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So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. Cal Newport

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. Cal NewportSo Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. Cal Newport

When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.

Chapter One: The “Passion” of Steve Jobs

Recently, a new, more aggressive strain of the passion hypothesis has been spreading—a strain that despairs that traditional “cubicle jobs,” by their very nature, are bad, and that passion requires that you strike out on your own.

There is, however, a problem lurking here: When you look past the feel-good slogans and go deeper into the details of how passionate people like Steve Jobs really got started, or ask scientists about what actually predicts workplace happiness, the issue becomes much more complicated.

Chapter Two: Passion Is Rare

These interviews emphasize an important point: Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

A job, in Wrzesniewski’s formulation, is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.

In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her 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

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.

Chapter Four: The Clarity of the Craftsman

In which I introduce two different approaches to thinking about work: the craftsman mindset, a focus on what value you’re producing in your job, and the passion mindset, a focus on what value your job offers you. Most people adopt the passion mindset, but in this chapter I argue that the craftsman mindset is the foundation for creating work you love.

“Focus instead on becoming better.” Inspired, I turned my attention from my website to a habit that continues to this day: I track the hours spent each month dedicated to thinking hard about research problems (in the month in which I first wrote this chapter, for example, I dedicated forty-two hours to these core tasks).

Studio musicians have this adage: ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’

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

I will argue that 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.

Chapter Five: The Power of Career Capital

The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. 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, 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.

When Feuer left her advertising career to start a yoga studio, not only did she discard the career capital acquired over many years in the marketing industry, but she transitioned into an unrelated field where she had almost no capital.

According to career capital theory, she therefore has very little leverage in her yoga-working life. It’s unlikely, therefore, that things will go well for Feuer—which, unfortunately, is exactly what ended up happening.

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.

Chapter Seven: Becoming a Craftsman

coined the term “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.

With this in mind, the first task in building a deliberate practice strategy is to figure out what type of career capital market you are competing in. Answering this question might seem obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to get it wrong.

He viewed the world through statistics and hoped that with the right combination of capital he could get them where he needed them to be to make money. The problem, however, is that blogging in the advice space—where his site existed—is not an auction market, it’s winner-take-all.

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

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. As any mathematician will admit, this stretching feels much different than applying a technique you’ve already mastered, which can be quite enjoyable.

If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, 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**.

Chapter Eight: The Dream-Job Elixir

The more time you spend reading the research literature, the more it becomes clear: Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment. It’s no wonder, then, that when you flip through your mental Rolodex of dream jobs, control is often at the core of their appeal.

Chapter Nine: The First Control Trap

The author Timothy Ferriss, who coined the term “lifestyle design,” is a fantastic example of the good things this approach to life can generate (Ferriss has more than enough career capital to back up his adventurous existence). But if you spend time browsing the blogs of lesser-known lifestyle designers, you’ll begin to notice the same red flags again and again: A distressingly large fraction of these contrarians, like Jane, skipped over the part where they build a stable means to support their unconventional lifestyle.

Chapter Ten: The Second Control Trap

In other words, in most jobs you should expect your employer to resist your move toward more control; they have every incentive to try to convince you to reinvest your career capital back into your career at their company, obtaining more money and prestige instead of more control, and this can be a hard argument to resist.

Chapter Eleven: Avoiding the Control Traps

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.

Chapter Thirteen: Missions Require Capital

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. If you want to identify a mission for your working life, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge—the only place where these missions become visible.

Similarly, identifying a compelling mission once you get to the cutting edge can be seen as investing your career capital to acquire a desirable trait in your career. In other words, mission is yet another example of career capital theory in action. If you want a mission, you need to first acquire capital.

Pardis Sabeti thought small by focusing patiently for years on a narrow niche (the genetics of diseases in Africa), but then acting big once she acquired enough capital to identify a mission (using computational genetics to help understand and fight ancient diseases).

Chapter Fourteen: Missions Require Little Bets

“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 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. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of choosing a bold plan and making one big bet on its success.

Here we discovered the importance of little bets. To maximize your chances of success, you should deploy small, concrete experiments that return concrete feedback.

Chapter Fifteen: Missions Require Marketing

He approached the task of finding good projects for his mission with the mindset of a marketer, systematically studying books on the subject to help identify why some ideas catch on while others fall flat. His marketing-centric approach is useful for anyone looking to wield mission as part of their quest for work they love.

You’re either remarkable or invisible,” says Seth Godin in his 2002 bestseller, Purple Cow.

When Giles read Godin’s book, he had an epiphany: For his mission to build a sustainable career, it had to produce purple cows, the type of remarkable projects that compel people to spread the word.

“The synthesis of Purple Cow and My Job Went to India is that the best way to market yourself as a programmer is to create remarkable open-source software. So I did.”

“I basically took Chad Fowler’s advice way too far and went to speak at almost every user group and conference that I could—at least fifteen in 2008,” Giles recalled.

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.


As I discovered, musicians, athletes, and chess players, among others, know all about deliberate practice, but knowledge workers do not. Most knowledge workers avoid the uncomfortable strain of deliberate practice like the plague, a reality emphasized by the typical cubicle dweller’s obsessive e-mail–checking habit—for what is this behavior if not an escape from work that’s more mentally demanding?

Soon after, your research efforts are expected to release themselves from your advisor’s orbit and follow a self-directed trajectory.** It’s here that if you’re not careful to keep pushing forward, your improvement can taper off to what the performance scientist Anders Ericsson called an “acceptable level,”** where you then remain stuck.

I deployed two types of structure. The first type was time structure: “I am going to work on this for one hour,” I would tell myself. “I don’t care if I faint from the effort, or make no progress, for the next hour this is my whole world.

The second type of structure I deployed was information structure—a way of capturing the results of my hard focus in a useful form. I started by building a proof map that captured the dependencies between the different pieces of the proof.

When you adopt a productivity mindset, however, deliberate practice-inducing tasks are often sidestepped, as the ambiguous path toward their completion, when combined with the discomfort of the mental strain they require, makes them an unpopular choice in scheduling decisions.

... law of financial viability, and described it as follows: “When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, ask yourself whether people are willing to pay you for it. If so, continue. If not, move on.

Here’s my rule: Every week, I expose myself to something new about my field. I can read a paper, attend a talk, or schedule a meeting.

To ensure that I really understand the new idea, I require myself to add a summary, in my own words, to my growing “research bible”

As you might recall, a little bet, in the setting of mission exploration, has the following characteristics: It’s a project small enough to be completed in less than a month.

It’s a project small enough to be completed in less than a month. It forces you to create new value (e.g., master a new skill and produce new results that didn’t exist before). It produces a concrete result that you can use to gather concrete feedback.