So Good They Can't Ignore You

Cal Newport
Read Time
Solid star iconSolid star iconSolid star iconSolid star iconSolid star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star icon
More Info
Following your passion is bad career advice, the better approach is to master skills that people value.

RULE #1 Don’t Follow Your Passion

The Passion Hypothesis — The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.

When you look past the feel-good slogans and ask scientists about what predicts workplace happiness, you begin to find threads of nuance that unravel the tight certainty of the passion hypothesis.

“Follow your passion” might just be terrible advice.

Apple Computers was decidedly not born out of passion, but instead was the result of a lucky break—a “small-time” scheme that unexpectedly took off.

Passion is rare — the more you seek examples of the passion hypothesis, the more you recognise its rarity.

“The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase”

Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

The Science of Passion

Why do some people enjoy their work while so many other people don’t?

  • There are many complex reasons for workplace satisfaction, but the reductive notion of matching your job to a pre-existing passion is not among them.
  • Conclusion #1: Career Passions Are Rare
  • Conclusion #2: Passion Takes Time
  • Conclusion #3: Passion Is a Side Effect of Mastery

The type of work alone does not necessarily predict how much people enjoy it.

The more experience you have, the more likely you are to love your work.

The happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

This explanation, though reasonable, contradicts the passion hypothesis, which instead emphasises the immediate happiness that comes from matching your job to a true passion.

Self-determination Theory (SDT)

  • Arguably the best understanding science currently has for why some pursuits get our engines running while others leave us cold.
  • SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfil three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work:
  • Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
  • Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do
  • Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people The

Passion is dangerous — subscribing to the passion hypothesis can make you less happy.

  • 45 percent of Americans describe themselves as satisfied with their jobs. This number has been steadily decreasing from the mark of 61 percent recorded in 1987, the first year of the survey.
  • 64 percent now say that they’re actively unhappy in their jobs.
  • In other words, our generation-spanning experiment with passion-centric career planning can be deemed a failure:

Telling someone to “follow their passion” is not just an act of innocent optimism, but potentially the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.

RULE #2 Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (The Importance of Skill)

Craftsman mindset — a focus on what value you’re producing in your job

Passion mindset — a focus on what value your job offers you

The craftsman mindset is the foundation for creating work you love.

Stop focusing on these little details. Focus instead on becoming better.

Irrespective of what type of work you do, the craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love.

Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.

First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm. No one owes you a great career, you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.

You shouldn’t just envy the craftsman mindset, you should emulate it.

In other words, I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.

Regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career.

Career Capital

The traits that make a great job great are rare and valuable, and therefore, if you want a great job, you need to build up rare and valuable skills (career capital) to offer in return.

What makes a great job great? — creativity, impact, control.

Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital.

The craftsman mindset is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital.

You need to get good in order to get good things in your working life, and the craftsman mindset is focused on achieving exactly this goal.

The traits that define great work are bought with career capital, the theory argues; they don’t come from matching your work to your innate passion.

Because of this, you don’t have to sweat whether you’ve found your calling—most any work can become the foundation for a compelling career.

Three disqualifiers for applying the craftsman mindset

  • The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
  • The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
  • The job forces you to work with people you really dislike

Deliberate practice — the key strategy for acquiring career capital. Less to do with the number of hours. ore to do with what we did with those hours.

Strain (stretch yourself beyond what's comfortable) and feedback—remain central.

This focus on stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback provides the core of a more universal principle.

How to Become a Grand Master

The 10,000-Hour Rule — The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers)

Deliberate practice — activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance

If you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.

To successfully adopt the craftsman mindset, therefore, we have to approach our jobs with a dedication to deliberate practice.

Steps to Becoming a Craftsman

Step 1: Decide What Capital Market You’re In

There are two types of these markets: winner-take-all and auction

Winner-take-all market, there is only one type of career capital available, and lots of different people competing for it

An auction market, by contrast, is less structured: There are many different types of career capital, and each person might generate a unique collection

e.g. website blogging is a winner-take-all market — the only capital that matters is whether or not your posts compel the reader

Step 2: Identify Your Capital Type

Winner-take-all: one type of capital that matters

Auction market: you have flexibility.

A useful heuristic in this situation is to seek open gates—opportunities to build capital that are already open to you.

The advantage of open gates is that they get you farther faster than starting from scratch.

It helps to think about skill acquisition like a freight train: Getting it started requires a huge application of effort, but changing its track once it’s moving is easy.

Step 3: Define “Good”

You need clear goals — if you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, then it’s hard to take effective action

Step 4: Stretch and Destroy

Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.

Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable — the opposite of what deliberate practice demands

Deliberate practice is an effort of focus and concentration

The good news about deliberate practice is that it will push you past a career plateau, into a realm where you have little competition

When I’m learning a new mathematical technique—a classic case of deliberate practice—the uncomfortable sensation in my head is best approximated as a physical strain, as if my neurons are physically re-forming into new configurations.

Pushing past what’s comfortable is only one part of the deliberate-practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback—even if it destroys what you thought was good.

Step 5: Be Patient

The logic works as follows: Acquiring capital can take time. For Alex, it took about two years of serious deliberate practice before his first television script was produced. Mike Jackson was a half decade out of college before cashing in his capital to land a dream job.

RULE #3 Turn Down a Promotion (The Importance of Control)

Control over what you do, and how you do it, is one of the most powerful traits you can acquire when creating work you love.

Dream-job elixir — control, so powerful and so essential to the quest for work you love.

More control leads to better grades, better sports performance, better productivity, and more happiness.

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

Control traps

  • It’s dangerous to pursue more control in your working life before you have career capital to offer in exchange
  • Once you have enough career capital to acquire more control in your working life, you have become valuable enough to your employer that they will fight your efforts to gain more autonomy.

The law of financial viability — “Do what people are willing to pay for.” (Derek Sivers)

Using money as a “neutral indicator of value”—a way of determining whether or not you have enough career capital to succeed with a pursuit.

RULE #4 Think Small, Act Big (The Importance of Mission)

A unifying mission to your working life can be a source of great satisfaction.

To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career.

Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this in turn maximises your impact on your world—a crucial factor in loving what you do.

How do you make mission a reality in your working life?

Missions are hard. By this point in my quest, however, I had become comfortable with “hard,” and I hope that if you’ve made it this far in the book, you have gained this comfort as well. Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like us who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.

The Adjacent Possible

Big ideas are almost always discovered in the “adjacent possible,” a term borrowed from the complex-system biologist Stuart Kauffman, who used it to describe the spontaneous formation of complex chemical structures from simpler structures.

The next big ideas in any field are found right beyond the current cutting edge, in the adjacent space that contains the possible new combinations of existing ideas.

Scientific breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge of your field. Only then can you see the adjacent possible beyond, the space where innovative ideas are almost always discovered.

A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough—it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field.

The art of mission, we can conclude, asks us to suppress the most grandiose of our work instincts and instead adopt patience.

Little bets — missions are transformed into great successes as the result of using small and achievable projects to explore the concrete possibilities surrounding a compelling idea.

To maximise your chances of success, you should deploy small, concrete experiments that return concrete feedback.

Missions Require Marketing

Missions are transformed into great successes as the result of finding projects that satisfy the law of remarkability, which requires that an idea inspires people to remark about it, and is launched in a venue where such remarking is made easy.

“You’re either remarkable or invisible” (Seth Godin, Purple Cow). “The world is full of boring stuff—brown cows—which is why so few people pay attention…. A purple cow… now that would stand out. Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing.”

A good mission-driven project must be remarkable in two different ways.

  • It must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others.
  • It must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

By using little bets and the law of remarkability, you greatly increase your chances of finding ways to transform your mission from a compelling idea into a compelling career.