While I have not read Cal’s book yet. I saw a recommendation for it on a forum . Diving into podcasts and reading information online it has peaked my curiosity.
Cal has a different notion than “follow your passion and your life will be bliss” advice that seems so common today.
Here are some notes of various resources on found from Cal:
- What you do for work is not as important as we think. There is a middle ground between “you were meant for the one purpose”, and “shoveling elephant poop at a zoo”. What you want to look for is something that interests you, and if it looks like it will give you interesting options if you become valuable.
- A remarkable life is one in which: (1) you do something meaningful that you enjoy; (2) you have a flexible schedule that you control; and (3) you earn recognition and good (enough) compensation through a rare and valuable skill/s.
- If you don’t saturate your life in a single quest, you’ll dilute your focus to a point where becoming outstanding becomes out of reach.
- Stop trying to plan out every last detail. Instead, go out of your way to expose yourself to randomness.
- Coming up with good ideas is easy; executing them at an elite level is staggeringly difficult.
- If you don’t plan every minute of your day in advance, your efficiency will plummet.
- Spend the most time possible during your days doing actual hard thinking work versus busy work. Deep centered work is what leads to a good life.
- Identify what activities generate the highest returns, and then focus relentlessly on these behaviors to the exclusion of most other distractions.
- Woody Allen – If you work only three to five hours a day you become very productive. It’s the steadiness of it that counts. Sounds similar to Steven Pressfield.
- Years spent at a job are a strong dictator to what you feel you are meant to do
- Most people don’t know what their passion is before setting out to do something. Example – Steve Jobs did not have an interest in computers and technology in college. He was interested and passionate about eastern philosophy. Telling people to figure out your passion and go do that will fail for 96% of people.
- They don’t wait to feel like they are doing the right thing, they work hard to make it the right thing.
- The mere number of years of experience with relevant activities in a domain is typically only weakly related to performance. Put another way, you need to put in a lot of hours to become exceptional, but raw hours alone doesn’t cut it. To become exceptional you have to put in a lot of hours, but of equal importance, these hours have to be dedicated to the right type of work. Understanding this “right type of work” is perhaps the most important (and most under-appreciated) step toward building a remarkable life…
What is the correct way to put in time to become successful at something?
- Improves performance – You are not merely playing the guitar or doing something. You are stretching beyond were it is comfortable to get better each and every time you play.
- To perform well when it counts you need a lot of repetition.
- You find a way to have constant feedback from others who are further along and help you notice improvement areas.
- You use focus and concentration during practice that makes it highly mentally demanding.
- Doing hard things and skipping the easy ones. In motocross this was the guys who practiced corners versus just hitting jumps and having fun.
- Having goals that are not focused on the outcome, but more on the process.
For sports where you can break down aspects of a something very simple it is easy to see where you need to practice. But for the knowledge worker it gets complex and which is why most people don’t put in the time to get better at knowledge work.
What is a knowledge worker? Wiki defines it as:
Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. Typical examples may include software engineers, doctors, architects, engineers, scientists, public accountants, lawyers, and teachers, because they “think for a living”.
If you integrate any amount of DP into your regular schedule, you’ll be able to punch through the acceptable-level plateau holding back your peers. And breaking through this plateau is exactly what is required to train an ability that’s both rare and valuable.
Ask where in your schedule is the time dedicated to straining yourself (uncomfortably) to master something that you can’t do now but would be valuable if you could.
- To know if a skill is valuable to society look to see whether you are being paid a decent amount of money for it. When you ask people to give you money in exchange for your product, you’re going to get brutally honest feedback.
- Always aim above, but just barely above, your current skill level.
- Telling people: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” — you’re providing them a flawed description of reality. Careers you love require a lot of work. Sometimes even “horrible” work. You can’t escape the necessity of career capital…
- Steep yourself in the nuance of how people make remarkable things happen in your field. I am increasingly convinced that this apprenticeship, which can be long and often ambiguous, is a necessary stepping stone on the path to big things.
When you develop and have those rare and valuable skills you can then start demanding some control. Thinking about this in my own context… as I am a union electrician. If the only skills I have are what I was taught in union school as an apprentice. I am no more valuable than any other worker coming out of the union. And I can be replaced with ease.
But, if I were to develop some rare and valuable skills no one else had in my field. Then, it would be harder to replace me and shift some power into my favor.
Jobs had a interest in electronics, but his passion was Buddhism. And really didn’t have any preconceived notion on what he was going to do. He basically started by scheming of selling illegal electronics. Then, he saw that computer geeks were excited about something they were making. So he sold some cpu boards to a local shop to make some money. The shop owner wanted a whole computer and to pay him 10x times the cost of the board. He then grew very passionate about what he was doing.
His path was way more complex than just follow your passion. If he would have done that before Apple was created he would have been a Zen instructor.
You can’t sit down in advance and figure out what you would like without actually doing it.
As I think about other successful people this rings true:
- Greg Plitt – Number one fitness model. He didn’t even know that he wanted to do it. Greg was discovered by a agent in a bar while he was with his friends. But, he put in 100% of his effort into it and built some rare and valuable skills. Doing cover shoots for free, creating a membership website, etc. He focused on areas he was weak on.
- Ryan Villopoto – An epic dirt bike racer. He started racing because he was interested in it due to his family raced. He dedicated himself to it over many years focusing on dedicated practice and is now a multi champion. What I find interesting is that even though he has been successful he is not extremely happy racing. I feel this may be because he is missing the other areas such as freedom, control, meaning. But, his skill level is rare and valuable above all the other riders.
These two examples show that while rare and valuable skills can lead to high pay and status, it may not offer the options to have a happy career.
An example of a career where someone built up rare and valuable skills is author Bill McKibben.
He built up his rare and valuable writing skills through the New Yorker, then quit and moved to a cabin in the woods. Where he wrote his first book which introduced global warming. Then, followed up with other on sustainability and environmentalism. Something he believed in and provided him meaning.
So here is what it gave him:
- Autonomy — control over how you fill your time.
- Relatedness — feeling of connection to others.
- Competence – mastering unambiguously useful things.
The key to his path was first becoming an excellent and respected writer. Then, moving on to the cabin and writing his own books. This also makes this sort of undertaking less scary. Its not as huge of a jump from college.. to say a cabin writing your own books.
Ideally you want to move in a direction that builds all three of these at the same time.
The better and more respected you are, the more value you have in the market.
But you have to be careful you do not get caught in the competence trap: when you amass enough career capital to exert meaningful control over your life and career, the only investment presented as reasonable will be to further maximize your competence at the expense of the other areas of your life.
Mastering something rare and valuable remains the necessary first step.
Sidestepping the competence trap doesn’t mean that you stop building your competence to instead dedicate your life to your family, or your garden, or whatever other image dominates your daydreams. Instead, it means that you build autonomy and relatedness along with competence.
You’re not stepping into an existence free of responsiblity; the remarkable life can still be remarkably demanding — but it’s demanding on your own terms.
This lifestyle is still demanding, but on your own terms. McKibben is in a busy period because he decided to make a push with 350.org. He’s in control of this busyness. Sotomayor, as a rising partner in a Manhattan law firm, was not. He unplugged from the New York-centric, bustling publishing world — moving far from those expectations to work on books that he found important on his own terms.
So to summarize:
Step 1 – Figure out your target lifestyle – are you looking for time, freedom, energy, power, respect, impact, etc.The traits that define these types of target lifestyles are rare and valuable. If you don’t have rare and valuable skills to offer in return for these traits, you’re not going to get them in your own life.
Some questions to consider when imagining an ideal lifestyle:
- How much control do I have over my schedule?
- What’s the intensity level of my job?
- What’s the importance of what I do?
- What’s the prestige level?
- What type of work?
- Where do I live?
- What’s my social life like?
- What’s my work life balance?
- What’s my family like?
- How do other people think of me?
- What am I known for?
Construct an image in your mind about the ideal future you. If the image makes you happy and gets you excited about the possibilities for your future, then you’ve hit on a good match.
By cutting to the bottom-line —what would make me feel best? — and then working backward from this answer, you are maximizing your odds that you’ll actually get somewhere worth going.
Step 2 – Find a supporting job from many - Lots of jobs can probably lead you to your target lifestyle, assuming you satisfy the value condition.
In fact, your current job might very well qualify. On the other hand, lots of jobs probably won’t get you where you need to be, so, you can’t just choose something blindly. The key point here is to lower your threshold. You are certainly not looking for your “one true passion.” There will be many jobs that can provide the foundation for getting your target lifestyle, so don’t overthink this decision.
Three traits that disqualify a job from something you can feel passionate about:
- The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. This prevents you from building the career capital needed to take control of your working life.
- The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
- The job forces you to work with assholes.
The last two prevent you from enjoying the work even if you could control it.
So not all jobs and options are going to work out and you need to move on if you don’t see something working out. But, there are transitions that may work such as with manual labor jobs: it’s always possible to expand from employee to boss and then from there the sky’s the limit.
Step 3 – Train a rare and valuable skill - The linchpin in your quest for a compelling career is becoming excellent. Identify a small number of specific skills that are demonstrably valuable to their field, and then set out training these skills like an athlete or musician. Embrace the principles of deliberate practice even though it’s not necessarily all that fun.
Three steps to identifying a skill development syste:
- Identify the specific skill you’re developing and a metric that tells you clearly how good you currently are with respect to this skill.
- Stretch yourself. Push yourself beyond where you’re comfortable. You’re not looking for a flow state. If all you seek is flow, then you’re not going to get better. There is no avoiding the deliberate strain of real improvement. (This is not the say, however, that you should not seek flow in addition to deliberate practice as a strategy to recharge, or experience it as unavoidable when you put your deliberately honed skills to use.) You’re instead looking for the intense concentration of tackling something slightly beyond your current skills level (a key distinction).
- Seek (harsh) feedback. Pinpoint exactly where you’re weak so you can focus your future stretching where it’s most productive. Look to the people that end up doing better than yourself and then try to figure out why. Have a crystal clear understanding of exactly what needs to be improved, and to what point, in order to get to a next level.
Step 4 – Leverage your value to move toward your target lifestyle - Your target lifestyle is valuable for you but not necessarily valuable for the rest of the world. Therefore, no one is going to make it easy for you to make that transition. This is where you might end up, for example, in a hard negotiation with a boss who wants you to cash in your skills for more money (and more hours) whereas you want to leverage it to work from a cabin. At every major decision point in your career, ask if brings you closer or farther from getting to your target lifestyle.