In a 2007 episode of the Charlie Rose Show, Rose asked comic Steve 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.’”
In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Georgetown University professor Cal Newport shares his insights on how people can use their skills to create a fulfilling and passionate career. The basic premise of Newport’s book is that “skills trump passion,” and that the age-old advice to follow your bliss – quitting your job and doing what you were destined to do – may not be the best advice. Rather than trying to find work that promotes what you are passionate about, Newport argues that you should try to build valuable skills that lead to “career capital.” This, in turn, helps you create your dream job and career. In other words, 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.
Passion Mindset vs. Craftsman Mindset
Newport suggests adopting a “craftsman mindset” rather than a “passion mindset” when trying to develop a career. The passion mindset pushes us to discover deeper things within ourselves, but it’s ambiguous.
Rather than chasing dreams, we need to develop skills. The craftsman mindset offers clarity. We see the work in front of us and the skills that we need to get the job done. When we have this clarity, it’s easier to know what to do. As Newport says: “The first [step] is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you.”
The third step toward career fulfillment is finding your mission. “The most important thing to recognize is that you don’t just start with the mission and go off and pursue it,” says Newport. “If you study people who actually have meaningful missions in their life, they start by getting really good in their field at first.” A life mission can be compared to a scientific breakthrough – in order to innovate at the very cutting edge of your field, you must first spend time acquiring the knowledge and experience to be at the cutting edge. Only when you are so good they can’t ignore you can you identify a real, sustainable, impactful mission.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You is so good it can’t be ignored.