So Good They Can't Ignore you

This is the first book of Cal Newport that I read, even before the more famous Deep Work. Although a bit repetitive in some chapters, it offers some good insights on the topic of finding a job we love that satisfy us.

Features of an interesting job

According to Newport, a fulfilling and interesting job is characterized by three distinct features:

  • it has a creative nature;
  • it has a real impact;
  • it allows people to gain control.

Of course, landing a job with all these features at the same time is challenging. The first natural step it to aim at one while partially touching the others. It is not very hard to imagine why these features are desirable in a job. A job that allows us to express some sort of creativity is far more fulfilling that a repetitive one. Having a real impact on other people and, more in general, on society, can also provide a feeling of satisfaction. I particularly feel the topic of impact, since this has been a frequent topic of discussion with peers in my PhD time: most of us had the feeling that academia sometimes does not pursue real impact but tackles mostly artificial problems for the sake of boosting academic metrics. If creativity and impact are not provided by your job, be in control of your working and schedule can at least give you enough space to pursue something more thrilling in your private life. You are basically buying yourself free time.

The craftsmanship mindset

The entire book rotates around the idea of the craftsmanship mindset opposed to the passion mindset. While the people adopting the passion mindset romanticize around the idea that one must follow his/her passions and chase the job of his/her dreams, the craftsmanship people will focus on acquiring the skills they need to acquire a job with the features previously described. The core idea is basically the following: if you become extremely good at doing something, you can win the fierce competition for the most desirable job (i.e., the ones with the features above). Similarly, if your skills are hard to replace in a company, you are then in the right spot to shape your position and make it nicer for you: for instance, asking for more control (e.g., more vacation, remote work). This approach could backfire if you don’t build some leverage first. Newport calls this leverage career capital, i.e., a set of skill that make you rare and valuable for a company.

Deliberate practice

While this seams all good, how can someone build enough career capital to get/shape a dream job? The book talks about the idea of deliberate practice. Newport suggests that simply doing your job will lead to a finite improvement. After some time, you will hit a plateau and never progress anymore from there. People embracing the idea of deliberate practice always put themself in a position of slight discomfort to push their capabilities further. These people will reach the top of their area through this kind of practice and therefore, will be in the position to create real value and innovation. Indeed, Newport suggests that the real innovation happens exploring the adjacent possible at the top of a given field. To me, the bottom line of the book is this one: push yourself through deliberate practice, acquire enough career capital and shape your dream job.