Book Summary

So Good They Can’t Ignore You By CAL NEWPORT

The question at the heart of this book is: ‘how do people end up loving what they do for a living?’ It’s an important question to ask because we spend most of our lifetime working and if we don’t find a job that we love, we miss out on a significant amount of joy in our lives.

Author Cal Newport recognized the importance of this question. So before starting his career as a computer science professor, he interviewed people who loved what they did for a living. To his surprise he found that many of the people who loved what they did for a living didn’t have a pre-existing passion for it.

It appeared that over the years as they got more experienced and more competent at their jobs, their passion grew. This seems to go against the conventional wisdom. The advice we hear is follow your passion but if Cal Newport’s findings were right, following a pre-existing passion was no more likely to lead you to a career full of passion than simply going into one of many fields that you’re mildly interested in.

To back up his findings, he looked at the latest research on work satisfaction. He came across an extensive study by Yale researcher, Amy Wrzesniewski, who surveyed people across different professions to see who saw their work as a calling that they were passionate about and who saw their work simply as a job that paid the bills.

She discovered that the same percentage of people across all professions identified their work as a calling after several years of experience. This meant that a college administrative assistant with 10 years of experience was just as likely to describe their work as a calling as doctors with 10 years of experience despite the fact that doctors were far more likely to have a pre-existing passion for their careers.

It turns out that the real reason why people are passionate about their work is that they routinely experience these three traits: creativity, control and impact. Creativity means that you have an opportunity to improvise your work and implement your ideas. Control means you have some say on how when and where your work gets done and impact means your work has a positive influence on your co-workers or customers.

If you go into your career because you’ve always had a passion for it but you fail to experience these three work traits, your passion will fade away and you’ll hate what you do for a living. Let’s say you have a passion for writing so you get a job at a local newspaper. After ten years of coming in from 8 a.m. To 6 p.m. Five days a week, the editor is still telling you what to write about and then buries your work in the back of the newspaper where nobody reads it. In this situation, I doubt that you could sustain your passion for writing.

So if control, creativity and impact are the keys to sustaining a level of passion in your work, how do you acquire these work traits? These three work traits are rare and valuable. If you want to attain them, you need to have a rare and valuable skill set. It’s basic capitalism. If you want something rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. So how do you develop a rare and valuable skill set?

First, you scrap the passion mindset and you adopt a craftsman mindset. Cal Newport says that the passion mindset is problematic because it causes people to think, “What can the world offer me?” If a job isn’t providing them with a sustained level of passion, they start looking for the next thing. This makes it really hard for them to gain valuable experience and build a valuable skill set.

But a person with a craftsman mindset focuses on what they can offer the world they dedicate themselves to constantly improving at their craft so they can be uniquely valuable to their team, their company and their customers. They don’t fret about a lack of passion at any given moment. They know that if they want to get better at their craft, the passion will fade from time to time. They don’t ask themselves, “Do I have a passion for this?” Instead, they ask themselves, “Will I love the process of getting better at this despite how boring and tedious it might become?”

The second step to becoming rare and valuable is taking on challenging projects that differentiate you from your peers and force you to develop rare and valuable skills. In the book, Cal Newport details a story of a design executive named Joe Duffy.

Duffy worked for a large design firm after college and found it hard to differentiate himself from his peers so he started volunteering for challenging projects that most people in his office weren’t familiar with. A few of these projects involve international logo design. After working on several international logo projects, Duffy became the go-to person in his company for international logos.

He was then recruited by another design firm to lead an international logo design group. In his new position, he had creative control over his work and more flexibility in his work schedule. His passion skyrocketed and in the years that followed, he started a design firm and had a significant impact on the design world.

Joe Duffy was able to experience a sustained level of passion throughout his career because he took on challenging projects that few other people were willing to do forcing him to learn skills that few other people had. By taking on challenging niche projects, he developed skills that were rare and valuable in the design world.

The third step to develop rare and valuable skills is to approach your work using the principles of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is the gold standard for improvement, which was developed by the renowned psychologist Anders Ericcson in his book Peak.

You need to incorporate the principles of deliberate practice into your daily work routine if you want to become rare and valuable. The best way to do this is to carve out periods of undistracted focus where you push your abilities to the edge of what you are capable of.

By continually cycling between moments of comfort and discomfort and then getting immediate feedback and guidance from people who are more experienced than you like coaches and mentors you will see a massive improvement. Just as you would go to the gym and focus on lifting weights to build muscle, you need to approach your work in the same manner and with the same intensity in order to build skill.

So by adopting a craftsman mindset and taking on challenging projects and then using deliberate practice to improve your abilities, you will quickly become rare and valuable within your team your organization and the marketplace. In fact you’ll be so good that no one can deny your request for more creativity and control over your work and because your work is so damn good, you get paid well for it and it has a significant impact on your co-workers and customers.

When you unlock these three work traits you can’t help but say to yourself, “Wow I love what I do for a living.”


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