How To Be A High School Superstar

book by Cal Newport: HowToBeA High School Superstar ISBN:0767932587

I picked this up because

So far it isn't convincing on the 2nd goal. It seems like a useful piece of Game Playing to get accepting by a good college without sacrificing your Quality Of Life. But it might be a strategy optimized for the stupidity of the College Admission process, rather than for a Remarkable Life. (Update: I'm a bit less critical of this as I get further in...)

Part 1: Law of Under Scheduling

Interesting mention of Time Wise program by Linda Caldwell Time Wise is a general, positive youth development program that can be used to promote healthy Leisure in general, and in particular to promote physically active and healthy leisure and decrease unhealthy leisure behavior. (soft War On Drugs)

Avoid Over Scheduling by picking courses so that all HomeWork can be done each week with just (a) time between school and dinner on weekdays, plus (b) one half-day of Week End time.

  • goal: keep Slack in your week so you have mental-space to explore and discover/develop a Deep Interest.


  • pick courses carefully
    • drop or downgrade your most time-demanding "showboat" course (showboat vs required vs elective) - you'll need to tune in to the older-student scuttlebutt about which courses are super-time-consuming
    • consider trading an elective for Study Hall - double win, getting less homework and more time to do it
    • beware "silent killer" electives that may be academically non-rigorous but super-time-consuming (certain arts classes qualify)
    • I'm not sure how helpful/specific I found his advice, but maybe that's because back in my High School days there were only a couple AP courses available, and they were only for seniors. It also seems odd to me that he doesn't take into account the student's future plans (e.g. STEM vs Liberal Arts vs Art School), though maybe that's good since kids shouldn't hyper-specialize too early.
  • drop any extracurricular activity that could be done by a mediocre boring student ("Activity Andy"). This is buying you no value in college admissions.
    • exception: you can keep it if it meets 1 of 2 conditions:
      • low-time-commitment and social/fun (e.g. Model U N)
      • activities that align with your Core Value-s
      • but beware of abusing these exceptions
    • I'm not sure I found this area very helpful, either. He mentions that if you're a "soccer star or talented violinist" then those activities are OK. But how talented do you need to be for this to really have admissions value? I played 4 Musical Instrument-s well on the curve of my High School, but none good enough to get into the State bands - so was that a good use of my time (call it 1hr/day though it was sometimes more)?
  • learn material in your brain as it's presented to you (e.g. reading Text-Book, hearing lecture): organize NoteBook based on structure that fits that learning, for more efficient review later. (QEC method) Ask questions within 48hrs about things you don't understand.
  • to study, speak out loud as though teaching someone else - avoid rote review
  • Break every research-paper project into 3 phases, doing them on separate days.
  • After each test or paper, spend 5 minutes of Reflective Thought Post Mortem (he gives 4 specific questions) to improve your process.

Seek area of Passion (Deep Interest) by reading books, esp Non-Fiction covering areas inspired by fiction.

A Saturday Morning Project is a Grand Project that you work on only on Saturday morning, in between the time when you wake up and lunch. (p90) (Time Box to keep it a Little Bet.)

  • it exposes you to the type of bulk positive randomness that acts as the source of the most exciting, innovative, and impressive activities. Put another way: if you want to stumble into a really cool opportunity, you have to be working on things that are really cool.
  • "any project that when explained to someone for the first time is likely to elicit a response of "wow!" - that's the kind of superficial Game Playing that turns me off.
  • examples: write a screenplay, create a popular WebLog, Mastery of an interesting/unusual hobby, start an activist movement
  • limit to Saturday mornings to avoid the Over Scheduling trap - though if it gets traction and becomes a true Passion then it can become one of your few big time commitments.

Join a Community that exists around an interest of yours, it will help increase odds of it becoming a Deep Interest, plus provide opportunity/Leverage to have real accomplishments. Take on small projects for that community, and follow-through to delivery.

Use the "advice-guide" method to learn about how winners are different from losers in the area of your interest. Do comparative research, then contact a winner directly for confirmation.

Part 2: Law of Focus

At some point Focus on a single extracurricular activity (from your Deep Interest) and keep working on it until you master it.

Superstart Effect: Number1 gets much bigger rewards than Number5. (Winner Take All)

  • It's hard to aim for this in grades, as it can take a lot of effort just to get to Number 5.
  • But on extracurricular activities, this is much easier.
    • And even works when you pick an activity without much "competition".
    • But it does need to be an activity provider "some market of exceptional ability". Just defining something pointlessly "unusual" to be "best" at won't fool anyone.
    • Once you achieve Superstar status in a core activity, you'll accumulate multiple related accomplishments (and because they're related, they don't significantly increase your time commitment). This becomes the "MatthewEffect" of winning even more (Increasing Returns).

Counter-SignallIng theory: pointless activities are a distraction from your core Story Telling, so even if you do them you shouldn't tell anyone (in the admission process). "Looks desperate."


Part 3: The 3 Rules of Innovation

The goal is to focus on an area of achievement that's hard to explain/imagine ("Failed Simulation Effect") not hard to do.

The 3 rules

  • innovators don't create innovations from scratch - they develop them over time (from Deep Interest to Focus, etc.)
  • innovators join closed communities and pay their dues - develop credibility to gain opportunity
  • innovators leverage their way to innovation - start with small projects (Little Bet-s) to increase credibility and explore the space...


  • avoid communities with already-established processes/rules for working with students
  • deconstruct the innovation path of someone who's already done it (ideally someone just a bit older than yourself)
  • seek a "sloganable" project - something that can be summarized in 1 pithy sentence that will trigger the Failed Simulation Effect.

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