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So Good They Can't Ignore You

Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

By Cal Newport
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
Synopsis

How can you find a job that you are good at and enjoy? This book advocates the "craftsman mind-set" of patiently developing skills instead of the typical "follow-your-passion" advice, and offers practical solutions to acquiring and maintaining job satisfaction.

Key idea 1 of 8

Passion is rare, and striving for a job you’re passionate about often leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

"The passion hypothesis" taught by life coaches and authors urges individuals to "do what they love." The gist is this: find your passion first, and then meaningful work will appear at your fingertips. 

But is passion necessarily the right path?

First of all, real passion that coincides with professional possibilities is extremely rare. When questioned in a 2002 study, 84 out of 100 Canadian university students responded that they did have passions. However, most of the passions they identified had no viable relationship to available careers, but were instead hobbies such as dancing, reading and skiing. In fact, only four in 84 of the students identified passions with direct connections to work or education, such as computer programming.

Secondly, passion can be dangerous.

Since the birth of “the passion hypothesis” in 1970, more people have begun to follow their passions. Convinced they should do only work they love, they switch jobs more frequently. But the job market can't meet these demands. Since we cannot all be professional beer drinkers or poets, more job seekers wind up in jobs they are unhappy with. In fact, job satisfaction has actually declined in recent decades; in 2010, only 45 percent of Americans surveyed were happy with their jobs, down from 61 percent in 1987.

This means that looking for the work you were "meant to do" is likely to be a route to constant job-hopping and self-doubt.

Take Thomas, for instance. Thomas was unhappy with his work. Wanting to become a Zen Buddhist, he finally followed his passion to the monastery. He described his arrival as the feeling of "being really hungry" and expecting "an amazing meal" – only to find that the meal didn’t satisfy him. Although Thomas succeeded in his Zen practice, nothing had changed; he still had worries and anxieties. He learned that the path of passion does not guarantee happiness.

Passion is rare, and striving for a job you’re passionate about often leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

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