Book Review: So Good They Can't Ignore You - by Cal Newport


Really excellent career advice, particularly for people who’re just starting out, or for people who want to quit their job and follow their passion (spoiler - he doesn’t think it’s a good idea).

My notes

His central thesis that that people who love what they do, need to be really good at something. (A necessary but not sufficient condition)

The conventional wisdom on career success - follow your passion - is terrible advice. It’s not how most people who love their jobs got there and for many people, followinf the advice will make things worse.

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.

Passion is the outcome of a working life well lived. Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you

The strongest predictor of someone seeing their work as a calling is the number of years spent on the job. The more experience they have, the more likely they are to love their work.

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.

Motivation requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs:

  • 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
  • Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people

“Matching work to pre-existing ability, interests, passions, or personality” was not important for motivation.

Regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.

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?”).

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.

Do projects where you’ll be forced to show your work to others.

Winner-take-all or auction. (Diverse collection of skills, or one killer skill.) In an auction market, seek open gates: opportunities to build capital that are already open to you. Deliberate practice Look years into the future for the payoff. It’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you.

You have to get good before you can expect good work.

Do what people are willing to pay for.

The best way to market yourself as a programmer is to create remarkable open-source software.

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.