How does one achieve success in life? A question heavily discussed today amongst anxious teens, weary young adults and 9 to 5 hustlers. For the majority of the population, the answer has always been follow your passion. This idea of passion has been contemplated, commercialised and convoluted by our society. Upon first glance, the hypothesis seems fairly reasonable - do what you love - but for some of us, myself included, doing what you love could translate into various forms not all necessarily leading to satisfaction or fulfilment. I too might have fallen prey to this pandora’s box had it not been for timely introduction to Cal Newport’s work, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
The False Claim
Newport eloquently structures the book into the four rules he believes are the foundation of the dream job elixir: a set of traits leading to desirable careers. Rule 1 debunks the passion hypothesis as false. The notion that all of us are born with predetermined passions is rather inaccurate. I continue to change my passionevery 10 months and for most of us, our passionsare hobby related. Acquiring workplace satisfaction isn’t nearly as easy or simple as identifying a passionand matching it to a career. Certain passion-career combinations may simply not exist or even be unlikely to support an individual financially over the long term. The passion hypothesis glamorously presents itself as the end all and be all the solution to a workplace crisis, but does leaving your stable 9 - 5 to pursue a mindless passion leave you fulfilled or satisfied? No. Mark as Newport details had found himself in the quest for passion; turns out living in a monastery takes more than just enjoying the moment. This may leave a newfound void in many passion believers waiting to be filled.
Adopting the Craftsmen Mindset
Through rule 2 the author elaborates on filling this void through the concept of acquiring career capital. Career capital simply put is a collection of rare and valuable skills in a specific industry. These skills must be rare enough and in demand to provide an individual with an unfair advantage over his/her peers. In the book, Newport details many such examples and one stood out to be Steve Jobs. Jobs was essentially seen as a misfit in a largely corporatised and design lacking tech industry yet he was able to effectively satisfy a niche in the industry with his rare skill sets of design. Jobs by no means was the brightest engineer in silicon valley but his precise acumen for design philosophy and typography made him a standout when compared to individuals who had been through the same monotonous process. It is then that one can successfully exchange these rare and highly valuable skills for highly desirable careers. Newport details, that acquiring career capital is no secret sauce. Through deliberate practice constantly challenging our mind is at the forefront of breaking through from the surface level. Adopting the craftsmen mindset with a focus on quality is essential to break the beginner barrier and truly become So Good they Can’t Ignore You.
Upon acquiring career capital, a vast window of opportunities reveals itself. The attention from co-workers and managers can be startling and the reward for your effort is just above the horizon. This is where we might take the path of instant gratification and choose a higher compensation or switch to a larger firm. However, this is precisely what the author cautions us about. Cashing in career capital for short term benefits leaves in an endless cycle of dissatisfaction - a recipe for crisis. The author instead suggests acquiring control over your work and precisely how you work. Besides its numerous benefits, control essentially gives you the autonomy to decide how to progress and when to progress, an essential ingredient to the elixir of fulfilling work. Seeking autonomy however comes with its challenges, primarily resistance. Lowering your working hours to invest in your skillset is a great choice for you but not for those around you. Employers rather have a direct loss in you pursuing your interests. This is where one is put to the test and must take firm decisions to actively seek out control.
Identifying a Mission
Newport concludes with rule 4 as a guiding principle to effectively utilise the desirable traits in channelling towards a larger purpose. Newport believes the key to having long term career satisfaction is to dedicate one’s career to the greater good. This mission may be focused on innovating in a particular niche of the industry. Identifying this mission as Newport states requires networking and constant study in the field of interest. These are essential towards reaching the pinnacle of the industry where breakthrough ideas are constantly formulated. Being present at the forefront attracts respect, attention and more importantly recognition outside the workplace. Eventually, leading to the acquisition of essential desirable traits for a fulling and satisfying career.
Upon reflection, it is evident that I have implicitly applied these principles throughout my time at school. Starting early and picking up the Raspberry Pi gave me rare skills amongst my peers which inherently attracted rare opportunities and catalysed my skillset towards technology. Through deliberate practice and seeking discomfort my skillsets eventually grew and I received recognition within my school community. Re-investing into my career capital enabled me to receive the position of highest autonomy, Student Council President, a role undoubtedly at the pinnacle of one’s high school career. The book has essentially reminded me once again that the path less travelled is the most rewarding and niches are chests of success waiting to be discovered. With this newfound knowledge, I now aim to further diversify my skills and identify rare skillsets beyond my community in the quest for a fulfilling and satisfying career.