Unconventional career advice from Cal Newport

CalNewport

By Jessica Pawlarczyk

What is Cal Newport’s number one piece of career advice for Kellogg students?

“Don’t follow your passion; get good at a skill instead.”

According to Newport, the award-winning author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, “follow your passion” is one of the most prevalent, yet misguided pieces of career advice.

“It actually sets you up for failure,” he said.

Newport shared plenty of unconventional, eye-opening career and productivity advice with Kellogg students last month during an e-chat hosted by the High Tech Club and eClub.

In the quest to find a career you love, skills trump passion, according to Newport.

Preexisting passions (or even the ability to identify your life passion) are extremely rare in today’s world, and Newport has found that passion has little to do with a person’s career satisfaction. Instead, Newport’s research suggests that passion is the result of working hard to become excellent at something.

Therefore, Newport urged Kellogg students to master a valuable skill and get “so good at it they can’t ignore you.”

“Train like an athlete to systematically get better,” he said.

By acquiring a valuable skill and adopting a “craftsmen mindset” of mastery, Newport told students they could start building career capital. Once obtaining career capital, students can then leverage it to ultimately find career satisfaction.

According to Newport, the secret to building career capital lies in the ability to concentrate and do “deep work.”

But what exactly is deep work?

Newport defines deep work as demanding work that involves laser-sharp focus for long periods of time. Deep work can lead to extraordinary results, namely the ability to master complicated information and produce higher quality results in less time.

Most importantly, deep work leads to a true sense of fulfillment.

To be able to get to the deep work level, Newport recommended students follow these 3 steps:

1. Embrace boredom

The ability to concentrate is a skill that has to be practiced before being mastered. In today’s world, people use technology to cure their boredom –they pull out their cell phones while they wait in line at the store or find themselves in any unstimulating situation. Being bored and free of distractions every once in a while is crucial to stretching one’s ability to concentrate, however.

2. Quit social media

Newport doesn’t have a personal Facebook or Twitter account so that he “can prioritize deep work and prioritize what really matters.” In addition to social media, students should be wary of other digital tools that hijack attention, such as email.

3. Eliminate non-deep work

“Email is a major issue for people trying to do deep work,” Newport said. “It’s a self-imposed handicap.” Newport writes process-centric emails in order to minimize back-and-forth emails and does not respond to emails that he deems unimportant. In conjunction with eliminating non-deep work, Newport advised students to schedule deep work into their calendar and treat it like a meeting that can’t be canceled.

While Newport admitted that deep work is an arduous skill to master, he recognizes that deep work has significantly enhanced his own professional life.

“Deep work gives me much more meaning and satisfaction out of my work,” he said. “I’m excited to inspire others to make that shift in their life as well.”

Learn more about Kellogg’s Full-Time MBA program.

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