Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You is one of my favourite books on career. Specifically, how to find fulfilling work. At its core, it seeks to answer the age-old question, ‘Why do some people end up loving what they do, while so many others fail?‘ A must read for those diagnosed with career confusion.
Skills trump passion in the quest for work you love.
1 Don’t Follow Your Passion
- Follow your passion – catchphrase that have helped spawn the career confusion that afflicts so many today. Follow your passion, might just be terrible advice.
- When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.
- You need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.
- The key is not to figure out what your passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion. Don’t judge all things in the abstract before you do them.
- Courage culture: the only thing standing between you and your dream job is the courage to step off the expected path
- 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.
- Self-Determination Theory tells us that motivation in the workplace requires that you fulfil three basic psychological needs – Autonomy (feeling that you have control over your day and that your actions matter), Competence (feeling you are good at what you do) and Relatedness (feeling of connection to other people).
- What makes for a great job? Creativity, Impact, Control
- People who have been at it for longer may enjoy their work more because it takes time to build the competence and autonomy that generates enjoyment.
- 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.
- For some people, following their passion works. But observing a few instances of a strategy working does not make it universally effective. It’s important to ask what worked best in the vast majority of the cases.
What should we do instead?
2 Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
- Adopt the craftsman mindset, ask ‘What value am I producing in my work?’ Not ‘What value does my job offer me?’
- You have to get good before you can expect good work.
- Stop focusing on the little details (like convincing the world your work is good). Focus instead on becoming better.
- Irrespective of the type of work you do, the craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love.
- The traits that make a great job great are rare and valuable, and therefore, if you want a great job, you need to build up rare and valuable skills.
- Great work doesn’t require great courage (the courage to quit) but also skills of real value.
- Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and one chose the path to mastery while the other was called toward passion’s glow
- Part of the appeal of the craftsman mindset is its agnosticism toward the type of work you do. But some jobs are better suited for mastery than others. Disqualifiers include: 1) jobs that presents limited opportunities to distinguish yourself 2) a job that focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even bad for the world 3) a job that forces you to work with toxic people.
- Stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback provides the core for distinguishing yourself from the crowd. It’s not just about putting in 10,000 hours but how you use those hours, be dedicated to the deliberate practice of what you do.
- Spend time on what’s important, not what’s urgent (e.g. responding to emails to defer producing quality work).
The Five Habits of a Craftsman
- Decide what career capital market you’re in. E.g. blogging is a winner-take-all market, top blogs are those who compel readers.
- Identify your specific type of capital you want to pursue (seek open gates to get farther faster, leverage your existing skills if they help getting you to where you want to be).
- Define ‘good’ – know what it means to be good in the market you’re in.
- Stretch and destroy – just showing up and doing the work gets you to a plateau, deliberate practice pushes you past the plateau and into a realm with limited competition. But know that deliberate practice is the opposite of enjoyable.
- Be patient – Acquiring career capital takes time.
3 Know When to Gain Control
- 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.
- Giving people more control over what you do and how you do it increases happiness, engagement and sense of fulfilment.
- Trap 1: It’s dangerous to pursue more control in your working life before you have career capital to offer in exchange. Just because you’re committed to a lifestyle doesn’t mean you’ll find people who are committed to supporting you.
- Trap 2: Once you have enough career capital, you are valuable enough to your employer that they will fight your efforts to gain more autonomy. Always ensure you have enough career capital to back yourself before you make a bid for more control.
- Key is know when to push (be courageous) and when you’re still not good enough for employers to cave to your demands (back off)
- 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.
4 Think Small, Act Big, Do Remarkable
- Unifying mission to your work life can be a source of great satisfaction
- Missions are a powerful trait to introduce into your working life, but they’re also fickle, requiring careful coaxing to make them a reality
- It’s fool’s errand to try to figure out in advance what work will lead to your true passion
- Understanding the ‘adjacent possible’ (the innovation that is waiting to happen lies just beyond the current cutting edge) and its role in innovation is the first link in a chain of argument that explains how to find a good career mission
- First, you need to get to the cutting edge of your field, only then will you see the adjacent possible
- Second, great missions are transformed into great success as the result of using small and achievable projects – little bets – to explore the concentre possibilities surrounding a compelling idea. Make a methodical series of little bets about what might be good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins.
- Great missions are transformed into great successes as a result of finding projects that satisfy the law of remarkability, which requires that 1) an idea inspires people to spread it, and 2) is launched in a venue whether the spread of the idea is made easy.
- Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing. A purple cow in a world of crown cows.
Don’t follow my passion?
Dismiss the passion hypothesis, which says you must figure out your true calling, and then find a job to match. Follow your passion might just be bad advice.
What should I do instead?
Replace the passion hypothesis with career capital theory, which argues that the traits that define great work are rare and valuable, and if you want these in your working life, you must first build up rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Develop the craftsman mindset, where you focus relentlessly on what value you’re offering to the world. Deliberate practice, stretching your abilities beyond your comfort zone and then welcome ruthless feedback on your performance.
How do I invest my career capital once I have it?
Gaining control over what you do and how you do it is incredibly important. But watch out for traps. Traps: 1) Don’t pursue control before you have enough career capital to offer in return 2) Do what people are willing to pay for. Know when to push your employer’s button is very important.
What then? How do I discover my mission and ensure that it is a success?
To construct work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then cash in this capital for the type of traits that define compelling careers (control, creativity, impact, contribution towards your mission).
You must first develop mastery in your field. The best ideas for missions are found in the region just beyond the current cutting edge. Once you identify a general mission, take small steps that generate concrete feedback – little bets – and then use this feedback to figure out what’s next. To translate this mission into a success, it must be remarkable. First, it must literally compel people to remark about it. Second, it must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking.
Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become so good that they can’t ignore you.