Have you ever wondered why no matter what you do, no matter how productive you are, that you’re not getting ahead? Have you ever thought that while you’re good at what you do, you may not be at the level of being “so good they can’t ignore you”?
I remember when I first started my college education in 2007. I was an “older” student and felt that I was much more prepared to get back to school and make something of myself.
I didn’t know how to study, concentrate (on the right things), read effectively, and so on. I searched for better ways to get stuff done and came across sites like Lifehack, Lifehacker, 43 Folders, and a little site called Study Hacks. I took to Study Hacks because the author, Cal Newport, was into the same type of industry I was wanting to get into — and he offered a ton of good advice to make me more effective and productive in school.
Newport has taken his advice and research skills to the next level with his new book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
The basic premise of Newport’s book is that “skills trump passion” and that the age-old adage of “following your bliss”, quitting your job, and doing what you were destined to do, may not be the best advice. Newport argues that rather than try to find work that promotes what you are passionate about, we should try to build valuable skills that lead to “career capital” which will help us create our dream jobs and careers.
We are all told from a young age that we should “do what makes us happy” and that we should make sure that our jobs reflect who we are. Newport tries to disprove this thinking and then goes a step further explaining how it could be dangerous for some. Instead of chasing our dreams and following what we deem as our passion, we would be better served getting really good at something (develop our skills) and then offer our skills to people who deem them valuable.
This is one of my favorite ideas from the book — an idea that I’ll return to regularly. Newport suggests that to create a good career for ourselves we should adopt a “craftsman mindset” rather than a “passion mindset” that is suggested by the mainstream.
The craftsman mindset offers “clarity”. That is, we see the work in front of us and the skills that we need to get the job done. When we have this clarity it’s easier to know what to do.
The passion mindset is ambiguous and pushes us to discover deeper things within ourselves. Things like “Who am I?” and “what kind of job do I need to do to be a better person?” Many of us have no idea what these things are (the vast majority) so we end up chasing something that may not even exist in our current context. Rather than chase, we can develop skills.
The best way that Newport describes the two mindsets:
“The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you.”
By following a craftsman mindset Newport says we can develop “career capital”, which can be used as the foundation of creating work that we love.
After creating enough career capital and skill from using your craftsman mindset, Newport says the next thing that tends to happen is that we gain some control over our work, which is sort of like becoming a decision-maker (or even your own boss). While this is what many people dream their careers will eventually offer, there is a trap…a fine line that is associated with control.
First, Newport says that you can sort of jump into control to quickly. This tends to happen when you think you can start your own business, or make decisions, etc. without enough career capital to back you up. Basically, this is like not having enough experience.
Second, you can gain so much control that if you are in a more “traditional” job setting, your employer may force you back on a path that takes control away from you.
The way that Newport suggests to balance this control trap is by weighing what you are trying to do (start a business, trying to gain more control in your company) by weighing its financial viability. Basically, if people are willing to pay you enough to do something that requires more control, then it’s probably a good idea to seek it.
The idea of the So Good They Can’t Ignore You is something new and fresh that shows us quitting your job so you can start a business on a whim or because it is something you are “passionate” about probably isn’t the best idea.
But it goes further than that.
Newport’s book is a plan that can be followed and can be used to create your own career capital and control so you can live a life that is truly satisfying. Rather than wishing and hoping for something that may never come (like your “dream job”), you can instead hone your skills and master your craft at this very moment to create your dream job.
It’s nice to see someone approach this at a different, and possibly more realistic, angle than many of the career/self-help books do. Instead of finding out who you are, what makes you tick, and what is the perfect job for you, you can work your butt off and create all of that for yourself. This is refreshing and is truly motivating.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You lives up to its title: it is so good that it can’t be ignored.
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