So Good They Can't Ignore You
- Cal Newport
Thesis: Career fulfillment is achieved by adopting the craftsman mindset. This mindset entails the acquisition of valuable skills over following a predetermined passion.
This book is divided into 4 rules:
Rule 1: Don’t Follow Your Passion
Society likes to preach the idea that career fulfillment is achieved first by identifying your passion, and then matching your career to this predetermined “calling”. This is wrong.
Passions should not be trusted because they are rare and often don’t match our skills.
Instead, successful careers are built by developing “career capital”—valuable skills that can be used to advance oneself in their profession.
Rule 2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
In general, the better we are at our jobs, the more autonomy and opportunity we have.
By acquiring large amounts of career capital, we build a foundation for work we love
Consequently, we should aim to acquire valuable skills to become “so good they can’t ignore you.”
Fulfilled professionals don’t ask themselves, “what can my career do for me,” but rather “what can I do for my career?”. This is the craftsman mindset.
Career capital is best acquired through deliberate practice (see Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise)
- While musicians, athletes etc. are intimately familiar with deliberate practice, knowledge workers are not. This is a huge advantage for you.
“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.”
Rule 3: Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control)
One of the most important components of work you love is control.
Control gives you the autonomy to do work the work that you want to do
After gaining enough career capital, you should invest this capital towards traits that define great work, such as control.
The First Control Trap: Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.
People who pursue control without first acquiring career capital gain their freedom, but cannot afford their next meal.
/For ex. although it may be tempting to drop out of school to become a travel photographer, it is unwise to do so because while some people do have success doing this, they had already refined their skills by the time they made the switch.
The Second Control Trap: The more career capital you acquire, the more resistance there will be against you acquiring you autonomy.
As you become more valuable to your employer, they will try to convince you not to gain more control
Use your leverage to fight for it.
Although this book dismisses “courage” in the sense of abandoning you career to pursue another career on a whim, courage is encourage when you can back it up.
In general, only follow a pursuit for more control if you have evidence that people are willing to pay for it (Law of Financial Viability)
Rule 4: Think Small, Act Big (Or, the importance of Mission)
Another of the most satisfying aspects of great work is mission—a unified focus for you career. It provides a sense of purpose.
Again, missions require career capital. We are often dismayed when we don’t have a mission in life—yet we are not yet the best at what we do.
The adjacent possible: the next big ideas in a field, right beyond the cutting edge.
Most great careers—ones with missions — involve exploring the adjacent possible, yet one must reach the cutting edge before venturing into such terrain.
Missions stem from little bets: brief explorations of the adjacent possible.
It is challenging, if not impossible, to identify your mission correctly the first time. By trying out small, one or two-month projects, you increase your chances of finding the right mission.
Think of a famous comedian preparing for a big show. Beforehand, they’ll write and try out tons of material, most of which will fall flat. However, by making these little bets, the comedian will identify a subset of the best jokes.
Note: this relates to my philosophy of diving straight in to a problem without trying to solve every detail beforehand. It allows me to try out potential solutions and get instant feedback much faster than I would otherwise.
Missions require marketing. Make your work remarkable. Make people notice.