Book Review: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

“Follow your passion and the money will come.”  How many people have been given this advice when deciding what to study in school, whether to take a job, and whether to quit a job to do something else?  It turns out that it’s terrible advice.

That’s the thesis of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love,” by Cal Newport. The title comes from a quote by Steve Martin, that the secret to success is getting so good that they can’t ignore you.  It’s advice that’s simple, but difficult, which is why most people don’t want to take it.

The book examines the passion hypothesis and finds it lacking.  It turns out that the passions people have seldom correspond to a career.  It is true that people who are passionate love what they do, but that passion is developed over time through success.

Newport suggests building “career capital” by developing skills in your current work through deliberate practice.  That career capital can then be leveraged into work with more control, which is linked to job satisfaction.

At the end of the book, the author walks through the example of his own career path to an assistant professorship at Georgetown as an example of how the principles can be applied in practice.

It’s a good read about how to focus energy away from daydreaming about other careers or the traditional “What Color Is Your Parachute?” type of career advice.

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