Cal Newport - "So Good They Can't Ignore You" - QuickSummary

Cal Newport - "So Good They Can't Ignore You"  - QuickSummary

Since i've heard about it I've always loved the framework of Ikigai for balancing work-life-balance with mission and purpose in one's life.

(Bodetree, Adapted from Francesc Miralles via from Forbes)

Recently however i came across Cal Newport's book "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and I really love the thesis he sets out for finding "work you love". I find this super helfpul when combined with the ikigai diagram and  drilling down further into satisfying the “work” aspect of life.

Don't Follow Your Passion!

Initially he focuses on dispelling the myth of "follow your passion".

Finding that satisfying works comes rather from:

  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Interpersonal-connections

He later examines the careers and jobs of successful people who have apparently dream jobs and derives a similar list of traits that make for great, enjoyable work:

  • Creativity - i.e some form of ingenuity and cognitive process
  • Impact - to the wider world
  • Control - over ones autonomy

Finding Your Passion

What’s interesting is that although he initially dispels the idea of "Follow your passion" he ties it back in at the end of book. He explores how  having built up expertise (career-capital) the people he interviewed were then able to use that to find a fulfilling mission-driven career. As opposed to knowing a-priori what they were interested in and then turning that into good work.


Caveat: This is somewhat specialised to people working on the cutting-edge and I would suppose that there are other people living quite happy contented lives through quite different methods.

For Type-A people however, especially in STEM, this sounds like a very sound and clear thesis. Building up "career-capital" and then trading it in for fulfilling work; with autonomy, competence and impact.

Building expertise (career-capital)

In the middle section of the book he explores building up that career capital:


Case Studies

Finally the book is peppered throughout with case-studies that reinforce and elucidate the author's points; providing credence and believability to his thesis. It's a great way to structure the book making it clear, relatable and understandable.

Most of all though it makes the book just fun and interesting to read!

I would highly recommend picking up a copy if you have a chance and thumbing through the stories that make you think.

One really interesting case study was that of a genetics researcher. She had a really interesting journey trying a bunch of different things in similar areas, becoming increasingly specialised in her field until one paid off in a big way!

Just some initial thoughts on this book, but overall I think it's a great way to think about work and fits into a lot of common advice around working hard in one's twenties; building up expertise; and satisfaction coming from impact, autonomy and competence. If you inspect it closely you can even hear echoes of the ikigai philosophy buried somewhere within there.