August 1, 2011

Letter to my cousin

Congratulations on your admission to xxx High School!

I have been looking for this book for you, How to Become a High School Superstar by Cal Newport, since nearly two years ago, when it was first published, and now I can finally present it to you. Trust me: This is no ordinary high school study guide. I have read both other books by Cal, namely How to Become a Straight-A Student and How to Win at College; the prior for three times. They truly revolutionized my ideas about how to score straight As in college and get into top grad schools/find high-paying jobs. Without these insights, I don’t know if I could have made it, in an admission year as competitive as the one I have just experienced.

In a way, Cal is a lot like me, always eager to discover new methods and techniques to do things better by spending minimal effort as possible. Methods learned from here won’t be in the mouth of your high school counselors, nor will it be found in any conventional high school study guides.

Why I believe such methods exist? I have been a follower of such unorthodox teachings. In reminiscence, I think I have much enjoyed my high school life. Unlike many of my classmates, I maintain a balanced schedule, with at least one hour of physical exercise each day, a healthy diet, and even right before the Gaokao I hardly ever went to bed later than 10pm – even though due to the long distance between my home and school, I had to spend at least two hours each day in the traffic. I had a wide range of hobbies: I was the key member in the school choir; I practiced calligraphy intensively – in the summers I usually spent one to two hours each day writing; I wrote a blog regularly; I participated in school singing contests; I read comic books and watched many cartoons; I maintained wide social circles, and hung out with friends every now and then. However, this didn’t blur the fact that I have been a top student in high school all the way through. I discovered all these efficient working methods by trials and errors, but you don’t have to. With the help of this book, I am sure you will do much better than what I have accomplished.

I can still vividly remember how I managed to get myself into Beijing No.4 High School; and I am confident to say, had I just followed what my high school teachers told us to do, without putting into much of my own thought and experiments, I would have achieve merely what my other classmates have by following those simple-minded methods to grind and work hard. But remember, everyone knows you should work hard; and believe it or not, nowadays many high school students work really hard; and if you don’t have some unique skills and knowledge, in modern management science jargons, your competitive advantages, you will only be that boring and pathetic average hard-working student, which I bet you’d never want to.

Finally, if you would merely read and follow each and every method proposed in this book, the whole point of reading it would be lost. This book does not only teach you these methods per se; the most important is that you should develop methods that are unconventional and that work for you and not necessarily any other, if you want to achieve more than the average. If after reading this book, you would feel the passion for discovering and applying new methods to your studies, and constantly working on improving them, and forget about the worn-out clichés that those dignified high school counselors have been repeating for decades and childishly believe would work in today’s competitive world, that would suffice.

I hope this fresh start in high school will bring you six years of joy and reward, and that when you look back, you will feel the fulfillment that everything that can be done has been done, and you have achieve the most out of your natural talent. Don’t just be a star; be a superstar.