Book Review - So Good They Can't Ignore you

Book Details


Main summary in 3 lines - The advice of blindly follow your passion is not only overrated, but dangerous. Make yourself valuable. Use that leverage to gain more freedom and autonomy.

My Notes

Cal Newport main argument is “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. “

Newport suggests that instead of blindly following your passion, you should try to build valuable skills that lead to “career capital” which will help us create our dream jobs and careers.

Rule #1 Don’t follow your passion

“Passion Hypothesis” - Do what you love, and money will follow. Lot of self help books teaches the important of just following your passion. But there are 2 main challenges against this hypothesis, and 2 reasons why Cal dislikes this mindset.

The main challenges:

  1. The first is that “follow your passion” assumes that people have a pre-existing passion they can identify and use to make career decisions. However, most people have no idea what they want to do and can end up feeling lost.
  2. The second challenge is that even if you’ve a passion, you need to be good at something to do something with it (or make yourself good at something). Before one can chase passion, it is important to build the skills.

Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives. There are two reasons why Cal dislike the passion mindset:

  1. First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. This is especially true for entry-level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy—these come later. When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle.
  2. Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm. “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused, which probably explains why Bronson admits, not long into his career-seeker epic What Should I Do With My Life? that “the one feeling everyone in this book has experienced is of missing out on life

Cal gives an example of amateur photographers or bakers who open up businesses but end up facing extreme financial difficulty that leads to unhappiness. “That’s because having work that you love is a lot more complicated than, ‘Hey, I like this thing! If I do it for work, I’ll like my work!’” explains Newport.

Don’t follow your passion. Instead, “let your passion follow you, in your quest to become so good you can’t be ignored,” says Newport.

Rule #2 : Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Or, the Importance of Skill)


  • 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.
  • Becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital.

** Deliberate Practice** : To become “so good they can’t ignore you”, one needs to do deliberate practice - an approach to work where you deliberately stretch your abilities beyond where you’re comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance. Musicians, athletes, and chess players know all about deliberate practice. Knowledge workers, however, do not. This is great news for knowledge workers: If you can introduce this strategy into your working life you can vault past your peers in your acquisition of career capital.

Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control)

In previous rule, Newport discuss on how to acquire career capital. Your next step is to use your mastery to negotiate for more control in your job. “Once you’re really good at something, that by itself isn’t enough,” says Newport. “You have to use your skills as leverage to take control of your working life, whether through your work hours, vacation time, or projects.”

There are 2 main control traps one should be aware of :

  • The First Control Trap : Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.
  • The Second Control Trap : The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change.

The Law of Financial Viability 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.

Do what people are willing to pay for.

When it comes to decisions affecting your core career, money remains an effective judge of value.

In some cases, it literally means customers paying you money for a product or a service. But it can also mean getting approved for a loan, receiving an outside investment, or, more commonly, convincing an employer to either hire you or keep writing you paychecks. Once you adopt this flexible definition of “pay for it,” this law starts popping up all over.

Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big (Or, the Importance of Mission)

Usually this involves mastering a small field, and getting to the edge of it

“Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.”

“You’re either remarkable or invisible” - Seth Godin in Purple Cow


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