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Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

The science behind building a career that you love with 10x the pay, perks & control


It’s an incredible experience to meet people who are at the top of their game.

These people love what they do. Their work is interesting and creative. They pick their own projects. They often out earn their peers 2-10x.

"If I wanted to, I could work three months of the year and spend the other nine laying on a beach somewhere."

One day I (Scott) was chatting with my friend Ben, who is one of these top performers. Ben is a software developer who decided to contract with clients instead of working for a big company. Freelance development is a highly competitive field. Many programmers in Ben’s situation struggle to win business over competitors from around the world who are happy to undercut prices.

But Ben isn’t one of those standard struggling programmers. Ben is a top performer.

Ben chooses his clients. He’s not hustling for his next job. Ben charges hundreds of dollars per hour and people aren’t haggling him over his prices. Best of all, Ben earns well over six figures on his own terms.

I asked Ben about his work, and he said something surprising. Although many people dream of escaping their job, saving up pennies to run off to a beach somewhere, Ben has that option but doesn’t use it. He told me that if he ever wanted to, he could work for three months of the year and take the remaining nine months off.

Ben does work full time, not because he has to, but because he loves the challenges and rewards that come from being great at what he does.


The top performer advantage applies to most careers, not just programmers.

Consider, Alex, a successful television script writer profiled by Cal.

Success in this business is notoriously difficult. A new show might ask for submissions for staff writer positions and receive over 100 scripts. Of those scripts, over 80% will likely have been written by people who have had scripts air on television before. The show will only need a small group of staff writers, and many of those seats will be filled with long-time favorites of the producers.

Recognizing this difficulty when he first moved to LA to become a writer, Alex set out to systematically improve the one skill that his research told him mattered above all else: writing quality. Like an athlete in training, Alex setup a sequence of parallel opportunities that all forced him to write…a lot…and receive brutal feedback. Within a couple short years his skills sky rocketed to the point where he could accomplish what many of his peers only dreamed of—becoming a staff writer then going on to co-create his own show.

Television writing may not be your line of work, but the laws of success are the same.

Having a rewarding career you love requires you to master rare and valuable skills.

Success isn’t linear, it’s exponential.
Top performers get 10x the pay, perks and control.
exponential logo
Cal speaks on 99U conference

Top performers get 10x rewards because they return 10x the value compared to their mediocre peers. One study found that the most productive programmers weren’t just a little better — they were often 10x more valuable to a company than mediocre ones.

Or consider the example of Juan Diego Florez. Florez is an operatic tenor and he’s quite good. He can command up to five figures for a performance. But if you go just a little better, perhaps by an amount that’s almost unnoticeable to an untrained ear, you have Luciano Pavarotti—who at the time of his death was worth almost a half billion dollars.

Of course, the rewards to top performers aren’t just financial. Top performers also earn recognition, autonomy and a sense of impact—all traits that lead to career satisfaction.


We have spent the last half-decade digging into the question of why some people become top performers while others don’t. Why, in other words, do some ambitious people build rare and valuable skills, while others end up stuck in a job they hate for years?

There’s a rich literature on the science of elite performance. It teaches that a major component of successful skill building is an activity that psychologists call deliberate practice. Elite performers spend more time in this rare state of accelerated improvement than most people, and therefore they quickly surpass their peers’ abilities.

This state of deliberate practice doesn’t happen by accident. Using the right system, you can cultivate it within yourself to accelerate your growth as well. Becoming a top performer is about strategy, not magic.


While deliberate practice may not be magical, it is hard to do. Not only does most day-to-day work fail to meet the rigorous criteria of deliberate practice, but it’s easy to focus on improving skills that don’t matter.

When I (Scott) first started writing, I obsessed over mastering the art of marketing my blog and deploying clever schemes to generate traffic. I would often be puzzled when I encountered other writers who enjoyed explosive growth without spending nearly as much time as I did.

It took me years to figure out that the real skill that matters in my career was the ability to write compelling content. Marketing isn’t a bad skill, it just doesn’t happen to be the key differentiator as a blogger. That realization led me to change my strategy, focusing instead on bold projects, like the MIT Challenge, which injected compelling adventure into the topics I wrote about. This was hard work, but hard work focused on deliberately improving the skills that matter. My traffic sky rocketed.



Another popular myth about top performers is that they simply work harder than everyone else. This is damaging because it feeds the lie that if you just put your nose to the grindstone long enough, you’ll eventually come out on top.

The truth, however, is that even immense amounts of efforts won’t get you very far if not aimed at the right targets.

Top performers work hard, but they also have a strategy.

I (Cal) see this lesson play out all around me academia. Junior professors are notorious for grueling work schedules that often keep them on the job until late at night. You can’t blame them. It’s a stressful job. You’re told that you have five years to become a star, and if you don’t, you lose your job (that is, be denied tenure). Those who believe the myth that performing better requires working more quickly succumb to exhausting schedules as a matter of professional self-preservation.

The reality, however, is that the very best professors are often the least visibly “busy.” Their success comes instead from a ruthless focus on the small number of activities that matter most. These activities are hard in the moment, but don’t require 100 hours a week.

Rachel B.
You can't just keep drinking more caffeine and sleeping less to get ahead.

Rachel B.

“Most people are being sold the message that they just need to drink more caffeine and sleep less. Whereas this course provides a repeatable framework so that whenever you’re drifting away from what matters, you can find your way back. This course shows you how to be successful sustainably.”

The Violinists’ Paradox: Why do some people become better without working more hours?

Research on deliberate practice confirms this idea that top performers don’t simply work harder. One study looked into the different career trajectories of violin players and separated them into two groups:

Elite players. These are the top performers of the violin world. They were the players singled out by their teachers as those who would likely eventually go on to become symphony musicians.

AVERAGE players. These players were good, but not the best. They were the players identified more likely to become music teachers.

Surprisingly, the elite players did not spend more time practicing than the average players.

They both invested about the same number of hours per day playing music. The difference is how they played. The elite players ended up spending much more of this time dedicated to deliberate practice.

The lesson is that being a top performer can’t be achieved by just grinding out more work. It requires a different strategy for working—one that increases the ratio of deliberate practice and depth.


Figure out what actually matters in your career.

Become insanely good at those skills.

This is what most top performers do implicitly. Alex figured out that the key in his career was to be able to produce television-quality scripts. Ben mastered the skill of putting his client’s vision into code. Cal isolated citation counts as the driving force behind success in academia.

Once that is done, top performers work deliberately to get really good at those few skills. That means having a strategy to focus more of their time on deliberate practice and the understanding of which environments and projects will drive their growth the fastest.

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Unfortunately, we know this a lot easier said than done. The first problem is that what actually matters in your profession isn’t always obvious. It can be easy to spend years honing skills that don’t turn out to be all that rare or valuable.

This is especially true in knowledge work. If your career has a clearly defined skill—say being a musician or athlete—you know what matters. But it can be harder to answer this same question when you work in an office, spending your days filing reports and going to meetings.

Navigating a career can feel like a maze. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of skills that you could potentially master. Which matter most? All of them seem like they might reasonably help your career. However, it’s impossible to become world-class in hundreds of different things. Choose poorly and you get left behind.

Top Performer deals with this confusion by giving you tools for doing research. Following the system we teach, you can identify which skills make the difference between average players and top performers.


Even if you do navigate your way out of the first danger of picking the wrong skills, you’re still left with the task of getting really good at them. This is far from easy.

Just doing your job isn’t enough. Most of the activities of daily work don’t meet the criteria for deliberate practice. This means that most knowledge workers will soon hit a plateau—at which point they stop getting better. This can continue for months, years, sometimes even forever.

Applying deliberate practice to knowledge work, however, is tricky. While it’s easy to look at basketball players doing layup drills or musicians straining themselves to master tricky pieces, there are no obvious corresponding practice routines for programmers, writers, managers or professors.

Becoming a top performer may be simple: figure out what matters and get really good at it. But these two steps are often very hard to apply. That is why we created Top Performer.

Get Started Now


Cal Newport...

Cal Newport is a professor, author of five books and father of two. His interest in the science of career improvement began as trying to understand how people succeed in academia. This research eventually led to his bestselling books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work.

Scott Young...

Scott Young is a writer and entrepreneur. After building a successful business while still in college, Scott went on to do the MIT Challenge, learning MIT’s four year computer science program in 12 months.

We’ve been frequent collaborators for over a decade. We’ve spent the last four years working with thousands of students in pilot groups testing out the methods of deliberate practice for career improvement. We’re happy to finally be able to offer that long testing process to you, in Top Performer.


Top Performer Logo

We created Top Performer because of the real challenge in identifying the right skills and becoming wildly successful at them. We’ve worked with over a thousand students to figure out the techniques that make this daunting process of becoming good at your career straightforward.


There are no magic bullets. If you want to have a great career, you’ll have to work at it.


Working hard isn’t enough—you need a system. It’s easy to waste your time and energy chasing dead ends. A system can make sure the energy you invest is spent wisely.

Top Performer is that system.

In this course, we'll teach you tested methods for figuring out which abilities drive success in your field and then how to quickly get improvement in those skills. We know you’re working hard to get the career you deserve. What this course will teach you is how to focus that effort on exactly the areas that will get you results.



We will teach you how to get a proper understanding of how your career works and which skills matter. Knowing how to do research properly can save years of wasted time by helping you focus on exactly what matters. We’ll also guide you away from the most common pitfalls that plague amateur efforts.

In this phase you’ll learn:

  • The number one mistake most people make when making career decisions
  • How to become an expert in how your career works
  • What to do if you’re not sure where you should go with your career—at all
  • Who you should talk to, and who you should avoid, when trying to understand your career
  • The two styles for researching your career, and why most people choose the wrong one

In addition to the main lessons, you’ll also get access to over a dozen bonus lessons, including:

  • Differential Analysis - Learn how to scientifically test which attributes matter for your career and which don’t.
  • Choose the Lifestyle, Not the Person - How to design the lifestyle of the career you want
  • The Colored Folder Fallacy - Understand why you’ll often get lousy career advice and how to fix it. And much more...

Here's what Top Performer grads are saying...

Received funding for his PhD program

Mark J.

Applying the expert interview method, Mark interviewed past successful applicants of the Irish Research Council scholarship program. After taking Top Performer, he has now received a funding for his PhD program. He says:

“Top performer gave me a template that I can lay at any stage of my career and be confident that I am applying myself at my best”

Diep T.
Find the right direction for your career

Diep T.

As a recent college graduate and new mother, it was important for me to find out what direction I wanted to go with my career. One idea you teach in the course [expert interviews] was something I had tried before, but hadn’t been able to do very effectively. Taking this course, I was able to have a strategy to not only contact people, but also to get the right information out of them.”



We will teach you how to create a deliberate practice project to improve the skills that matter. Crafting this special type of project can help you ensure that you’re getting better at key skills instead of stagnating.

In this phase you’ll learn:

  • The quickest way to get good at complex skills like programming, research or business
  • The Business Plan Method: a tool for procrastination-proofing your projects
  • Ways to measure your progress, so you can actually see yourself getting better
  • How to integrate deliberate practice into your existing job, to see faster results without more work
  • The ingredient all successful opportunities for skill improvement share

In addition to the main lessons, you’ll also get access to over a dozen bonus lessons, including:

  • How to Build Soft Skills - Learn how to deliberately practice soft skills like selling, negotiating, speaking or leadership.
  • How to Design Projects You’ll Actually Finish - Procrastination-proof your projects so that you can confidently get them done.
  • From Insight to Action - How to generate project ideas for improving the skills that matter.
  • And much more...

Here's what Top Performer grads are saying...

Got a 20% raise and worked with my dream mentors

Chris S.

Chris S. was a database designer. He liked his job, but wanted more. After joining one of the pilot programs for Top Performer, he was able to identify which skills really mattered and develop a minimal project to improve it. The result? A new job offer with a 20% raise.

Ariel S.
Choose bigger and harder projects

Ariel S.

"The course led me to choose a bigger, harder project, which may seem a bit counter-intuitive. I discovered that I could be bolder once I had a solid plan. As a result, I have a project that is nearing completion and has caught the attention of a number of my peers. The course will challenge you and stretch you, probably even frustrate you a bit, and that is precisely why it would be worth your time and effort! We live in an age of instant gratification and constant distraction. Too few of us take the harder road. Top Performer gave me a useful map for that journey."



In this phase, students will start working on their deliberate practice projects. Now we’ll guide you through how to organize yourself to maximize your output with the minimum amount of time.

In this phase you’ll learn:

  • To control how much busyness you want in your life, rather than have it dictated to you
  • How to work more deeply, making use of limited time to get greater improvement
  • Strategies for managing your energy so that you can prevent subtle drains on your productivity
  • How to improve your ability to concentrate and focus on tasks

In addition to the main lessons, you’ll also get access to over a dozen bonus lessons, including:

  • The Artifact Method - Avoid falling into pseudowork with this technique for increasing your deep work.
  • The Power of Single-Projecting - How to increase your ability to get meaningful work done, while reducing your busyness.
  • Fixed-Schedule Productivity - The productivity system Cal used to publish five books while completing a PhD at MIT and raising two kids.
  • And much more...

Here's what Top Performer grads are saying...

Video game artist Jacob S. went from mediocre to 5-star reviews for his independent games

Jacob was a struggling artist for independent games. After taking an early version of Top Performer, he was able to figure out what mattered to improving his art. Following this, his latest game has gotten stellar reviews and is on track to be his most successful.

Kittie Y.
Practicing 3-4 hours of undistracted deep work

Kittie Y.

"I managed to successfully implement a writing schedule that required 3-4 hours of undistracted deep work. It helped me finish a short story that I probably would’ve abandoned half way, if not for the rule of forcing myself to finish a project despite the imperfections.

This is the stuff they never teach you in school, but could seriously be the backbone to your success (in career, life, etc)! I wish I had a course like this to structure my work and career-searching processes at earlier points in my life, like in high school, college, and the post-graduation years. If you’re someone who has frequently abandoned incomplete projects or chased dead end internships (or job opportunities), the principles taught in this course could turn that around and add structure to career floundering that many people go through."



Finally, we’ll teach you how you can make the lessons of research and deliberate practice a part of your entire career. This will take the steps of Top Performer and turn them into a repeatable system that you can continue to use for the duration of your career.

In this phase you’ll learn:

  • Why some feedback can actually hurt your progress
  • What “Desk Drawer Syndrome” is and why it holds you back from improving
  • How to cultivate a circle of mentors to guide your career into the future
  • The strategy for making long-term career investments
  • A system for monitoring your career progress, so you can avoid the problem of worrying too much (or too little) about your goals
  • How to repeat the processes in Top Performer to get continuous improvement

In addition to the main lessons, you’ll also get access to over a dozen bonus lessons, including:

  • Time Auditing - Figure out where your time is going so you can focus it onto what matters.
  • How to Combat Perfectionism - Figure out the good, and bad, kinds of perfectionism to prevent them from holding you back.
  • Career Capital Analysis - Learn to conduct an assessment of what skills and assets you bring to the table, so you can spot areas you might be able to leverage or strengthen.
  • And much more...

Here's what Top Performer grads are saying...

Recent graduate Colby D., translated her new skills into a promotion

Colby is a recent college graduate at a web development firm. Taking what she learned in Top Performer, she quickly leveled up her copywriting skills. Showing her progress to her boss, she was able to translate it into a promotion.

Logan Y.
“Fundamentally changed how I think about building a meaningful career.”

Logan Y.

"If you’re considering this course, you get that our economy demands challenging, often hard-to-identify skills that enable valuable new contributions. Not only did the course give me tools for seeing and building those types of skills, it fundamentally changed how I think about building a meaningful career."



  • Full 8-week program
  • All lessons available in video, audio and text formats
  • Immediate access to the private Top Performer website & community
  • Free access to all future core Top Performer updates
  • Lifetime access to all material, the community and future sessions.
  • 60-Day unconditional return policy

12 Monthly installments of $49 ?

GET STARTED NOW! Or pay in full and save 15%
Please note:
*Top Performer is not affiliated with Georgetown University.
*Top Performer is a career course. We discourage current university or high-school students from enrolling.


We’ve worked hard over the past three and a half years, multiple pilots and early sessions to test out the ideas in Top Performer on a variety of careers, ages, regions and industries. Because of this, we believe that the ideas in this course are solid and can benefit many people.

However, no approach will be right for everyone. That’s why we’ve created a 60-day money back guarantee. Once you pay for the course, you’ll have a full sixty days to evaluate whether you think the course material is a good fit for your situation. If it’s not, just contact us and we can offer you a full refund.

Now earning 50% more

Christina G.

Christina was able to rethink her career, find a different job that better fits her goals and is now earning 50% more.

James H.
James H., Senior Field Engineer:

Implemented deep work

"Now, I can easily look at my notebook and visualize my day based on the block scheduling and side notes. The blue sticky note on my monitor tells me how much deep work I have accomplished for the week and, whether or not that number increased or decreased compared to prior weeks."

Anthony L.
Anthony L., Software Engineer:

Enabled me to greatly simplify the problem of pursuing mastery in software engineering

"The encouragement to engage with experts was most useful. The material on project execution was great, but really digging into what my projects should focus on was the key. In the past, I'd base my projects around learning the latest cool thing. The expert perspective encouraged me to learn more fundamental skills."

Charles F.
Charles F., Videographer:

Just landed an internship

"I’ve gotten an internship in a field of my study (film production) because of learning how important connections are through the interviews."

Johann H.
Johann H., Clinical Psychologist:

Now overseeing a new project at work. He says:

"Clinical psychologist usually practice by recording sessions and getting feedback from more experienced therapists. I have improved on all key measures regarding assessment and conceptualization, presumably due to my independent project."

Sam S.
“I definitely recommend this course.”

Sam S.

"When you two were offering the course, I jumped on it. The course exceeded my expectations because it really took something that was fairly abstract and made it concrete. Things like crafting projects, deliberate practice and deep work. I’d definitely recommend the course."

Deepti K.
Step outside of your comfort zone

Deepti K.

"This course is well-researched and has a good mix of general principles and concrete action steps, and it will earnestly badger you into doing things you dislike or find uncomfortable. Those are the things that make you better."

Colby D.
"For people who are serious about getting really good"

Colby D.

“If anyone is serious about getting really good—they’re not just serious about getting a good job, but they’re interested in being the best at what they do, building up skills and taking pride in the quality of the work that they do—this is the best course for them.”

Ellen K.
Choose the best career development projects

Ellen K.

The main result I have from this course is a much more concrete understanding of what career capital means and how to use that idea to select what kind of professional development projects to work on. I have always had side projects for professional development, but these were kind of random and hit or miss in terms of value rather than strategically chosen. Especially weeks 1,2 and 8 helped me approach these in a totally different way.

I would recommend it as a very effective course for people that want to grow their skills in directing their own professional development. It helped me tremendously in focusing my efforts and making these efforts more sustainable.”

Bart C.
Understand the top performers in your field

Bart C.

“Starting with the first exercise, expert interviews, I was able to identify some qualities of successful architects. One of these, having broad design knowledge, led me to a project of dissecting existing designs to understand how they work. It’s still early, but that project has already sparked a lot of interest amongst my colleagues.”

Chris L.
“I was working on the wrong things…”

Chris L.

“You can spin your wheels. I was frustrated because I thought I was doing a good job, so what’s the hold up? I see people who I don’t think are doing a good job and they’re getting promotions. Well it turns out I was working hard, on the wrong things. If you’re interested in figuring out what really matters and how to get good at it, I literally don’t know anything else that’s ever taught me that before.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What do I get when I join Top Performer?



Top Performer is a course delivered over eight weeks. It includes lifetime access both to the material and to the community. Every week consists of:

1. A main video lesson. This is a lesson summarizing the principle idea of that week. All lessons in the course are also available in text and audio formats.

2. Weekly homework and worksheet. Every week contains a worksheet and homework that can help you proceed through the course.

3. Supplementary video lessons. Each week contains several supplementary lessons. These are ideas, methods and tools for helping accomplish the main week’s homework.

You’ll receive email lessons that are tailored to your phase of the course. Finally, we have a checkpoint system designed to help keep you accountable—you can unlock checkpoints between each phase of the course once you’re ready to move on.

Seeing is believing, so below is a full video walkthrough of the course website, so you can see exactly what you’ll get when you sign up:


Q: How much time per week does Top Performer require?

A: We recommend setting aside five hours per week to work on Top Performer. This includes 2.5 hours to review the lessons and another 2.5 hours to take action towards your goals.

Of course, doing more than five hours per week will enable you to progress through the course at a faster pace.

Although we recommend 5 hours per week, this course is completely self-paced: you can go as slowly as you like. Remember, you have lifetime access to all of the lessons and the community

Q: What if I’m too busy right now?



When you join Top Performer, you’re not just joining a single session—you’re gaining lifetime access to the material, lessons and community. That means, if you’re too busy to invest the time required right now, you can always join the course and start the course at your own pace.

Once you join the course, it will be available anytime, but this window for signing up will expire soon.

Q: Why are we teaching this course together?



We decided to teach this course together so that you can benefit from each of our strengths. Cal has spent years writing career books and striving to understand deliberate practice. Scott has spent years working on intensive, rapid learning projects. This course represents a fusion of the best ideas we have to offer each other.

Q: Will I get one-on-one access?



We can’t offer any guaranteed one-on-one access, due to the number of students in the course. However, we have built a community of other top performer students, including successful students from past sessions, who can share ideas and advice on any of the challenges you might face.

Q: How different is this from your free material?

A: The broad themes of this course are similar to the writing on our blogs. So if you don’t like our free articles, this course probably isn’t a good fit for you.

We built this course to do what our free material can’t. Top Performer provides a systematic plan for developing your career, which we’ll guide you through week-by-week. The course also covers examples, demonstrations and methods we haven’t been able to write about before.

Q: Which careers will this course work for?



We’ve tested this course with thousands of students from a huge variety of different careers. We’ve had lawyers, programmers, doctors, comedians, managers, professors and artists all go through the program.

The reason Top Performer is able to fit the needs of such varied careers is that we focus on what is common to all these different professions: the need to understand what matters and get really good at it. This course isn’t a playbook for a specific job position, but a strategy for improving in any career.

Q: What if you don’t know what to do with your career yet?



We know that many of our students haven’t decided exactly which career direction they want to take yet. That’s completely fine and it’s something we cover in the course.

In the first phase, Research, you’ll be given exercises and lessons that can help you evaluate different possible career paths. With research you can make an informed decision instead of making your career choices blindly.

Q: Who shouldn’t get this course?



We believe that this course can offer a significant advantage to those who are willing to do the work. But it’s not a magic bullet. There’s no secret code we’re revealing that will allow you to succeed in your career without working hard at it.

Joining Top Performer is an investment in yourself. If you’re simply looking for motivation, or clever counterintuitive ideas, we suggest you stick to our free articles or books. If, instead, you’re eager to start doing the work to building a career you love, Top Performer might be right for you.

We also want to stress that this isn’t a course for students. If you’re a full-time undergraduate student or below, this course is probably not for you. We do have graduate students in Top Performer, but we want to stress that this is a career course, not a course designed to help you do better in school.

Here’s what happens when you sign up…

Minutes after your payment goes through, we’ll send you an email with instructions for how to access the private course website and community. Inside, you’ll get access to a full explanation of what we’ll be doing over the next eight weeks of the course.

If for whatever reason you have problems accessing the course, you can contact us via email or the help button on the right, and we’ll do our best to resolve your problem right away.