So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport (Book Summary)

Everyone heard the statement that it is enough to find something to your liking, and career will develop by itself.

Many try to follow this statement – they are looking for a “dream job”.

Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science and the author of several books, debunks this popular myth. He believes that this approach can lead to the exact opposite result – failures, a constant change of jobs and an enduring feeling of dissatisfaction.

Do not try to make work passion.

Make work a hobby.

Newport talks about how to achieve this in his book. The rules proposed by him will allow not only to receive satisfaction but also to achieve significant professional heights.

The author confirms his instructions and recommendations with personal experience and examples from the life of scientists, creative people, programmers, managers, farmers.

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Is It Bad to Dream?

At one point or another in life, many are seriously thinking about quitting their jobs and doing what they love. Recent generations of Americans have grown up, believing that all you have to do is strive for the dream – and success will come by itself. But in practice, this approach fails: disturbing survey data show that in our prosperous society, fewer and fewer people are happy with their work every year.

“The vast majority of people do not have dreams or hobbies under which they could“ tailor ”work.”

Proponents of the “dream theory” often cite Steve Jobs and his famous speech at Stanford University.

Jobs then spoke about a lot, but the greatest response was caused by his words about the need to follow his dream and love his work. However, no matter how enthusiastic the “dream theory” is, it underestimates the importance of hard work and the need to acquire valuable skills and knowledge.

“Do not plague yourself with a quest for true calling. It is better to master rare and valuable skills. As soon as with the help of these skills you accumulate career capital … use it to gain independence and freedom of action … and realize a mission that will change your life. ”

To say about Steve Jobs himself that he had been following a dream all his life would be a stretch.

He did not dream of computers at all in his youth, as it seems to many. At first, the computer business was just a way of making money for him.

In his student years, he was seriously interested in Buddhism. And Apple arose only thanks to the intuition that worked at the right moment and a successful combination of circumstances.

If they were different, Steve Jobs could have been among the mentors of some Buddhist center. He really got carried away with computers, high technologies, and his work later, when the work began to bear fruit.

Job Satisfaction Comes With Time

There are many reasons why a person can sincerely love his job. These reasons have become the subject of scientific research. As it turned out, work is not loved because it has become a dream come true.

Here are the main findings of scientists:

  1. “Hobbies are one thing, and work is another.” In 2002, psychologist Robert Wallerand conducted a survey of over 500 Canadian students to find out what they were fond of. There were only five popular hobbies: reading, hockey, dancing, swimming and skiing. How can such hobbies help students or high school students in choosing the field of professional activity and in building a career?
  2. “Love of work is a matter of time.” In other words, it depends on professional experience. This was proved by the studies of Emmy Wrzesnevsky from Yale University. If a person has been engaged in a particular business for a sufficiently long time, then he reaches a certain level of skill, begins to feel like a competent specialist, gains independence, and gains professional connections.
  3. “Passion for work is a side effect of mastery.” More than 40 years ago, the theory of self-determination was developed. In accordance with it, work should give a person: 1) freedom of action, decision making; 2) confidence in their professional abilities; 3) a feeling of connection with the team. If work gives all this, then it becomes a kind of psychological nourishment for a person and begins to bring satisfaction. Only by becoming a master of your craft, do you get these three necessary conditions.

The Origins of the “Theory of Dreams”

“The basis of the theory of dreams is the assumption that all people are addicted to something, you just need to understand what exactly.”

It can be assumed that the source of the “theory of dreams” was the book of Richard Balls “What color is your parachute?”, Published in the 1970s. It was based on the author’s experience in advising university priests who were threatened with dismissal.

The first edition of this book was essentially a collection of job search tips. The author suggested that readers first figure out what they really like to do, and only then look for appropriate work.

For that time, it was an innovative idea. Subsequently, it became widespread due to its positivity. As a result, for several generations, Americans have plagued themselves with doubts, unsure of the correctness of their professional choice, and change employers like gloves. Of course, there are exceptions.

There are people who have been fond of music or sports since childhood and have become famous musicians and athletes. But these are isolated cases.

In addition, even extremely gifted people need years of work and self-discipline to develop their skills.

Dreamer’s Approach

There are two opposing approaches to work: the “dreamer approach” and the “master approach”.

The “Dreamer Approach” is based on the question “What can they offer me?” Instead of helping to find a favorite business, it leads to directly opposite results: a person notices only the shortcomings of his work. This is especially common at the beginning of a career path when young people do not yet have freedom of action and the ability to be creative.

“Far from any work can be called creative. Few of the workers can boast that they are changing the world or deciding on their own what, how and when to do it. ”

An example of a “dreamer’s approach” is the story of Lisa Fer.

Lisa was engaged in marketing and advertising.

At 38, she realized that she was tired of such a job, and began to reflect on her vocation. It turned out to be their own yoga studio.

Lisa quit, graduated from the monthly courses and opened her own business. The propagandists of the “cult of courage” admire such actions, who see the main problem of many people in that they lack the determination to abandon their usual actions and follow the dream.

They believe that it is enough to take only the first, most difficult step, and then everything will go like clockwork. But this is an illusion. In reality, Lisa’s venture failed.

The article about her in The New York Times ended with the text of Lisa’s SMS message that she was standing in line for food stamps. One dream was not enough for success.

Master’s Approach

And here is how “masters” approach their work.

They do not think about what they cannot offer, but what they can offer.

“Masters” proceed from the assumption that success can only be achieved through hard work. They realize that their current job may not be directly related to their hobbies, but it will become the basis of their successful career. They strive to become specialists that cannot be overlooked.

And for this, they accumulate career capital.

“How can a student“ follow a dream ”if he has no dream?”

Career capital is a valuable and rare professional skill.

Its accumulation occurs through continuous training and the search for new contacts. Lack of career capital is a common reason that ideal work is unattainable. Lisa Fer has accumulated a lot of career capital in marketing and advertising.

Having left, she completely “nullified” him. Before, Lisa never taught yoga, which means she did not have career capital in this area. A month-long training course did not become sufficient starting capital for the organization of their business.

“The rarer and more valuable skills you can offer your employer, the more interesting opportunities you will have.”

However, not every work suits the “master.”

It is better to quit work if:

  1. it does not allow to accumulate career capital;
  2. it does not bring any benefit or, perhaps, even harms others;
  3. colleagues do not cause sympathy.

How to Accumulate Career Capital

Thoughtful preparation will help to acquire career capital and become a specialist that cannot be overlooked.

This is a continuous improvement of their professional skills, and on the verge of opportunities, exhausting hard work. Sometimes thoughtful preparation takes place according to a specific technique developed by someone else (for example, a mentor).

“Even now, becoming a successful screenwriter, he [Alex Berg] continues to read books on dramaturgy, trying to comprehend the secrets of the craft.”

It is thoughtful preparation that helps chess players like Garry Kasparov, as well as artists, musicians, athletes, doctors to achieve outstanding results. In these areas, there are proven methods of professional training, designed for years.

But such an approach can be applied by scientists, and – more broadly – by any knowledge workers. Having drawn up your “training” plan, you can achieve heights in almost any field of activity.

Unfortunately, this usually happens: at first the employee does his best to improve his skills, then, having reached a certain level, he calms down, development slows down, and his productivity curve stops growing up and turns into a straight line.

How to approach this systematically?

Five Stages of Thoughtful Preparation

Here are five steps to successfully implementing thoughtful preparation in practice:

  1. Determine the type of market. There are two types of career capital markets. On one of them, only one skill is valued and “the winner gets everything.” Suppose someone has literary talent. If he will deliberately improve as a screenwriter and write excellent television scripts, then soon there will be no end to orders. In a different market, a set of different skills is valued and can be compared to an auction. These markets are often confused. A novice blogger may decide that he is dealing with an auction market and therefore has a good chance of success due to a number of factors, including the frequency of publication. In fact, he deals with the first type of market, where only one thing is valued – the ability to write an interesting article. The frequency of publications, as well as the design of the blog, is not critical in this market.
  2. Determine the type of capital. The type of market determines whether you need to develop one skill or its complex. In the latter case, there are opportunities for maneuver. In addition, in the auction market, the accumulation of career capital is faster.
  3. Choose a goal. One must understand well why all efforts are being made. Otherwise, they most likely will not pay off.
  4. Reach up and not be afraid of criticism. It is impossible to engage in thoughtful preparation and at the same time experience a feeling of complete comfort. Like any training, for example, a stretching exercise (and for intellectual workers, this is really a kind of stretching of mental abilities), it requires a constant effort. Criticism, even very unpleasant, will help move forward. Therefore, you need to learn to listen to her.
  5. Be patient. It takes time to accumulate career capital.

You Have to Fight for Freedom

Very often, those who dream of perfect work, represent themselves as independent creators.

Unfortunately, without hard work and dedication, this is not possible. Employees of companies rarely can do what they want, especially at the beginning of a career path.

A significant degree of freedom is available only at the top of the career ladder and only to those who have valuable and rare skills and knowledge. In other words, in order to achieve autonomy, you must first build up career capital.

“Musicians, athletes and chess players know much more knowledge workers about thoughtful training. The latter, as a rule, are afraid of the strain of forces like fire. ”

But even with serious career capital, gaining freedom can be difficult.

An employer may resist attempts by a valuable employee to become more independent, including out of fear that the employee may quit altogether.

In this case, you will have to show persistence or change the place of work. The programmer Lulu Young did just that when the new management of the company began to tighten corporate rules: introduced a strict work schedule, dress code, and strict reporting. Lulu quit the company, which limited her freedom, and got a startup, where she was able to work on a free schedule.

But, we emphasize, Lulu is an excellent programmer, with great career capital.

“I decided that in order to ensure that career capital does not decrease, a thorough study of the most complex issues in my field of knowledge should be undertaken.”

Those who want to gain independence should use the “rule of financial stability”: “Do only what you will be paid for.” This rule makes it possible to understand whether there is enough career capital to gain more freedom of action.

The “Rule of Financial Sustainability” should be applied to both those who decided to quit and start their own business, and those who decided to change their jobs.

The Mission Must Be Doable

To get satisfaction from your work will also help the mission – a noble goal around which professional activities are built.

The mission supports the feeling that the efforts made are not wasted, and allows you to direct energy in the right direction. For example, the mission of Harvard University professor of evolutionary biology, Pardis Sabeti, is to save the world from incurable diseases.

Thanks to her noble purpose, Sabeti is full of enthusiasm and creative energy. Of course, there is a difference – to work at night for the interests of the client or for the interests of all mankind.

“Instead of avoiding the discomfort associated with exertion, I began to love him, as a bodybuilder loves muscle pain: because discomfort said that I was doing everything right.”

To find your mission, you also need career capital.

A person with great career capital is at the forefront of his professional career. He sees the horizon and new opportunities. “A true mission is like a scientific discovery: it is born out of related opportunities.”

Completing a mission requires patience and consistency.

It’s best to take small steps (or make “small bets” in the words of Peter Sims, the author of the book of the same name), conduct small experiments, groping your way. Pardis Sabeti determined her mission during her studies.

First, she was engaged in laboratory research, then worked in a group that studied malaria, then began research activities at the Broad Institute. Each of these steps (experiments) allowed her to understand where to move on.

“I have a rule: every week I have to learn something new in my field.”

Mission requires a marketing approach. Having acquired career capital, you should choose a project that will become exceptional, which will be discussed.


  • Many dreams of finding the perfect job. Unfortunately, most fail.
  • It is believed that Steve Jobs is a vivid example of a dream come true. If Jobs followed the dream of his youth, then perhaps he would become a Buddhist monk.
  • The idea that you need to look for work that is close to your passion came up in the 1970s, partly under the influence of the book “What color is your parachute?”.
  • Job satisfaction comes with time, in many respects, it depends on the level of professionalism, which does not appear immediately.
  • The “Dreamer Approach” is based on the question “What can they offer me?” “The Wizard’s Approach” is based on the question “What can I offer?”.
  • To become a master, you need to accumulate career capital – important and valuable skills.
  • Thoughtful training will allow accumulating significant career capital – continuous systematic improvement of one’s qualifications.
  • It is generally accepted that people with unique or creative professions are engaged in such training. However, this method can be used by mental workers.
  • Thoughtful training will allow you to become a valuable, indispensable employee.
  • Becoming a valuable employee, you will gain independence, freedom of action, the ability to try innovative, creative solutions – exactly what brings most people job satisfaction.

 Why You Should Read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”

  • To build a successful career
  • To become happy
  • To live a fulfilling life

This book is available as:

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