I really enjoyed reading So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport.
Here are the top highlights and notes I got from it:
Don't follow your passion
"Thomas moved his focus away from finding the right work and toward working right, and eventually built, for the first time in his life, a love for what he does."
The world is filled with unhappy people who've followed their passion and happy people who do work that they've become happy about by being good at it.
“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.”
“If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (“what can I offer the world?”).”
“the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do. On reflection, this makes sense.”
The trick to being happy in your career is understanding that many of the options place in front of you are actually traps that can prevent you from attaining the things that ultimately lead you to being happy.
How to Create Passion in What You Do
Passions are created by being good at what you do rather than doing something you're initially passionate about.
You rarely have enough knowledge to judge what work is worth doing before you do it, so you should just start working on something now.
True experts are created by developing a craft and that only happens when you put out work consistently for a long time and that often means putting out much more work than people realize.
The closest thing to a shortcut in becoming an expert is to spend many hours working on deliberate practice:
Deliberate practice is the act of trying to understand what makes high quality work and repeatedly putting out work towards that goal.
What Makes People Happy in Work
The biggest factor in being happy in your career is how much control you have over your work.
But it's easy to fail getting control over your work if your don't have enough career capital to successfully do the type of work you want to do.
"the first task in building a deliberate practice strategy is to figure out what type of career capital market you're competing in"
"it's surprising easy to get wrong"
There are two types of career capital:
- auction market
In auction markets, it's valuable to build up a diverse set of skills.
In winner-take-all markets, it's important to become known as the best at something.
Most experts are winners in winner-take-all markets.
These markets are dominated by the results of deliberate practice.
But knowledge workers aren't trained in deliberate practice, so those who learn and apply it have a significant advantage over their competitors.
Validate your new career path before you pursue it
Cal advocates that the people who are thinking about setting off on their own ask themselves whether people will pay for the new work they want to do.
As a consultant with experience working with early-stage companies, I know asking yourself whether people will pay isn't enough.
To validate whether you can set off on your own, you need to ask prospective customers whether they'll pay you to do the work now.
Promises or verbal assurances aren't enough.
You need to get people to write checks or sign contracts to know they'd actually pay.
Creating Career Capital
One of the best ways to create career capital is to publish work that's visibly accessible to your peers and those who are in a position to hire or work with you.
But publishing your work and getting attention for it isn't always easy.
The best way to get attention for your work is to work on something that's either novel or important.
To work on something that's important, you can find what work your peers cite most frequently as resources they trust and use as part of their work.
To work on something that's novel, you need to work on what Cal calls the "adjacent possible"
Creating Important Work
Creating important work is hard, but a reliable way of creating career capital.
If you use deliberate practice to refine the work you do, creating valuable work on something important is just a matter of time.
On how to create important work that results in career capital, Cal quotes Randy Pausch:
"Wow, you got tenure early; what's your secret?"
"It's pretty simple, call me any Friday night in my office at ten o'clock and I'll tell you"
Creating Novel Work
On how to create novel work that results in career capital, Cal advocates a different approach where you actively seek to be both an expert in your particular field and search the field for new ideas.
I take a different approach to finding novel work.
In my experience, finding novel work and ideas is the result of purely developing expertise where the level of understanding you have is deep enough that you feel comfort applying ideas across different domains.
Actively working to find new ideas, in my view, diminishes the amount of mental energy you have that would naturally spur creativity and lead to the sorts of novel thinking and innovation that create meaningful career capital.
Developing Deep Expertise
You can develop deep expertise by increasing the amount of mental effort you put into understanding the work you're already doing.
Two ways that Cal does this are:
- creating summaries of the work you do
- drawing connections between the concepts you work on, on paper
One story from the book that stands out on developing deep expertise is Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in theoretical physics, yet scored only 125 on his IQ test.
In his memoirs, Richard writes how he deconstructed important papers and mathematical concepts as a core habit.
But deconstructing difficult concepts can be hard as Cal with tell you.
Combatting Internal Resistance
Cal met huge levels of internal resistance when he tried to perform work towards developing deep expertise.
Cal used two methods to overcome internal resistance:
- work on a single task intensely for 1-hour and take a short break (the Pomodoro method)
- visually map your progress of summarizing concepts