cal newport talks about ambition

The Two Types of Ambition | Cal Newport on the Deep Questions Podcast Ep. 220

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Key Takeaways

  • There are two types of ambition: Type 1 ambition and Type 2 ambition
    • Type 1 ambition craves activity and feasts at the buffet of appealing opportunities that success creates
    • Type 2 ambition craves simplicity and autonomy, and sees success as a source of leverage to reduce stressful obligations
  • Know where you fall on the spectrum of type 1 and type 2 ambition so you are better prepared to handle success when it comes  
  • The First Control Trap: trying to get a lot of autonomy in your career before you’ve built up the skills to justify it 
  • The Second Control Trap: after getting enough leverage, skills, and power in your professional marketplace, it is hardest to gain more autonomy because there is a lot of pressure to stay in your position and get a higher salary, more prestige, etc.
  • Positively approach your manager: frame your request in a way that explains how it will improve the company instead of only explaining how it will make your life better
  • Having an audience that can directly respond to your work creates a deliberate practice effect that will motivate you to publish your best work 
  • Writing to a private journal may increase your productivity, but there is no feedback function from an audience that cares
  • How to build community: write, text, or call someone you care about each day; join and contribute to an online community daily; create a daily tradition with a partner 
  • It is optimal to plan how you spend your time on multiple different time scales
    • Plan concise daily, weekly, and quarterly plans with less detail as the time scale increases 
  • Cal chooses the books he reads for functional reasons (needed for research) and for inspirational reasons (appears to be interesting)
  • Cal stops drinking coffee after 1:30 PM to prevent the caffeine from affecting his sleep
  • Advice for young people that want to live a deep life:
    • Do not get too specific about what profession you want to do too early 
    • Be 10x more intentional about your academic work than everyone you know
    • Introduce some sort of physical and mental discipline into your life
    • Expose yourself to bulk, positive randomness and embrace the failed simulation effect 
    • Study character and leadership
    • Serve people, and make that the throughline to each of your pursuits
  • Be the person that is weird about not using their phone  

Intro 

  • Cal Newport (calnewport.com) is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University who previously earned his Ph.D. from MIT. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism. Cal is a contributing writer for The New Yorker and the host of the Deep Questions podcast 
  • In this conversation, Cal Newport explains the two types of ambition, how to escape the Second Control Trap, why private journaling won’t make you a better writer, how to build habits that foster community, how he chooses which books to read, his philosophy on caffeine, how a teenager can prepare to live deeply, and more   
  • Check out these Podcast Notes from Cal’s conversation with Tom Bilyeu on How to Quit Social Media and Master Your Focus 

Deep Dive: The Two Types of Ambition 

  • This is a deep dive into the different types of ambition demonstrated by Michael Crichton and John Grisham, two of the best fiction writers of the last 50 years 
  • Background on Michael Crichton’s rise:
    • Crichton published four books under the pseudonym, John Lange, during his time at Harvard Medical school, and some of the projects he started during that time went onto become bestsellers 
    • During his postdoc in San Diego, the 27-year-old Crichton traveled to Hollywood each week as part of what he called “a skills-building gambit” to satisfy his directorial interests
    • The New York Times published a 1970 profile on Crichton, calling his career “hyperactive”
  • Background on John Grisham’s rise:
    • In the 1980s, Grisham was a small-town Mississippi lawyer with aspirations to be a writer
    • He decided to write two books, and if they flopped, he’d give up his dreams of becoming a writer and focus exclusively on law
    • His first book A Time to Kill did not originally sell well, but his second book The Firm immediately gained traction in Hollywood and eventually with publishers
    • Today, A Time to Kill and The Firm have each sold millions of copies
  • Crichton and Grisham handled their initial success differently: Crichton achieved success and chose to pursue a lot of different things, while Grisham achieved success and chose to simplify his life
  • Cal Newport categorizes the different types of ambition as Type 1 and Type 2
    • Type 1 Ambition: craves activity and feasts at the buffet of appealing opportunities that success creates (Crichton)
    • Type 2 Ambition: craves simplicity and autonomy, and sees success as a source of leverage to reduce stressful obligations (Grisham)
  • This categorization of ambition is a spectrum, but most people tend to fall toward one end of the spectrum
  • Knowing where you fall on the ambition type spectrum can help you plan your personal and professional life, and can better prepare your handling of success when it comes
    • You won’t be happy if you’re a type-2-Grisham, but pursue Crichton-style projects following your initial success
    • You won’t be happy if you’re a type-1-Crichton, but pursue Grisham-style solitude following your initial success 

Live Call: Escaping the Second Control Trap

  • The caller, named Spiros, believes to be falling into the “Second Control Trap” following his success as a robotics engineer in Silicon Valley 
  • The Second Control Trap is a concept Newport writes about in the tenth chapter of his book Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
  • The First Control Trap: trying to get a lot of autonomy in your career before you’ve built up the skills to justify it
    • Example: quitting your job at 23 to start your non-profit that will change the world
  • The Second Control Trap: After getting enough leverage, skills, and power in your professional marketplace, it is hardest to gain more autonomy because there is a lot of pressure to stay in your position and get a higher salary, more prestige, etc.  
  • Cal recommends Spiros have a deep-to-shallow-work conversation with his manager so they can establish the right balance that Spiros should do on a day-to-day basis
  • Quantify the deep-to-shallow-work ratio with your manager to ossify it   
  • Positively approach your manager: frame your request in a way that will result in more net production for the company instead of framing it negatively and just voicing your frustrations
  • Use the rule of three to find a concrete exemplar: find a real person, who has your background, and who has a professional background that resonates with you
    • Do this with three people so you know it’s a viable path, and not a one-off
    • Work backward from configurations that have worked 

Can Journaling Make You a Better Writer? 

  • Write for audiences where there is feedback 
  • Having a feedback function applies pressure to your craft to try and improve it 
  • Having an audience that can directly respond to your work creates a deliberate practice effect that will motivate you to publish your best work 
  • Writing to a private journal does not have this feedback mechanism
  • As mentioned in the book The Artist’s Way, writing in a private journal may increase your creativity  
  • How to become a better writer: write for people that care, and care about how they feel 

What’s an Example of a Keystone Habit for Building Community? 

  • The “community bucket” of living a deep life is sacrificing a non-trivial amount of your  time and attention to people who are important to you 
  • Habits for building a community are less obvious than habits for working on your craft
  • Cal Newport’s ideas to build community:
    • Write, text, or call someone you care about every single day 
    • Join and contribute to an online community engaged in a subject that is interesting to you 
    • Create a daily tradition that you do with a partner, such as reading from a given text each morning 
  • Make your community bucket keystone habits simple, trackable, and enjoyable 

Can You Provide an Example of a Quarterly Plan?

  • Create a quarterly plan when you look at your weekly plan 
  • Create a weekly plan when you look at your daily plan 
  • It is optimal to plan how you spend your time on multiple different time scales
  • Cal has two quarterly plans, one for his professional life and another for his personal life
  • Be concise in your plans 
  • Do not over-detail your plan, especially as the time scale increases 

How Do You Choose What Books to Read? 

What is Cal Newport’s Philosophy on Caffeine? 

  • Cal drinks a lot of caffeine and began drinking coffee in high school 
  • He built an association between coffee and intellectual work from an early age 
  • Cal stops drinking coffee after 1:30 PM to prevent the caffeine from affecting his sleep 
  • “Coffee is a liquid manifestation of my Type 1 Ambition.”Cal Newport 
  • He drinks a lot of cheap-flavored coffee, always black 
  • Cal switches to herbal tea after 1:30 PM 

How Can a Teenager Prepare to Live Deeply?

  • Having a teenager that thinks this intentionally about where he directs his energy is a superpower 
  • Cal Newport’s rough advice for teenagers wanting to establish a foundation for living a deep life:
    • Be wary about getting too specific about what you want to do after college 
    • Focus on making yourself a deep life-generation machine instead of focusing on specific tasks or professions 
    • Be 10x more intentional about your academic work than everyone you know 
    • Treat your schoolwork like a 35-year-old treats their job to reduce stress and optimize your time
    • Introduce some sort of physical and mental discipline into your life so you get used to the idea of having a disciplined life
    • Be very wary of spending too much of your time on video games and social media
    • Expose yourself to bulk, positive randomness, a term coined by Ben Casnocha
    • Embrace the failed simulation effect: accomplishments that are hard to explain can be much more impressive than accomplishments that are simply hard to do   
    • Study character and leadership 
    • Serve people, and make that the throughline to each of your pursuits
  • Be the person that is weird about not using their phone 
  • Cal wrote two books on this question: How To Become A Straight-A Student and How To Be A Highschool Superstar
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