A few years ago I did a cursory reading of So Good They Can't Ignore You
; the following is based on what I have retained.
The basic point that Newport makes is that, when it comes to choosing a career, "finding something we are passionate about" is not a good strategy, for:
- Not everyone has a pre-existing database of "passions" to choose from;
- Even if we do have something we feel passionate about, there is no guarantee that centering our career around it will be rewarding.
The common denominator Newport found among people claiming to be passionate about their work was the time
they had spent in their respective fields—long enough for the passion to grow
(most had not started with it).
The entry level to any area, after all, tends to be boring—being inexperienced, we get menial assignments so we cannot cause much damage if we mess up; of course, we can hardly feel "passionate" about doing boring, administrative work...
But if "passion" alone is the beacon to our satisfaction, we will probably hop from job to job—each new one being dull in the beginning, we will not stick around long enough to gain the expertise that leads to the challenging, exciting projects we might actually enjoy.
Moreover, we are complex, unique creatures; it is unlikely that any existing profession will be a perfect fit for us; we might waste our entire lives looking for it. A better idea, according to Newport, is to tailor
our career so it will suit us.
Using the "surfer camera guy" example pukingRainbows mentioned, let us say that we take pictures for a magazine, but that surfing is what we really like to do. Would it not be nice to get money for it? How could we do it?
We could try a very direct, "follow our bliss" approach: quit the job, rent a bungalow on the beach, start offering surfing lessons. But since surfing used to be a hobby for us, we have much to learn. We also need some gear. And perhaps a permit? In any case, we need money—and we have just forfeited our income stream.
And how do we find students, what with having no background in teaching or
professional surfing? Our name is not out there yet. Our fees, naturally, will have to be low. How long until we become profitable? And what if we never do?
Newport advises a different approach—First we become good at what we currently do, then we use our expertise to gain leverage over our career and steer it away from things that annoy us towards those that we enjoy; we will transform
our career into something new, and we will use the benefits we derive for our current job to support the change.
How "good" must we become? Well, how many of our colleagues ask themselves, "what is the most valued skill in this field?" and take active, methodical steps to improve it? How many of them see education as an ongoing, continuous process, rather than something that only happens in a institution? Few. So it does not take much to get ahead of them.
We do not have to completely master our field in order to conquer the degree of independence that we would need—it does not require putting 10,000 hours of work to reach the top 1%; reaching the top 10% (or 20%) would most probably be more than enough.
And this is a point worth stressing—So Good They Can't Ignore You
is not a book about becoming "the best;" it is based on change and adaptation rather than on fighting for the top; and this, I believe, addresses a relevant risk that Jacob has pointed to elsewhere
jacob wrote: ↑
Wed Jan 27, 2016 4:21 pm
@Dragline - Tragically and interestingly, applying Cal Newport to hard science academic careers, it increases the risk of exactly what Disciplined Minds warns about. IOW, a lot of freshly minted PhDs have a tradition of spending years trying to be so good they can't ignore you only to see 90% of them fail, often for [political] reasons that aren't about being technically or creatively brilliant i.e. "good". If I look back at my cohort, it wasn't always the "good" people who eventually succeeded. It was quite often the people who were in the right place at the right time or the the people who spent more time on the political/award game that those who spent their time on getting better. The Newport book would be on my ban-list
of things to send back.
The approach Newport advocates, as I remember it, is fluid, oriented towards a gradual metamorphosis of our career into something in greater accordance with our character, by means of increasing our leverage and resilience.
It follows, as I understand it, that if leverage/resiliency in our current and intended fields depend on political prowess, accumulating theoretical knowledge will not be enough to accomplish the goal that the author figuratively summarizes as being "so good they can't ignore us."
Moreover, the book is aimed at people who want to become passionate about something and who are willing to adapt themselves and their circumstances in order to express such passion; it will not be of much help to those who are already passionate and have a fixed, associated strategy in place.
For those who have already found their niche, who, for one reason or another, decided that they have no alternative but to compete for a spot at the very pinacle of their field, well, they probably had better read Ender's Game
instead—to which, I believe, the chosen title for Newport's book alludes to:
"You made them hate me."
"So? What will you do about it? Crawl into a corner? Start kissing their little backsides so they'll love you again? There's only one thing that will make them stop hating you. And that's being so good at what you do that they can't ignore you. I told them you were the best. Now you damn well better be."
"What if I can't?"
"Then too bad. [...]"
I bring attention to the fact that not only had Ender, the protagonist of that book, to become "impossible to ignore," but he also had to learn how to defend himself from those jealous of his success, in the closed-quarters environment of a military academy that he could not just decide to leave—which arguably presents a more fitting model than does So Good They Can't Ignore You
to the kind of academic competition that Jacob has described. Be that as it may, here endeth the digression.
Back to our majestic pluraled, photographer alter-ego, we would hone our skills, we would keep learning, we would seek hard projects that would add value to our future portfolio; in the meantime, we would make our job work for us—as a support (not an impediment) to our desired changes.
We want to move our career towards surfing, and our magazine credentials might give us access to people and events, related to that sport, that we probably would not be able to reach if going solo. We could try to find a way to get paid to educate ourselves in surfing—perhaps covering competitions, etc.
As our project progressed, as we became more experienced, we might start showcasing some parallel work in places other than the magazine (start a blog, perhaps?), and as we went deeper in the world of surfing, we might discover some needs that people therein have that we could address with our skills—we might start a side business.
The contacts from the magazine might help us finding potential customers, marketing avenues, and a number of opportunities to help expand our business; keeping our job would not only support us until we became profitable, but also help us expand our network.
By the time we quit the main job, we might find ourselves in a niche of our own, given that we have combined two very distinct areas; at the very least, our skill set/network combination would be hard to replicate.
I believe that the example above is accurate in illustrating Newport's ideas as expressed in So Good They Can't Ignore You
and that it is similar to the case studies he presents. I also think that his book can be helpful, specially to young people, in avoiding wasting a lot of time—particularly if combined with works like Your Money or Your Life
and Early Retirement Extreme
Conversely, I did not appreciate Newport's writing; I felt that the author could have approached the subject matter in profounder ways and refined his style in accordance, or, if sticking to that level and expression, at least been more succinct. I am inclined to say that a good, down-to-earth conversation with a mature, more experienced person could be a good substitute for So Good They Can't Ignore You
In terms of both form and content, I much rather prefer and recommend Newport's last book, Deep Work
—the fellow looks like a writer reborn on that one. For those who have already overcome the basic delusions about careers, I think that is a far more useful book.