December 29, 2016

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

Telling someone to follow their passion may potentially lead to a career riddled with confusion and angst.

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What’s it about?

Cal Newport looks at the passion hypothesis: that following your passion is what we all should do, arguing instead that job satisfaction comes through building up skills and then trading these for control. Along the way he introduces us to new concepts and mental models such as the craftsman mentality, career capital and control traps, illuminating the essential factors that make people satisfied with their job.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You:

  1. Passion is rare and dangerous. Few of us know what we are passionate about, often what we think will make us happy does not. There is a whole industry built up marketing the belief that courage is all you need in order to follow your passion. This can be dangerous if it means taking risks and forgoing the acquisition of education or skills that often lead to life-satisfaction.
  2. Craftsmen work with effort and clarity at what they do and any job can count as a craft. The craftsman mindset asks what can you do for the world, not what they world can do for you. It might be better to put aside your ideas of following your passion and become good at what you do. The craftsman approach can be the foundation on which you build a strong career.
  3. All good jobs seems to have three basic components. Creativity, Impact and Control. In short, we are most satisfied when we feel free to be creative, when we feel our work impacts and improves the lives of others and when we feel we are in control, with autonomy to work when, where and how we want to.
  4. In order to gain these three things we need to develop skills that are rare and valuable. By working with a craftsman mentality we can build up these skills. The better our skill-set the better our career capital and the more we can trade this capital for impact and autonomy.
  5. Deliberate practice is the key to building career capital through rare and valuable skills. Deliberate practice means 10,000 hours of practice, but with feedback built into it. It is stretching your ability to where it is uncomfortable and then receiving feedback.
  6. When you come to exchange your career capital for more control you will come across obstacles or control traps. Your employer will fight against your bid for more control. A bid for control can go wrong if you don’t have the capital to back it up.


Rule 1: The passion hypothesis is not just wrong, it’s also dangerous. 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: Regardless of how you feel right now, building a craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you can build a compelling career. Adopting a craftsman mindset first means passion follows.

Rule 3: Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

The 10,00 hour rule: The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

The phrase encaptures the idea that with deliberate practice you will build the skills necessary for a successful career and a successful career can be used to create missions. Missions can bring a unifying focus to a career and they focus energy toward a useful goal. They require career capital, little bets (which may or may not work out), and to be remarkable (i.e. worth remarking on).

Take Away Points and Context

  • While some people are able to locate a passion and follow it these cases are rare. For the vast majority of people there is no pre-ordained vocation or single pre-existing passion.
  • Most likely one of the core components of your ideal job will be the idea of control. Others will include impact and creativity. Acquire career capital and trade it for these things.
  • The craftsman mentality does not work in areas where: there are no opportunities to distinguish yourself, where your job focuses on things you think are useless or bad for the world, or where you are forced to work with people you dislike.


Full Article:

This is my own review of So Good Can’t Ignore You, for more on this topic and other subjects see, or see the book below.

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

by Cal Newport

Hatchet Book Group, 256 pp, $14.60.


So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Comments welcome below.

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