So Good They Can’t Ignore You

I recently finished reading and drafting a review of Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work, scheduled for publication in early January. Since I won’t post my review until publication is imminent, I decided to dip into his earlier work, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (Business Plus, 2012), which I can write about now, though I’ll be brief.

Newport debunks the passion hypothesis—that you should do what you’re passionate about because only then will you be happy in your job/career/calling. The problem, in a nutshell, is that for most people this hypothesis puts the cart before the horse. Passion is a side effect of mastery, not a precondition of it.

The craftsman mindset, Newport argues, is the foundation for creating work you love. The craftsman mindset focuses relentlessly on the value you’re producing in your job. By sorry contrast, the passion mindset focuses on the value that your job offers you. (The distinction is reminiscent of the famous words from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”) In the former case, the craftsman mindset, you’re the subject of the sentence and are acting; in the latter, the passion mindset, you’re the object and are being acted upon.

As Newport writes, “put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.” (p. 56)