Book review- So Good They Can’t Ignore You

I’m sure many of you must have heard this when you were in college/school- “Figure out your true passion and follow it to be successful in your career.” Not just you, this advice has been passed on for decades to your seniors and their seniors.

Many eminent writers have written books on this subject. Books like- “Career Match: Connecting Who You are with What You’ll Love to Do” and “Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type” sell the idea that finding your passion is the key to a happy and successful professional life.

But I couldn’t connect with this idea- figure out passion first and then follow it with great zeal. That, somehow, never sounded right!

And I was right. I got my answer after reading Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” And what makes me even happier is that my new found belief is supported by the research-based outcomes which are quoted in the book.

A person reading So-Good-they-can't-ignore you

The book talks about passion as one of the important ingredients that produce great professional success but also says that “it’s not the only one”.

While reading the book I had this lingering question in my mind- will the book have examples of successful people who have left their mark in the world? Did they first figured out what their true passion was and then followed it?

I was happy to discover that it’s just the opposite. Cal explains in his book that all successful people are passionate about doing great work first which leads them towards being passionate about it. They don’t run behind the elusive ‘passion’ which will set them on the path to success.

Examples of successful people who didn’t run behind the passion

One of the examples that have stayed with me is of Steve Jobs. Steve, while addressing a crowd of 23000 students in Stanford University Stadium, had offered this advice “You’ve got to find what you love”. The unofficial video clip on YouTube got millions of views. In fact, people had misinterpreted what Jobs wanted to convey, people took this advice as– figure out what you love and then match it to your work and voila! problem solved.

However, if you look back at Steve Jobs’s early days, you’ll know that he was not passionate about changing the world since his high school days. He did not opt for any engineering or business school at that time. He was as aimless and carefree as most students are in their early life.

Instead, he went to Leeds college, Berkeley, studied history, dance and very soon dropped out. He walked barefoot at the college campus, experimented with extreme diets, going for free meals at Hare Krishna Temple. He was very destitute at that time. So, he went back to California to do a night shift job at Atari because he wanted flexibility in his working life. There he started studying mysticism. He also went to India on a mendicant’s journey, studied at the Zen center, and returned after several months from there.

Now knowing about Jobs early days we can conclude that he had no passion about anything specific. Instead, he was seeking life and its secrets by experiencing a bit of everything.

We also know that making of Apple Inc. was not a planned thing. Instead, Jobs and Woz had stumbled upon this opportunity. Woz was working on a circuit board (Apple 1) and Jobs met Steve Parrell who had a popular computer store among hobbyists. Job offered Parrell with 50 circuit boards which he sold to the hobbyist in the area and further asked Jobs that instead of circuit board he want 200 full computers, and that’s how Apple computer was born. Steve took the opportunity and invested himself entirely in developing the first Apple computer.

And then! Rest is history, as we all know it. There was no going back for Steve and Apple Inc. is still one of the most revered organizations in the world.

Who should read the book?

A lampshade with the book- so good they can't ignore you

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is probably the best book not only for people beginning with their career but for people of all ages and professions.

Cal has broken a very common and deeply rooted misconception “Follow your passion” with logical reasons and field research to support his idea. He has effectively proved that “Follow your passion” is flawed and can be harmful. It can lead to many job changes and dissatisfaction in life.

Research carried out in 2002 by psychologist Robert J Vallerand indicates that career passions are below 4% and in 96% of the cases people have a true passion about their hobbies i.e. music, arts, and sports, etc. This research clearly indicates that career passions are rare and completely different from hobbies. Most of the time people mistakenly interchange hobbies with career passions.

A four-decade-old theory known as Self Determination Theory (SDT) is perhaps the best understanding for why some pursuits get our engines running while others leave us cold.

SDT tells that to be motivated a person needs to fulfill three basic psychological needs and if these needs are fulfilled a person feels intrinsically motivated:

#1. Autonomy
A feeling that you have full control over your day and your actions are important.

#2. Competence

The feeling of being good at one’s craft.

#3. Relatedness
The feeling of connection with other people.

This theory helped me realize that instead of investing time in figuring out our passion we should invest our time and energy at becoming the best in what we do. Because when we get better at our craft we develop a feeling of efficacy which in turns work into a true passion. 

In a nutshell, doing your work right and with all your heart in it, is always better than finding the right work for you.

Traits of great work

Cal also defines something called “traits of great work”, which is essentially how to recognize if you are doing great in whatever you are doing. He says that great work has three traits-

#1. Creativity

Pushing oneself’s creative boundaries to reach higher levels of excellence to achieve accolades, awards, and recognition gives a psychological boost to do even better.

#2. Impact

Pride of putting a positive impact on people’s lives keeps our engine running at full throttle. When you know that your work is going to make the lives of so many people better, it gives you a high like none other.

#3. Control

Control on one’s way of doing things also helps immensely to deliver better results.

A basic economic theory tells that if you want something that’s rare and valuable you have to offer something rare and valuable in return. Cal Newport calls these rare and valuable skills as Career Capital and suggests that in order to fall in love with your work you should acquire a large store of this capital.

Passion mindset v/s Craftsman mindset

Passion mindset makes you focus on what the world can offer you. You’ll always be distracted by things like outcomes and when outcomes don’t come, you’ll think- probably this work isn’t for me, I must search for some other passion.

On the contrary-

Craftsman mindset leads to perfection in one’s work and it focuses on what you can offer to the world. You focus all your energy in learning to be the best in one area and master that art.

Craftsman mindset offers clarity while the passion mindset offers confusion and unanswerable questions.

Craftsman mindset asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns (like- Am I in the right profession?) and instead go full throttle with your best efforts at being superfine at your craft.

However, here’s one thing that you need to remember- just having the craftsman mindset won’t be of much help. You must back it up with deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is an approach where we need to deliberately stretch our abilities beyond our comfort zone. This practice is often the opposite of enjoyable and it physically reforms our neurons into new configurations. It helps us to cross the ordinary benchmark resulting in fewer or no competitors at all.

Seeking feedback works as an icing on the cake where you get your deliberate work critiqued by your peers/seniors to take it to the next level of refinements.

Once a person using deliberate practice has made his skills rare and valuable and has acquired a huge amount of career capital he enjoys the liberty of doing things his way. This is called control.

Control is seductive and every single person in this world longs for this trait. But to have full control over professional life one has to offer a good amount of career capital in return.


I know my thoughts are all over the blog- wandering from one thing to another, mainly because I feel overwhelmed after reading this book. But I have tried to structure my thoughts around parts which I loved the most.

I believe Cal has successfully convinced (at least me!) that craftsman mindset over a passion mindset is a clear winner. In simple words, one should put his/her best efforts to produce great work and one will start falling in love with his work.

I will just leave you with a quote from the book- “put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you”.

Because let’s accept it, much like anything else in the world, no one can give you a great career instead you have to earn it with your best efforts.

Hope you read the book!

You might also like