're not weighing on your mind else wise. So you can't get rid of them but you can tame them. You can automate them and control them and move them into certain places where they only take your time three hours a week at these set times. That requires a lot of systems but that's compressing the impact on your schedule. It's compressing the impacts of your mind can be free in other times. I think being very careful about tracking what you're working on is critical if you're going to reduce that because you can figure out what is my limits. What is the limit of work that I can handle easily? You can't figure that out if you're not carefully tracking this and tracking your time. So systems are critical for slow productivity. If and when until you reach the slow productivity ideal then maybe you don't need them anymore. Most of us aren't going to get there so Brandon most of us need systems. We want to be careful about our time so that we can protect that time. And then if we're lucky we'll end up in a Merlin man type situation where we don't need the systems anymore but until we get there I think systems help make you do the best with what you can.


What should I do while waiting for code to compile? (33:10)

All right we got a question here from Stephen. Stephen says, "Hi Cal, I'm a software engineer and I struggle to stay focused. Anytime I have to wait for something to happen. For example I may be waiting on a test suite to run or PR checks to pass or a service to start up. And these can take anywhere from two to ten minutes. Is it okay to context switch these scenarios and if not what should I do with my attention given my next action will be dependent on the outcome of whatever I'm waiting for? Stephen I hear this a lot from developers. They have all these pauses. Yeah well you're waiting for a compile or for your checks to complete. From a context switching perspective there's two extremes that you should stick towards here. Very very related activities are very very unrelated activities. Don't go in the middle. So by very related activities I'm working on this code. I'm running these checks on that. It's going to take four minutes. All right during that four minutes I'm looking at similar code. The next thing I'm going to test or I'm going back and trying to clean up some code I just wrote. So you're staying entirely within the context of the thing you're working on. That will minimize the context switching overhead because you're keeping most of the context the same. The other option is to go way far away from work altogether. So you say I need to go check Jesse Rogers' Twitter account to see how the player union management MLB union discussions are going today. And are we getting closer to an agreement on the collective bargaining issue with the competitive balance tax? Let's see what's going on there. That's so different from your work. But yes it's a context shift but it's not going to have nearly the same capture effect as something that's work related but different than what you're doing. So what is this work related but different what you're doing? What's the middle of the spectrum that's going to kill you? That's going to be things like email. Let me go look at other work related stuff. Expose myself to questions I need to answer, responsibilities being put on my plate, stuff that people need for me but I can't respond to all of them right now and then turn my attention back to what I'm doing. That gray zone is what's killer. That gray zone if you look at an email inbox I'm seeing work stuff but not super related to exactly what I'm doing is what's going to give you 20 minutes of sluggishness until you get your mind locked back in. That's the gray zone that if you keep going to it again and again throughout the morning by 2pm you're done because that's a painful context shift. So either stick with what very close to what you're doing or go very far away from what you're doing but don't go somewhere in between. So unrelated work stuff, email is killer, social media is killer. If it's emotionally arousing that's also a problem so I'll put that as a caveat. Don't look at information about the war, the Ukraine during your five minute check. That's also going to be quite diverting. Nothing emotionally arousing, nothing that's related but not exactly related to what you're doing and it's the best you can do.


What do you do when you get tired? (36:13)

All right so we got a question here from Tom. Tom says what do you do when you get tired. He elaborates he's extremely good at sticking to time blocking, not going on social media doing Pomodoro at the beginning of the week but as the week goes on I get a bit tired and burnt out and it's easier and easier to lose focus. I wonder if you can relate at all. A course not Tom, tiredness is equivalent to cowardice you should be ashamed. Don't do tiredness. No, Tom of course people get tired and there's two answers to this right. I mean one if you're tired at a given day for whatever reason, sleep, sickness, etc. Do less, do less that day. What are you doing during the day? You're taking energy and you're converting it into output of value and you're doing that mainly by putting this energy through the circuits in your brain to add value to information if you're a knowledge worker but you're converting energy to value if you have less energy, there's less value you can produce. So I think that's fine. The key however is to remain intentional about it. So the thing that you don't want to do is as you get tired, if you're tired at a given day or you get tired as the week goes on, you don't want to just become ad hoc and lax. I'm like, yeah, I'm sort of falling off my time block schedule and going down rabbit holes online and I sort of limp in for a finish on that day or limp in for a finish that week. No, don't do that. If you see your less energy, say I'm going to work less today but I'm going to make a plan for this less work day. I'm going to end it early. I'm going to put a two hour break in the middle. I'm going to move things from this week to next week but I'm still going to stick to the plan. I'm just going to make a plan that better fits my energy. That is the key. That is the key to energy and time management is intentionality, intentionality, intentionality. If you are giving your time a job that is based off a realistic assessment of what's going on in your current context, you're winning. If you are letting other factors in your mind and context just push you around like a leaf on a turbulent stream, you're in trouble. The exhaustion is going to amplify. You're going to feel bad. You're not going to end up in a place that's good. It's always the best thing to do is to be intentional. The main point I want to make here, Tom, and I think it's a good one and I'm glad you asked it. I'm glad you asked it. The main point I want to make is that some days you have more energy than others. That means there's less work you can produce and that's fine. What I want to see again is a plan that reflects a lower energy day. Here's my lower energy day plan. I finish it too. I take an hour of lunch where I don't work. I replace this hard thing with an easier thing. Whatever you need to do. Be intentional about it, Tom. All right. Let's see what else we have here.


How do I succeed as a postdoc? (39:04)

I've got a question from DK. DK is asking if I have any suggestions on what habits to add and improve when going from my PhD to a postdoc. Yeah, postdocs are highly autonomous as compared to PhD programs. It's all about research. Build your whole day around research. That's what it's about is doing research, doing research. Well, you will find that you probably have more free time than you're used to because if all you're doing is research, there's only so much of you doing the research during the day, that's fine. Just build a schedule that doesn't require as many hours. I'll tell you what I did, DK, when I switched from my doctoral work to my postdoctoral work, I was looking ahead to when I was going to become a professor after being a postdoc. I said, "When I'm a professor, my time is going to be way more limited than it is right now as a postdoc. I'm going to have classes. I'm going to have committees and I have students to supervise." I don't know. In addition to practicing research as a postdoc, I want to practice being effective at doing research even if I have reduced time. I added artificial constraints to my schedule. I had a dog at this point. It lived about a mile from campus. I've talked about this before across the bridge in Beacon Hill. I built a schedule where I took, I'd start at nine, but I take a two-hour block out of the middle of every day. My dog Bailey would go for a run. We'd run from the East campus there of MIT down the Charles. We would go down to the Mass Avenue Bridge. We'd cross out the Mass Avenue Bridge, come running back on the Charles on the Boston side. We'd exercise calisthenics on one of the docks that's out in the Charles River off of that size. If it was winter, we would dig out a spot on that dock out of the snow to do our push-ups. We were hardcore about it. The do-our pull-ups. We'd do this long run. Weather didn't matter. I had gear. Go back to my apartment on Beacon Hill. I would have lunch. I would take a shower. Then I would walk back to campus now crossing the Longfellow Bridge. This is like a two-hour plus thing. I wanted to put an artificial constraint in my day to say, "Okay, I not only need to get used to doing research, but getting a lot of research done when I only have a limited amount of time." I felt like I was training. I also wrote a book. I wrote most of So Good, They Can't Ignore You during my postdoc as well. That's what I would suggest. It's all about research. It used to research making progress on research. Don't worry about having too much time. In fact, this is a good time to do something else so you can practice doing that research with some constraints. It's an awesome job, basically, DK. It doesn't pay well, but it's otherwise an awesome job, so enjoy it. I got a question from Jeff. Jeff wants to know about diet. Can you please discuss how you approach your diet? Have you experimented with what specific foods best facilitate deep work and how do you balance this with the realities of life?


What do you eat to support Deep Work? (42:05)

Jeff, I'm not super strict about this, but I would say that the person I default back to following on food is probably Mark Sisson. I like the way Mark Sisson talks about things. There's different ways to describe what he's talking about. It's keto adjacent, so he talks about metabolic flexibility, so it's not that you want to be in ketosis all the time, but you have the ability to tip over into ketosis a little bit and come back. What that means for people who don't follow that type of stuff is not a lot of simple sugars, not a lot of carbohydrates, it's not carb free, but you're not eating a ton of bread, you're not eating a ton of pasta. Healthy fats, vegetables, proteins, what you would think. I've fallen back on him as a default. I try to eat that way to the best of my ability. Jesse, I know you think about this more. Again, my understanding of your diet is you eat once every two weeks. That's why I have that right. What do you do? I'm not a good food because you care about this more than I do. I'm actually just looking up Mark Sisson. I never heard of him. He's Jack. Yeah, and he's 65 now, I think. Yeah. He's a starfall on him. Look, you said you know the Mark Sisson story? No. He was an endurance athlete. He was an endurance athlete. He was a professional triathlete when he was younger. And destroyed his body. He was sick all the time. I think he got prediabetes at some point. As you know, back then, it was like carb, carb, carb. And it's not like you're going to look fat if you're a professional athlete. You're bringing it all up. But it was just ripping up his body. He was having immune responses or whatever. And so he shifted. He was one of the early sort of paleoprimal type people. He's like, you know what? I'm just going to eat the junk that was around for hundreds of thousands of years. And he sort of switched over to no more grains, you know, no more processed food. And he did that early on. And all of his issues went away. And his knee problems and his joint problems and his prediabetes. And he got really jacked. He's a big guy. And then he started a company eventually. So we had an early blog called Mark's Daily Apple where he would talk about this stuff. And he had a cool book called the Primal Blueprint. Because it wasn't just about food. It was like you need to live like a caveman type stuff. He was early to that. But more accessible than like a Rob Wolf type. And then he started a company called Primal Kitchen that was doing mainly salad dressings that were made with avocado oil. So it didn't have the junk seed oils and didn't have sugars in them. And so like if you liked what he was doing, you could, he had mannases and salad dressings or whatever. And about four or five years ago, craft bought that for 200 million. So then he pieced out of California and he lives down on Miami Beach now and is panned and ripped and is doing well for himself. But anyways, I like him. He's accessible too. He doesn't get weirdly doctrinaire. Some people, paleo people can get weirdly doctrinaire. But they're arguing about what nuts a Neanderthal in this region of France would have had access to during the early place. No, he's not super doctrinaire. He's like, guys, just don't eat a bunch of flour and sugar and crap that didn't exist. And healthy fats are good. And be outside a lot and extras and don't just be in a gym. Like he's all about play, you know, do sports and stuff with people or where you're outside and and that's Mark's isn't. But anyway, so back to your diet. So once every two weeks, you eat one gallon of athletic greens. Is that how it works? You just have like a giant bucket of athletic greens that you sit there and you spend an hour and eat it once every two weeks. So I have that about right. Yeah, more or less. Maybe a good resources Tom Brady's TV 12 book is they got a good chapter in there on on food and diet. And look at that book. Like a lot of it's like, not that it's weird, but like a lot of it's about his calisthenics flexibility. Yeah, it felt very specific to being like a 40 year old quarterback. Yeah, like aggressive work to make tendons more flexible. Yeah, there's a chapter though in there about nutrition and what he buys at the store and there's some good stuff in there. Is that what you do? Yeah, I mean, it seems like Mark and you know, Bray, they pretty much the same stuff. It's pretty simple. You just don't eat the sugar and other. So why is there just I don't get this. This pushback on like the paleo world is like a huge pushback on it. And I think it's just personal, right? Like the people don't like the the paleo people are kind of annoying. And so like, well, we're going to dunk on you and say there were like grains of certain types that people ate or this or that and the whole thing to me seems pretty crazy because what could be more self evident than at the very least, you can't possibly be doing harm by focusing mainly on foods that humans ate for a long time. And you could debate like, okay, maybe bread's not as bad as you think it is or something like this, but you can't possibly be doing harm by not eating bread. Because that's whatever it is, 10,000 years old or something like that. You can't possibly be doing harm by not eating cane sugar because we barely ate that right until recently. So this is what I don't get about is like the the pushback is if you avoid stuff that is new, you are avoiding processed food and void sugar. You're avoiding a lot of processed carbohydrates can't possibly be bad. So then the debate is about like, well, maybe it's I mean, maybe not doing that isn't as bad as you think or maybe these things you're avoiding maybe aren't as bad as you think. And yeah, maybe it is. But I think a lot of it is just they don't like how annoying, which they do get annoying. The paleo people get so doctrinaire and weird about it because people like to be doctrinaire and weird about things. But this is general idea of like you're not going to go wrong eating, you know, meats and vegetables and fruits and moderation and like roughly what you might have eaten 20,000 years ago. It's like to be unhealthy. Yeah. I mean, the food industry does such a good job of marketing. You walk in any grocery store like the whole middle of it is all well marketed, really good tasting stuff that's not good for you. And I mean, what Sisson does, I think is he calls it a big ass salad, but he just, you know, his first meal of the day, he just makes a huge salad with all sorts of crap in it. And he has these salad dressings, which because he's all about healthy fats. But they're avocado oil dressing. It's like get fat, right? But healthy fats is a huge salad and it makes them fall. And then he like does a good dinner. Yeah. Like we have lean steak and, you know, we broccoli and whatever like stuff he likes and like doesn't think about that much and spends a lot of time outside and exercises in various ways and hangs out with people on the beach and, you know, the other thing too is like going to restaurants and stuff. I mean, it's hard to eat while in restaurants, you know, any restaurant really. I mean, they're the food tastes really good and super salty. Yeah. Got a lot of butter. Yeah. I hear you at that. All right, Jeff, so I don't know if that was helpful, but at the very least look at pictures of how ripped the 65 year old man is because it is the, it's almost disturbing. It's like a little bit disturbing because he's old, but he's my hero from a food perspective and read the primal blueprints, a cool book. All right, let's do one more question here. What do we at? We're rolling along here.


What is your updated advice about “temporary plans”? (49:39)

Let's do one more deep work question. This one is from Sparky. Sparky says in a 2014 blog post, you talked about temporary plans as I am a professor as well. These longer two to three week plans seem more useful than a purely weekly plan for occasions like into the semester or a period before spring break or big conference travel. Do you have any updated tips or advice for these? I do Sparky. So when I used to talk about temporary plans, these were either habits you were temporarily trying out or work heuristics or plans that applied to a time to limited period like the next month or the next two or three weeks. I used to email these to myself. It'd be in my inbox. Temporary plans and so I could see them in there. The main change I made Sparky is I don't do that anymore. I just have the temporary plans live on my weekly plan. I redo my weekly plan. I'm like, yeah, this temporary plan is still in effect. I'll just keep it there. I used to email my weekly plans to myself rather. Now I print them out. Now I just keep. I don't want to have to look in my inbox at any occasion when I don't have to. That's my one change. Just have that live on your weekly plan. At the top of your weekly plan, you can even label them as ongoing or temporary plans. I just have a Word document where my last weekly plan exists and I just update it. When I update it, there's a lot of these bigger picture temporary plan or heuristic type things that I just keep there. So that'd be my only change. All right. So that's what we have about deep work. Before we go on to questions about the deep life, however, I'm going to talk briefly about another sponsor that helps make this show possible.


JUST EGG and New Relic (51:23)

That sponsor is Mark Sisson. So thank you, Mark Sisson. Mark Sisson. Weirdly ripped. All right. But actually this is a nutritional sponsor. So it's relevant and that is just egg. So Justin and I were just talking about diet. As part of talking about diet, we talked about how we eat, eat, eat, eat, clean, avoid a bunch of processed food, avoid a lot of carbohydrates and sugars. And this is why often for breakfast, I'm an eggs guy. Good healthy fat eggs bought from the farmer's market is, I love it, but that's a lot of eggs. And if you're going to have that every single day, and this is where just eggs enters the picture, just eggs is a company that's going to help you cook the best omelets you'll have all year round all while changing the world one egg at a time. And the way they do it is with their product, which is a cholesterol free plant based egg that will give you the most decadent quiches of your life, the fluffiest scrambles and the easiest egg sandwiches of all time. It has about the same protein as a chicken egg, but less saturated fat plus just egg is packed with cholesterol, lowing, polyunsaturated fat, chicken eggs wish they were this healthy. And because just eggs comes from plants, you're also helping to save the planet. This is why I like just eggs is sure I like chicken eggs, but I get a little bit uncomfortable eating them every single day. Throw just eggs into the rotation. They taste great. They're based on plants. It feels lighter. I am a fan. So just eggs, really good eggs. That's a good tagline. Just eggs, really good eggs. So keep your eyes peeled for just eggs. I also want to talk about new relic. So new relic is a company that is very relevant. If you are a software engineer, if you're a software engineer, you've probably been there before where it is nine p.m. You're finally unwinding from work. Your phone buzzes with an alert and something's broken. So your mind begins racing, trying to figure out what could be wrong. Is it my servers? There are network connection down that I misconfigured something in my cloud setup. You have a whole team now scrambling from tool to tool and loading up this web interface and running this clued together script that someone wrote, messaging person after person, trying to fix the issue. So this is a very large problem that you will not face if you use new relic. So new relic combines 16 different monitoring products that you'd normally buy separately. So engineering teams can see across their entire software stack in one place. There's a problem, load up new relic, look at the dashboard, boom, there it is. There's the issue. So you can pinpoint issues down to the line of code. So you know exactly why the problem happened and how you can resolve it quickly. That's why the dev teams and ops teams at places like DoorDash, GitHub and Epic Games rely on new bug to debug and improve their software. I was blown away. I talked to someone from new relic. I'm blown away by how widely used this is. Jesse, if you had to guess, and I know if there's one thing you know about, it's debugging real time issues with software stacks, but if you had to guess, how many companies do you think are using new relic right now? 1500. More than 14,000. So if you're in the world, if you're a dev teams or an ops team, this is like hearing, I don't know, Microsoft or something. It is the player that you have to keep in mind. So whether you're running a cloud native startup or a fortune 500 company, it takes just five minutes to set up new relic in your environment. So that next 9PM call is just waiting to happen. Get new relic before it does. You can get access to the whole new relic platform and 100 gigabytes of data forever. No credit card required. If you sign up at new relic.com/deep, that's any W R E L I C dot com slash deep new relic dot com slash deep. You're only if you don't get new relic, your alternative is to have Jesse debug your software stack. That's your options. New relic, 16 tools all in one place or Jesse who will turn it off and turn it back on. Like that that fix your problem. Did you try unplugging it? Yeah, that's all I would be a lot for to you. I am a terrible at software computer scientists use terrible at software. But what I can do is answer questions about the deep life and that's what we're going to do right now.


How do I balance deep work personal pursuits? (56:27)

We got one here from Andrew writing all the way from Australia. He says morning, Kelly started my PhD late last year and stumbling on your books and podcasts has helped me focus and work deeper. I love trail running and doing Ironman's, but I'm struggling to permit myself to continue training and competing in these while undertaking the biggest deep work of my life so far, my PhD. Can I do both or should I just focus on the PhD? Andrew, I think you should do both. Do not inflate. Do not inflate the PhD in your mind to be this incredibly difficult hell week at Navy Seal training, taking the beach at Normandy type of massive trial that some people do and say this is a relatively easy job. Some classes and the classes are done and I mainly focus on research and research is hard but it only takes up so much of your time each day. I say do the hardcore athletic training. If anything is going to help balance you out so that when you get worn out intellectually, your confidence gets shaken. Oh man, I'm not getting this. My paper got rejected. You have something else to do. And so do those two things. For most programs, again, a PhD program is not this huge life-consuming type of position. I know this in part because when I was writing about student stuff, PhD student myself and I was writing about a lot of student stuff, I had noticed there was this disturbing subculture of people at this point largely blogging, this sort of pre-social media, blogging about life as a grad student and they would inflate it into this terrible thing that was the hardest burden that anyone would ever do and these things had titles like dissertation hell and you would read these things and you would think. You would think that these students had been deployed to war-torn countries in which they had to run life-threatening commando raids through terrible conditions or something like this and what I finally figured out was happening is that being a doctoral student A is a really weird job. It's not like a normal job. There's big periods where you don't have much to do or the things you do is non-standard. It's not people giving you tasks to accomplish. You don't have a nine to five schedule. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Is this really a job I have? By inflating it to be this big hard thing, I think it somehow helps people counter that feeling of I don't really have a real job. I thought that was part of it. Another part of it is there is an anxiety or intellectual insecurity that a lot of people rightly will suffer from. When I say rightly, I mean it's justified because it's a weird world. It's a job that's all about your brain and people posturing who's smarter and it helps you feel better. You can justify this anxiety I'm feeling about intellectual issues like can I keep up or whatever by just describing what I'm going through as this big terrible thing in general. Then your anxiety makes sense. But I'm going to say resist that. It's a pretty easy job. Pretty easy job. Again, I wrote two books during my PhD, two books during my PhD that had nothing to do with my PhD. This is something to do on the side. I ran study hacks where we were doing three posts a week back then and I was still bored because it's kind of a fake job. Andrew, keep training for Iron Man at the same time. Alright, Jennifer asks, "At what age will you allow your kids to have phones and access to social media?"


At what age will Cal allow his kids to have phones and social media? (01:00:07)

Well, I will see Jennifer. I think the culture around this as I talk about is changing. By the time it's relevant, the culture on this may have already changed. In general, right now the way I think about it is I'm fine with flip phones. Whatever age it is that it becomes convenient for you to be able to text your kid. They're at sports practice and can you come pick me up or they want to text their friends? Like are you coming over today? I don't know what age that becomes relevant. But a flip phone is fine. No problem with text communication and I recognize that it's useful. In giving a kid however, access to a full smartphone or they have unrestricted access to the internet and social media, sanctioning your kid having social media accounts. I would say 16 at the youngest 18 from the psychology perspective is probably better. Hey, when you leave this house, you do you but nothing good is going to come from an adolescent brain having access to it. This doesn't make me popular among a lot of teenagers. However, as I've written before and talked about before, the culture is changing on this. I think the idea that teenagers should be using social media is something that will look back on six or seven years from now and say that was not a good idea. Teenagers themselves are also increasingly turning on this. They have moved most of their socializing out of tools such as Snapchat and into instant messenger and text messaging. So social media does no longer really plays as critical of a role in their social life. So it's much easier for them to not be on say Instagram or to not be on Snapchat because they're using text and WhatsApp type tools. Now the role these tools play in young people's lives is increasingly more cultural and entertainment related. So like TikTok is very popular with young kids, but not being on TikTok is not nearly as big of an issue as seven or eight years ago, not being on Snapchat because people aren't using TikTok to talk to each other. People aren't using TikTok to discuss with other people in their schools, the party that went on or to see where people are going or to be plugged into a social scene, they're largely consuming content on TikTok. So if you're not using it, who cares? You're communicating with your friends on text. They might be using TikTok. If you're not what you missed, there's some cultural theme that you don't know about. So I think things are getting better with that. But honestly, that is my read of the psychological literature right now is be very, very wary of giving the adolescent brain unrestricted access to social internet tools.


Is Cal’s outlook on the future too optimistic? (01:02:37)

All right, so we have a big question here from EA. EA asks, "Is Cal Newport's outlook on the future too positive?" Cal often compares social media and digital technology addiction to cigarettes claiming that it will probably end up with bands and less tolerance as happened with cigarettes. It seems to me that everything is pointing towards the opposite. There are six examples that EA gives. One, it is almost impossible to go to a restaurant and not see kids on a phone. Two, schools are becoming lax in their rules. Three, proving that cigarettes are harmful is way easier than proving that social media is harmful. Four, this troubling rush for remote work indicates that people want more digital interactions, not less. Five, I contend that cigarettes actually prove that people want more addiction as long as it's less visible. In six, something could also be said about energy drinks. I'm not sure if I get .6. Here's what I'd say EA. You might not be correctly portraying my views on this. Here are the two claims I actually make, which are similar, but I think they've become twisted a little bit in the way that you're talking about them. When it comes to cigarettes and social media use, the claim I've made is that teenage social media use will be seen in the future like we now see teenage smoking. We realized teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the addictive properties of nicotine, so we should find it to be inappropriate for a 16-year-old or 14-year-old to be smoking cigarettes. Cigarette companies should not advertise towards them. The culture shifted on that. Obviously, some teenagers still smoke. It's not like it once was. This is if you're cool as what you're doing, and it was much more prevalent. I've made that argument not that digital use in general culture-wide, population-wide, is going to go the way of cigarettes, where cigarette usage after staying stable at about 30% for a long time has, and more recent years, been falling. Two, I've been arguing that the age of having a small number of social media platform monopolies that everyone feels cultural pressure to use, universal social media tools. We were five years ago with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that that age is going to go away, and that the tools we use to communicate and be entertained is going to fragment and become more bespoke. You might be using TikTok, and I might be listening to this podcast, and you might be into this streaming service, and I use that streaming service, and you might be on this social network platform that's specifically aimed at athletes, and it's going to become much more fragmented and bespoke. This age of, if you're not on this one or two platforms, it's weird that we look at you with concern in our eyes, that you get the same type of blowback I used to get in 2014 or 2015 or 2016 when I said, "I don't use social media," that type of pearl clutching gasping, "What do you mean?" That's all going to go away for a lot of reasons I've talked about before. However, none of this claims that people aren't going to be very distracted looking at screens all the time. I don't know if that's going to change broadly anytime soon. I just think we're not going to have 14-year-olds with unrestricted social media access. I just think that we're not going to have two companies that everyone has to use their service. That's good, and I think that is optimistic, but I do not have a view that is so optimistic that it says, "Oh, we're not going to be distracted by the digital in the future." I don't think that's going to be the case. I think if anything, it might become more distracting than we have to talk about the metaverse and augmented reality and virtual reality. That's a whole complicated picture that I can't see clearly through. I think I'm a lot more narrow in what I claim EA. For better or for worse, my optimism is more focused than the brand of optimism that you're pushing back against here. I will say one thing, though, your point number three, proving that cigarettes are harmful is way easier than proving that social media is harmful. I'm not sure that that's true. I'll just point you towards a New Yorker piece I wrote in the fall, last fall. I wrote a New Yorker piece that asked the question, "Should teenagers be using social media?" One of the points I made in there is we often forget how long it took to convince ourselves that smoking was harmful. I went back and I found the original articles. I have scientific articles from early 20th century where people are saying, "There might be a lung cancer thing going on here." There's a lot of pushback about it. When did we get to the point where we had a consistent message from, let's say, the surgeon general that smoking caused lung cancer, you had to get to the 50s or 60s. It took decades. I talked about it in that article. I was looking at the research and I was talking to experts about the social psych research on social media use among adolescents and harmful outcomes. I was saying, "Yes, it's a messy literature. These literatures are messy." Even when it says clear cut as smoking and lung cancer, it wasn't clear cut and it took decades to really be confident about it. My point there was don't expect the "science" to come in and have a clear answer. We couldn't do it for smoking. It's going to take a long time to get an answer like that for social media. We have to move beyond the science and depend more on our own experience. The testimony of the people using these tools, our own instincts as parents and educators, that this is a cultural problem, not one that we can look to the science to solve. It's interesting aside, took a long time to figure out that smoking really was harmful. Let's do one more question here. I have one from Matt.


Worry About Passion

I followed my passion. Am I screwed? (01:08:43)

Matt says, "In college, I had a couple influential role models tell me to follow my passion. This led me to get my bachelors in cultural anthropology. Now I'm in a PhD program. Only after I started my PhD did I read your book, So Good They Can't Ignore You." I became convinced of your philosophy of acquiring career capital rather than following a pre-existing passion to attain career fulfillment. Now I've committed to a path based on a philosophy that I no longer believe in. How would you adjust the advice that you give in So Good They Can't Ignore You for people who have already committed to a passion-based path and now see it as a sunk cost? Well, Matt, there's no adjustment you need to do because here is the reality of my advice. I say when it comes to figuring out what path you set down, you can lower the bar. There's lots of paths that you can transform into a professional life that's a real source of passion and fulfillment. So what really is going to matter is once you fix one path, for whatever reason you chose that path is what you do once you chose it, which is focus on building rare and valuable skills used to career capital that generates to take control of your career, move it towards things that resonate and away from things that don't have a clear lifestyle in mind that you use to help guide these decisions. So the key to that philosophy is I don't care that much how you chose your current path. So the fact that you chose your current path because you were using passion philosophy, that's fine. If you thought describe this as a passion, that means it's something that was interesting to you that probably had interesting opportunities associated with it and that you had some sort of inclination for it. So great, that's a perfectly good reason to choose a path. So the idea is not, and let's be really clear about this, that if you follow your passion that that will lead you to a bad career, that's not true. The issue I have is if your only strategy for getting to a good career is matching a job to a passion and then sitting back and saying, my work here is done, I should love this now. I'm saying, no, no, no, your work is just beginning. So I don't care much about how you chose your career. You chose it because you thought it was your passion. Great. Good way to do it. What matters is what you do next. What you do next is you focus with deliberate practice of becoming so good you can't be ignored. Take the career capital that earns you to have leverage over your career. This is where you're going to need courage, not in choosing what to do but choosing to change what you do to be different than what other people are doing. This is where you step back and say, I'm going to not take a professorship or I'm going to be a professorship at this school and still write books or I'm going to do my own thing or whatever it is, but you're investing your career capital to create a career that pushes towards things that resonate and away from things that don't. And again, the way you hone those instincts of residents and anti-residents is lifestyle, center career planning, fixing your head a really clear image of what your life is like, where you live, what you do, who you're with, what your time is like, how you feel, fix an image you can taste, that you can smell, that just touches something right in you and let that be your guide to figuring out, I want to go more towards this in my career or more towards that. And the thing that allows you to make those choices is career capital. It is being good at things that are rare and valuable. So Matt, you're in a great position. You've already chosen a good path. It's a good match for you. Now let's focus on actually navigating that path as effectively as possible. All right, well that we went a little over today, but we had some good questions, so I appreciated that. Thank you everyone who wrote in. As I always say, if you liked what you heard, you'll like what you read. If you sign up for my email newsletter at cal Newport.com and let me add for that, if you like what you heard, you will like what you see. If you go to the YouTube page for the show at cal Newport.com/Cal Newport Media, you can get videos of full episodes as well as videos of each individual question and deep dive that I do on this show. We'll be back on Thursday with a calls episode and until then, as always, stay deep.


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