[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Thursday, August 28, 2014

So Good They Can't Ignore You (Book Review)

I’ve been posting reviews of the books I read on Goodreads.com. I’ve decide to start posting some of these on my blog. 

I just finished a thought provoking book: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I give it 4 stars. Here’s why...

The title comes from a Steve Martin (comedian) on how to succeed in show business. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Every waiter in Hollywood is working on a script. The few who get to do awesome work got their through exceptional skill development, not merely because they had the courage to follow their dream.

He begins by saying that society has it all wrong. The pervasive advice to follow your passion and you’ll be happy and successful doesn’t work. Courage, he says, is not what’s keeping your from living your dream. The courage to leave it all behind for your dream could ruin you. He cites stories of people who left regular careers to pursue grand but vague dreams and end up, in one case, living on food stamps.

I think he creates unnecessary conflict with his opening (more on that later), but when he dives into what he would recommend the book gets really good. He shares ideas like: 

1) Rare and special careers require you to acquire rare and special skills. Having a grand vision to live an awesome life doesn’t count as a rare and special skill. What are you doing that’s valuable to other people?

2) The difference between mundane and meaningful work might simply be the amount of control you have. This can be earned through proving your skillfulness, but also depends on the culture of the place you’re working. The same job in a big, established company has much less control that it does in a start-up. Also, he extols the contractor role for it’s control of schedule. (He notes you need special skills to be able to make a living as a contractor—see first point.)

3) Finding a mission for your work can make your work more meaningful to you and the world. He says that rather than leave your work to find a mission, find a way to use your current expertise to make the world a better place. 

In the end, I think he sets up a false dichotomy between pursuing your passion and develop valuable skills. Some identify their passion through trial and error, as he suggests. But I think you can also first identify your passion and use that to target the skills you need to learn. In fact, that's how I have lived. But after getting past that lopsided opening, I think this is a great book for those trying to so something meaningful with their life.

Whatever your life sequence, dreams then skills or vice versa, he’s right about this: No one is going to hand you a great life. You’re going to have to do the hard work and earn it. You’re going to have to be so good they can’t ignore you.

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