Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Rule #1

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you know how to be so good they can’t ignore you? How can you set yourself up to call the shots with your job?

Cal Newport shares four rules for how you can be so good they can’t ignore you. Ultimately this leads to job satisfaction. The first rule is this: Don’t concern yourself with passion. He debunks the “passion hypothesis” and shows how following your passion is the wrong way to pursue your dream job.

Read more to learn how to be so good they can’t ignore you.

Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

In 2010, as author Cal Newport wrapped up his postdoctoral associate at MIT and started looking for a professorship, he began to wonder: What makes people love their work? As he waited to hear back about his job applications, he studied performance science, interviewed people about their professional successes and failures, and tested out his hypotheses on his own career and life.

Interestingly, he discovered that the best way to find or create work you love is not to follow your passion, as so many career counselors, books, and well-meaning mentors advise. In fact, the best way to love what you do is to become highly skilled—to be so good they can’t ignore you. Then, you can offer your skills in exchange for work that allows you autonomy and the opportunity to change the world, two of the most significant contributors to workplace satisfaction.

To be so good they can’t ignore you, follow these four rules for loving your work:

  1. Don’t concern yourself with passion.
  2. Instead, improve your skills.
  3. Cash in your skills for autonomy.
  4. Cash in your skills for the opportunity to change the world.

Rule #1: Don’t Concern Yourself With Passion

In this rule, we’ll debunk the “passion hypothesis”—the idea that a job that lets you exercise a pre-existing passion is guaranteed to make you happy. While the passion hypothesis is popular, the author believes it’s flawed for several reasons:

Reason #1: Scientists have uncovered three major discoveries that debunk the passion hypothesis:

  • Discovery #1: Passion isn’t an ingredient for motivation. Self-determination theory states that the real ingredients are independence (having control over your responsibilities makes you want to do them well), capability (feeling competent results in a feeling of satisfaction), and connection (liking your coworkers makes you happier).
  • Discovery #2: Most people don’t have occupational passions. When Robert J. Vallerand, a psychologist, surveyed Canadian university students about their passions, he discovered that 84% of students had a passion, but less than 4% of the passions were related to work.
  • Discovery #3: Occupational passions can be developed. Amy Wrzesniewski, an organizational behavior professor, studied college administrative assistants and discovered that the assistants who saw their job as a calling (rather than simply a way of making money) had been working the job the longest. This suggests that people learn to love their work as they acquire the ingredients of motivation.

Reason #2: Since the rise of the passion hypothesis, workplace satisfaction has actually decreased. 

  • Example #1: According to Conference Board surveys, in 1987, 61% of Americans said they were happy with their jobs. By 2010, only 45% of Americans were.
  • Example #2: Anecdotal evidence shows that even people who have jobs that match their passions aren’t happy. For example, 27-year-old Scott, who works in politics, admits that his job matches his passion, but he’s still not happy because it includes some tasks he doesn’t like.

Reason #3: The people who have jobs they love didn’t get them by following their passions.

  • For example, Andrew Steele, an astrobiologist who loves his job, didn’t know where he was going to end up when he started his Ph.D. program. He signed up because it gave him options, not because he was passionate about the subject.

If you want to be so good they can’t ignore you, you might need to stop focusing on your passion.

Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Rule #1

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Here's what you'll find in our full So Good They Can't Ignore You summary:

  • What makes people love their work
  • Why following your passion is not the path to loving your work
  • The four rules for loving your work

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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