So Good They Can’t Ignore You–Cal Newport

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This was an insanely good book. Potentially life-changing, actually.

The basic premise of this book is that the idea of “follow your passion” is a bad one. And it’s bolstered with examples of real people succeeding and failing depending on what they’re doing.

The book is divided into four sections, each devoted to a rule.

Rule 1: Don’t follow your passion.

Most people who truly love what they do (excluding, say, athletes who by necessity had to start extraordinarily young) are not doing what they would have said they wanted to do as a young person. Even Steve Jobs didn’t start life as a tech guy. What makes you happy is autonomy at work, feeling good at what you do, and enjoying the people you work with. None of which is achievable just starting out in any field.

Rule 2: Rule of Skill

Basically, the way to get what you want in a job–the autonomy, for example–you need to be able to pay for it with what he calls “career capital.” The idea is that you deliberately and meticulously develop a set of skills, usually over a period of years, that set you apart from other people in your field. These unique skills and abilities are what enable you to leverage your position into taking the shape that you want. The best way to achieve this is to adopt a “craftsmen mindset,” which involves thinking about what you can contribute to your organization, what you can create.

Rule 3: Importance of Control

Of course, there are drawbacks to the lure of control. If you make the jump too soon, before you have the skills that will allow you to get paid for doing what you want, you’re in trouble. Conversely, if you have the skill set you need to get the control that you want, your employer is likely to fight to keep you where you are. It’s the obvious side effect of being so good that they can’t ignore you. He advises using the test of whether or not people are/would pay for what you’re about to do as a the deciding factor when determining if your goal is fiscally feasible.

Rule 4: Importance of Mission

A mission is like…the bigger goal of your life. The feeling that you’re doing something that will make a difference, something new. People frequently (myself included) get frustrated at the difficulty of finding and settling into a “mission” in life. But he points out that most real missions are adopted by people who are not beginners in their field. The new stuff, the exciting ideas and projects, are all just outside the edge of what is currently being produced in the field. To find your mission in the adjacent possible, you have to be in the field long enough and be good enough to get to the edge and from there you can see the next steps. That’s where you’ll find your mission.

I loved this book. I’m getting his other books, and I’m systematically reading all the entries on his blog, starting at the beginning (2007! may we all have such blogging longevity) and it’s all good. He’s a smart man, who can express things clearly and logically.

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