“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is written by Cal Newport. He rejects the idea of following your passion in order to find the work you love. Instead, he suggests the accumulation of career capital.
What follows are the main sections or rules of the book with a few of my takeaways each. The man is obviously steeped in science. The book reads like laws of physics. Well, not quite that dry, but just as precise and well organized. I love reading him say, “In which I argue…” Sounds very professorish.
The Passion Hypothesis
Isn’t it true that when someone is trying to determine a career path or job, we often ask questions like, “Well, what do you want to do?” And give advice like, “Do something you’re passionate about.” The author gives a few individual profiles of people who followed this advice without key ingredients and were, in the end, disappointed by the result. He also points out a whole class of lifestyle designers who, in their delusion, quit their day job to live on their yet-to-be-created passive Internet income and aren’t able to make it.
(In which) Newport argues that “working right trumps finding the right work.” Essentially, you worry more about what you are producing and the value you’re giving (craftsman mindset) instead of whether or not it fits some passion you’re predisposed to.
Career capital is essentially the collection of rare and valuable skills that you possess that the market is willing to pay for. Without this, you will likely not enjoy your work. With this, your ability to define and magnify your work is much greater.
The title of the book comes from Steve Martin, who remarked in an interview that aspiring comics didn’t like his advice. They wanted quick fix answers like, “How do I get an audition?” But he would always advise, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” And most likely, judging by your name recognition of Monseiur Martin, he has worked himself to that level.
It is autonomy, not passion, that is most likely to help you love your work. The amount of control you have in a job is likely to influence your liking it. The more control, the better. But, it doesn’t come immediately. If you don’t have the career capital, you can’t purchase it. And if you’re offered it, while you know you probably don’t have the capital, it’s probably a mirage. But if you’re so good they can’t ignore you, your ability to set terms and influence your environment is real.
Importance of a Mission
“So good they can’t ignore you” hardly sounds like your average work. Instead it’s likely that you’re attached to a catchy mission. You have a vision that people want to share. You do work that people like to talk about. Your name is known by peers and leaders in your industry. You have made it to the edge of your field. You are pushing boundaries, and are creating new fields, often mixtures of those you have expertise within.
These stages of achievement that push your career and humanity forward are significant. Little steps or bets need to be made strategically and intentionally in order to create a habit of advancing your knowledge and skill. The sheer investment required to get to these levels is immense.
Newport’s book was worth the read. In fact, I recommend it to anyone about to enter college, desiring to start in a new field, wanting to scratch an entrepreneurial itch, or thinking of changing jobs.
His advice is solid. It’s more grounded and nuanced than the “follow your passion”, feel good propaganda.
The writing is a little dry. It’s a short book at just over 200 small pages. Still, it took me a bit to get through. I wasn’t exactly glued to the pages. But I do believe the advice is invaluable if it influences one to throw all their potential ability behind producing their best work and becoming their best worker. It reads well, but sometimes feels like a textbook. Perfect for all that intentional learning we all want to do, right?
Most importantly, it inspired me to be so good they can’t ignore me.