So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

So Good They Can’t Ignore You gives itself away starting with the title. Cal Newport suggests that in order to be successful at something you should prove that you’re really really good first. A controversial, but highly rational argument, that focuses on disproving the “Follow Your Passion” crowd while offering an alternative path where you can just be very successful and happy doing what you’re already doing (or just started doing). 

The whole book turns the premise of following our passions on its head. It reminds me of this famous Field of Dreams quote. This is exemplified by the following quote from the book.

(…) you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.

Cal Newport goes on to tell us how to apply this thinking to our careers, regardless of them being passions or not. And that is where the simplicity of his message really shines. If you want to be great at something, make sure you put in the effort to become great at it. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet we can go on for years forgetting about it, complaining that our job sucks and we really should open that sushi and ice-cream food truck we keep talking about. Maybe, just maybe, if we put in the effort to learn how to do our job well, we’ll be fulfilled at the end of the day. 

I’m not saying that this is a silver bullet. There are no silver bullets, but before throwing in the towel, think about it for a moment. Do you really hate your career or are you just in a rut?

The narratives in this book are bound by a common thread: the importance of ability. The things that make a great job great, I discovered, are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.

TRAITS THAT DEFINE GREAT WORK Creativity: Ira Glass, for example, is pushing the boundaries of radio, and winning armfuls of awards in the process. Impact: From the Apple II to the iPhone, Steve Jobs has changed the way we live our lives in the digital age. Control: No one tells Al Merrick when to wake up or what to wear. He’s not expected in an office from nine to five. Instead, his Channel Island Surfboards factory is located a block from the Santa Barbara beach, where Merrick still regularly spends time surfing. ( Jake Burton Carpenter, founder of Burton Snowboards, for example, recalls how negotiations for the merger between the two companies happened while he and Merrick waited for waves in a surf lineup.)

THE CAREER CAPITAL THEORY OF GREAT WORK The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.

THREE DISQUALIFIERS FOR APPLYING THE CRAFTSMAN MINDSET The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

It’s so tempting to just assume what you’ve done is good enough and check it off your to-do list, but it’s in honest, sometimes harsh feedback that you learn where to retrain your focus in order to continue to make progress.

The final step for applying deliberate practice to your working life is to adopt this style of diligence.

Without this patient willingness to reject shiny new pursuits, you’ll derail your efforts before you acquire the capital you need.

conventional wisdom about how people end up loving what they do. It argued that the passion hypothesis, which says that the key to loving your work is to match a job to a pre-existing passion, is bad advice. There’s little evidence that most people have pre-existing passions waiting to be discovered, and believing that there’s a magical right job lurking out there can often lead to chronic unhappiness and confusion when the reality of the working world fails to match this dream.

tackle the natural follow-up question: If “follow your passion” is bad advice, what should you do instead? It contended that the traits that define great work are rare and valuable. If you want these traits in your own life, you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. I called these rare and valuable skills career capital, and noted that the foundation of constructing work you love is acquiring a large store of this capital.

it’s important to adopt the craftsman mindset, where you focus relentlessly on what value you’re offering the world. This stands in stark contrast to the much more common passion mindset, which has you focus only on what value the world is offering you.

deliberate practice, an approach to work where you deliberately stretch your abilities beyond where you’re comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance.

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

The Second Control Trap The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change.

The Law of Financial Viability When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on.

If life-transforming missions could be found with just a little navel-gazing and an optimistic attitude, changing the world would be commonplace. But it’s not commonplace; it’s instead quite rare. This rareness, we now understand, is because these breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge, and this is hard—the type of hardness that most of us try to avoid in our working lives.

The Law of Remarkability For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

Working right trumps finding the right work. He didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness—he needed instead a better approach to the work already available to him.

Don’t obsess over discovering your true calling. Instead, master rare and valuable skills. Once you build up the career capital that these skills generate, invest it wisely. Use it to acquire control over what you do and how you do it, and to identify and act on a life-changing mission.

 

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