So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

I will unashamedly admit that I am not a fan of self help books. I tend to find them generic and gimmicky. It is extremely hard for a self help book to get even remotely good praises from me, or keep me interested long enough to finish it without a book report due for school. With that in mind, I want to walk you through how I came to try So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. 

Who, at some point in their life, has questioned whether they are in the correct field of work? As a recent graduate of the University of Valley Forge, I was lucky enough to get a job in the field of social work within just 3 months. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, with the end goal of being a guidance counselor. I considered myself very blessed to get a semi-counselor job right away as a home visitor for at risk families. However, after only a few months, I found myself emotionally and physically drained, wondering if I had wasted 4 years of my life studying for a job I just wasn’t cut out to do. My husband, upon graciously listening to my moans and grips every night, ordered this book for me as a way to encourage me to keep going. I appreciated the sentiment, but knowing my opinions on self help books, put it on the shelf and forgot. 

Fast forward to the end of January. I was granted an interview for my dream graduate program. While talking to a friend who had already been accepted, he informed me one question during the interview may be, “What was the last book you read and what did you take away from it?” Well, if I was going to be completely honest, the last book I read was Divergent. As much as I can gush about the things you learn from Veronica Roth’s writing, I couldn’t imagine talking about a book from the perspective of a sixteen year old while interviewing for a Master’s program.  That’s when I remembered So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I figured I could read a few chapters and have at least something mature and impressive to talk about.

To give you an idea of what this book is actually about, here is the summary from Goodreads: 

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 In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that "follow your passion" is good advice.

Not only is the cliché flawed-preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work-but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping.

After making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving what they do. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.

Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, he reveals. 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.

With a title taken from the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to "be so good they can't ignore you," Cal Newport's clearly written manifesto is mandatory reading for anyone fretting about what to do with their life, or frustrated by their current job situation and eager to find a fresh new way to take control of their livelihood. He provides an evidence-based blueprint for creating work you love (Goodreads.com).

I was pleasantly captivated at the beginning by how real this book is. It doesn’t shout one liners that would get tremendous applause from an audience. Instead, it says things that are fairly controversial but have some incredibly solid foundational evidence. I wound up finishing it within a week because of how easy it was to read while also applying. 

My favorite thing about Cal Newport’s writing is his lack of fear when it comes to those who will negate him. At the end of every chapter, he openly addresses some of the most common counter arguments and gives reasonable evidence for why his points still remain valid. Previously, my main beef with self help books was how quickly I was able to come up with holes in their arguments. The “Yeah, but what it...” statements would add up to the point that I no longer considered the author to be credible. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, there genuinely was no question of mine left unanswered.

What I also liked about this book was the amount of examples. It isn’t too difficult to come up with a lifestyle of success that is supported by one, maybe two individuals. However, that lifestyle won’t work for everyone and therefore is not practical to emulate. Cal Newport uses nine individual people to support his hypothesis of hard work over passion. Some showed the success of following his idea while others showed the failure when his idea is not followed. By the end of the book, I found myself approaching my job from a different perspective and realizing I have a lot more control over my happiness than I let on. 

If I were to name one big takeaway from this book, which is difficult because it is full of sound advice, I would take a section of page 56, which states the “Three Disqualifiers for Applying the Craftsman Mindset”. 

 

1. The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.

2. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.

3. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike. (Newport, 2012, p. 56) 

 

When looking over these three things, if a certain job doesn’t line up with at least one, I agree that there is no reason why hard work and dedication can’t make you love that job. This book taught me to view a job not as what it gives to me, but how much purpose I can find in contributing to it. Work isn’t about finding a way to fit your passion, it’s about becoming passionate about what you do. 

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport is one of the few self-help books I not only enjoyed, but am actively living the advice from. I would recommend this book for anyone about to graduate college and enter the work force or anyone who finds themself hating their job and feeling discouraged about the working world. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Newport’s theories! You can find me on Twitter or Instagram, @bmbookcase !