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 ย drilling down further into satisfying the โ€œworkโ€ 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

Whatโ€™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 ย 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.