So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport


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The long-held belief that we should ‘follow our passion’ is flawed. Real passion comes only after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.


17 lessons

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

– by Cal Newport –


1) Don’t follow your passion

It takes time to get good at anything. You must force yourself through the work and force the skills to come. Many people develop passion for their job only after they have years of experience doing it. You need time to get better at what you do, build relationships with coworkers, and see how your work benefits others. Passion is a side-effect of mastery. It’s rare for anyone to start out with a passion that has any direct relation to a career.

2) ‘Follow your passion’ is dangerous advice

This advice convinces people that there’s a ‘right’ job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The issue is that when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow – such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt. Years of teaching people to pursue their passion has actually led to more unhappiness and dissatisfaction in the workplace. Of course there are exceptions where successful people followed their passion, but for the most part these cases are few and far between.

3) Resist the ‘courage culture’

A growing number of authors and online commentators promote the idea that the only thing standing between you and a dream job is building the courage to step off the expected path. However, this philosophy often lures people to prematurely quit their jobs and start risky ventures without having developed enough skills. Courage is important and relevant when it comes to doing work that you love, but you must be sure that you act boldly when the timing is right.

4) Be so good they can’t ignore you

Stop searching for shortcuts to success or focusing on trivial details. Working right trumps finding the right work. Don’t obsess over discovering your true calling. Instead, master skills and focus instead on becoming better. Develop a ‘craftsman mindset’ and commit to producing quality results. Think about what you can offer the world, rather than what the world can offer you.

5) Earn your career capital

The traits that make a great job great are rare and valuable, so if you want a great job, you must build up rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Most jobs don’t offer workers great creativity, impact, or control over what they do and how they do it. The key is to put in the work and develop your skills over time, so that you have leverage in the future to choose something more aligned with your interests.

6) Don’t waste your time with bad jobs

Don’t work at a job that presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. You must choose to do something that you think is useful and contributes something positive to the world.

7) Commit to deliberate practice

If you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better. Therefore, we must approach our jobs with a dedication to deliberate practice. This involves ongoing focus on the development of your skills. You need to deliberately concentrate rather than just repeatedly going through the motions.

8) Learning isn’t only done in isolation

You need to be constantly getting feedback from colleagues and professionals. Force yourself to pursue projects, and seek out critiques and criticism from those around you.

9) Establish clear goals

If you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, then it’s hard to take effective action. Don’t strive for vague goals like becoming ‘good’ at something. Take ambiguity out of the equation.

10) Stretch yourself

You should feel strained by the effort you exert in your practice. If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck on a mediocre level. Stretching yourself isn’t meant to be enjoyable, but it’s how you get better. Instead of seeing discomfort as a sensation to avoid, understand how it relates to the way a body builder views muscle burn: it’s a sign that you’re doing something right.

11) Embrace honest feedback

Put your ego aside and take into account the valid criticisms of your work, even if this destroys your preconceptions. Your opinion isn’t what counts. Although it’s tempting to just assume what you’ve done is good enough, harsh feedback can help you learn where to retrain your focus in order to continue making progress.

12) Be patient and stick to your goals

Pay attention to your main pursuit, and discipline yourself to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you.

13) Seek control in your work after developing skills

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment. However, you can’t expect to experience control unless you have the skills to exchange for it.

14) Make things that people are willing to pay for

If you’re struggling to raise money for an idea, or are thinking that you will support your idea with unrelated work, then you need to rethink the idea. When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work live, seek evidence of whether or not there’s enough value that people are willing to pay for it.

15) Have a unifying mission

Building your career on a clear and compelling mission is essential. You need something that not only gives you meaning, but also provides the energy needed to exceed expectations. Missions are powerful because they focus your energy on a useful goal, which in turn maximizes your impact on the world. People who feel like their careers truly matter are much more likely to love what they do.

16) Make ‘Little Bets’

Great missions are transformed into great successes as the result of using small and achievable projects to explore the concrete possibilities surrounding a compelling idea. Learn critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins. The rapid and frequent feedback of little bets allows you to find unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.

17) Be remarkable

In order for your project succeed, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Humans naturally discuss things that catch our attention, so you have to stand out.