So Good They Can’t Ignore You
In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. Not only is the cliché flawed-preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work-but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job-hopping.
After making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving what they do. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.
Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, he reveals. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.
In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.
With a title taken from the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to “be so good they can’t ignore you,” Cal Newport’s clearly-written manifesto is mandatory reading for anyone fretting about what to do with their life or frustrated by their current job situation and eager to find a fresh new way to take control of their livelihood. He provides an evidence-based blueprint for creating work you love.
SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU will change the way we think about our careers, happiness, and the crafting of a remarkable life.
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Rule 1: Don’t Follow your passion
The conventional wisdom on career success — follow your passion — is seriously flawed. “follow your passion” assumes that people have a pre-existing passion they can identify and use to make career decisions. The passion hypothesis convinces people that there is a magic right job waiting for them. However, most people have no idea what they want to do and can end up feeling lost.
Following your passion for a career works only for a small sample size of highly talented people such as athletes. Passion is rare and dangerous.
Most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead, those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do. Don’t do what you love, but learn to love what you do.
Passion takes time and is a side effect of mastery.
Motivation in the workspace requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs:
- Autonomy: some sense of control over your time
- Competence: the feeling that you’re good at your work
- Relatedness: connecting with other people in the process
Rule 2: The Importance of Skill
Two different approaches to thinking about work:
- The Craftsman Mindset: Focus on what value you are producing in your job.
- The Passion Mindset: Focus on what value your job offers you.
The Craftsman Mindset
The craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world.
Adopting the craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love. Try something that’s interesting to you. It doesn’t have to be your one true passion or calling. Focus on developing new skills while staying motivated, until you eventually become such a master that you’ll begin to love your work. Focus instead on becoming better. Focus on the question: “How can I be really good?”
If you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return.
The Passion Mindset
The passion mindset focuses on what the world can offer you.
When you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyper-aware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness.
The passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused.
The Power of Career Capital
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.
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.
The 10,000-Hour Rule
The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. Great accomplishment is not about natural talent, but instead about being in the right place at the right time to accumulate such a massive amount of practice.
Rule 3: The importance of control
Autonomy is the dominating factor for job satisfaction. The more control you have in your job, the more likely you are to stay and enjoy doing it.
Giving people more control over what they do, and how they do it, increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
The irony of control: when no one cares what you do with your working life, you probably don’t have enough career capital to do anything interesting. But once you do have this capital, you become valuable enough that your employer will resist your efforts. As soon as you gain more control over your time and work, someone will try to take it from you. You have worked long and hard to gain the control you now love so much, so don’t trade it for more money. The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change. Your employer has every incentive to convince you to reinvest your career capital back into their company, obtaining more money and prestige instead of more control.
If you seek autonomy in your current role before gaining enough career capital, you won’t get the autonomy you seek. To put this simply: control demands capital. Control demands capital because you can’t demand special treatment without creating enough value for your employers.
Rule 4: The importance of Mission
To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It is more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions.
Plenty of people are good at what they do but haven’t reoriented their careers in a compelling direction.
Mission is capital-driven. You can’t skip straight to a great mission without first building mastery in your field. Breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge of your field, only then can you see to the adjacent possible beyond — the space where innovative ideas are almost always discovered. A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough. It is an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field. The cutting edge is the only place where these missions become visible.
Great career missions require making little bets. Finding a mission itself isn’t worth much if you can’t go after it. Instead, great missions are transformed into great successes as the result of using small and achievable projects (‘little bets’) to explore the concrete possibilities surrounding a compelling idea.
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.