Author: Cal Newport
Published in: 2012
In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that "follow your passion" is good advice. Not only is the cliché flawed-preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work-but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping.
After making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving what they do. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.
Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, he reveals. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.
With a title taken from the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to "be so good they can't ignore you," Cal Newport's clearly written manifesto is mandatory reading for anyone fretting about what to do with their life, or frustrated by their current job situation and eager to find a fresh new way to take control of their livelihood. He provides an evidence-based blueprint for creating work you love.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You will change the way we think about our careers, happiness, and the crafting of a remarkable life.
Takeaway #1: Don’t do what you love, but learn to love what you do
When finding himself having to decide between a job at Microsoft, a professorship at Georgetown University, and a career as a full-time writer, Cal didn’t deliberate anxiously for weeks, which is what most people would have done, in order to not choose the wrong one.
Not buying into the myth that he had only one true passion to follow, in which he would flourish, he knew that he would eventually come to love any of the three. Cal says that whether you love your work or not is mostly based on expertise and experience.
He knew that all three career paths would start out rough initially, but that as long as he worked hard, practiced a lot and kept acquiring new skills, he’d eventually learn to love his work – so he just picked the one where he liked the location the most and could stay close to his girlfriend, the professorship.
That’s because according to self determination theory, intrinsic motivation, which we often connect with passion and being satisfied at work, comes from three things:
- Autonomy – some sense of control over your time
- Competence – the feeling that you’re good at your work
- Relatedness – connecting with other people in the process
That means as long as you work hard and eventually become a master of your craft, you can thrive and learn to become passionate about any job you choose.
Takeaway #2: Become a craftsman to collect the skills you need
The likely reason why 43% of Americans are unhappy at their jobs, is that they constantly ask themselves what they want, instead of asking “What value can I bring to my job?”.
Once you start listening to Steve Martin and try to “be so good they can’t ignore you”, you’ll be so busy trying to deliver quality work that you won’t even have the time to deliberate what your true calling is.
Speaking of deliberate: Deliberate practice is the way to develop the autonomy and competence you need to boost your intrinsic motivation levels.
It’s the kind of practice that keeps you in a state of flow, where your work is hard enough to make you uncomfortable and forces you to learn, but not so much that frustration wins you over.
When you become a craftsman you’ll seek out those problems at work which you can almost solve, but not quite. This will help you focus on developing new skills while staying motivated, until you eventually become such a master that you’ll begin to love your work.
Takeaway #3: Consider saying no to a raise to keep your control
In the course of becoming better and better at work, you’ll probably be awarded with more responsibility and autonomy as you go along. This is great, because when you get to make your own hours, or spread a project over 6 months in any way you like, you’ll feel competent and more motivated. But the next trap will be leaking just around the corner, because as soon as you gain more control over your time and work, someone will try to take it from you.
Sometimes this happens violently, like when Steve Jobs was degraded and assigned a dead project (the Mac, hmm…), but most times, it’ll be even worse. A shiny reward will be dangled in front of you, like a company car, a raise or a promotion. Don’t give in to the temptation!
You have worked long and hard to gain the control you now love so much, so don’t trade it for more money. Saying no to a raise will not only let you keep your hard earned control, it’ll probably earn you the respect of your coworkers and bosses as well.