So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

So Good They Can't Ignore You

Authors: Cal Newport,

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Passion often results in an uncertain career and severe anxiety. Newport uses his experience with organic farmers, venture capitalists, and many others to infer that what you do is not as important as how you do it. Discover how you can be so good they can’t ignore you and love your job at the same time.

Video Review of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport,

Quotes & Tips from So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Become good at something, it will become your passion

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.

Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.

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.

The Craftsman Mindset

If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (“what can I offer the world?”).

The craftsman mindset offers clarity, while the passion mindset offers a swamp of ambiguous and unanswerable questions.

There’s something liberating about the craftsman mindset: It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is “just right,” and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good.

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

Deliberate Practice

Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.

Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.

If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.” The good news about deliberate practice is that it will push you past this plateau and into a realm where you have little competition.

It is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that again and again ends up explaining excellence.

“Deliberate practice” to describe this style of serious study, defining it formally as an “activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance.”. As hundreds of follow-up studies have since shown, deliberate practice provides the key to excellence in a diverse array of fields, among which are chess, medicine, auditing, computer programming, bridge, physics, sports, typing, juggling, dance, and music.”

Empower People

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

Problems with the Passion Mindset

There are two reasons why I dislike the passion mindset

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. This is especially true for entry-level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy—these come later. When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle.

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. “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused, which probably explains why Bronson admits, not long into his career-seeker epic What Should I Do With My Life? that “the one feeling everyone in this book has experienced is of missing out on life.”

Little Bets

The important thing about little bets is that they’re bite-sized. You try one. It takes a few months at most. It either succeeds or fails, but either way you get important feedback to guide your next steps. 

When Sims studied a variety of successful innovators, from Steve Jobs to Chris Rock to Frank Gehry, as well as innovative companies, such as Amazon and Pixar, he found a strategy common to all. “Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance,” he writes, “they 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” 

The Law of Remarkability

This law says that for a project to transform a mission into a success, it should be remarkable in two ways. First, it must literally compel people to remark about it. Second, it must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking. 

Value of the Right Practice

Charness’s study, however, is that it moves beyond the 10,000-hour rule by asking not just how long people worked, but also what type of work they did. In more detail, they studied players who had all spent roughly the same amount of time—around 10,000 hours—playing chess. Some of these players had become grand masters while others remained at an intermediate level. Both groups had practiced the same amount of time, so the difference in their ability must depend on how they used these hours.There was debate in the chess world at the time surrounding the best strategies for improving. One camp thought tournament play was crucial, as it provides practice with tight time limits and working through distractions. The other camp, however, emphasized serious study—pouring over books and using teachers to help identify and then eliminate weaknesses. When surveyed, the participants in Charness’s study thought tournament play was probably the right answer. The participants, as it turns out, were wrong. Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors. The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level. The grand masters, on average, dedicated around 5,000 hours out of their 10,000 to serious study. The intermediate players, by contrast, dedicated only around 1,000 to this activity

Results Only Work Environment

If you want to observe the power of control up close in the workplace, look toward companies embracing a radical new philosophy called Results-Only Work Environment (or, ROWE, for short). In a ROWE company, all that matters is your results. When you show up to work and when you leave, when you take vacations, and how often you check e-mail are all irrelevant. They leave it to the employee to figure out whatever works best for getting the important things done. “No results, no job: It’s that simple,” as ROWE supporters like to say.

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