So Good They Can't Ignore You

Cal Newport

So Good They Can't Ignore You

Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

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Cal Newport’s clearly-written manifesto flies in the face of conventional wisdom by suggesting that it should be a person’s talent and skill – and not necessarily their passion – that determines their career path.

Newport, who graduated from Dartmouth College (Phi Beta Kappa) and recently earned a PhD. from MIT, contends that trying to find what drives us, instead of focusing on areas in which we naturally excel, is ultimately harmful and frustrating to job seekers.

The title is a direct quote from comedian Steve Martin who, when once asked why he was successful in his career, immediately replied: “Be so good they can’t ignore you” and that’s the main basis for Newport’s book. Skill and ability trump passion.

Inspired by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs' famous Stanford University commencement speech in which Jobs urges idealistic grads to chase their dreams, Newport takes issue with that advice, claiming that not only is this advice Pollyannish, but that Jobs himself never followed his own advice. From there, Newport presents compelling scientific and contemporary case study evidence that the key to one’s career success is to find out what you do well, where you have built up your “career capital,” and then to put all of your efforts into that direction.

So Good They Can't Ignore You Quotes

“If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?") and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (“what can I offer the world?").”


“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”


“… I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.”


“… when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. This is especially true for entry-level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy – these come later. When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle.”

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