This book from Cal Newport is one that I have always wanted to read but, never made time. The title, ‘So good they can’t ignore you’ sounds like a magic promise to bring out your superpowers, and frankly, I’ve always been more of a work-at-120%-to-make-things-happen kind of girl. Nevertheless, I read it, and honestly, it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It has a refreshing approach to passion, career and skills; totally the opposite of what I thought I’d be.
Therefore, I’m sharing the lessons it gave me, as it’s so different from all the motivational content out there, and it can’t hurt to know this.
1. Don’t follow your passion
Cal Newport says, “Let your passion follow you.” This makes sense, because, what if we don’t know what our passion is, or we don’t have specific career-related passions? In my case, I know what I love doing, yet there are certain things that still shape my career and could be counterproductive if I were to blindly try to follow my passion.
The key is working right, learning and getting better, betting on your efficacy and building strong relationships while nurturing others. Whatever we’re working on, all of these will allow us to enjoy our jobs and expand our horizons until we find the things we love, or better yet, they find us.
2. Develop your skills
Something else in the book resonated with me: “No one owes you a great career, you need to earn it”. I continually hear people complaining about their jobs and careers, and I always think it’s up to each one of us to enjoy the place we are at the moment, or move on or reevaluate ourselves and what we offer in exchange for what we want.
The author explains that we need to “become more intentional” about our careers, and focus on becoming good, know what we can offer to the world, build career capital and become valuable, develop rare skills even if we won’t use them immediately, jump at opportunities and walk out of our comfort zone each time. All of these can translate to constantly stretching abilities, receiving immediate feedback, focusing on difficult activities and practicing deliberately.
3. Get control
The more control we have over our time, activities and day, the more we’ll enjoy our work. But being able to do this requires capital we need to build, proving what we can do and demonstrating our qualities. It also helps if we can offer value related to something people are willing to pay money for. People will try to unconsciously prevent it, because the more control we have the fewer they have over our time for example, so it’s important to be aware of that.
The thing is, I know it’s possible. No matter the level of your role, you can have control over your own time. Of course, this also depends on the company’s culture and your managers, but given they value what you offer, it’s doable. At first it might not be easy, though.
4. Find your mission (not the same as passion, btw).
We can place little bets in different professional directions, to test different areas of work and build a custom career that fits us. As long as we’re learning from what we’re doing, and finding some kind of inspiration, it’ll be alright. The key is to try new things tentatively, not boldly.
Maybe you’re working in finance, but want to be a writer? Start writing in your own blog or other publications to see how that goes before you quit your job and start looking for a journalist’s role. It’s essential to have “little failures where possible and small but significant wins.” If the writing thing doesn’t pan out, you won’t lose anything, but if it does, you can start planning your next steps and pursue them realistically.
There are thousands of things we can try related to our current fields, and the beauty of it is that it gives us the chance to explore without doing anything rash.
5. Changing the track once we’re moving
This is the greatest insight I had after reading the book. As long as we keep going, building new skills and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, any change is easy. If we realize we want to switch careers after 5 or 15 years, we can because all the skills we already have will be the starting point for any new adventure we want to take on.
And not only hard skills, but of course soft skills as well. It’s easier to learn a new software program than it’s to learn to be patient. So, as long as we’re creating value, we’ll be fine, no matter what we decide.
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