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So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love: Book 21 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on August 26, 2018

Once comedian Steve Martin was asked for an advice he would like to give to up and coming comedians and he said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” That precisely is the main theme of the book “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You” written by Georgetown University professor Cal Newport. The book offers his insights on how people can achieve their goals and use their skills to create a fulfilling and passionate career. Whether you’re at the beginning of your career or trying to move up the ladder in your professional journey, the aim should be to master your craft to the point where people can’t help but notice.

Cal Newport uses a simple, useful framework to emphasize his points. He has been a popular blogger and this transition to writing a book seems effortless. While reading, you clearly realize he has been thinking very deeply about this topic using his own as well as several other case studies. He offers several steps to becoming so good others will have to pay attention.

Don’t follow your passion.

Really?? But then that’s what entire world was preaching about! What will happen to bestseller self-help books telling you to always always follow your passion and the whole wide universe will conspire in your favour to achieve your dreams? Hold your horses. I don’t know whether you should follow your passion or not but Cal Newport does present some convincing arguments against chasing your dreams. You must be passionate about your work but “following your passion” is not going to get you there because it has inherent fundamental problems.

so goodFirst is that most people don’t have a shit bit idea of what they want to do. Most often than not we tend to assume that people have a pre-existing passion they can identify and use to make career decisions. Sorry. I rarely see such people. “Follow your passion” is flawed, and can be harmful. It often leads to frequent job/career changes and anxiety/angst when people fail to find their dream jobs. So throw out the passion hypothesis. Let’s put it this way, the better you get at something, the more it becomes a “passion”. There is another assumption that if you really like something, then you’ll really like doing it for a job. “We don’t have much evidence that’s true,” says Newport. He gives an example of amateur photographers or bakers who open up businesses but end up facing extreme financial difficulty that leads to unhappiness. “That’s because having work that you love is a lot more complicated than, ‘Hey, I like this thing! If I do it for work, I’ll like my work!'” explains Newport. The better strategy is to “let your passion follow you, in your quest to become so good you can’t be ignored”.

Build Rare And Valuable Skills.

Quoting the author, “She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.

It took Martin, by his own estimation, ten years for his new act to cohere, but when it did, he became a monster success. It’s clear in his telling that there was no real shortcut to his eventual fame. “[Eventually] you are so experienced [that] there’s a confidence that comes out,” Martin explained. “I think it’s something the audience smells.” The author suggests to try something that’s interesting to you. The only criteria you should have for your career is that it fits your values and rewards skill with more options and flexibility. He uses a very interesting term here-Career Capital which is basically marketable skill. You need to build something deep inside you to allow you to master over your chosen profession. Fundamentally, you need to have something that’s valuable and rare, if you want a career that’s valuable and rare. Career Capital. That explains why doesn’t everyone have a job they love and a career they’re passionate about? Because they’re hard to get. As your skills grow, you start becoming more valuable. Later on, you can capitalize this skill acquired over hundreds of hours of practice into better opportunities.

Mastering skill through deliberate practice.

You need to spend decades in school/college and work crazy hours to become a top doctor. You need to pour over hundreds of pages of balance sheets to understand a business and become a value investor. To gain mastery over your chosen subject, you need to have insane work ethic, talent, and the willingness to say No to a lot of stuff. To illustrate this point, Newport gives you lots of examples. He further adds, settling into a career path is only the first step. Thereafter, you need to get a hold over the skills you need to become irreplaceable. Once you manage to do that, you’ll gain career capital that you can offer in return for a great job. “Until you become good, you don’t have leverage”.

However, you need to watch out for a common mistake; Hitting the performance plateau. Quite often, people build their basic skills quickly at first, but once they’re comfortable, they stop getting better because they’re not stretching themselves,” says Newport. So try to become a craftsman. Use deliberate practice. You need to identify a clear, specific stretch goal based on your skill and then push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Aim for ambitious projects, don’t hesitate in asking for honest feedback, experiment with new ways to develop your skills. Train like an athlete, musician, or chess player. The more mastery you acquire, more control and satisfaction you will garner.

Newport also introduces this idea of “the law of financial viability.” He explains, “People will only give you money if they’re getting value for it. You know you’re getting better at something if more money is being offered to you.” According to him, money offered to you is a neutral indicator of the value of your skill. Money is not the goal, but rather a great source of honest feedback.

Gaining more control.

In author’s words- “Once you’re really good at something, that by itself isn’t enough,” says Newport. “You have to use your skills as leverage to take control of your working life, whether through your work hours, vacation time, or projects.” Acquiring skills should lead to more control of your career to gain benefits that resonate with you. But you can only get control if you have worked on previous steps;- building career capital and required skills. Then you have a choice. You become valuable and rare, which means you have leverage. And once you have leverage, you can decide what you want. Find your own matrix and go after it.

Find your mission.

Cal Newport says, “One way to find great meaning and satisfaction in your work is to end up with a mission that organizes your goals and working life“. You can still manage to love your work without a mission but having a mission helps a great deal in attaining job satisfaction. However, finding your mission should not be your first step. It should be rather your last step. First, you need to get really good in your field. And why is that? Because, having a career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough – it’s an innovation at the very cutting edge of your field, so you can’t know about it until you get there. Only when you establish strong expertise can you really identify a real, sustainable, impactful mission. Big things start to happen when you get really good at something. Plain and simple.

To sum up, Cal Newport says, passion is a side effect of mastery. He shares various examples of the people who have pursued the path of Career capital-mastery-craftsman mindset in real-life and have made it extra large. He offers anecdotes of his own research and interviews in addition to career profile summaries of key people. Following these steps, one can have the ultimate blend of autonomy, mastery and purpose that makes work truly fulfilling and enjoyable. Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy Cal’s book!

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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