So Good They Can't Ignore You
Highlights from Cal Newport's book
December 21, 2015
The career advice I wish I had received when I was 18 years old. This book exposes the "follow your passion" myth and argues that the best way to be successful and happy at work is to become extremely good at what we do. Read it before embarking on any significant career change or if you're trying to get more satisfaction out of your current job or career.
Here are my highlights from the book:
"Why do some people end up loving what they do, while so many others fail at this goal? My question was clear: How do people end up loving what they do? And I needed an answer."
"The conventional wisdom on career success—follow your passion—is seriously flawed."
"You need to be good at something before you can expect a good job."
"Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, 'so good that they can’t ignore you'."
"Focus away from finding the right work and toward working right."
"It takes time to get good at anything."
"The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase."
"Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion."
"There are many complex reasons for workplace satisfaction, but the reductive notion of matching your job to a pre-existing passion is not among them."
"Less than 4% percent of the total identified passions had any relation to work or education, with the remaining percent describing hobby-style interests such as sports and art."
"There is a distinction between a job, a career, and a calling."
"The more experience [one has], the more likely [one is] to love his/her work."
"The happiest, 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."
"Passion Is a Side Effect of Mastery."
"Three traits of a great job or career: Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness."
"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."
'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."
"The craftsman mindset, a focus on what value you’re producing in your job, and the passion mindset, a focus on what value your job offers you [are opposites]. The craftsman mindset is the foundation for creating work you love."
"[Eventually] you are so experienced [that] there’s a confidence that comes out, Steve Martin explained. I think it’s something the audience smells."
"An obsessive focus on the quality of what you produce is the rule in professional music."
"The craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love."
"when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness."
"The deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm."
"Two different ways people think about their working life. The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you. The craftsman mindset offers clarity, while the passion mindset offers a swamp of ambiguous and unanswerable questions."
"You shouldn’t just envy the craftsman mindset, you should emulate it."
"Regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career."
"Adopt the craftsman mindset first and then the passion follows."
"Basic economic theory tells us that if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return."
"It follows that if you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return."
"Three traits of great carrers: creativity, impact, and control."
"Think of the 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."
"The downside of the passion mindset is that it strips away merit."
"Great work doesn’t just require great courage, but also skills of great (and real) value."
"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."
"Carefully and persistently gather career capital. Valuable skills will translate into valuable opportunities."
"Focus on difficult activities, carefully chosen to stretch your abilities where they most need stretching and that provide immediate feedback."
"Deliberate practice is activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance."
"If you want to understand the source of professional athletes’ talent, for example, look to their practice schedules."
"When experts exhibit their superior performance in public their behavior looks so effortless and natural that we are tempted to attribute it to special talents."
"If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value."
"Learning is not done in isolation: You need to be constantly soliciting feedback from colleagues and professionals."
"There are two types of these markets: winner-take-all and auction. Step 1: Decide What Capital Market You’re In. Step 2: Identify Your Capital Type"
"Seek open gates—opportunities to build capital that are already open to you."
"Think about skill acquisition like a freight train: Getting it started requires a huge application of effort, but changing its track once it’s moving is easy. In other words, it’s hard to start from scratch in a new field."
"Step 3: Define good. Deliberate practice requires good goals."
"Step 4: Stretch and Destroy. Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands."
"Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable."
"The term “stretch” describes what deliberate practice feels like."
"If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”"
"Embracing honest feedback."
"Step 5: Be Patient. 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."
"Control over what you do, and how you do it, is one of the most powerful traits you can acquire when creating work you love."
"I argued in Rule #1 that “follow your passion” is bad advice, as the vast majority of people don’t have pre-existing passions waiting to be discovered and matched to a job. In Rule #2, I then countered that people with compelling careers instead start by getting good at something rare and valuable—building what I called “career capital”—and then cashing in this capital for the traits that make great work great. In this understanding, finding the right work pales in importance to working right."
"Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment."
"If your goal is to love what you do, your first step is to acquire career capital. Your next step is to invest this capital in the traits that define great work. Control is one of the most important targets you can choose for this investment."
"Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable."
"Enthusiasm alone is not rare and valuable and is therefore not worth much in terms of career capital."
"Once you have enough career capital to acquire more control in your working life, you have become valuable enough to your employer that they will fight your efforts to gain more autonomy."
"When no one cares what you do with your working life, you probably don’t have enough career capital to do anything interesting."
"The key, it seems, is to know when the time is right to become courageous in your career decisions."
"You should only pursue a bid for more control if you have evidence that it’s something that people are willing to pay you for."
"Do what people are willing to pay for."
"When it comes to decisions affecting your core career, money remains an effective judge of value."
"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."
"A unifying mission to your working life can be a source of great satisfaction."
"To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career."
"Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal."
"Systematically experiment with different proto-missions to seek out a direction worth pursuing."
"A mission chosen before you have relevant career capital is not likely to be sustainable."
"The next big ideas in any field are found right beyond the current cutting edge, in the adjacent space that contains the possible new combinations of existing ideas. We like to think of innovation as striking us in a stunning eureka moment, where you all at once change the way people see the world, leaping far ahead of our current understanding. I’m arguing that in reality, innovation is more systematic. We grind away to expand the cutting edge, opening up new problems in the adjacent possible to tackle and therefore expand the cutting edge some more, opening up more new problems, and so on."
"A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough—it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field."
"If you want to identify a mission for your working life, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge—the only place where these missions become visible."
"First master a promising niche—a task that may take years—and only then turning her attention to seeking a mission."
"Most people who love their work 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 a mission, you need to first acquire capital."
"Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action."
"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."
"If you don’t have a trusted strategy for making this leap from idea to execution, then like me and so many others, you’ll probably avoid the leap altogether."
"Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance, [successful people] make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins."
"Great missions are transformed into great successes as the result of finding projects that satisfy the law of remarkability, which requires that an idea inspires people to remark about it, and is launched in a venue where such remarking is made easy."
"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."