So Good They Can’t Ignore You: When Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport, BusinessPlus, 304 pages, $25.99, Hardcover, September 2012, ISBN 9781455509126
I have a dear friend that has worked in the arts community for decades tell me recently that what strikes him most about great artists is not their passion, but their “toughness.” I was reminded of that statement again when I picked up So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a great new book on career development by Cal Newport being released this month by BusinessPlus.
Newport, as a postdoctoral associate at MIT on his way to a life in academia (after having already graduated with a PhD in computer science from the same program), set out to answer a question. Most technologists at this point would begin with a technical question to investigate, but Newport’s search revolved around a very simple, very human question—a question he became obsessed with: How do people end up loving what they do? And he discovered that the prevailing wisdom on the topic—“follow your passion”—is terrible advice.
Newport points to the work of a professor of organizational behavior at Yale University, Amy Wrzesniewski, who surveyed people in the work force to determine which type of work people refer to as a job (a way to pay the bills), which is a career (a path toward increasingly better work), and which becomes a calling (work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity).
In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees were not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those that who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.
Newport presents a very helpful distinction between the craftsman mindset, “a focus on what value you’re producing in your job,” and the passion mindset, “a focus on what value your job offers you.” He argues that “regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting a craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career,” and counsels readers to move their “focus away from finding the right work and toward working right,” to eventually build a love for what they do. Newport is not anti-passion so much as he’s passion-agnostic, believing passion “is an epiphenomenon of a working life well lived.”
It seems that everyone wants to change the world these days, and that’s commendable. But perhaps the best way to do so is by becoming really good at what you do—so good that they can’t ignore you—and building from there.