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So Good They Can’t Ignore You Book Summary, Review, Notes

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport is a book on why you shouldn’t follow your passion, but build your skills and career capital and the passion will follow. 


When you become a master at something, you will start feeling passionate about it. And as Steve Jobs said, “It’s not do what you love, it’s love what you do.”


Book Title: So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
Author: Cal Newport
Date of Reading: November 2018
Rating: 8/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:

So Good They Can’t Ignore You has a simple premise: Is the best life advice really to follow your passion? And Cal Newport debunks that in a simple, four-part framework. Each part is titled as a rule and the rules have a couple of chapters each where they explain the details of it.

Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion

The first part debunks the passion hypothesis and explains why advice “follow your passion” can actually be a dangerous one. The chapters here are:

The “Passion” of Steve Jobs

Passion Is Rare

Passion Is Dangerous

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

The second part explains what you need to do instead of following your passion: building your skillset. Newport calls this “building your career capital,” a set of skills that’s almost impossible to replicate and it’s extremely valuable. The chapters here are:

The Clarity of the Craftsman

The Power of Career Capital

The Career Capitalists

Becoming a Craftsman

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

The third part provides the two important decisions when it comes to control. The first one is about having control, but no skills to make that control work—that’s a big no-no. 

First, build your skillset and become almost irreplaceable. The second decision is when you become the craftsman at what you do and need to decline opportunities from your employer. They want you to stay because you’re so irreplaceable, but that’s exactly the moment when you need to leave. The chapters here are:

The Dream-Job Elixir

The First Control Trap

The Second Control Trap

Avoiding the Control Traps

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

The last part is about building a meaningful life by working on your mission (what you can provide to the world). To do that, you will need career capital (skills), little bets (projects that implement your mission), and marketing (a platform where people can be influenced by your mission). The chapters here are:

The Meaningful Life of Pardis Sabeti

Missions Require Capital

Missions Require Little Bets

Missions Require Marketing


Newport also added a part where he showed how he implemented all four rules that he talked about in the book:

How I Applied Rule #1

How I Applied Rule #2

How I Applied Rule #3

How I Applied Rule #4

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:


“Thomas’s problems began with the koans. A koan, in the Zen tradition, is a word puzzle, often presented as a story or a question. They’re meant to defy logical answers and therefore force you to access a more intuitive understanding of reality. 

In explaining the concept to me, Thomas gave the following example, which he had encountered early in his practice: “Show me an immovable tree in a heavy wind.”

“He had reached the zenith of his passion—he could now properly call himself a Zen practitioner —and yet, he was not experiencing the undiluted peace and happiness that had populated his daydreams.

“The reality was, nothing had changed. I was exactly the same person, with the same worries and anxieties. It was late on a Sunday afternoon when I came to this realization, and I just started crying.” 

Thomas had followed his passion to the Zen Mountain Monastery, believing, as many do, that the key to happiness is identifying your true calling and then chasing after it with all the courage you can muster. But as Thomas experienced that late Sunday afternoon in the oak forest, this belief is frighteningly naïve. 

Fulfilling his dream to become a full-time Zen practitioner did not magically make his life wonderful. As Thomas discovered, the path to happiness—at least as it concerns what you do for a living—is more complicated than simply answering the classic question “What should I do with my life?”

“This was the backdrop against which I launched what I eventually began to refer to as “my quest.” My question was clear: How do people end up loving what they do? And I needed an answer. This book documents what I discovered in my search.” 

“With this as a starting point, I begin with Rule #1, in which I tear down the supremacy of this passion hypothesis. 

But I don’t stop there. My quest pushed me beyond identifying what doesn’t work, insisting that I also answer the following: If “follow your passion” is bad advice, what should I do instead? My search for this answer, described in Rules #2-4, brought me to unexpected places.”

“Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, “so good that they can’t ignore you.”

“We’ll also return to Thomas, who after his dispiriting realization at the monastery was able to return to his first principles, move his focus away from finding the right work and toward working right, and eventually build, for the first time in his life, a love for what he does. This is the happiness that you, too, should demand”

Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion 

The “Passion” of Steve Jobs

“The Passion Hypothesis: The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.”

“Do What Steve Jobs Did, Not What He Said”

“the early 1970s, returned home to California, where he moved back in with his parents and talked himself into a night-shift job at Atari. (The company had caught his attention with an ad in the San Jose Mercury News that read, “Have fun and make money.”)” 

“I tell this story because these are hardly the actions of someone passionate about technology and entrepreneurship, yet this was less than a year before Jobs started Apple Computer. 

In other words, in the months leading up to the start of his visionary company, Steve Jobs was something of a conflicted young man, seeking spiritual enlightenment and dabbling in electronics only when it promised to earn him quick cash.” 

“Jobs pitched Wozniak the idea of designing one of these kit computer circuit boards so they could sell them to local hobbyists. The initial plan was to make the boards for $25 apiece and sell them for $50. 

Jobs wanted to sell one hundred, total, which, after removing the costs of printing the boards, and a $1,500 fee for the initial board design, would leave them with a nice $1,000 profit. Neither Wozniak nor Jobs left their regular jobs: This was strictly a low-risk venture meant for their free time.” 

“I don’t doubt that Jobs eventually grew passionate about his work: If you’ve watched one of his famous keynote addresses, you’ve seen a man who obviously loved what he did. But so what? All that tells us is that it’s good to enjoy what you do”

Passion Is Rare

“In the movies there’s this idea that you should just go for your dream,” Glass tells them. “But I don’t believe that. Things happen in stages.”

”The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,” he says.” 

“point: Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.”

“Wrzesniewski looked at a group of employees who all had the same position and nearly identical work responsibilities: college administrative assistants. 

She found, to her admitted surprise, that these employees were roughly evenly split between seeing their position as a job, a career, or a calling.”

“But Wrzesniewski wasn’t done. She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. 

In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.” 

“If you have many years’ experience, then you’ve had time to get better at what you do and develop a feeling of efficacy. It also gives you time to develop strong relationships with your coworkers and to see many examples of your work benefiting others. 

What’s important here, however, is that this explanation, though reasonable, contradicts the passion hypothesis, which instead emphasizes the immediate happiness that comes from matching your job to a true passion.” 

Passion Is Dangerous

“I disagree. The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. 

The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self doubt.”

“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.”

“Here’s a case where someone successfully followed their passion,” they say, “therefore ‘follow your passion’ must be good advice.” This is faulty logic. Observing a few instances of a strategy working does not make it universally effective.”

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

The Clarity of the Craftsman

“asks Martin his advice for aspiring performers. “Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’… but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

“It took Martin, by his own estimation, ten years for his new act to cohere, but when it did, he became a monster success. It’s clear in his telling that there was no real shortcut to his eventual fame. 

“[Eventually] you are so experienced [that] there’s a confidence that comes out,” Martin explained. “I think it’s something the audience smells.”

“Listening to Tice talk about his routine, I was struck by his Martin-esque focus on what he produces. As you’ll recall, he’s happy to spend hours every day, week after week, in a barely furnished monastic room, exhausting himself in pursuit of a new flat-picking technique, all because he thinks it will add something important to the tune he’s writing. 

This dedication to output, I realized, also explains his painful modesty. To Jordan, arrogance doesn’t make sense. “Here’s what I respect: creating something meaningful and then presenting it to the world,” he explained.” 

Cal Newport Quote

“obsessive focus on the quality of what you produce is the rule in professional music. “It trumps your appearance, your equipment, your personality, and your connections,” he explained. 

“Studio musicians have this adage: ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’ Immediately after the recording comes the playback; your ability has no hiding place.”

“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.” 

“No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.” 

“Fighting this cloud is an ongoing battle. Along these lines, Steve Martin was so unsure during his decade-long dedication to improving his routine that he regularly suffered crippling anxiety attacks. 

The source of these performers’ craftsman mindset is not some unquestionable inner passion, but instead something more pragmatic: It’s what works in the entertainment business. As Mark Casstevens put it, “the tape doesn’t lie”:”

The Power of Career Capital

“Basic economic theory tells us that if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return—this is Supply and Demand 101.” 

“All of us who do creative work… you get into this thing, and there’s like a ‘gap.’ What you’re making isn’t so good, okay?… It’s trying to be good but… it’s just not that great,” he explained in an interview about his career.

“The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,”

“This is not some philosophical debate on the existence of passion or the value of hard work—I’m being intensely pragmatic: You need to get good in order to get good things in your working life, and the craftsman mindset is focused on achieving exactly this goal.” 

“The downside of the passion mindset is that it strips away merit. For passion proponents like Slim, launching a freelance career that gives you control, creativity, and impact is easy—it’s just the act of getting started that trips us up. 

Career capital theory disagrees. It tells us that great work doesn’t just require great courage, but also skills of great (and real) value.” 

“As the recession hit in 2008, Feuer’s business struggled. One of the gyms where she taught closed. Then two classes she offered at a local public high school were dropped, and with the tightening economy, demands for private lessons diminished. 

In 2009, when she was profiled for the Times, she was on track to make only $15,000 for the year. Toward the conclusion of the profile, Feuer sends the reporter a text message: “I’m at the food stamp office now, waiting.” It’s signed: “Sent from my iPhone.”

“THREE DISQUALIFIERS FOR APPLYING THE CRAFTSMAN MINDSET 1. The Job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. 2. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world. 3. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.” 

“If it satisfies the first trait, skill growth isn’t possible. If it satisfies the second two traits, then even though you could build up reserves of career capital, you’ll have a hard time sticking around long enough to accomplish this goal. John’s job satisfied the first two traits, so he needed to leave.” 

The Career Capitalists

“To provide a sense of the competitiveness of this process, Jamie sent me a copy of his script evaluations. Out of the hundred or so writers who submitted scripts, all but fourteen sent a script that had already been produced and aired on television. 

Of the fourteen who had not yet broken into the industry, the highest score any received from Jamie was a 6.5 out of 10.” 

“In other words, getting on the inside in the world of television writing is daunting. But at the same time, I can understand why so many thousands aspire to this goal: It’s a fantastic job. For one thing, there’s the money. As a new writer, your salary starts modest. 

The Writer’s Guild of America guarantees that you make at least $2,500 a week, which, given a standard twenty-six week season, is decent for half a year of work. 

Depending on the success of the series, you’ll then progress after a year or two to become a story editor, where, as a longtime TV writer explained in a article on the topic, “you’re still making shit” (though, as another writer admitted, “shit” at this point qualifies as over $10,000 an episode). 

Things start to get interesting when you make it to the next level: producer. Once there, “you’re in the money.” Top writers can pull in seven figure paychecks

In the article referenced above, the term “kabillionaire” was used by multiple people to describe the salaries of producers on long-running shows.” 

“But the difference between Wall Street and Hollywood in the style of work is staggering. Imagine: no e-mail, no late-night contract negotiations, no need to master intricate bond markets or legal precedents. As a writer your whole focus is on one thing: telling good stories. 

The work can be intense, as you’re often under deadline to deliver the next script, but it only lasts half a year, and it’s immensely creative, and you can wear shorts, and the catered food, as was emphasized to me several times, is fantastic. (“Writers are crazy about their food,” one source explained.)”


Becoming a Craftsman

“By the time I graduated high school I could play from a repertoire of hundreds of songs, ranging from Green Day to Pink Floyd. 

In other words, I had reached the level of expertise you would expect from someone who had played an instrument seriously for the last six years. But this is what I find fascinating: Compared to Jordan Tice’s ability at this same age, I was mediocre.” 

“Watching Jordan’s current practice regime, these traits—strain and feedback—remain central.” 

”I develop muscle memory the hard way, by repetition,” he said, echoing Jordan’s long, skin stretching practice sessions. “The harder I work, the more relaxed I can play, and the better it sounds.”” 

“Previous studies had shown it takes around ten years, at minimum, to become a grand master. (As the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson likes to point out, even prodigies like Bobby Fisher managed to fit in ten years of playing before they achieved international recognition: He just started this accumulation earlier than most.) 

This is the “ten-year rule,” sometimes called the “10,000-hour rule,” which has been bouncing around scientific circles since the 1970s, but was popularized more recently by Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling 2008 book, Outliers.” 

“The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level.” 

”When experts exhibit their superior performance in public their behavior looks so effortless and natural that we are tempted to attribute it to special talents,” Ericsson notes. “However, when scientists began measuring the experts’ supposedly superior powers… no general superiority was found.”

“if you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.” 

“There are two types of these markets: winner-take all and auction.” 

“An auction market, by contrast, is less structured: There are many different types of career capital, and each person might generate a unique collection. 

The cleantech space is an auction market. Mike Jackson’s capital, for example, included expertise in renewable energy markets and entrepreneurship, but there are a variety of other types of relevant skills that also could have led to a job in this field.” 

“a winner-take-all market, this is trivial: By definition, there’s only one type of capital that matters. For an auction market, however, you have flexibility. A useful heuristic in this situation is to seek open gates—opportunities to build capital that are already open to you.” 

Cal Newport Quote 2

“Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. 

That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.” 

“If you show up and do what you’re told, you will, as Anders Ericsson explained earlier in this chapter, reach an “acceptable level” of ability before plateauing. 

The good news about deliberate practice is that it will push you past the plateau and into a realm where you have little competition. The bad news is that the reason so few people accomplish this feat is exactly because of the trait Colvin warned us about: Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.” 

“This is what you should experience in your own pursuit of “good.” If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

“What’s interesting is that Martin redefines the word so that it’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you.” 

“This is why Martin’s diligence is so important: Without this patient willingness to reject shiny new pursuits, you’ll derail your efforts before you acquire the capital you need. 

I think the image of Martin returning to his banjo, day after day, for forty years, is poignant. It captures well the feel of how career capital is actually acquired: You stretch yourself, day after day, month after month, before finally looking up and realizing, “Hey, I’ve become pretty good, and people are starting to notice.”

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

The Dream-Job Elixir

“Dan Pink’s 2009 bestselling book Drive, for example, reviews the dizzying array of different ways that control has been found to improve people’s lives. As Pink summarizes the literature, more control leads to better grades, better sports performance, better productivity, and more happiness.” 

“Results-Only Work Environment (or, ROWE, for short). In a ROWE company, all that matters is your results. When you show up to work and when you leave, when you take vacations, and how often you check e-mail are all irrelevant.”

“The more time you spend reading the research literature, the more it becomes clear: Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment. It’s no wonder, then, that when you flip through your mental Rolodex of dream jobs, control is often at the core of their appeal.” 

The First Control Trap

“To finance this adventurous life, her plan calls, vaguely, for her to “build a set of low-maintenance websites that recurrently earn enough to support the pursuits on this list.” 

Her goal was to get this revenue up to $3,000 a month, which she calculated to be enough to handle her basic expenses. Eventually, she planned to leverage these experiences to “develop a non-profit to develop my vision of health, human potential, and a life well-lived.”

“The First Control Trap Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.”

courage to pursue control is what matters, while everything else is just a detail that is easily worked out.”

“If you embrace control without capital, you’re likely to end up like Jane, Lisa, or our poor frustrated lifestyle designer—enjoying all the autonomy you can handle but unable to afford your next meal.” 

The Second Control Trap

“Lulu repeatedly fought to gain more freedom in her working life, sometimes to the shock or dismay of her employers or friends. “People tell me that I don’t do things the way other people do,” Lulu said. “But I tell them, ‘I’m not other people.’” 

“By the time this company was acquired in 2001, Lulu was the head software developer. Given this career capital, when she began to chafe at the new owner’s regulations—a dress code, for example, plus insisting that all employees work between the hours of nine and five—she was able to demand (and receive) three months’ leave. 

“There will be no way for you to contact me during this period,” she told her new bosses. The leave, it turned out, was also an excuse to train her staff to work without her. 

Soon after her leave ended, Lulu left and, in a bid for even more control, became a freelance software developer. At this point her skills were so valuable that finding clients was no problem.”

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.”

Avoiding the Control Traps

Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.”

“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.” 

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

The Meaningful Life of Pardis Sabeti

“In short, I wanted an answer to an important question: How do you make mission a reality in your working life?”

Missions Require Capital

“In his engaging 2010 book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson explains that such “multiples” are frequent in the history of science. Consider the discovery of sunspots in 1611: As Johnson notes, four scientists, from four different countries, all identified the phenomenon during that same year. 

The first electrical battery? Invented twice in the mid eighteenth century. Oxygen? Isolated independently in 1772 and 1774. 

In one study cited by Johnson, researchers from Columbia University found just shy of 150 different examples of prominent scientific breakthroughs made by multiple researchers at near the same time.”

“In hindsight, these observations are obvious. If life transforming missions could be found with just a little navelgazing and an optimistic attitude, changing the world would be commonplace. 

But it’s not commonplace; it’s instead quite rare. This rareness, we now understand, is because these breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge, and this is hard—the type of hardness that most of us try to avoid in our working lives.”

”I think you do need passion to be happy,” Pardis Sabeti told me. At first this sounds like she’s supporting the passion hypothesis that I debunked in Rule #1. But then she elaborated: “It’s just that we don’t know what that passion is. 

If you ask someone, they’ll tell you what they think they’re passionate about, but they probably have it wrong.” In other words, she believes that having passion for your work is vital, but she also believes that it’s a fool’s errand to try to figure out in advance what work will lead to this passion.”

“Think Small, Act Big.” It’s in this understanding of career capital and its role in mission that we get our explanation for this title. 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.” 

Missions Require Little Bets

“And I’m not alone in this reluctance to act. Many people have lots of career capital, and can therefore identify a variety of different potential missions for their work, but few actually build their career around such missions. 

It seems, therefore, that there’s more to this career tactic than simply getting to the cutting edge. Once you have the capital required to identify a mission, you must still figure out how to put the mission into practice.”

“On a Sunday morning, not long after hearing the call about the Knights Templar treasure, Kirk gathered a cameraman and soundman, and headed out to Pittsburgh to investigate the claim. 

“He was the coolest guy,” Kirk recalls. “He had crazy ideas, but he was fun to talk to. We hung out all day, and had some beers, and chatted.” The “treasure,” it turns out, was just some old deer bones and railroad spikes found in a gravel pit, but the experience was invigorating for Kirk. 

It also turned out to be more consequential than he could ever have guessed.”

“The production company loved the idea and they loved Kirk. They refilmed his visit to the Templars’ treasure site and sent the tape to the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. 

The latter agreed to finance a pilot, but the former said, “Screw a pilot, let’s film eight episodes.” When they asked Kirk about a cohost, he had only one name to offer, his good friend Jason De León, who had also recently graduated Penn State and had just started as an assistant professor at Michigan. 

They both arranged for the Discovery Channel to buy out their teaching obligations for the following fall, and then hit the road to film the first season of what would become American Treasures.” 

Cal Newport Quote 3

“to host a television show and then work backward to make that dream a reality. Instead, he worked forward from his original mission—to popularize archaeology—with a series of small, almost tentative steps.”

“As I was struggling to make sense of Kirk’s story, I stumbled across a new business book that had been making waves. It was titled Little Bets, and it was written by a former venture capitalist named Peter Sims. 

When Sims studied a variety of successful innovators, from Steve Jobs to Chris Rock to Frank Gehry, as well as innovative companies, such as Amazon and Pixar, he found a strategy common to all. 

“Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance,” he writes, “they make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins” [emphasis mine]. 

This rapid and frequent feedback, Sims argues, “allows them to find unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.”

Missions Require Marketing

“The speed with which Giles bounces from opportunity to opportunity might seem disorienting, but this lifestyle is a perfect match for his hyperkinetic personality. 

One of Giles’s favorite presentation techniques, for example, is to begin talking faster and faster, accompanying his speech with a rapid series of slides, each featuring a single keyword that flashes on the screen at the exact moment that he utters the term—the oratorical equivalent of a caffeine rush.

 In other words, he used his capital to build a career custom-fit to his personality, which is why he now loves his working life” 

“In more detail, Giles committed himself to the mission of bringing together the worlds of art and Ruby programming. 

He made good on this commitment when he released Archaeopteryx, an open-source artificial intelligence program that writes and plays its own dance music.” 

“He decided that a good mission for him would somehow combine the artistic and technical sides of his life, but he didn’t know how to make this general idea into a moneymaking reality,so he went searching for answers. He found what he was looking for in an unlikely pair of books.” 

”At this point I basically just put two and two together,” Giles told me. “The synthesis of Purple Cow and My Job Went to India is that the best way to market yourself as a programmer is to create remarkable open-source software. So I did.”

“The Law of Remarkability: For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.” 


“I turned down a pair of interviews that had been scheduled for later in the spring and accepted the Georgetown offer. My career die had been cast: I was going to be a professor. It was the second week of March when I formally took myself off the market.”

Final Thoughts: Working Right Trumps Finding the Right Work

“This book opened with the story of Thomas, who believed that the key to happiness is to follow your passion. True to this conviction, he followed his passion for Zen practice to a remote monastery in the Catskill Mountains. Once there, he applied” 

“Almost ten years later, I met Thomas at a coffee shop not far from my building at MIT. He was working in Germany at the time and was visiting Boston for a conference. 

Thomas is tall and slim with close-cropped hair. He wears the thin-framed square glasses that seem to be mandatory issue among European Knowledge workers. As we sat and sipped coffee, Thomas filled me in on his life after his Zen crisis.”

“This new focus, and the output it produced, was appreciated by management. Nine months into his job he was promoted. Then he was promoted again. And then again! 

Within two years he had moved from a lowly data-entry position to being put in charge of a computer system that managed over $6 billion of investment assets.” 

“I think it’s fitting to end on Thomas’s story, as it sums up the message at the core of this book: Working right trumps finding the right work—” 

“Then replace this with the image of the smiling, confident, value-focused man who ten years later joined me for coffee—the version of Thomas who looked at me at one point in our conversation and remarked, without irony, “Life is good.”

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

So Good They Can’t Ignore You is truly a remarkable book. Newport uses research, personal anecdotes, and interviews to back up his claim that you should build a skillset instead of following your passion. 

And looking at the world today, I think he is right. Building a skillset takes time, effort, and strain— something that millennials and Gen Z are not used to. I love books like this that tell you there’s isn’t a shortcut. And the fastest way to achieve wealth and success is the slowest way— just do the work.

Rating: 8/10

This Book Is For (Recommend):

  • An aspiring entrepreneur who wants to build easy to maintain passive income
  • A young hustler who wants to build the career ladder at a major corporation
  • A creative person who wants to learn how to strive, instead of making ends meet

If You Want To Learn More

Here’s Cal Newport talking about his book at Google.
Google Talks

How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book

The book laid out four rules to follow:

The first one was to start working and building your skillset and passion would follow. I did that with writing and reading books (even though those I hated those two activities).

The second one was to become a master craftsman at what I do so I put myself on the path of becoming a writer, honing my skills day in, day out. In two years, I wrote more than 600 000 words by doing a daily deliberate practice of 500 words.

The third rule has two facets: the first one is the problem of having control without capital. I fell into this trap and tried becoming a freelance writer out of the blue. It took me three years to start getting enough money to move from my parents’ place. 

But the second facet of having control where people want to employ me— this is where I stood my ground. Multiple clients tried to hire me full time and take control of my time, but I turned them all down.

The fourth rule is about getting to the cutting edge of your expertise and then crafting your mission and building small projects to help you achieve that mission. Well, I’m currently making one of those small bets with— I’ll let you know how that works out in a couple of years. 🙂

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

Take a look at the four rules above and see which one you need to apply right now in your life. 

Maybe you need to build a new skillset, or you just need to keep grinding it out, or you have the expertise needed and now need to transform that into a project that will make your mission a reality. Whatever it is you have to do, you have enough strength to do it so go for it!

So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport Summary Infographic