Chris Castig Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

“Don’t Follow Your Passion” from So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

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So Good They Can't Ignore You

So Good They Can’t Ignore You is made up of four rules:

  1. Don’t follow your passion
  2. Be so Good They Can’t Ignore You
  3. Turn Down a Promotion
  4. Think Small, Act Big

So Good They Can’t Ignore You asks the questions:

  • Why do some people end up loving what they do, while so many other fail at this goal?
  • How do people end up loving what they do?
  • What should I do with my life?

Rule #1: Don’t follow your passion

The passion hypothesis: The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion

“A Canadian university questionnaire: Do these students have passions? And what are they? Here are the top five identified passions: dance, hockey, skiing, reading, and swimming. Though dear to the hearts of the students, these passions don’t have much to offer when it comes to choosing a job…..”  [15]


  • Job – is a way to pay the bills
  • Career – a path toward increasingly better work
  • Calling – is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity [15]

“The passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic ‘right’ job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do.”

So if you shouldn’t follow your passion, what should you do? That brings us to Rule #2.

Rule #2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Most people adapt the passion mindset, but this chapter argues that you should develop the craftsman mindset: focus on what value you are producing for the job.

The title of the book comes from a quote from the comedian Steve Martin, in which he said, “Nobody ever takes my advice, because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’” [33]

“The passion mindset focuses on what the world can offer you. The craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world.” [38]

To be successful as a craftsman, according to Newport, you’ll need to develop career capital: In order to become a craftsman you need deliberate practice: you need to stretch past where you are at and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance.

This answers Newport’s question: “Why is Jordan Tice a better guitar player than me even though we started at the same age?” It’s because Jordan spent more time challenging himself with deliberate practice. Newport writes, “I learned songs reluctantly, then clung to them fiercely once they had become easy for me… Jordan would constantly stretch himself beyond what was comfortable.” [77]

Rule #3: Turn down a promotion

The rule argues that having control over what you do, and how you do it, is one of the most powerful traits you can acquire when creating work you love.

“Ryan Voiland did not follow his passion into farming. Instead, like many people who end up loving wha they do, he stumbled into his profession, and then found that his passion for the work increased along with his expertise.” [108]

“It’s dangerous to pursue more control in your working life before you have career capital to offer in exchange.”  [115]

“Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.”

This chapter shows the story of a woman (Jane) who dropped out of college to start her own thing. The point here is: she didn’t have enough career capital. Ideally you want to make sure you have some traction, career capital, etc. Before you just dive into having total control. You need to earn it.

Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big

This rule says that having a unifying mission to your working life can be a source of great satisfaction.

How do you make mission a reality in your working life?

Once you generate a mission, you’re left with the task of launching specific projects that make it succeed. An effective strategy for accomplishing this task is to try small steps that generate concrete feedback – little bets – and then use this feedback be it good or bad, to help figure out what to try next.

The law of remarkability says that for a project to transform a mission into a success, it should be remarkable in two ways: It must literally compel people to remark about it, and it must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking.

“Love what you do for a living”

“Working right trumps finding the right work”  [228]


Title: So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
Author: Cal Newport
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (September 18, 2012)

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Chris Castig Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.