So good they can’t ignore you (2012) is a definitive guide written by Cal Newport which explores the idea of aiming for skills and gaining “career capital” rather than exploring passion alone. The book makes a case for moving away from “passion mindset” which makes you question “what will my job offer me?” to “craftsman mindset” which makes you think “what can I offer to the job?”. The quest for pursuing a passion has made a lot of YouTubers and bloggers overnight success. While it is good to follow your passion and find something worth working for, it is not the only requirement you will need to succeed in a career you are passionate about.
About the author
Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who studies the theory of distributed systems. In addition to his academic work, he writes about the intersection of technology and culture. He is the author of six books, including, most recently, the New York Times bestseller, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.
Premise of the book
The book opens with the story of Thomas who was pursuing his dream life of a monk at a Zen monastery, yet he found himself crying between oaks. This is evidence of his frustration towards a life that he thought would give him an elixir for satisfaction. With each passing day, his passion and his journey to pursuing it started poisoning his peace more than his data entry job.
The subtitle of the book is “Why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love!” and the book presents 4 rules which will help you achieve the utmost satisfaction in your career. The four rules are:
- Don’t follow your passion
- Be so good they can’t ignore you
- Turn down a promotion
- Think small, act big
Don’t follow your passion
You would have encountered the following advises a number of times:
“Follow your passions- life is for the living”
“Passion is the engine to living your life”
“It’s passion for your work that counts”
These words resonate with the passion hypothesis which believes that the key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’ re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion. Contrary to this hypothesis, research by Amy Wrzeniewski reveals that most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a career but those who have stayed long enough to learn the required skills to feel passionate about their jobs. Over-stressing on following passion can result in fatigue and directionlessness among individuals as it fills them with an innocent optimism.
Also read: Deep Work by Cal Newport
Be so good they can’t ignore you
The title of the book and rule number 2 is inspired by Steve Martin whose life was changed after he got an audition and made it to the Copa. It was work of years that enabled him to land up at the audition.
“Nobody ever takes note of my advice, because its not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you got an agent; here’s how you write a script’…. but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’”As quoted from “So good they can’t ignore you”
No matter which profession you pick up, it is necessary to hone the skills related to it and with consistent practice, become so good at it that nobody can ignore you and can thus offer you whatever you desire. In this rule, Cal also focusses on building a “craftsman mindset” in which he wants to shift your focus from questioning whether your job is right to getting your head down and working hard to achieve a level of mastery in your job.
This chapter also wants you to focus on building your career capital:
“Supply and demand say 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”As quoted from “So good they can’t ignore you”
This chapter was very important for me as I have always been trying to find things which am passionate about and gradually, I realized that passion takes me far in that field. However, there have been things like writing which were not a passion for me but with time, I acquired skills, and now I have an experience of over four years which is valuable.
The chapter demands you do deliberate practice with courage and persistence. The road to excelling and being at the top is not easy and requires years of hard work. However, once you reach that level, you become so good that they can’t ignore you!
Also read: Two rules to rule by Tim Ferris
Turn down a promotion
Rule number 3 guides you toward the importance of control. It starts with the story of a couple who took to farming despite having ivy league degrees. Their venture Red Fire has made it big in all aspects and the couple is more than happy. The key to such a decision was to get more “control” towards what they want and directing their lives towards it.
Cal narrates another story of a Jane, who attained supreme skills in her domain which is, QA testing. After she became an expert, she became an important resource to the company and had the audacity to turn down the promotion that she was offered, in a quest to have more control.
“The more time you spend reading the research literature, the more it becomes clear: Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.”As quoted from “So good they can’t ignore you”
However, before taking control, it is necessary to acquire the required career capitals which put you in a better position. Cal Newport puts emphasis on this point by telling the story of Joe who quit his job at 22 to live an “unconventional life” which only left him frustrated and confused. In the last section of the book, Cal provides some actionable insights on optimizing the things he has discussed before.
Think small, act big
Till this chapter, Cal has only pointed out things as to what is good and what is not good for your career and life in general. This chapter tells you to have a mission in mind, like a goal, a guiding light, and not as the entire purpose. If you wish to change the world, this goal is very big and often subjective. The problem with such a goal is that you won’t be objective in your actions and over the period of time, you will feel frustrated by the inaction.
What is to be done then?
Work hard and be the best in whatever you do and slowly start finding opportunities that help you achieve your mission which you have been striving for. This could be about fighting an ancient disease or about familiarizing people with archaeology.
Overall, I liked the book and this gave me a firm idea on how to approach career and larger missions in life. This was my second read after Deep Work by Cal Newport and he did not disappoint. This could be your compass if you are having a hard time navigating through your career and realize the larger purpose of your life.
If I had to summarize in one line, it will be to focus on skills than impulse. (which Cal calls passion).