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Bucking the common “pursue your passion” mindset, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is all about shedding that mindset and embracing an older school one: It’s more about what you can offer your career than what your career can offer you.
The basis of the book is this (and I am quoting directly from the Introduction:
The conventional wisdom on career success–follow your passion–is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people actually end up with compelling careers, but for many people it can actually make things worse: leading to chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst when…one’s reality inevitably falls short of the dream.(xviii)
As a product of the “pursue your passion” generation, this hits home. From a relatively young age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. That was what all the personality tests told me I would be good at and I was lucky enough to have some really great teachers as role models. So I went to school, got my English degree, got my Masters in Secondary Education, and got a job as a high school English teacher because that was my passion–to teach the children. Fast forward to just one year in the classroom, and I was done.
This book sort of showed me why: I was expecting the job to offer me fulfillment simply based on the passion I thought I had. I did not necessarily have much, other than a degree, to offer to the job itself.
The “craftsman mindset” is the alternative that Newport offers when discussing what ignites a fulfilling career. One of the most poignant lines in the book was: “No one owes you a great career.” And I think that’s something that a lot of people need to hear, myself included. He states that creativity, the amount of impact, and control are the three components that make up a fulfilling career. But when told to pursue passion above all else, only to be stuck in an entry-level job to begin with…well, that’s a recipe for disaster, discontent, and probably a whole lot of job hopping.
Instead of finding passion first, he encourages the reader to pursue what’s called “career capital.” Career capital is defined as “the skills you have that are rare and valuable to the working world; the key currency for creating work you love.” Essentially, if you want that career that is so fulfilling, the one that everyone wants but not many have, then you need to possess a rare and valuable skill that not many have. This career capital can be pursued and obtained in many ways–research within your field, practice within your craft, etc. That capital, though, is not required by your employer. It is above and beyond what they ask of you in order to be at the forefront of your field. This can eventually be leveraged to ascertain more control within your job…keep reading!
Deliberate practice is pretty much what it sounds like. Investing hours of time to gain that coveted career capital comes from deliberate practice. Newport notes multiple examples of professionals who incorporate deliberate practice into their everyday routines. One practices his guitar chords for hours at a time; another dedicates a specific amount of time per day/week just to read research articles in his field of study. But the kicker is–they don’t stop once they get good. Deliberate practice is a lifelong process and priority.
With deliberate practice leading to valuable career capital, one can take that career capital and exchange it for control. That control allows for creativity and ultimately impact in the field. Remember, creativity, impact, and control are the main three factors in finding that fulfilling career that everyone wants! Newport advises against some control “traps” throughout the text. One of those traps is trying to leverage your career capital too soon, before it’s matured or “rare or valuable” enough, which can result in essentially implosion and a lack of sustainability.
Finally, he mentions mission. Initially, I was getting “mission” and “passion” confused while reading; however, he explains it in terms of a mission is a way to gain even more career capital. It is “a unifying goal for your career.” But without a substantial amount of career capital, you cannot have a mission for your career. Essentially it is placing the “passion” piece at the opposite end of the career timeline.
One of my favorite parts about this book is the very clear, detailed case studies where he illustrates each part of the “craftsman mindset” and how it leads to obtaining a fulfilling career. These are invaluable when trying to understand a mindset that is completely against everything I have been taught!
One final note on this book and how it made me feel toward my career:
I feel much more reassured in my choice to leave the classroom and become an entrepreneur. Notice I say “entrepreneur” and not “photographer.” At some points, I doubted myself because I didn’t have one of those stories that started with, “I have had a camera in my hand since I was born.” So I doubted my passion for what I was doing and questioned whether it would be sustainable.
Looking at my business and career choices through this lens gives me a reinvigorated perspective of what it means to own a business. Of course high quality images are important, but I think what is more important is continuing to gain that career capital that’s going to allow me to become a better entrepreneur overall and eventually define my “mission” as such.
I will admit that I have struggled to work in time for deliberate practice on as frequent of a basis as Newport recommends; however, I have invested in courses that will allow me to learn from others, and I think that is an important step in the right direction!
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with discontentment in their career, especially if they are in the same generation or one in close proximity to me (I’m a millennial, by the way). It’s a quick and easy read that is packed with relatable case studies. The ideas presented are a great (and reassuring) alternative look to what we have been told our entire lives!
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