My notes on the book So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport

Posted on Oct 10, 2018

Passion is dangerous because it leads people to believe that there is a magical 'right' job out there

In this post I try to elaborate the key concepts of the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. The book argues that it is skill and talent, not passion that will bring about a successful career in a person’s life. This book is a comprehensive explanation of the less popular don’t follow your passion advice. The author elaborates that there are 4 rules that can be used to guide us in order to have a successful career

  1. Don’t follow your passion
  2. Be so good they can’t ignore you
  3. Turn down a promotion
  4. Think small, act big

The marketplace is where goods are exchanged

Passion is dangerous because it leads people to believe that there is a magical “right” job out there, and instead of focusing on increasing their ability — the only thing that matters in our economy — they focus on fantasies of a dream job where everything is happy. No grouchy boss, no annoying co-workers. Super high salary. Pursuing passion by job-hopping is not the answer to a happier life unless what you love to do is exactly what the market is willing to pay big money. Our marketplace follows a simple equation:

Advanced skill and ability in a high demand industry = more money available

But of coures there are exceptions. Following your passion can work out well in a certain industry or field of work, because professional sport athletes, all who at least won something like national championship would always claim that they are passionate about sport from a young age. But then again, but the pro athletes don’t win championship and become so famous that we heard of their story because of their passion alone. They have passion, ability, and perseverance to make it through and win. Obviously even a not-so-successful athletes love their sport. But skill makes all the difference.

Acquire skill and hone it to mastery

Instead of focuesing on what value the job offers you, the author argues that you should focus on what value you’re producing on your job. Passion-centric career planning is just one way of thinking. There is another way called craft-centric career planning. In this planning we adopt the mindset of a craftsman. In economics, capital is always thought of as money used to start a business. but capital can also mean skills used to start a career, and in order to advance in your career, you need more career capital.

Following from the marketplace equation, there is power in having more career capital to have a successful life:

  1. The traits that define great work are rare and valuable (creativity, impact, control )
  2. In order to have a job that is rare and valuable, you need to have something valuable to offer in return
  3. You need to get good in order to get good things from your work life

It might seem cold and harsh, but this is reality. People could care less whether you love what you do or not, but they care about the valuable skill you offer them.

Finding the right work pales in the importance to working right. If the goal is to love what you do without being micromanaged, and what you love to do is something creative and impactful, then there is no other way around. You need to have a great skill. That’s why think of yourself as a craftsman. Acquire even more advanced skill. Read books. Get into some seminar. Push the limit everyday.

A promotion isn’t always good

Control of what you do and how you do it has been one of the drive that people want more of their career. But seeking control without skills to back it up is dangerous, because you might just end up jobless. After amassing enough career capital in order to pursue greater freedom, you’ll find that people wants you. They want to promote you and dictate the terms of work. You’re doing valuable work and you have proven skills, that’s why you’ll be met with resistance in your search for control. You can give in and allow people to keep you, or you can wrestle more control. The advice on the book is clear — there’s a point in life where control is more valuable than money.

Follow the money

Would people buy your product? Would banks offer loans for your business plan? Are VCs interested in your startup plan? Would an employer hire you? The law of financial viability simply means to follow the money and do what people are willing to pay for. That boring job might be eating away your inside, but remember that it has one thing right: your employer think that it was important enough that they need to pay someone, you, in order to have it done. This is a good starting point to determine whether you can pursue something greater in your career.

Making it all meaningful

More money, more control, more impact. A pursuit of significance is what all professionals have in common. But can you get there? How to at least try and advance our way there? Having a meaningful career is hard, that’s why the second rule of this book held strong. You need to have skills that are hard to master. Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid. Only determined people will eventually find it in their life.

My thoughts?

I love this book. It’s thoughtful and based on experience and interviews. But personally I don’t think it’s passion that’s the problem people are having with. It’s impatient and unwillingness to start something small, boring and unimaginative. Success always comes hard and it always requires sacrifice. We all have to pay our dues before we get there.

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