So Good They Can’t Ignore You

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

Cal Newport

Summary in 100 words or less

To feel intrinsically motivated, you must have autonomy, competence, and relatedness over what you do. Great jobs are rare. If you want a great job, you need to offer great value (career capital) in return. Adopting the craftsman mindset is a strategy to acquire career capital. To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. And it takes time to discover and form your career mission. Rather than believing you have to start with a big idea or a perfect plan, make a series of little bets and learn from the failures and small wins.


My Highlights

The conventional wisdom on career success — follow your passion — is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people actually end up with compelling careers, but for many people it can actually make things worse: leading to chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst when one’s reality inevitably falls shorts of the dream.

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

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.

Motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs — factors described as the “nutrients” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work: Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness.

If you’re not focusing on become so good they can’t ignore you, you’re going to be left behind.

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.

If you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return.

The career capital theory of great work: 1) The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. 2) 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. 3) The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.

Three disqualifiers for applying the craftsman mindset: 1) The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. 2) The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world. 3) The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

The 10,000-Hour Rule: The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

In Outliers, Gladwell pointed to this rule as evidence that great accomplishment is not about natural talent, but instead about being in the right place at the right time to accumulate such a massive amount of practice.

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.

Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable. It’s an approach to work where you deliberately stretch your abilities beyond where you’re comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance.

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

Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.

The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change.

Do what people are willing to pay for. —Derek Sivers

Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.

When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on.

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 maximizes your impact on your world — a crucial factor in loving what you do.

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.

Rather than believing you have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance, make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins.

For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

Working right trumps finding the right work. We didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness — we needed instead a better approach to the work already available to us.

More book notes

How Will You Measure Your Life
Do The Work
The Accidental Creative
Choose Possibility

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