The Basics of Compound Interest

Jump To:
A. Introduction
B. The Basics of Compound Interest
C. Grow Your Financial Portfolio
D. The Benefits of Financial Freedom
E. Where to Open an Account
F. Stock and Companies to Invest In

Introduction

It struck me that what a lot of musicians really need is more money in their pockets, more business sense, and entrepreneurial sense. I realized that a lot of younger people don’t know the financial basics yet. I’ll be going over the basics that should have been taught to you in schools. Every American and every artist should know about this because it’s going to help you avoid being one of those tragic jazz masters who need to start a GoFund me to pay your bills when you’re older. 

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about compound interest. Don’t run away, compound interest is not multi-level marketing. It’s the power that every business person, responsible personal finance person, and every investor has taken advantage of since the dawn of time. I think as artists and humble musicians who don’t like talking about money, we need to be taking advantage of this in order to ensure the survival of our art. So, let’s talk about average stock market return over the long term.

The Basics of Compound Interest

The average annual return since adopting the S&P 500 is roughly 8%. I’ve seen that number as high as 10% and as low as 7%. The number may vary as people take averages over shorter or longer time periods; however, the thing to understand about the stock market is if you keep your money invested, and you do not touch it for the long run, you will not lose money. If you do not panic, and keep your money invested in an index fund like the S&P 500 or a Vanguard index fund, you will not lose money over a 30 or 40 year period of time. It has never happened. Historically speaking, that is as safe as bonds or a savings account. 

A lot of people say stocks are crazy, they claim that your money could be gone tomorrow. That’s true to some extent, but if you’re invested in the S&P 500, or a similar index fund, your money’s safe. In the long run, it will make money. However, if you have mattress money, which is money that’s just sitting in your checking account, you’re going to lose 2-3% every year due to inflation, inflation being your money’s worth less every year as a result of the government overproducing cash.

For the average uninitiated person who doesn’t know anything about compound interest, 8% seems like a small number; however, I’ll show you why Albert Einstein said this is the most powerful force in the universe by using a basic compound interest calculator. If you invest $1 and you’re 20 years old and you cash it out when you’re 65, which is the average age for retirement, and we take that 8% growth number, $1 when you’re retired is worth 32 X. So you might be thinking $32 is not a lot of money, but think about the growth. In this example, we only invested $1 and didn’t invest anything for the rest of our life and it grew by 32 X. Imagine if that’s a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand dollars contributed, or even a million dollars contributed. That is a ludicrous amount of money. It’s the same force that will ensure you aren’t one of those tragic jazz heroes who have to make a GoFundMe to pay your bills when you’re older. This is the type of growth that creates millionaires. The average millionaire is made by investing a little bit of your paycheck and a little bit of your gig money every month over a long period of time. Most people will not make a million dollars from their job or from their gigs over the course of their life, but if you take advantage of 32 X growth over 45 years, it’s more than possible. In fact, it should be the standard. 

On the other hand, if you invest $1 when you’re 30 years old, 10 years less time for growth, your growth is less than half. That’s why it’s so important to start today. The longer you’re invested in the market, your growth and the amount of money you’ve contributed just skyrockets. That comes around year 40, 50, and so forth. 

This is also an important message for your spending. Say you’re thinking about buying a PS5 or a flat screen TV. Rather than purchasing unnecessary things, you should be investing your money. If you invested that $500 instead of buying a PS5, you would have $16,000 in 40 years. This may be a little idealistic, but this is the real power that should really be taught in school. 

Grow Your Financial Portfolio

Now, let’s talk about a more real world example, because odds are, you’re going to invest more than $1 towards your retirement or financial future. A very common number for that is $6,000 a year, or roughly $500 a month, because that’s the maximum amount of money you can contribute to a Roth IRA account. $500 a month is something everybody can conceptualize because it’s typically less than half the rent people pay every month. If you don’t have $500 a month, contribute whatever you can. Even if you invest $1, it’ll have the same amount of growth. Let’s say you’re 20 years old and you cash out when you’re 65 and we take the 8% number we used earlier. If we calculate your portfolio using a compound interest calculator, it will be worth $2.3 million. By contrast, if you did not invest the money, and you just kept it in your checking account, your portfolio would be worth $270,000. That is not nearly enough money to live on from the time you’re 65 to a hundred, especially if you factor in unexpected medical expenses and extra insurance costs. Compound interest is the difference between jazz hero GoFundMe and a healthy portfolio. 

Let’s say you wait until you’re married, you have kids, you’re 35, and you’re starting a plan for retirement. You invest from age 35 to age 65, where you would only get 30 years of growth. You would have less than $700,000. To younger people, that seems like a lot of money, but as far as your retirement profile’s concerned, this is the bare minimum you need to live for the rest of your years. 

The Benefits of Financial Freedom

Financial freedom would help musicians in a ton of different ways. We would be able to have more bargaining power with venues, streaming companies, and labels if we weren’t dependent on them. It would help us focus on our art. In order to ensure musical freedom and a healthy retirement plan, you need to open up a Roth IRA account or a traditional IRA account as soon as possible. The difference between the two accounts is when you are taxed. With a traditional IRA, you don’t pay taxes on the money you contribute to that account this year. However, you are taxed when you take money out of the account after you retire. By contrast, with a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on the $6,000 this year. It’s included in your income tax. Then, when you withdraw money when you’re retired, you don’t pay any taxes on it. In my opinion, a Roth IRA is going to be the smarter choice.

Where to Open an Account

Where can you open up one of these accounts? There are tons of brokerages, which are companies that provide investors with investment plans and market intelligence. The one I use is called fidelity. There is also Charles Schwab and Wells Fargo. The most important thing is that you open up an account and start investing right away. 

Stocks and Companies to Invest In

The last thing I wanted to touch on is stocks and companies to invest in. For long-term investing, you need to put your money in the S&P 500. This is an index fund of the top 500 companies in the United States. They also have a dividend fund for people who want to make more money as they go. Vanguard index funds are popular as well and they have their own Vanguard 500 index within the S&P 500. All of these funds are pretty much the same; however, the important thing is that you understand compound interest, the urgency with which you need to utilize it, and the type of account you need to open in order to make sure you have a successful financial future. 

The Moment I Posted It (My Struggles with Social Media Addiction)

Video, audio, and text form to follow:

Jazz made me somebody. I was in the 7th grade, unathletic, short, awkward, you know the story right? I wasn’t noticeably good at anything but deeply desired attention. I opted for a class clown persona, loud-mouthing and doing obnoxious stunts (like freezing a photo of my face on the projector and hiding the remote… haha that one was pretty funny).

We live in a society where “pretty good” and “above average” just don’t cut it. Because we all think we’re above average. If you’re not the superlative, you’re unremarkable.

At this point, I was maybe smart, a bit funny, but unremarkable still. Even musically, I never made the top chairs as a classical musician; I was just pretty good. Then I found jazz and all of a sudden, I was the best. I was named the best high school jazz saxophonist in the state of Texas my Freshman year. I couldn’t even coherently play through a Bb blues or identify what key Autumn Leaves was in, yet by some freak judgement (and a very low bar), I was now remarkable.

That was the moment. No, not that moment! The moment I found out… that was just an excited yell to my parents. Rather it was the moment I posted it.

This was the most attention (likes, comments, mentions in school) I’d probably gotten at any point in my life up to that day. Every dopamine receptor in my ~15 year old brain was screaming for me to do more things like that! Correspondingly, I became obsessive. I was making videos of my licks, entering competitions left and right, and posting photos from every gig, and each time I did, the internet rewarded me. Before long, I had gathered one of the biggest social media presences of any person at my school, each video would bring applause, each competition win would bring respect, and photos of me playing in cool places brought me some of the first female attention I ever got. I told myself that I loved the music, others told me that I was born to play jazz, but in truth, I was addicted to being the jazz guy. Known for something, a topic of conversation… in a word: remarkable.

Some of you may be confused, what’s the issue? I got some popularity what’s the problem?
The problem has been made extremely apparent to me in recent years.
I was attracted to jazz for all the wrong reasons. I played everyday not out of an intrinsic joy and love for saxophone playing, but for the attention and respect I would get from it. Now here’s the kicker, take away the attention and respect and you’re left with a recipe for a real mental crisis.

I almost titled this post “Why Quitting Social Media Made me Depressed” but I didn’t want to give false prescriptions. But here’s why:
My social media rise continued into college, my audience from high school stayed and enjoyed beaming at cool things I was now doing as a “NYC Jazz Musician” and all was well. However, I started noticing some very disturbing issues (If you have any of these, you may have suffered similar miswirings):

1. I was constantly checking my socials. The “pull down to refresh” might as well have been an orgasm button. Each pull, I saw a red bubble with a like, comment, or other dopamine packed goodie.

2. The reach of my posts was affecting my self-worth. If my posts were doing well, I was on top of the world. If something didn’t get the likes I had hoped for, I was questioning all the things I was doing wrong and comparing myself to all the people who looked like they were doing better.

3. As my pond grew, so did the fish. I wasn’t just comparing myself to high schoolers anymore, here I was comparing myself to the most popular musicians in NYC and the world.

It became very apparent to me that my attachment to social media was unhealthy. I tried deleting the phone app, a social media detox, and just found myself continually coming back and looking for likes.

So the summer after Sophomore year of college, I deleted my social media. All of it. My Instagram with several thousand followers, Facebook with thousands of “friends”…
I thought it would be a big event. I had built up this self-importance that my followers really wanted to hear from me and expected texts and calls wondering what the hell happened. But this self-importance was just an illusion. In reality, nobody cared, nobody even noticed.

About a month later, I moved to Amsterdam to study abroad. I went with no friends and arrived in the country with the realization that not a single person in this entire nation (except for I guess the registration staff of the school I was supposed to attend) had any idea I even existed. This event, combined with the fresh wound of deleting all my social, gave me this crushing realization: I could disappear and no one would even notice for weeks… This was not me being an emo teenager, but an objective reality. I had spent years thinking the world thought I was something special and now realized it was all a façade. All the likes, comments, and emojis were nothing.

The first month in Amsterdam was real rough. I had no friends. My US friends couldn’t reach me because my phone number didn’t work and my social media was gone. I stayed alone in a studio apartment with my only human interaction being trips to the store and phone calls with my parents. I started school at a foreign institution where I knew no one. Musically, I stopped practicing altogether. The earlier realization that I got into music more for social validation cues than the joy of the practice itself was really hitting hard. I had no motivation to practice because I had no one to show off to…

Fortunately, this turned around rather quickly. I developed real and true friendships that gave me more joy than an internet audience of any size could. I even had the guts to talk to a girl I met at a nearby grocery store and remain friends with her to this day. Things I would never have done when I was glued to my phone. With the additional time I had from no more social media, I read inspiring books, made my first music videos, explored photography, developed a daily exercise habit, and started this very blog you’re now reading.

I’m not writing this because I think everyone should know my story, but because I know these problems ravaged the minds of my entire generation and continue to do so to today’s youth. I recently learned that the highest paid YouTuber in the world is a nine-year-old who rakes in nearly $30 million a year. Today, countless 13 year old girls are pressured to dress and look like they’re 21. All of this, in the pursuit of appearing remarkable. To look like the superlative.

Now, there certainly are exceptionally remarkable people that deserve every follower they have. But why are we giving this rat race to kids? To be clear, I do not support erasing social media from the planet. Most recently it gave us the incredible middle-finger to Wall Street that was the GME Short Squeeze, it raises billions for non-profits and charitable work, and has made learning and free education accessible to even some of the poorest in the globe. However, social media is truly not for kids. In such a formative time, with crazy social validation needs, brain development, and hormonal activity, it’s no wonder why teenage depression is up around 60% since the rise of social and suicide is now responsible for nearly a quarter of teenage death.

I’m now heavily back on social media. For my career goals, it seems to be an indispensable tool to spread messages like the one you’re reading now. I’ve put up major walls for myself. Biggest of all is that I no longer own a smartphone. I’ve been a proud flip phone user since March of last year. Social media is all done on my browser on my computer or at home on my iPad for Instagram. Of course, all notifications are off. Trust me when I say, I’m not cured. I constantly battle demons of social validation and self worth and still struggle to maintain a regular music practice that won’t get posted anywhere. That’s where I’m at now, this story is to be continued…

Brad Mehldau – All The Things You Are *Live in Köln, 1999

This transcription was a challenge given to me by the great Jaleel Shaw. A big focus for my semester, was to sound competent in 5 and 7. This solo took me about 3-4 months of work (10 choruses) to transcribe and play it roughly at tempo. I’m providing PDF’s of the solo below.

Since I’m a monophonic instrument and piano is not, I basically “summed” the whole thing into a single melodic line I could play. Most of it was single line, but in some cases I had to approximate it . I transposed it to other transpositions but did not really check them over for ranges/nonsensical accidentals. I am giving it away for free after all!

My performance of it:

Original Video

Here’s a downloadable audio version:

As far as I can tell it’s not available for sale, so shouldn’t be any problem providing the file here since it’s been free on YouTube for years…

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world

Author: Cal Newport
Date Finished: Dec 26, 2020
Fiction?: Non-Fiction
Genres: Business, Productivity

If these notes help you, would appreciate you purchasing the full book with my affiliate link: https://amzn.to/2LzkOzI

This will help me make more of these at no additional cost to you

Short notes

The book in 3 sentences:

A lifestyle that habitually embraces Deep Work (distraction-free, focused activities that push your cognitive abilities to their limit and create rare and valuable skill sets), will give you the career you want, the mental acuity to experience life in the present, and ultimately, a life marked by continual growth, meaning, and impact. To cultivate the skill of Deep Work, a Deep Work philosophy (a strategy that defines what activities necessitate Deep Work and how you will create the mental, physical, and temporal space for said activities) must be in place. Additionally, train your mind to embrace boredom, holistically weigh social media’s marketing/connective benefits against its time-sucking/anxiety-inducing negatives, and clear your life as much as possible of the shallow tasks that give us a veneer of productivity while failing to produce anything of real personal or professional value.

Top 5 Favorite Quotes:

“I tell everyone I don’t do anything. If anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, “no,” I tell them: I’m irresponsible.” – Richard Feynman (Pg. 62)

“Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.” (Pg. 64)

“…the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.” (Pg. 76)

“If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.” – David Brooks (Pg. 136)

“The “great and profound mistake which my typical man makes in regard to his day,” he elaborates, is that even though he doesn’t particularly enjoy his work (seeing it as something to “get through”), “he persists in looking upon those hours from ten to six as ‘the day,’ to which the ten hours preceding them and the six hours following them are nothing but a prologue and epilogue.” This is an attitude that Bennett condemns as “utterly illogical and unhealthy.” – Arnold Bennett (pg. 210)

One practical nugget:

Schedule your internet time in advance
Rather than have the internet on all the time and then turn on airplane mode when you want to focus, have it off and turn it on only at scheduled times when you need to do something on it.

My opinion:

Reads like the title, Deep… Every single point is supported 5 different ways. When you think he’s done, he’s got 4 more big contentions for you. This is not Tony Robbins motivation or a ra-ra-ra hustle, work your eyes out book. This is a deeply analytical and pragmatic book discussing our nature, our capacity for focus, and the work habits that have led to history’s most valuable thoughts.

8/10


Long notes (~25 pages)

Jump to:
Intro
Part 1: The Idea
A. Deep Work is Valuable
B. Deep Work is Rare
C. Deep Work is Meaningful
Part 2: The Rules
Rule #1: Work Deeply
Rule #2: Embrace Boredom
Rule #3: Quit Social Media
Rule #4: Drain the Shallows
Conclusion


Intro

Begins with Carl Jung retreating to a tower in the woods to complete his most influential work, while returning to Zurich for his clinical practice.

“Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

“Although he had many patients who relied on him, Jung was not shy about taking time off.” Deep work, though a burden to prioritize, was crucial for his goal of changing the world.”

Goes on to explore the work habits Michel de Montaigne, Mark Twain, Woody Allen, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, and Neal Stephenson, emphasizing the ubiquity of Deep Work amongst influential people.

The Deep Work proposition at this point may seem quite obvious, but Cal shows that the modern knowledge worker (a term he uses for white collar people who create value from their knowledge) is “rapidly forgetting the value of going deep.” The rise of network tools, constant Slack/IM messages, social media, and infotainment sites have sabotaged our attention.

“A 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of a worker’s time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.”

This massive problem may have permanent consequences: “Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.”

Cal stipulates the he’s not as interested in the philosophical/moral debate on whether network tools/social media are harmful to society but will instead focus on the opportunity created in its wake.

“Our work culture’s shift toward the shallow (whether you think it’s philosophically good or bad) is exposing a massive economic and personal opportunity for the few who recognize the potential of resisting this trend and prioritizing depth.”

Example: Jason Benn, a financial consultant, replaced his entire full-time job with an Excel script. Realizing that he had no value in the workforce if his skills could be replaced by a computer, he quit his job and moved back home. He tried to learn to complex skill of computer programming but found that his ability to focus had been ransacked (admitting to spending 98% of his time surfing the web). He turned to drastic measures, locking himself in a room with no internet (only textbooks and pens), and within a few months, landed a programming job that more than doubled his salary as a financial consultant, with great potential to grow along with his ability.

We are rapidly leaving the industrial economy and entering the information economy. Industrial workers didn’t need the ability to go deep, they were paid to turn a crank and their job was not likely to change in the decades they held them. Now, more and more people are becoming knowledge workers, and the demands of their jobs are ever changing.

Technology is advancing, and computers replacing more and more jobs. Two big consequences:

  1. “To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things.”
  2. On the other hand, “the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways. If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e.g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless…”

“Deep work is the superpower of the 21st century.” – Eric Barker

Finally, Cal talks about how his own commitment to depth has enabled him to have incredibly high academic output, while writing best selling books, and raising three kids. He also touts the positive mental effects: “More generally, the lack of distraction in my life tones down that background hum of nervous mental energy that seems to increasingly pervade people’s daily lives.” A deep life is not only productive and impactful, but meaningful, fulfilling, and happy.

Part 1. The Idea

A. Deep Work is Valuable

Leading up to Election Day in 2012, 70% of the traffic was going to the writings of Nate Silver. He developed statistical models to predict baseball stats and game outcomes. For The NY Times he was using the same models to predict Election outcomes. Within a year, ESPN and ABC news promised him a staff of a dozen writers and a role in everything from sports to weather and Academy Awards.

David Heinemeier Hansson, created Ruby on Rails (a web development framework that is used by Twitter, Hulu, and countless other sites) and is a partner in the development firm Basecamp (and makes a ton of money there as well).

John Doerr is a venture capitalist, involved in funding Twitter, Google, Amazon, and more. Now worth $3 billion.

This chapter goes through a macro analysis of what made these 3 so professionally valued/successful.

From the book Race Against the Machine, tech is rapidly advancing, human skill and organization are lacking. Human jobs are being rapidly replaced by machines. As remote collaboration tools become more viable, companies are more likely to hire “superstars” (the best in the world, no regard to location). Those people with irreplaceable insight/skill will not only continue to work but will thrive in this new landscape. Repeated by Average is Over – Tyler Cowen.

In Race Against the Machine, three groups will thrive in the new economy. They outline Nate Silver, David Hansson, and John Doerr above.

  1. Highly Skilled Workers
    While tech automates many low level jobs, some tech (“data visualization, analytics, high speed communications, and rapid prototyping”) augments human input to function. Highly skilled workers, like Nate Silver, who are skilled with complex and intelligent machinery will continue to do be needed.
  2. Superstars
    Why hire decent local talent, with office space and full-time benefits when you can just use email/virtual meeting software to hire the best in the world?i.e. David Hansson
    ”Hearing a succession of mediocre singers doesn’t add up to a great performance.” One superstar can do a better job than a team of average.
  3. The Owners
    Those with the capital to invest in the technologies that fuel this “Great Restructuring” will continue to reap the economic benefits of them. Such as, venture capitalist, John Doerr.

To join one of these 3 groups, Cal has identified just two core abilities necessary.

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
    Complex and intelligent machines are not Twitter or even Photoshop. They are damn hard to use and learn. Even if you aren’t learning intelligent machine though, to become the Superstar of any field, from yoga teaching to a specialized medicine, requires you to master hard things.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
    To be a Superstar, skills are necessary but not enough. You need to leverage them to produce something people care about. Ex. Nate Silver was using his data prediction models on Baseball stats, but when he turned to election forecast, his value in the economy exploded. Ex. 2. David Hansson wasn’t just one of the best computer programmers, he created Ruby on Rails and thereby produced something people needed.

Finally the chapter ends with an analysis of how deep work is the single most important to pursuing these 2 core abilities, and thereby joining the Superstars of the new information economy.

Deep work’s Impact on your Ability to Learn Hard Things:
Main idea – “To learn requires intense concentration”

Starting in the ‘70s the new field of performance psychology studied the difference between expert performers in many fields and the average. The difference, they found, could be summed in two words: deliberate practice.

“We deny that these differences [between expert performers and normal adults] are immutable… Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.” – K. Anders Ericsson

This is in sharp contrast to the beloved “prodigy” idea that our culture loves. If you look into those examples, the vast majority just started deliberate practice much earlier and with much more intensity than the norm. Rare exceptions for height/size in athletics or similar.

Cal then breaks down the two components of deliberate practice:

  1. Intense, undistracted focus on a specific skill
  2. Feedback that keeps you focused on the right skills

He then moves on to explain the neuroscience behind why deliberate practice works. The key to learning a skill is “myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons, acting like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner.” Basically, “to be good at something, is to be well-myelinated.”

“By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation.” This triggers oligodendrocytes which start wrapping myelin around the relevant neurons. If you’re distracted, the brain can’t isolate the relevant circuits.

Deep Work’s impact on your ability to produce things:

Cal uses a case study of Adam Grant to prove this point. Adam Grant is youngest full professor at Wharton. Produces like crazy, when awarded professorship had already published over 60 peer-reviewed papers and a New York Times best selling book (Give and Take). The key to this production is said to be the following: “the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches.”

Does this on several scales. Batches all teaching in fall to focus intensely on only research during Spring and Summer. Then within semester batches open door periods with focused periods (not open to colleagues or students). Still one of top-rated teachers at Wharton.

Cal claims that Grant doesn’t work any more hours than the average professor in this field (because the field is noted for being filled with workaholics who all long hours) and then derives the law of productivity:

“High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)”

Since he’s assuming time spent to the same, this implies that Intensity of Focus is the key to Grant’s productivity, career success, and professional value.

So why is this intense focus so hard to achieve? Attention residue: when switching Task A to Task B, a residue of Task A is still occupying your mind. Basically never multi-task when you’re trying to learn something and don’t allow distractions to enter your environment. Ex. Checking your inbox every so often seems harmless but is actually very damaging to your ability to learn

Big section called what about jack dorsey? Jack Dorsey, twitter and square founder, has open office, always open to employees/distraction philosophy. Cal says there are certain jobs that are exceptions to the deep philosophy, CEO’s being the biggest. CEO’s have a “hard-won repository of experience” and instinct for the market.
“To ask a CEO to spend four hours thinking deeply about a single problem is a waste of what makes him or her valuable. It’s better to hire three smart subordinates to think deeply about the problem and then bring their solutions to the executive for a final decision.”
Seems to me like, the CEO’s put in the deep work before (years of studying and trial and error to build a successful enterprise) and now they’re really just calling the shots.

Cal emphasizes that jobs like the CEO are extremely rare. Don’t think your one of these people just because it’s difficult to incorporate deep work or it’s not the norm in your profession.

B. Deep Work is Rare

3 trends:

  1. New Facebook HQ is the “largest open floor plan in the world” – tons of companies doing this
  2. IBM employees send over 2.5 million instant messages every day – rise of Slack/immediate response expected messaging
  3. NY Times encourages their writers to be on Twitter – expectation for content professionals to be active on social media

“big trends in business today actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work, even though the benefits promised by these trends (e.g., increased serendipity, faster responses to requests, and more exposure) are arguably dwarfed by the benefits that flow from a commitment to deep work (e.g., the ability to learn hard things fast and produce at an elite level).”

Cal wants to prove that rareness of Deep Work in the modern workplace is not because deep work is needed or beneficial. Instead it is these trends are protected by:

  1. Metric Black Hole
    “It turns out to be really difficult to answer a simple question such as: What’s the impact of our current e-mail habits on the bottom line?”
    “Generally speaking, as knowledge work makes more complex demands of the labor force, it becomes harder to measure the value of an individual’s efforts.”

“None of these behaviors [trends 1-3 mentioned above] would survive long if it was clear that they were hurting the bottom line, but the metric black hole prevents this clarity and allows the shift toward distraction we increasingly encounter in the professional world.”

  1. The Principle of Least Resistance
    “In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.”

So we have a culture of constant connectivity, immediate responses, and constant distraction not because its contributing positively to our work or business, but because it’s much easier.
Reasons connectivity is easier

A. Instant messaging makes life so much easier, get an answer to your question within seconds. The cost of the distraction incurred by the Instant Messaging though is very hard to measure.

B. “it creates an environment where it becomes acceptable to run your day out of your inbox” If email were reserved for the last 30 minutes of your day, it would require much effort to decide what needs to prioritized, who can wait, what can be ignored. So we don’t bother, we just spend all day responding to emails as we get them. The path of least resistance.

Summary: “The Principle of Least Resistance, protected from scrutiny by the metric black hole, supports work cultures that save us from the short-term discomfort of concentration and planning, at the expense of long-term satisfaction and the production of real value.”

Now, Cal analyzes how we never moved on from the Industrial Revolution definition of productivity (# of visible things produced / span of time. For example, number of tires attached by hour). The new Information Economy doesn’t work like this. Our value is not so visible, learning abstract concepts, building skills, etc. don’t conform well to that mindset. WIll still use the old model to make us feel like productive however, number of emails sent this hour, amount of meetings attended today… All this to appear visibly busy when you didn’t actually produce or learn anything of real value. This he sums up as:

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”

Another factor influencing our rejection of Deep Work is our inclination to accept all new technology that seemingly makes our lives easier, as overall good. Not recognizing the trade offs of distraction. Furthermore, anyone who opposes the use of new technology is labeled a Luddite, stuck in the past, anti-progress. This he calls:

The Cult of the Internet: “We were, he noted, no longer discussing the trade-offs surrounding new technologies, balancing the new efficiencies against the new problems introduced. If it’s high-tech, we began to instead assume, then it’s good. Case closed.”

“Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological. Even worse, to support deep work often requires the rejection of much of what is new and high-tech.”

Finally, Cal makes the point that all of these alarming trends are bad for business. The effect is hard to measure in concrete numbers, but this creates enormous opportunity for these few who can ignore these trends. Cultivate your deep work ability and put yourself in a class of a select few.

C. Deep Work is Meaningful

Begins with case study of Ric Furrer, a modern day blacksmith, who crafts his metal totally by hand. Talks about how craftsman type labor (a practice that requires intense depth) gives Furrer happiness and satisfaction in his days.

“The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy,”

The satisfaction gets muddied up with knowledge work because the work is less clear.
Craftsman: Simple tasks that are difficult to execute (improving at this simple but hard to task becomes a craftsman’s purpose/meaning)

Knowledge work is difficult to clearly define, improvement is ambiguous, and shallow, unsatisfactory work (email, meetings, presentations) can make the creation of meaningful and satisfactory work very difficult.

This chapter shows 3 arguments for why Deep Work is the key to creating that craftsman-like satisfaction in the new knowledge work era.

  1. Neurological argument for depth
    Science writer, Winifred Gallagher, writes about how happiness is dictated not by the objective circumstances in our lives but what we choose to focus on. I.e. In the midst of a cancer diagnosis/treatment, Gallagher focused on “movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini” and found her life generally pleasant.
    Circumstances are not near as a important as what you choose to focus on (aka look on the bright side is not just a catch phrase but literally what separates happy and unhappy people)

“the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.”

This is backed by decades of research in numerous fields psychology, anthropology, education, behavior economics, to even family counseling (explores Barbara Frederick’s research UNC; Laura Carstensen Stanford, traces it physically to the amygdala in the brain)

So if our happiness is generated by where spend most of our focus… “There is gravity and a sense of importance inherent in deep work” Spending hours daily intensely working on skills/projects that create rare value will give you a sense that your life is rich in meaning and importance in return. In addition, the emphasis on avoiding distraction will cause you to have much less time and attention to focus on the many small problems that come up in our day. Those become ignored or put in perspective.

The danger with knowledge work, ubiquitous connectivity, and constant reach ability is to instead focus on shallow things, “urgent” matters in your inbox, other people’s requests, and thus leaving you feeling empty, cold, and unimportant day after day.

Another point Gallagher makes is how lack of focus or clear mission leads to anxiety and dissatisfaction: “the idle mind is the devil’s workshop’… when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.”

  1. Psychological argument for depth
    Psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi, developed the revolutionary Experience Sampling Method (ESM) that gives us the best insight into how people feel during all the various activities in our day. Reported to the researchers at the exact time they are performing the activity (not in retrospect). They found the following:
    “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Csikszentmihalyi

This contradicts the image of happiness as sitting on beach with a pina colada without a care in the world and mirrors the Deep Work argument shockingly well. Here’s why sitting idly doesn’t lead to a happy life:
“Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.”
*this overlaps with Gallagher above a lot. Different in that Gallagher focuses on the *content* of our focus, whereas Csikszentmihalyi is agnostic to the content but emphasizes that the feeling of going deep is fulfilling in it of itself.

  1. Philosophical argument for depth
    This follows the work of philosophy professors Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelley. The world used to filled with wonder, Greek gods, spirits, and meaning beyond the tangible. After Descartes, Enlightenment, and the rise of reason/science/objectivity the world was stripped of this. This has obviously had many benefits (all our modern luxuries) but has definitely led to nihilism, depression, and a lot of purposelessness in our modern world.

The problem with the this lack of sacredness, is that individuals are expected to generate their own meaning. In the past, sources of meaning existed outside of ourselves, we turned to gods and spirits that we believed existed outside of ourselves.

Fascinatingly, Dreyfus and Kelly argue that craftsmanship is the key to finding a source of meaning outside ourselves in the post-Enlightenment world.

The example given is hard to explain, but they talk about old wheelwrights (the people who shape wood into smooth wheels). Every piece of wood is different and requires different cuts and processes to get it to do what it ultimately needs to do. They alike this variance to personality, saying that each wood has its character and “subtle virtues”. Importantly, it is not up to the craftsmen to create these virtues, they are physically inherent in the wood itself.
“The task of a craftsman, they conclude, “is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there. This frees the craftsman of the nihilism of autonomous individualism, providing an ordered world of meaning.”

Finally Cal makes the point that “There’s nothing intrinsic about the manual trades when it comes to generating this particular source of meaning. Any pursuit—be it physical or cognitive—that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.”
Beautiful code (like poetry) can have its own “subtle virtues” and can be its own source of purpose just as beautifully crafted wood.

Don’t obsess over your job description, finding the perfect work that matches your passion/life calling, or the specifics of your work. The preceding points tell us that its the process of pursuing excellence in clear but difficult task that leads to fulfillment. Become a craftsman in your knowledge work, simplify your objectives as much as possible and pursue them with fervor, depth, and pride. Ignore shallow, frivolous work that distracts from your main craft (writing, coding, reporting, calculating, whatever it may be).
“The meaning uncovered by such efforts is due to the skill and appreciation inherent in craftsmanship—not the outcomes of their work.”

Part 2. The Rules

A. Rule #1: Work Deeply

David Dewane (architecture prof)’s Eudaimonia machine, a one story 5 chamber building, designed to enable the deepest possible work. The anti open office.

This chapter is how to build a work environment and culture in your life to extract as much value from yourself as possible, even without access to Eudaimonia machine.

Preceding question: why do we need such involved strategies to do Deep Work? I accept it’s valuable, why can’t I just do more.
Answer: Basically we suck at fighting the path of least resistance, we battle urges all day long and become worse at doing so later in the day. “You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.” We need strategies to prioritize when, where, how we will do Deep Work or else it’ll never happen. Routines and rituals will enable this lifestyle.

Deep Work Philosophies:

  1. Monastic
    Example: Famed computer scientist, Donald Knuth. No email since 1990. HIs only job is to think big thoughts and publish them, so anything else is a distraction. Provides only a postal mailing address and an assistant only shares what’s important for him to see in a big batch, every three months!
    His goal: “I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.”
    Example 2: Science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson. His contact policy: “All of my time and attention are spoken for—several times over. Please do not ask for them.”
    Stephenson sees two mutually exclusive possibilities in his life. “He can write good novels at a regular rate, or he can answer a lot of individual e-mails and attend conferences, and as a result produce lower-quality novels at a slower rate.”

This philosophy works for people who can clearly identify their value to world down to one thing. That thing shouldn’t require much correspondence either.

  1. Bi-modal
    Example: Carl Jung, locks himself in his work home in small town, Bollingen, to write in the mornings and meditates/walks in the woods at night. Contrasts this with his time in Zurich where he sees patients, chats with comrades at coffeeshops, and gives and attends lectures at Univerisites.

Bi-modal philosophy believes that deep work requires at least a full day away from outside distraction, not an hour here and there. “At the same time, the bimodal philosophy is typically deployed by people who cannot succeed in the absence of substantial commitments to non-deep pursuits. Jung, for example, needed his clinical practice to pay the bills and the Zurich coffeehouse scene to stimulate his thinking. The approach of shifting between two modes provides a way to serve both needs well.”
Example 2: Wharton business prof, Adam Grant. Teaching, open office, accessible in the fall semester. Intense research and writing only in the spring and summer.

  1. Rhythmic
    Example: Seinfeld. Writes a joke everyday. After doing so, marks a big, red X on the calendar. Will not break this “chain of X’s” “the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes,” and then explaining that the way to create better jokes was to write every day.”

This philosophy argues that the best way to implement deep work into your life is to make it into a daily habit.
Example 2: Doctoral candidate, Brian Chappell. Working a full-time job, writing a thesis, and a dad. Rather than the visual of X’s on a calendar, he starts his deep work at a set time everyday (5:30-7:30AM before work). Doing so enables him to write 4-5 pages of academic writing every day, a full chapter every 2 weeks, all written before his 9-5.

Bi-modal or rhythmic?
Rhythmic: More atune to human nature (habitual), likely more hours of deep work per year because of regularity. Easier for things that not pressing and need daily practice, a la writing daily jokes, working on your thesis. Things that if you didn’t do them everyday, you’d likely lose steam. Things with loose or optional deadlines
Bi-modal: Enables the intense depth that can give rise to world shifting thoughts like those of Carl Jung. Thoughts that would’ve been very hard to come by in 2 hours each morning before work… Weightier processes may need this. Also, when there’s big pressure to produce, be the first, etc.

  1. Journalistic
    Example: Journalist, author, Times editor, Walter Issacson. Basically fit in deep work whenever he could…
    “It was always amazing… he could retreat up to the bedroom for a while, when the rest of us were chilling on the patio or whatever, to work on his book… he’d go up for twenty minutes or an hour, we’d hear the typewriter pounding, then he’d come down as relaxed as the rest of us… the work never seemed to faze him, he just happily went up to work when he had the spare time.”
    20 minutes here, hour there… ended up finishing a 900-page epic

Called the journalist approach because this approach is needed by those who need to shift into writing mode on a moment’s notice. NOT for deep work novices. Your finite stores of will power will be depleted quickly. Task switching residue is high. Basically for those where there is no other way. Needs a lot of practice
Example 2: Cal Newport has 3 kids, a full time job, a podcast, blog, and book contracts… He gets it in every moment he can.

Ritualizing your work life: “An often-overlooked observation about those who use their minds to create valuable things is that they’re rarely haphazard in their work habits.”
Examples, famed biographer, Robert Caro, meticulous about his work space, book placements, wall decoration, all consistent for decades.
Charles Darwin, woke up, then walk, breakfast, read letters, write, in that order, every day, at the exact same time

“There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration—that there is some strike or bolt or bubbling up of creative mojo from who knows where… but I hope [my work] makes clear that waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan. In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.” David Brooks

Take as many decisions out of your life as possible to preserve your will power. i.e. Steve Jobs wearing the same thing everyday. Here’s what to ritualize to make a Deep Life:

  1. Where you’ll work and for how long: same place, make a place only for deep work if you can
  2. How you’ll work once you start to work: i.e. # of words per 20 minutes. Keeps concentration up
  3. How you’ll support your work: i.e. meditation, food, exercise, brain in a state capable of focus

Grand gestures: Examples of people doing big things to maintain deep work.

I.e. JK Rowling writing Deathly Hallows in 5 star Balmoral hotel (environment was better than her home for work). ~$1000 a day just to write
Bill Gates schedules Think Weeks in the year. Retreat to cabin in the woods with just papers
MIT Physicist, novelist, Alan Lightman. Spends summers in a tiny island off of Maine. No internet or phone for 2.5 months.
Entrepreneur, Peter Shankman, had about a week to write a book. Booked a business class ticket round trip ticket to Tokyo. Wrote whole way there. Drank an espresso in Tokyo business class lounge. Then returned to NYC writing the whole way. Finished a manuscript at the end.

Embracing collaboration with Deep Work: Massive open floor plan office are an absurd attack on concentration but the justifications are everyone attuned to a single mission, curious about others work, sharing of ideas.
Cal argues that constant contact with a ton of people has large negative impact on depth of thinking but wants to show how to integrate collaboration with deep work
Examples: the famous MIT Building 20 and the Bell Labs building… both spaces housed many different disciplines and produced world changing, cross-disciplinary innovations.
Cal argues that these were not in fact open floor plans but what he calls hub and spoke. Where a collaborative hub (like a long hallway) was made so that you would encounter tons of coworkers and different people, but for deep thinking one would lock themselves into soundproofed offices that come out of the hub.
On hub and spoke: “It’s a setup that straddles a spectrum where on one extreme we find the solo thinker, isolated from inspiration but free from distraction, and on the other extreme, we find the fully collaborative thinker in an open office, flush with inspiration but struggling to support the deep thinking needed to build on it.”

One other type of Deep Work is collaborative with a partner or very small group. Example: Walter Brattain and John Bardeen inventing the transistor with Bell Labs. The whiteboard effect: sharing a whiteboard (workspace) with another person. Pushing you, waiting for your next insight, contributing their own, etc. Only works in very small numbers where everyone is committed to depth.

Execute like a business:
Example: Andy Grove (CEO of Intel) sought the advice of Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business) to fight off competition from lower priced companies.
Christensen said they needed a lower priced line (Celeron) to which Grove said duh… I don’t need to know what I need to know how. Idea being that developed a strategy is easy but executing is hard. Similarly, saying deep work is valuable is easy, making it a lifestyle is hard.

This spawned Christensen to make the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX):

  1. Focus on the wildly important: “the more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish” focus on specific goals that return tangible, motivating results, rather than lofty ideals
  2. Act on lead measures (over lag measures): Lag measures is the ultimate goal, i.e. overall customer satisfaction. Lead measures are in your control, i.e. # of customers given a free sample. “For an individual focused on deep work, it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.”
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard: Track your lead measures in a public place. You’ll play differently when keeping score
  4. Create a cadence of accountability: This takes the form of short meetings for a business, but it is just regular reflection on you wildly important goal, the lead measure progress, and then deciding on specific actions to improve that lead measure

Being lazy: In all this talk of Deep work, don’t forget to create time off. This about maximizing focus in 3-4.5 hours a day, not constant hustle.
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Important: “At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely.”

Reasons for rest:

  1. Downtime aids insight: active deliberation often leads to worse decisions (and anxiety inducing if done excessively). Letting your unconscious mind untangle and going with the “gut” feeling is often better.
  2. Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply: “attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.”
  3. The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important: Contends that we have finite stores of concentration, only up to about 4 hours in a day. “Any work you do fit into the night, therefore, won’t be the type of high-value activities that really advance your career; your efforts will instead likely be confined to low-value shallow tasks (executed at a slow, low-energy pace). By deferring evening work, in other words, you’re not missing out on much of importance.”

Practical nugget: “a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed. In more detail, this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right. The process should be an algorithm: a series of steps you always conduct, one after another. When you’re done, have a set phrase you say that indicates completion (to end my own ritual, I say, “Shutdown complete”). This final step sounds cheesy, but it provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.”

B. Rule #2: Embrace Boredom

Orthodox Jewish practice of waking early to study the complex writings of Rabbinic Judaism. Adam Marlow’s goal is decipher one Talmud page a day.
Adam is a business owner and hold 3 Ivy League degrees but says this morning practice is the hardest brain strain he does. Since he started this daily practice in his twenties, he ability to has concentrate way more than back in school.

This is because concentration is a mental muscle that must be trained. “In my experience, it’s common to treat undistracted concentration as a habit like flossing—something that you know how to do and know is good for you, but that you’ve been neglecting due to a lack of motivation. This mind-set is appealing because it implies you can transform your working life from distracted to focused overnight if you can simply muster enough motivation. But this understanding ignores the difficulty of focus and the hours of practice necessary to strengthen your “mental muscle.”

Not a one-time decision, must cultivate the skill.

Stanford researcher, Clifford Nass: Chronic multitaskers have lost their ability to filter out irrelevancy and are chronically distracted as a result

With on-demand distraction, your brain gets very uncomfortable with boredom. Always distracting itself with the shiniest object.

Don’t relieve boredom with a your phone. 5 minutes in line. 30 seconds in the elevator. 2 minutes on the toilet. Train your brain to single task.

Important: “Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.”
Don’t live your life in a state of distraction/shallowness and then “sit down and focus” when you need. This doesn’t work because you don’t have the mental capacity. Make focus your default mode for living and take breaks from there to cook, walk, play music, etc.

This is why “one day a week unplugged” rarely works, your brain needs it if that your default.
Practical nugget: Schedule your internet time in advance.
Rather than have the internet on all the time and then turn on airplane mode when you want to focus, have it off and turn it on only at scheduled times when you need to do something on it.

“It’s the constant switching from low-stimuli/ high-value activities to high-stimuli/ low-value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty.” This switch is your mental muscles weakening

Honestly the idea of this chapter. The rest is not all stuff I like.
Case study of Teddy Roosevelt’s work routines, massive intensity shorter deadlines.
Meditating productively. (I hate this haha). Walking and only thinking about one professional problem.
Party trick of memorizing a deck of cards in a few minutes.

One idea I liked – Avoid mental looping: “When faced with a hard problem, your mind, as it was evolved to do, will attempt to avoid excess expenditure of energy when possible. One way it might attempt to sidestep this expenditure is by avoiding diving deeper into the problem by instead looping over and over again on what you already know about it.”

C. Rule #3: Quit Social Media

Social media: FB, Twitter, Instagram and Infotainment: Buzzfeed/Reddit
Few points

  1. They increasingly fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate-
    Where willpower is limited, the presence of easily accessible, on-demand distraction will always be the easier choice than less gripping, more difficult deep work. In the process, it weakens the the mental muscles for concentration described earlier
  2. A false binary. You’re either on the internet/social or you’re totally unplugged-
    This binary is too crude to be useful for most. Most people can’t unplug completely, practically, so this leads them to just accept that our current state of distraction is inevitable and unavoidable.
  3. As opposed to #2: “a third option: accepting that these tools are not inherently evil, and that some of them might be quite vital to your success and happiness, but at the same time also accepting that the threshold for allowing a site regular access to your time and attention (not to mention personal data) should be much more stringent, and that most people should therefore be using many fewer such tools.”

Cal proposes in #3 (above) that you carefully select your tools.

Don’t fall into the any-benefit mindset. This says that value is value, if a tool could improve your life in some way, why not use it?

Of course this ignores any negatives that may not be obvious: addiction, comparison, mental illness, distraction, opportunity cost

Example of the alternative: Forrest Pritchard, organic farmer, discussing why he doesn’t use a Hay Baler.
Why spend money on hay, when you can buy a machine that bundles up your own grass into neat bundles of hay? If you subscribed to any-benefit this would be a no-brainer.

Pritchard said doing this would’ve put him out of business. Negatives that don’t immediately come to mind:

  1. Actual fuel and repair cost, a shed to keep the machine in, and taxes paid on it
  2. Opportunity cost: if he’s making hay, he’s not doing something else. He now uses that time to raise chickens. He sell the chickens at a profit so that’s a positive cash flow activity. He uses the manure from the chickens as fertilizer
  3. Buying in hay is not just buying grass, but also the animal protein/manure that went into to fertilizing that grass and provide it with nutrients. On the other side, making your own hay is taking nutrients away from your soil that could be use to generate cash positive crops.
  4. Driving heavy machinery over soil, compacts it. Apparently this is bad for it

Since a key aspect for Pritchard’s success as a farm/business, was the long-term health of his soil, he concluded that buying in hay was actually a better option.

This is a complex and nuanced process towards tool selection that we should apply to social media. Calls this:

The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.”

Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, George Packer (and Cal Newport) all best-selling authors who refuse to use twitter

3 steps to adopt the craftsman mindset:

  1. Identify the main high level goals key to your professional and personal success
    Not too specific. Being a present parent, great teacher, effective researcher, etc.
  2. List 2-3 activities that help satisfy that goal
    Good example: Regularly read new research in my field
  3. Go through each network tool and next to each of the key activities, identify whether each tool has a substantially positive, substantially negative, or little impact on each activity.

Only use the tool if the positives outweighs the negatives

Case study for writer Michael Lewis, where social media pretty much is just a substantially negative drawback on all his most important activities.

But his main activities don’t involve marketing, because he’s already a famous author.

But for less known authors, he argues that one-to-one communication on Twitter is bad way to market. If you generate 25 customers a week for 2 years that still hardly any book sales by book/best seller standards.
I think this is a super weak argument, because Twitter is not one-to-one communication that’s the whole point haha. I’ll just chalk it up to Cal never using it to think this way.
The main point still stands though. In another one of Cal’s books So Good They Can’t Ignore You he makes a much stronger point that the quality and remarkability of your work is of far more importance to its growth/popularity than your social media tactics. Also important is that social media use usually has a very negative impact on your ability to produce work that is of world class quality, so good that it can’t be ignored.

Case study for the value of Facebook in his personal goals. Again, found it substantially negatively impactful.
He also shows some examples where Facebook maybe should be used (students in college, overseas military to keep up with back home)

Law of the Vital Few: I know this as the Pareto’s Law, 80/20 rule. 80% of output comes from 20% of input. I.e. 80% of profit comes top 20% of customers, 80% of stress comes from 20% of people/things in your life, 80% of wealth in the hands of 20% richest people.

In this context, 80% of the positive outcomes in your life, will come from just 20% of the activities. SO if you have a list of 15-20 potentially beneficial activities, like reading, social media marketing, mediation. Like only the first 2-4 most beneficial activities (identified through he process above) should take any of your time at all

Strategy: Ryan Nicodemus (of The Minimalists) fighting back against compulsory consumerism, packed everything in his home into boxes like a moving party. Then when he went about his day, only unpacked what he needed. After a month or so, found ~80% of his stuff still in boxes, 20% he actually needed.

Cal recommends this as another approach to social media. Delete it all for 30 days.

“After thirty days of this self-imposed network isolation, ask yourself the following two questions about each of the services you temporarily quit:

  1. Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
  2. Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?”

Note: do not announce to your social that you’re taking a break. Just leave and notice how few people care. Social gives us false importance, feel like people want to hear what we have to say, only true for a very select group…
Side-note: if you want to become one of those people, who produces real-value, that people miss when they go silent… guess what you have to do… (read So good they can’t ignore you)

Pre-social, your work had to be extremely valuable and high quality to spread. Social media took away this connection “with a shallow collectivist alternative: I’ll pay attention to what you say if you pay attention to what I say—regardless of its value.”

Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself:

Important: On the value of time
The “great and profound mistake which my typical man makes in regard to his day,” he elaborates, is that even though he doesn’t particularly enjoy his work (seeing it as something to “get through”), “he persists in looking upon those hours from ten to six as ‘the day,’ to which the ten hours preceding them and the six hours following them are nothing but a prologue and epilogue.” This is an attitude that Bennett condemns as “utterly illogical and unhealthy.” – Arnold Bennett

Bennett argues that the 16 hours of a 24 hour day when you are not working, occupied by monetary concerns, should be your “day within a day.” He is writing in 1910. This time should be for rigorous self-improvement and enrichment. I.e. read great literature, poetry

No with modern infotainment, these leisure activities we partake in shallow and worthless.

I.e. the most popular articles on Buzzfeed at the time of writing (with millions of reads each):
“17 Words That Mean Something Totally Different When Spelled Backward” and “33 Dogs Winning at Everything.”

Why do we consume such shallow things? Because of the principle of least resistance, we will always default to the easiest, most accessible, most cognitively/physically undemanding thing to occupy ourselves with if we haven’t planned anything else

Important practical nugget: “It’s crucial, therefore, that you figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin.”

Quality, enriching, well thought out planning of your leisure 16 hours, will raise the quality and focus for your business 8.

Spending your leisure on meaningful enrichment (reading, music, exercise, meditation, family) leaves you more fulfilled and happier, more capable for your work. Meaningless, shallow, perhaps even anxiety and comparison inducing consumption leaves you less energized, not rested.

D. Rule #4: Drain the Shallows

Example: 37signals (now Basecamp) reduced their work week from 5 days to 4, and saw no decrease in productivity. People thought they were requiring employees squeeze in 40 hours in 4 days but rather the company states that they just keep normal 8 hours days. Here’s why the productivity stayed high:

“Very few people work even 8 hours a day. You’re lucky if you get a few good hours in between all the meetings, interruptions, web surfing, office politics, and personal business that permeate the typical workday. Fewer official working hours helps squeeze the fat out of the typical workweek.” – co-founder, Jason Fried

Removing 8 hours out of the work week while keeping deadlines and pace the same, just motivated people to get rid of shallow work and focus more in the remaining hours.

So if removing shallow work had this effect, what would happen if you put policies in place to increase Deep Work?

37signals set aside the entire month of June, calling off all meetings, memos, PowerPoint, etc. Employees were to work on personally directors projects. At the end of the month was a pitch day, so show the company what you did.

Several projects from that month soon went into production and generated tremendous value to the company. Fried states with near certainty that these ideas would’ve never been produced had it no been for this lengthy, set-aside time, to focus on a single, value-generating idea without distraction.

The point of this chapter: “treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated.”
Strategies for draining shallow work from your life:

  1. Schedule every minute of your day – most of spend our day on autopilot, not giving thought to where our time is going. Studies show we vastly underestimate how much time we waste and over estimate how much we work. He then goes on to explain his signature time-blocking technique. I’m not going to say it better than him so here’s a link to his blog where he explains it:
  2. Quantify the depth of each activity –
    To get rid of shallow work and track deep endeavors you need to correctly identify what is shallow vs. deep

Revisit the definition of shallow work: “Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”
Basically anything you could train an assistant to do in less than a few months

Here’s the litmus test he suggests for quantifying depth:
“How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?”
These tasks require you to understand the nuances of your field, work, function. If a recent college grad would take many months or years to do this well, this is probably a task of depth

  1. Ask your Boss for a Shallow Work budget
    This one is pretty hilarious. Track the percentage of your time spent on shallow work (meetings and email). Odds are (if you’ve never thought about depth before) it will be 50-80%+.
    Set up a meeting with your boss and explain to him/her depth vs. shallow and show the numbers.
    Ask to budget your shallow work time to somewhere around 30%. Since it’s hard to justify paying someone to answer emails and attend meetings, they’ll probably agree. Use this agreement as justification to say answer email once a day, reduce meetings to once a week, etc. If your boss answers something like, “you’ll do as much shallow work as I need you to do” then this tells you that this is a job that doesn’t support Deep Work. A job that doesn’t support Deep Work is not a job that will raise your value in this modern economy and is a not a good place to be.
  2. Finish your work by 5:30 (and not on weekends)
    The message of this is similar to 37signals reduced to a 4 day work week. Reduce your work schedule and figure out how you will get the same work done/meet the same deadlines. You will just naturally cut out less important work and have to be more focused if you set a hard rule of no work past 5:30.
  3. Hell yes or no. (This phrase I got from Derek Sivers not cal, same idea)
    “I, too, am incredibly cautious about my use of the most dangerous word in one’s productivity vocabulary: “yes.” Cal used to say “talk to me after tenure”… LOL
    Again, focus on the wildly important. Everything else is a no.
    Adopt a scarcity mindset with your time. Don’t casually hop on a call, grab a coffee. Either say no or make sure there is a clear agenda and predetermined end-time for every meeting.
  4. Become hard to reach
    This is probably more useful for people like Cal who get many requests in day. If I get more than one email a day from a friend/colleague/fan I’m very happy about that and more than happy to respond haha.
    The mindset is worth adopting though, and probably the restrictive contact policies in the future.
    Strategies for being harder to reach:
    A. Make people who send you mail do more work.
    i.e. Require a $10+ donation to a charity to email you
    i.e. have an intimidating contact message like “If you have an offer, opportunity, or introduction that might make my life more interesting, e-mail me at interesting [at] blah dot com.
    i.e. detailed FAQ page before your contact page
    This is a sender filter, reduce the number of pointless exchange and increase the value of what you get

B. Do more work when you send or reply to email
LOVE this one. Don’t just dash off a quick reply so you can check something off your to-do list, take the time to write your emails in a way that minimizes back and forth and anticipates it.
Rather than “Coffee sounds great! When are you free?”
Try: “I’d love to grab coffee. Let’s meet at the Starbucks on campus. Below I listed two days next week when I’m free. For each day, I listed three times. If any of those day and time combinations work for you, let me know. I’ll consider your reply confirmation for the meeting. If none of those date and time combinations work, give me a call at the number below and we’ll hash out a time that works. Looking forward to it.” (Pg. 249)
You can change the tone to your own of course, the idea stands.

C. Don’t respond
Make your default behavior a no-reply. The mindset “It’s the sender’s responsibility to convince the receiver that a reply is worth their time”
So don’t reply to anything unless you’re thoroughly convinced that it’s worthwhile
Don’t reply if: “
• It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
• It’s not a question or proposal that interests you.
• Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.”

Conclusion

“Bill Gates was a serial obsessor” Difference between Gates and Paul Allen was focus.
Deep Work is not a moral code, just a pragmatic way of gettin valuable things done.

“Deep work is important, in other words, not because distraction is evil, but because it enabled Bill Gates to start a billion-dollar industry in less than a semester.”

Cal discusses his own need for Deep Work. Best-selling author, dad of 3, husband, full time professor, academic researcher, podcaster, blogger… This is how he does it.

Point of the book: Deep Work is way more powerful than most people understand.

Following your Passion vs. Creating it – “Are dreams for suckers?”

It’s such a popular idea to tell kids to follow their dreams. The new thing is to turn your passion into a career, find what you were born to do, and reject society’s cookie cutter path.

As a jazz musician, I certainly relate to this. I showed a lot of promise as a young saxophonist in middle/high school, won a lot of awards, etc., and I was told by all the loving, supportive, and well-meaning adults to follow my dreams! Ignore the haters! Do what you love! Nevermind that I was something like 14 years old… Nevermind that 99% of the people telling me this had never and will never purchase anything from a saxophone player in their lives. Yet here they are telling me it’s probably a good idea to make a business out of it?

First, I’ll clear the air before this gets dark and say that I have no regrets. Jazz, its history, and the community around it has brought me my closest friends, greatest mentors, and my most important personal revelations. However, now as a 22 year old, I’m realizing that I was not “born” to do this. I have no god-given gifts for swing, no matter how many people told me I had something special. What more, I found that I do love jazz, but damn history also excites me! Computers and technology keep me up at night. Philosophy and literature cause me to marvel at this world and my own existence. Photography allows me to capture the way I see the world and present it to other people. On and on…

This idea that we were all born with some singular disposition to a particular field that we must uncover in the first 18 years of life is just ludacris. It leads to the 35-year-old record store clerk who “just wants to be around music”, the starry eyed actor in LA who’s stuck around for probably 10 years too long, and so on. On the other hand, it’s the very same mindset that has given us history’s greatest disrupters, the people who dared to take on the impossible, and go against every concept of normal we accept as a society! From Coltrane to Elon Musk, behind every innovator was a voice that told them not to care about what was “in reach”.

Mike Rowe, who most of us know as the host of Dirty Jobs, is a very outspoken voice for the other side of the coin. Follow opportunity and then become passionate about what you do. You can see how his life experience plays into this. He spends his days meeting the people with society’s grungiest gigs. From the septic tank cleaner, to the dairy cow inseminator, and beyond. Yet he has found that many of these people lead happy and fulfilled lives with vibrant families, faith, personal interests, and more. Granddaddy marketing guru, Seth Godin, also takes this position, citing scientific research that shows how the random choices and circumstances around us as babies eventually become our preferences as adults. For example, NHL players have been shown to have a heavy selection bias towards having birthdays in the first quarter of the year. Theories are that this has to do largely with the cutoff dates for most youth hockey leagues… go figure.

So where does this leave us? A couple of practical nuggets I’ve deduced:

  • It is true that passion is a real advantage. Love for your work can lead you to outlast, outwork, and outwit your competitors.
  • But passion has more to do with chance and circumstance than it does any innate disposition.
  • It is important to take on goals that seem out of reach or even goals that no one has done before. This is imperative to our growth as a society.
  • But if you fail, it’s highly likely that there are many other things that you would also be good at. Even if you don’t think of them as your passion.
  • You can become passionate about most any work from cleaning gyms and flipping KFC chicken to hedge fund management.

Lastly, I will end with probably the most practical, concise reply to this dilemma that I’ve heard:

Put everything you have into your dream for 5 years. 7 days a week, 110% effort. If things aren’t working for you after you’ve done that, find another line of work.

From Hugh Jackman’s interview on the Tim Ferriss show

Moment’s Notice – Odd Meter Talk! – Music Log #1

Music starts around 6:48

Downloadable Moment’s Notice 7/4 Backing Track:

Finally decided to tackle some odd meter things. Made this play-a-long track to help make practicing odd meters so much more fun. Drum loop is from the Drum Genius mobile app and bass sound is from Native Instruments Kontakt factory library.

Apologies for some muddy audio in this video, I had the music way too loud and it was peaking. I fixed this in this downloadable version and will make this better for next video:) I lowered it in post a bit to not blow anyone’s ears but it’s still distorted. Listen with headphones or monitors for best sound as always.


For those curious about the instrument I’m playing, it’s the Akai EWI 5000. I love playing it. If you’re interested, would appreciate if you purchased from my affiliate link: https://amzn.to/36RAZkv
If you do, email me at austin@austinzhang.org and I’d be happy to nerd out a bit and tell you my favorite sounds, settings, tricks, etc.

The Vulnerability in a Solo.

Improvising a solo in front of an audience is one of the most vulnerable things a musician can do. While we often see solos as displays of virtuosity, an improvised solo contains glimpses into a musician’s character, their empathy with those present in the room, and all the feelings of the moment. It’s why fans of John Coltrane or Miles Davis feel as though they know something about them despite having never met them. In this post I aim to explore two questions:

1) What makes a solo vulnerable?

This track from Marvin Gaye’s album, Vulnerable, is just sublime… A prime of example of musical vulnerability.

Every time I play my horn I’m consciously and unconsciously saying so many things. Before I even play a note, the audience recognizes that in 2020, in the days of private space travel, virtual reality, and unprecedented medical breakthroughs, I choose to spend my time playing a saxophone. This is not unnoticed nor insignificant.

Closer listeners can hear what types of musicians I listen to, how much energy I have and what sentiments I’m feeling in that moment, some things I have and haven’t practiced, how well I listen to my band-mates, how in tune I am with the the room I’m playing in, and still more.

When you think about solos that are “vulnerable”, you may think of something introspective, thoughtful, or sincere. But in reality, everything you say, do, or present is a revealing action. Soloists who refuse to fit their sound into the band or can’t listen to and value the input of the others are also revealing many things about themselves in those actions. Similarly, you can hear when a soloist is nervous or confident, in love or hurting…

Two solos you may think about when hearing the word vulnerable:

Coltrane on Blue in Green
Lester Young on Fine and Mellow

So what makes some solos more vulnerable than others? Why do some musicians sound like they’re pouring their souls out on stage while others sound somehow less sincere? Well, this thought process is a little flawed to begin with because whether or not music is vulnerable actually has nothing to do with the notes that came out or how good/bad the music sounds. The true measure of vulnerability lies in how genuine the artist feels about what he/she is creating. How right does it feel?

When Coltrane was caught “walking the bar” with his horn by Benny Golson, he ran out of the club in embarrassment. There is nothing inherently wrong with this or even embarrassing, but Coltrane knew in his heart that his musical voice lay elsewhere. Similarly, Lester Young left Fletcher Henderson’s band because of huge pressure to sound like Coleman Hawkins. Glad he stuck to his guns…

     Source: bigjaymcneely.net
“McNeely has set the bar extremely high. His performances serve as lessons how to truly play to a crowd.”

As improvisors, we are often pressured to mask our present emotions. This is because improvisers serve a dual purpose as entertainers. We often have to give a certain show even when we feel like crying in bed or punching a wall. When people pay a $30 cover to a club, they expect a show and to be entertained, not an improvisation about how mopey you feel right now. Through practice and sometimes blatant regurgitation, we learn to play back certain things regardless of how we feel in that moment. We learn an ability to express any sort of feeling at any moment for the purposes of serving the audience. Master entertainers (think James Brown, Cannonball Adderley, Frank Sinatra) are able to become a certain persona as soon as they hit the stage. I can’t imagine Cannonball felt as joyful as he played 24/7, yet I’ve never heard anything but raw, jovial spirit come from his horn. But hey, I never met him.

There’s a lot in this one. Glasper is also controversial nowadays because of how differently he plays.

This approach is definitely not better or worse, and as I said, it is not a measure of vulnerability. Vulnerability comes from how genuine the artist feels. However, it does allow for much less variation and less “in-the-moment” music. The scope of John Coltrane’s music ranges from hours of free improvisation, religious cries, and Trane changes to lush and melodic ballads and tippin’ songbook interpretations. Cannonball does what Cannonball does because he’s not there to express his deepest emotions, but to fill an audience with joy and lift their spirits. This is also a vulnerability, of course. It reveals a person that places the needs of others above his/her own. It could also reveal an artist with less volatile personal emotions and spiritual journey than someone like Coltrane.

Joyful music! This one really brings back memories for me.

Often, there’s another side of this…

[Louis] Armstrong’s lips, he recalled, ‘were as hard as a piece of wood and he was bleeding and everything else’… For once he established himself as the king of high C’s, he saw no choice but to continue his lip shredding ways, much like an aging gunfighter who must kill all comers or be killed himself.

From Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout

The great John Riley, told me a similar story of his time touring with the iconic bebop trumpeter, Red Rodney. He told me (paraphrasing here) that Red had major dental problems because of his addictions. A dentist had installed some metal spikes of some sort in his mouth, and Red was not meant to play trumpet until he healed up and the spikes could be taken out. Instead Red and the band went on tour and each night Red hid a bucket somewhere on stage where he spat and coughed blood into out of sight. He never said a word to the audience about it or complained to the band once.

2) Why is vulnerability important?

If by masking ourselves, we can pull off a more energetic and entertaining performance, why should we as musicians (or any other creator) allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front an audience?

Everything new in this world has come from vulnerability. The audacity to think that one’s personal opinion, feelings, or approach is valid enough to pursue over what has been done previously is essential to change. Without vulnerability, the sharing of diverse ideas would cease and progress would stop.

To illustrate this, I’ll use a fable first told to me by a mentor, Stefon Harris. We are all blind in this world. We are singularly too small to comprehend the workings of the universe or even our planet, and no one knows why we are here. In this fable, 3 blind men are tasked with describing an elephant. The first touches the tusk and comes to the conclusion that elephants are rock hard creatures that are long and skinny. The second touches the belly and concludes that elephants are huge creatures that are entirely round. The third touches the tail and concludes that elephants are snake like creatures, long but small. All three men are right but are unable to see the whole picture. They can either fight a war because they believe they are right or recognize the validity in each other’s perspectives and over time construct a more complete picture of what an elephant is. Perhaps the first man exclaims that elephants are rock hard and the second man starts to question his thoughts and doesn’t want to share his view because he thinks he could be wrong. Maybe 1,000 blind men believe elephants are this way while you are the only one who believes its this way. In this world however, we are all blind, and it is only through the sharing of our perspectives, diverse perspectives shaped by our background, present circumstances, and diverse biology, that we can begin to chip away at truth.

TLDR: This quote is basically this entire blog in a sentence.

This is why as musicians and artists we must constantly seek peak vulnerability. To always look within ourselves and share our most honest and genuine truths. That truth could be that we are simply here to heal and bring joy to others. That truth can be that we are vessels of human experience, tasked with condensing humanity’s deepest feelings into notes and rhythms. Do what draws you in, excites you, and makes you feel whole. Everything new in this world has come from vulnerability. Music is a just a small reflection of that. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and on and on. They are remembered because of this vulnerable quality. Vulnerability is the audacity to think that one’s personal opinion, feelings, or approach is valid enough to pursue over what has been done previously.

What This Lester Young Solo Can Teach Us About Leading a Purposeful Life

One of the most beautiful moments in jazz history: Lester Young’s solo on “Fine and Mellow”.

His solo starts at 1:20 but I would recommend watching the whole performance for some context. Notice how invested Billie is in each note Lester plays!

This solo was aired on CBS’s “The Sound of Jazz” television show in 1957 and today is viewed as a gem. This single chorus of a 12 bar blues was “acclaimed by some observers as an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing, and extraordinarily moving emotion; Nat Hentoff, one of the show’s producers, later commented, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard…in the control room we were all crying.” (From Jazz: A History of America’s Music by Alfred A. Knopf)

Over 60 years ago and people are still so touched by this performance!

For those who are unfamiliar Lester’s life and career, you may be a bit confused. What’s so special? He’s sounds real pretty and swings, but why are these 45 seconds so monumental? You might even be thinking that you’ve heard Lester play more virtuosically before. Let me add some background.

That very same year, Lester was admitted to a hospital and treated for malnutrition, alcoholism, and cirrhosis of the liver. The doctors told him that he didn’t have much longer to live. Lester died just over a year after the show aired at the tragically young age of 49.

Whether or not the doctor’s statement happened before or after this solo, I’m not sure, but Lester undoubtedly knew in some way that he was in poor condition and that his consumption was trashing his body. This solo, however, doesn’t show a “tragically past his prime” Lester Young. From the bold way he gets up to the mastery with which he packs so much meaning into so few notes, Lester is teeming with confidence here. He doesn’t try to play like he did in his 20’s; he stands tall, makes a beautiful statement with only the capabilities he had on that day, and fills the room with honesty and vulnerability.

In constant mental and physical pain, but plays so clearly here…

Undeniably, you will reach a peak in your life. Whether that is physical, financial, career-oriented, or even artistic, you will reach a peak that you will never again surpass. For most of us, there will be a lot of life left to live after that. In Lester Young’s case, the very first solos he ever recorded, the Basie sessions with “Lady, Be Good” and “Shoe Shine Boy” (1936) have gone down in history as not only his very best work but some of the best solos in the jazz canon. He had just turned 27 years old! This was not unknown to Lester. He was known to be a very sensitive man, perceptive but easily hurt. He left the Basie band in 1940, had a disastrous stint in the military, and proceeded to consume his way to premature death.

Wikipedia has a pretty ridiculous (and not so objective) account of his later music that unfortunately is pretty reflective of public and critic opinion of the time:

“From around 1951, Young’s level of playing declined more precipitously as his drinking increased. His playing showed reliance on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a “repeater pencil” (Young coined this phrase to describe the act of repeating one’s own past ideas). Young’s playing and health went into a crisis, culminating in a November 1955 hospital admission following a nervous breakdown.”

Wikipedia – “Lester Young”

What are your highest ambitions? Then what? It seems like our whole lives we’ve been taught to work super hard towards our goals as if they are some sort of finish line. But what happens when you’ve done it? Raise the bar and repeat? I highly doubt that Lester Young’s highest aspirations were to record the most popular solo but fans and critics continually told him that “Lady, Be Good” was his solo to beat! I really believe that this ruined his life with 2 big subliminal messages:

  • That each time he picks up his horn he’s being judged against what he’s already done.
  • Anything less than that past peak is almost meaningless

We do this to ourselves on a daily basis. We say, “I had more friends in college”, “I made more money at my last job”, and “I’ll never make anything that good again”. The truth is, the achievement focused life is a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction. It teaches us to wait to love who we are right now because you’ve either done better or are going to do more. It’s time to question what exactly we’re chasing and whether the chase is coming at the expense of the life that’s happening right now. There is only one true finish line in life and it’s likely not going to be the point where you had the most money, friends, or fame.

So if not achievement, what do we live for then? What will make us get up in the morning and maintain a sense of progress in our lives? For that we have to talk about the fine line between goals and purpose. Here’s an idea I first heard from Tony Robbins: Astronaut syndrome describes what happened to those who went to the moon, took a photo of Earth from space, and came back national heroes in their 30’s and then had another 40-60 years of life they didn’t know what to do with. Falling from one of mankind’s crowning achievements, many of these people also went on to lead very tough lives of depression, alcoholism, and addiction.

Now imagine if the astronauts’ life goals were not to reach the moon but to show humanity that unthinkable feats are in fact possible! Then all of a sudden walking on the moon is not the finish line but a single pillar of a purpose driven life that can encompass thousands of pillars that may not even be related to space. Of course, some pillars are foundational and others are small, but every pillar that supports your purpose is positive no matter how it compares to others.

To me, this solo on “Fine and Mellow” is just one of Lester’s final middle fingers to all the naysayers. He delicately screams that he is not finished here, he doesn’t need to live up to anything, and that his past heights don’t diminish the value of who he is today. Lofty goals are achievable only at your peak. On the contrary, a purposeful life continues long after your biggest achievements. There’s no bar to raise, only a cause to continually live for. Sometimes it’s best to stop the push for a moment, recognize where you are today, and sing the blues you feel right now.

“We are going to the moon that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself.”

― Anaïs Nin

5 Things We do as Jazz Musicians That Have Made it America’s LEAST Popular Genre (1.4% in 2015)

I know I’ll get some flack for saying some of these things. I’ll just start by saying I’ve done every single thing on here. Not one, a couple, most… every single one. This post is coming from a place self-awareness/self-critique as much as it is about general trends I’m seeing in our field. It goes almost without saying that each point has many, many exceptions. No finger pointing, I just want our music to be heard and think we need to have an open conversation about these issues for that to happen.

So, Jazz has become America’s LEAST popular genre, accounting for only 1.4% of total US music consumption in 2015 because:

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Why are 19th Century Landscape Painters Relevant in 2019?

All too often, we study art in a vacuum. Louis Armstrong played minor 3rds on major chords, Seurat painted using only dots, James Joyce wrote extended metaphors… but why? As I researched the career of English naturalist painter, John Constable, and his contemporaries, I came across many detailed descriptions of his brush work, color choices, and accolades, but one big question remained:

Why were European artists living in the height of the Industrial Revolution painting scenes like these?

Continue reading “Why are 19th Century Landscape Painters Relevant in 2019?”