So good they can’t ignore you (Book Review)

There comes a point towards the end of every PhD when you start to wonder what the hell you are going to do with the rest of your life.

It’s times like this when you’ll probably hear advice like “follow your passion” or “follow your dream”. But this may not be the best advice according to a new book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest For Work You’ll Love by Cal Newport.

Here’s my summary of some of the key points in this fascinating and thought-provoking book.

The search for the perfect job

What makes the perfect job? Is it following some kind of calling? Something you were made or meant to do?

That’s a lot of pressure to put yourself under, to find a job that fulfills some kind of predetermined destiny. It pretty much guarantees that you won’t be satisfied with any job you get because you’ll constantly be wondering if you are meant to be doing something else (I think this is a big problem for PhD graduates, because you’ll have naturally high expectations of yourself)

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Or is it something more pragmatic?

The conditions for work happiness

The author gives 3 conditions for happiness in any job.

  1. Autonomy (the feeling that you are in control of your day and that your actions have significance to others)
  2. Competence (being good at what you do)
  3. Relatedness (feeling of connection to others)

None of these require matching your job to some pre-existing passion.

What makes GREAT work?

What makes a great job? Do you want total freedom? Do you want to have an impact on the world? Do you want to apply your creativity? Or do you want a ton of money?

Whatever combination of the above  factors go into making your dream job, they are rare (and therefore valuable).

So in order to get a job where you will be rewarded in this way, you’d better have some value to offer in return.

Building career capital

Career capital is basically marketable skill. The central idea of the book is that if you develop exceptional skill in one area and become “so good they can’t ignore you”, this gives you choices in your career.

Many people with great jobs don’t exactly plan their route to the top. Instead, they make themselves valuable by being as good as possible at whatever they do.

The craftsman approach

The difference between being good enough and being exceptional comes down to your approach to learning skills.

To improve, you need to go beyond your comfort zone and attempt things slightly beyond your range. If you are a musician and only practice what you can already play well, you will not improve. But if you try to play something challenging, and keep repeating again and again and again the parts you find hard, starting again every time you make a mistake you will get better and better.

It’s all about how you respond to negative feedback- do you avoid it by sticking to what is safe, or do you embrace it, and use it as an opportunity to improve?

Only once you have developed valuable levels of skill can you expect to get (or create) your dream job.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

So Good They Can’t Ignore You is  released on 20th September. Click here to order your copy.

This is a must-read.


The Amazon link is an affiliate link, meaning that if you buy a copy, I get a small commission. That said, I only recommend books I think are excellent, and this is certainly well within that category.

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