Profiles in Awesomeness: An Introduction to Cal Newport

You should assume that any time I recommend a product or service on this blog that I'm being paid millions of dollars and flown out to cruises and conferences in all world's greatest warm-weather locales-- not because such an assumption is accurate, but because it's pretty awesome. In fact, I haven't been paid to recommend anything-- until now.  Cal Newport recently sent me a copy of his new book "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and I agreed to review it for my blog. However, that's not quite what I'm going to do.  Instead, I want to give an introduction to Cal and many of his ideas, not simply the ones that made it into his most recent book.

Cal Newport wrote a book about succeeding in high school when he was in college, a few books about succeeding in college when he was in grad school, and, now that he’s graduating, he’s– naturally– turned his attention to success in the working world.  The book is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

If it’s not clear from the fact that he’s had four publishing deals before the age of 30, Cal Newport is good at life.  From the very first time I read his blog, it was clear that he was a nerd in the best sense– someone who, given an interesting problem and enough time, could simply think unthought thoughts– and then produce value from them.

Cal does something interesting with these thoughts.  Something incredibly simple and powerful.  He names them.

I’ll take the bait.  I’ve read a lot of Cal’s strategies and postulations in the last two years, and some of them have stuck with me since the day I first read them.  Here are a few of my favorite idea’s of Cal’s, including a bit on the book at the end.

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Failed Simulation Effect

This is perhaps my favorite advice from Cal’s older writing.  It’s about how to be “impressive”.  And his idea goes like this:

The things that sound the most impressive are not the things that require the most work– they’re the things that are the hardest for someone else to imagine doing.

Let’s dissect that.  Let’s imagine, as Cal often does Read More

[How-to] The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education


Photo credit: swamibu (from

Note: I'm not a big fan of trashy link bait names.  That being said, calling these the 4 commandments of reading for self-education is, while opinionated, not a stretch for me.  Forgive the self-aggrandizing title and if you think there needs to be an addition, let me know in the comments!

During the four years I was in college, I read definitely one, maybe two books– total (excluding schoolwork).  Now, I read definitely one, maybe two books every week.  I’ve only been doing this for a year and a half, so it’s not like I’ve read every book on the planet– but for just about every book I used to think wow, I should read that, I actually have.  And it’s pretty cool to be able to say that.

I’m not trying to chug through a list of supposed classics or something.  My aim here (trite as it sounds now) is wisdom– knowing how best to act in any situation.  As I see it, that’s the reason why anyone would try to educate themselves in the first place.

And that’s the aim I’m presuming you have too.  Reading only for entertainment is a bit saccharine, and if that’s what you want to do, you won’t find many tips in this essay to help you.  I don’t talk about how to speed read, and I don’t talk much about making time to read.  I liked The Hunger Games as much as the next person, but I’m much more excited about changing the way I live because of ideas I find.  Consequently, these commandments apply mostly for non-fiction (though a few fiction books really have changed my outlook on life).

I hope you have a pile of books you are dying to read.  I want you to devour them, highlighting and notating some and reading 3 chapters of others that you just toss away incomplete.  I want you not to say “I wanna read that!” but “I have read that, and a few of its sources.  Here are my favorite ideas.  I disagree with this part.  Here’s where I think the field is headed next.”

I submit this set of guidelines for going in that direction.

The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education

  1. A book is only as good as what you remember from it
  2. Actually reading is more important than reading fast Read More