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

What Is The Main Point Of This Book?

“Follow your passion” is bad advice.

Instead, you should develop skills that are rare and valuable. Great work will follow, and you’ll be able to find solid job opportunities.

What Does This Book Share That Similar books Do Not?

This is a very different read compared to a lot of career advice guides. A lot of them are very internal looking, saying you need to find your passion. This means sitting down in an isolated room and doing a bunch of introspection, thinking, and self-work. You need to decide what it is you’d like, and go find a job that matches that. This book, however, is very, very different. It has basically four rules, which I’ll briefly explain below:

Rule 1. Don’t follow your passion. It’s likely to lead to perennial job hopping and builds up false expectations. For example, if you think your passion is journalism, and you get a job at a newspaper and you’re not instantly in love with that job, you’re going to be a little bit disheartened. You thought it was your passion and you’d love it, which is very rare in the real world.

Rule 2. Be so good they can’t ignore you. This is a quote Newport took from Steve Martin, the stand-up comedian. Basically, he means that dedicating your career to doing the very best in your craft will inevitably allow good opportunities to fall your way. There’s always good opportunities for the people who are very, very good at rare and valuable skills.

Rule 3. Turn down a promotion. Instead of simply seeking to cash in the career capital you’ve built by developing rare and valuable skills (through promotions that often involve more work, more responsibility, and longer hours), you should look for control over your time and work. This will give you the flexibility to do and pursue projects of interest to you. If you become very good at one particular skillset, rather than get a promotion at your company, it might be better to freelance and work on your own projects. Start a company yourself, be a consultant, or something along those lines.

Rule 4. Think small, act big. When you get very, very good at your skill or in your field, you will be able to pick the kind of work you do. You should, piece-by-piece, move towards a particular mission in your career that you find  really inspiring, invigorating, and energizing.

Who Should Read This Book?

  • People in the early stages of their career.
  • People who aren’t sure exactly what they want to do, have trouble focusing on one particular career path, or want to change their job.
  • Millennials who are rushing into their career.

Who Should NOT Read This Book?

  • Those who are have a great job that they love.
  • Those who already succeed as really high performers.
  • People who are already going to start a new company.
  • Individuals who strongly believe that ‘follow your passion’ is the #1 rule in life, and refuse to ever change or have that view challenged. After reading this book, you will believe that ‘follow your passion’ is bad advice.

What Skills Will This Book Help You Develop?

  • You won’t be taught any specific skills. Rather, it will inform you on how to think about your career: the skills and experience that you want to develop.
  • How to think about your career at a macro level. Not thinking, “What should I do today, tomorrow, next week, or the week after?” Instead, it teaches you how think about your career in broad strokes, identifying the important things you should be working towards.

What Part Of The Book Was Most illustrative Or Memorable?

There’s a great example in the very first and the very last chapter of a guy who was working  in a corporate IT job for a big financial services company. He decided that wasn’t his passion any more. What he was really passionate about was Buddhism. So he quit his job and joined a Zen Buddhist monastery in the mountains. He was there for a few years, and then he realized, “This sucks. This is boring and I’ve done all I’m doing here. I’m not learning anything. I don’t really like it.”

He actually went back to his old corporate job and dedicated himself to becoming fantastic in that job. After a few years, he moved up a couple of times in his company. He was offered a really good pay raise, and now he’s working on really interesting projects, leading a great team. He’s now really satisfied with his job. All it took was a change in perception about how he was thinking about his career.

If You Only Have 10 Minutes, Which Part Should You Read?

Rule 2 is key. Newport talks about the idea of being a career craftsman and developing career capital. He essentially means becoming very, very, very good at a rare and valuable skill. After reading that, you’ll appreciate that this takes time. It’s not easy, but it’s something that very few people actually take the time and effort to do.

Everybody wants to be a star, but no one wants to do the work. This book teaches you to slow down a little bit. It’s a long journey, but get very good at something. It will develop career capital and later down the line, you’ll be able to trade that career capital for money, prestige, freedom, flexibility, interesting projects, and so on and so forth.