So Good They Can’t Ignore You Review, Summary, Notes and Quotes

Rule 1 – Don’t Follow Your Passion

Newport contends that following your passion is dud’s advice. It takes courage and it’s admirable but for so many, it leads to not starting.

Rather, passion follows a life of action in much the same way form follows function.

Newport claims that compelling careers have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

You must pay your dues and do the work. Discipline is your ally on this quest.

“The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase.”

You must distinguish between your job, your career and your calling.

A job is the way to pay the bills. A career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.

The strongest indicator of someone defining their work as their calling is loving the work that they do. The more experience you have, the more enjoyable the work seems.

I suspect that this is the case since we push through the uncomfortable phase of cognitive dissonance. This is where we reject what is new and unfamiliar because it is difficult to obtain.

Three factors give you a strong sense of fulfilment:

  1. Autonomy: the felling that you have control over your day and that your actions are important.
  2. Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do.
  3. Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people.

Working with these factors humming is the right way to work and that trumps finding the right work.

Rule 2 – Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Or, the Importance of Skill)

Rule 2 speaks to spending your time acquiring skills that are unique and valuable. You do this with deliberate practice over time.

Deliberate Practice

What is deliberate practice? It’s a love for the discomfort you feel in your mind when you suck at something. However, instead of giving up, you chip away at forming a clearer picture.

But you can’t just work hard. You need to work with focus. With a tenacity for persevering through the challenge. Newport cautions us otherwise.

If you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.

Connection To 7 Habits

Interestingly, I can hear Newport make an indirect reference to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits. In a podcast with Tim Ferriss, I have heard Newport mention directly that he uses Covey’s planning system.

He draws attention to the way in which one of his case studies utilises his time.

His new tool of choice is a spreadsheet, which he uses to track how he spends every hour of every day.

He wants to audit how he spends his time so that he can become acutely aware of what work he focusses on.

Of course, Covey, in 7 Habits, wants us to prioritise the “Quadrant 2 work.” That is the work that is important but not urgent. It’s also the work that builds our production capacity. It’s the time we invest into ourselves and our endeavours. It’s a proactive state of being.

His case study captures this essence in the quote below.

I want to spend time on what’s important, instead of what’s immediate.

In 7 Habits, Covey mentions that Quadrant 4 is the one where we all enjoy hanging out. That’s because it’s enjoyable. Work that is easy and neither urgent nor important.

However, that comes at a price.

Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.

I do suspect that once one has banked enough career capital (mentioned below) that work flows naturally into this category but it sustains its importance.

Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.

It’s a sobering truth, isn’t it? Choose for growth in the moment. That’s the escaltor to high performance over time.

Newport mentions two components to deliberate practice:

  1. Pushing past what’s comfortable.
  2. Embracing honest feedback even if it destroys what you thought was good.

Lastly, he makes a comment to the constant allurements and distractions that attempt to intrude upon us. The elixer is to remain in alignment with your deliberate practice.

… Less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you.

Ignore the shiny new thing that’s trying to distract your focus. Stay the course.

The Craftsman

Newport speaks to the difference between the craftsman mindset and the passion mindset.

The craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you . This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.

We can be so caught up in ourselves (and by we I probably mean me) that we forget that we will become more fulfilled when we contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. Become valuable to other people and cast aside your ego’s own desires.

Asking the question, “how can I add value to the lives of others and enjoy the process of doing so?”

I like how Newport likens craftsmanship to that of performing. You become desciplined, habitual and work tirelessly at your craft.

You shouldn’t just envy the craftsman mindset, you should emulate it. In other words, I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.

Our way out is to adopt this craftsman mindset. The pathway to mastery.

Regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career.

Each time you do this, you bank more capital and it unlocks a richer understanding I’m developing this aspect of my existence and I appreciate that I’m around 3 to 4 years into my mastery.

Also, I like Scott Adams’ approach where uniqueness and Mastery can be a combination of 4 to 5 skills at around 80 to 90%.

You’re never a specialist, but the amalgamation of these skills makes you unique.

My main criticism of the book here is that it suggests, or rather, uses many examples from academia. Like, you’ve got to have a PhD to access fulfilling work. This isn’t what Cal suggests, but so many of these examples leave one feeling despair mid-career if you’re not on the academic track.

Rule 3 – Turn Down a Promotion (The Importance of Control)

Once you have your career capital, you cash it in for more control and autonomy in your work. You have greater say in what you do.

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

I suspect that this is why part of the reason why I struggle to work in schools. The only autonomy you have in a school role is inside the classroom.

But even that is heavily influence via lead teachers, the curriculum and time constraints. The rest is organised chaos.

Leading you to consider a position’s potential autonomy as being as important as its offered salary.

The Perils of Prematurely Pursuing Control

However, striving for control without the career capital backing you leads to failure. I found this out first hand in my own lifestyle design quest upon leaving teaching. Now I appreciate that I’m in the capital building phase. I can only hope I teach young people to acquire their capital earlier than me.

She tried to obtain control without any capital to offer in return, and ended up with a mere shadow of real autonomy.

The above quote speaks to one of Newport’s case studies he left her desk job in pursuit of a career as a yoga practitioner. She had just one month of a course under her belt.

It worked out for her until the Global Financial Crisis hit. The short of it is that she ended up on food stamps.

… she went after more control without the capital to back it up. Also like Jane, this path soon veered in a difficult direction: Within a year, Feuer was on food stamps.

Interestingly, I have a similar tale for when I left my first teaching role. I went on to pursue my online entrepreneurial dreams. I would work as a casual relief teacher while I was hustling.

Then the pandemic came and casual relief teachers were not required. No jobs where I was located and I was locked out of Melbourne.

I eneded up working in cleaning roles (in which day 2 of the role I found myself cleaning a shit bomb in a toilet), which is another tale of framing the mind to enjoy what you do as cultivating that energy is critical to longevity.

Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like us who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.

Rule 4 – Think Small, Act Big (Or, the Importance of Mission)

Newport argues that one’s mission comes only after capital and control. You don’t define this beforehand. I tend to disagree. I’m sure you can, but a life’s mission is fluid and based on values and principles. One needs no skills to understand this. Also, I’m sure there are many examples of non-academics that Newport missed. Examples of people who turned it around mid-career.

Newport says that mission guides your direction. You don’t start with the end and work backwards. You take action on a series of little bets.

… they make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins (emphasis mine). This rapid and frequent feedback , Sims argues, “allows them to find unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.”

So what might a little bet be?

It’s a project small enough to be completed in less than a month. It forces you to create new value ( e.g . , master a new skill and produce new results that didn’t exist before ). It produces a concrete result that you can use to gather concrete feedback.

Plus a few little quotes for young developers out there.

If you want to make a name for yourself in software development — the type of name that can help you secure employment — focus your attention on making quality contributions to open – source projects.

The best way to market yourself as a programmer is to create remarkable open – source software.”

Be Remarkable

These quotes link to Newport’s idea of being ‘remarkable’. This terms relates to marketing. It’s people remarking about you that makes you remarkable.

He makes mention to Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow. People remark over a purple cow.

First, the offering must literally compel people to remark about it. Second, it must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking.


It’s a useful book that reminds us to commit to a path of mastery. Labour like Heracles. This delays gratification and appears to be one of life’s angelic patterns.

In short, “working right, trumps finding the right work.”

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