So Good They Can’t Ignore You
Follow your passion is common advice, even today. The idea is you find something you are passionate about, then find a career that matches that. This sound good but it not actionable; following your passion is a why but not a how. Passion is about what you want and why you do it, but it’s not what other people trade prestige, money, and great jobs for. If you want a good career that you are successful in and you enjoy doing, don’t focus on your passion. Instead focus on becoming good at your job. Develop a skillset that is unique as possible and is in demand. Realize early that passion doesn’t come out of thin air, but is often a result of the skills you have been building over the course of years. Not the other way around.
So instead of focusing on passion, focus on becoming good at all you do. Your skillsets, connections, and reputations are called your career capital. And you can convert this career capital into control over your career, interesting work, and financial success. But to have career capital you must become skilled, and this skill and expertise comes from hours spent specifically pushing your limits and doing focused practice.
Jobs that are good are rare, self employed jobs that are good are rarer, so the key to having a fulfilling career is to have something valuable to offer in return. Building your career journey to focus on being able to maximize the value you can provide is what will give the good life. And be patient, being an expert like this takes time and if you try to launch into your passions without building the skills to back it up first, you might find people unwilling to give you anything for what you have to offer.
Everything there is right in the title. Be so good they can’t ignore you. Being good at what you do enables you to take advantage of once in a lifetime opportunities, and interesting things in the world need the most skilled people they can get. That could be you.
That’s the truth of it. That’s what I got out of the book, and that’s what it had to say. The most important and most core idea the book has to communicate is derivable right from the title. The distilled theme of this book is to git good.
Cal Newport wrote a good book, by the way. I would recommend it. The style doesn’t get in the way, and it’s not too dry. I like the stories that Cal uses to illustrate his points. The ideas he has (and it is a bit more than my quick summary) are good, and he communicates them well. If the ideas seem pretty obvious, well he is pushing back against another seemingly obvious idea in our culture (“Follow your passion“). While I don’t think I left anything vastly important out of my summary, you’ll get a lot more out of reading the book than my three little introductory paragraphs. That’s because there’s a bit more than the actual book’s content to talk about.
For me, though, So Good They Can’t Ignore You is a self help title. Specifically, it’s written to the reader directly as to be something actionable in their life, rather than going over broadly what careers are possible and what kind of personalities land in what careers, which would be a more objective book in a very different genre. And it being a self help book was good! I was looking to read one. I got something out of it for sure! I will say though. Speaking for me personally, at this point in my life, self help books are something of a commodity.
Reading a book in this genre is kind of like smoking pot. Or winding down with a drink. The thing is, SGTCIY took time for me to read. Not a lot, probably a little north of three hours, but that was time sent thinking about what it had to say, and thinking about me thinking about what it had to say. My thoughts were spent on “hey, what can I do to become so good?“ Good self help books are all about getting you into this mental state. I mean, “become good at what you do“ is important advice, and obvious advice, but no one is going to change their lives just because they read this sentence. Instead, I spent a few hours immersed in this soup of ideas.
I find it’s good to read about one of these books a year. There are two kinds of self help books, I find. There are bad ones, which give you nothing, and good ones, which are all about equally good for you to read. “How can I be better at my life?” Is an evergreen question, but I think taking some time to meditate on that every so often is worth it.
But they are commodities. In the details, the lessons these books teach become interchangeable. You can do self improvement only so much in a period of time (its not technical work in the same way making your way through Cracking the Coding Interview or a textbook is). It’s like a workout; it doesn’t matter for the beginner what routine you choose, just that you stick with it. Similar for these -any self help book will get you into a useful mindset, even if what you wind up changing is unrelated or abstracted from the actual book.
So this is a good book, worth and afternoon for sure.