So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport
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Short Summary

Discovering the right career has more to do with developing the right skills instead of following your passion. You discover your passion after you've put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable. What you do is less important than how well you do it.

Favorite Quote

The passion hypothesis is not just wrong, it’s also dangerous. Telling someone to “follow their passion” is not just an act of innocent optimism, but potentially the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.

Book Notes

Follow these four rules to provide yourself with a realistic path toward a meaningful and engaging career.

Rule #1: Don't Follow Your Passion

Being told to follow your passion isn't just wrong; it's also dangerous. "Following your passion" is not just an act of optimism; it can potentially lead to a career riddled with confusion and angst that you'll later regret.

It's poor advice because it doesn't accurately describe how most people who love their careers actually got there. Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

To find a compelling career, you want a career that fulfills three basic psychological needs:

  • Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
  • Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do
  • Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people

Rule #2: Be So Good They Can't Ignore You

Nobody ever takes note of my advice, because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’… but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’

—Steve Martin

Instead of following your passion, you want to adopt the craftsman's mindset.

The craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world instead of asking what the world can offer you. It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is “just right” and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good.

No one owes you a great career; you need to earn it. Focus on stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback to acquire rare and valuable skills known as career capital.

There are no shortcuts to building a great career. It will take many years of consistent effort and deliberate practice to get what you want. But with that said, some careers aren't worth the effort.

If your job meets one of these disqualifiers, you may want to start looking elsewhere:

  • Your job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
  • Your job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
  • Your job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control)

Instead of leveraging your newly acquired skills to chase money and prestige, your goal should be to gain more control to create a working life you love.

Having more control over what you do and how you do it will increase your happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment. But before you seek more control in your career, there are two traps you want to avoid.

The first trap is believing that you can gain more control over your career before developing the necessary skills. A common mistake people make is quitting their job to become full-time freelancers or starting a business before they have the necessary skills. Making a move too soon could lead to greater stress and financial insecurity as it may be more difficult to attract clients than expected.

The second control trap is that once you have enough career capital to gain meaningful control over your working life, you become too valuable to your current employer. As you ask for more control over when and how you work, your boss may do whatever they can to prevent you from making those changes to maximize your value.

To avoid falling into either of these control traps, you should only pursue a bid for more control if it passes The Law of Financial Viability.

The Law of Financial Viability states that 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 evidence, continue. If not, it's time to move on.

Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.

—Derek Sivers

Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big (Or, the Importance of Mission)

Most people who discover their life's mission got where they are by first building up career capital and then cashing it in for the types of traits that define great work. If you want to identify your mission, you must first get to the cutting edge of your career—the only place where it will become visible.

Once you have the capital to identify a good mission, you must still work to make it succeed. To do so, follow The Law of Remarkability. First, your mission must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

To maximize your chances of success, deploy small, concrete experiments that return concrete feedback. By using little bets and The Law of Remarkability, you greatly increase your chances of finding ways to transform your mission from a compelling idea into a compelling career.

In Summary

To discover the work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills. Once you develop such skills, cash them in for the traits that define a compelling career: autonomy, competence, and control. And remember, when it comes to deciding what to work on, working right trumps finding the right work.

Read more on Amazon:

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love