Cal Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown and author of the brilliant book So Good They Can’t Ignore – Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. In it, he tells the story of comedian Steve Martin being interviewed on the Charlie Rose show in 2007 about his comedy career. Rose asked him for his advice to aspiring performers. His response was eloquent:
“Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. 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.’ “
Newport elegantly calls this career capital – your currency to trade for the work, the opportunities and the stuff you love. They are your leverage. Without it, you’ll never be in a position to trade up.
Seth Godin thinks along similar lines in LinchPin: Are You Indispensable? He states: “The only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about.”
I love this great book by Cal Newport on standing out and leveraging your brilliance for work you love. It’s a really insightful read from an author who cares deeply about his craft. It’s about building a meaningful career in any field, whether you’re in an employed or entrepreneurial world.
It starts right out of the gate by debunking the myth of following your passion in life. Steve Jobs didn’t. It’s actually flawed, advice, despite most career and self help books telling you to ‘do what you love’ and follow your dreams. There is no dream job out there that’s perfect for you. This is why so few people are actually happy with their jobs.
Newport says trying to find your passion and make a living out of it leads to frequent job and even career changes, plus a whole lot of anxiety. In fact, it turns out career passions are rare as most are really hobbies or sports. Good luck making a career out of surfing or yoga. Very few do.
Instead, the better way to do what you love is to get really good at something. Then you’ll find it becomes more of a passion for you. And Newport proves this with lots of great examples. He says you must earn the right to do great, interesting, creative, meaningful work that you love with people who like you, in a job where you have control, autonomy and a worthy return for your efforts.
In becoming a ‘craftsman’, you work hard at developing the kind of rare and valuable skills that you can trade for great work. This involves courage and discipline, practice and application.The better you are, the more control you can exert in the way you work, and the more likely it is you can achieve some sense of mission, or purpose. Getting better means mastering a field and getting to the edge of it where the ‘adjacent possible’ happens – that critical idea that takes you to a whole new level of reputation and employability.
Newport picks up on Godin’s famous quote – “If you’re not remarkable, you’re invisible“ and says that for your art or work to succeed and get noticed, it must be remarkable. In other words, it compels people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in an environment where people can share it. This could be through your network or some other platform.
My big takeaway from this book was that to become irresistible, you’ve got to be brilliant at what you do and you’ve got to market your brilliance in a way that gets noticed. Just doing good stuff is not enough. You’ve got to be seen, talked about and promoted. Which is why you need your network to build your reputation – the topic of my next book. If you want to know more and even want to get in on the action, click here>>
And as a final treat, here’s an awesome 60 min interview with Cal Newport himself that I came across in my research. It’s done by prolific podcaster and lifestyle entrepreneur Navid Moazzez and gives you a link to download a free PDF copy of the book. Go here to check out the goodies>>