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So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport - 3 Big Ideas

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

Steve Martin had it right when he said, "Be so good they can't ignore you." Cal Newport, the author of this book, delves into this concept, describing principle after principle, until, at the end; you come away with a new approach to leading a happier, more fulfilling work-life.


Welcome to the 3 Things Show, where Maddi and I analyze the world of lifestyle and entrepreneurship through books, three things at a time. This week's book is So Good They Can't Ignore You, by Cal Newport.

This book is 304 pages paperback and 6 hours, 28 minutes audible.

It is described on Amazon as follows,

"In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that "follow your passion" is good advice

Not only is the cliché flawed - pre-existing passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work - but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping.

After making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving what they do. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.

Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, (Cal Newport) reveals. 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.

With a title taken from the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to "be so good they can't ignore you", Cal Newport's clearly written manifesto is mandatory listening for anyone fretting about what to do with their life, or frustrated by their current job situation and eager to find a fresh new way to take control of their livelihood. He provides an evidence-based blueprint for creating work you love..."

The 3 Things from this book are:

  • The Craftsman Mindset

  • Career Capital

  • The Dream Job Elixir


3 Things You Can Use

1. The Craftsman Mindset

The passion hypothesis.

This is what Cal calls the commonly-preached aphorism, "follow your passion." Most recently reintroduced by the Steve Jobs Stanford commencement speech, this frames "doing anything that you are not passionate about" as settling.

But Cal points out that this is not the right way to think, and tackles this concept in two ways:

Passion is not ingrained. As the more recent book, Grit, also points out, passions are developed, not intrinsic. You can't follow something that isn't there in the first place. Experimentation is what it takes to find and further explore a passion.Steve Jobs didn't follow his passion to get to where he is now. He initially made a few opportunistic choices to make money -- and was in the "right time and right place" when Apple initially took off. He ended up with the traits of a happy work-life, creativity, impact and control, and was then afforded his passion.

Cal then describes through multiple chapters after this insight that the best way to develop passion is to take on what he calls a, "craftsman mindset."

To describe this as JFK might, to have a craftsman mindset you must, "ask not what your work can do for you -- ask what you can do for your work."

That passion is an epiphenomenon of working a life well-lived - and focusing on what your work offers you makes you hyper-aware of the pitfalls and thus causes more unhappiness.

2. Career Capital

The traits that define great work, as previously mentioned, are:

  • Creativity

  • Impact

  • Control

In your perfect job you will be able to solve problems in a creative and fulfilling way, have your solutions cumulatively make a difference, and you should have autonomy throughout.

But these traits are rare, and not only does it take, usually, time and tenure, but it takes useful and uncommon skills. You wouldn't just take someone off the street and put them in a position like this.

You would have to trust that they are well-qualified with the knowledge and experience to have these powers.

Same goes for you and me.

Cal calls these skills, "Career Capital." Whatever the skills may be, whether it's experience, time or actual skills, if you want to end up working with these traits at your foundation, you will need some compelling career capital.

Your career capital should be relevant, unique and valuable. Developing career capital that meets these parameters takes effort. This realistic statement is both hard to hear and good to hear -- and that's how you know it's the actual solution.

3. The Dream Job Elixir

But if you wanted to take these traits of creativity, impact and control and pick out the most potent -- the one with 80% of the total effect -- you would have to choose control.

Dan Pink's book, Drive, includes the following statistics on the power of control:

People with more control in their lives,

  • Get better grades

  • Perform better in sports

  • Are more productive

  • Are happier

And it's a good thing that control is the most effective -- because this is the trait that is more commonly available as you go up the ladder.

To get control requires career capital, just like the rest of the traits, but also, it can't be sustained without career capital. To have control is a privilege of ability. If you can't get it done under your own control, you need someone else to be in control of getting a satisfactory result out of you.

So to achieve the dream job elixir, control, you must invest in yourself. Experiment, discover your interests, work and think in both the lay and the nuance of your interests and build up a unique portfolio of experience and skill -- if you want to be in the top percentile of satisfied workers.


Take pride in your craft and practice the craftsman mindset by working goodly, not looking for good work.

Develop your career capital in an effort to ultimately attain the three traits of great work, creativity, impact and control.

But most importantly, know that the ultimate goal of your pursuits should be control, but don't get too cocky and end up crashing and burning.

From stumbling into the real world to creating a founded and unique mission for your life, Cal Newport really lays it out for you from start to finish. I am totally going to send this book to a few people I know that are riddled with anxiety at the unknown prospects of their life.

This book parallels Grit, by Angela Duckworth, but, though some of the same principles, a different paradigm.

It's a great read and uses concepts from different books as well as multiple supporting examples and anecdotes. Because there are so many anecdotes, it gives you the impression that these principles really are accurate, but it also entertains.

We hope you enjoyed these 3 things and that you liked this surface-scratch enough to get the whole book and find out more!

Either way,

Thank's for watching, make sure to subscribe, and we'll see you next week!

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So Good They Can't Ignore You (Audible Version)

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(disclosure: ^^^ these links give me a commission -- at no extra cost to you! They just give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)


Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig

Reading Photo at end of video by: Marketa

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