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Summary: So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

In 2010, author Cal Newport received a PhD in Computer Science from MIT. Before starting his career, he became obsessed with the question: “Why do some people end up loving what they do (for a living), while so many others fail at this goal?”

Cal Newport interviewed people who loved their work to find out how they got there. The people who loved what they did for a living had a craftsman mindset, not a passion mindset.

The Passion Mindset

The passionate mindset thinks: “What can the world offer me? What job can sustain my pre‐existing passion?”

Book Summary: So Good They Can't Ignore You - Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

“First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. This is especially true for entry‐level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy—these come later. When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle.

Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm. “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes‐or‐no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused.” – Cal Newport

The Craftsman Mindset

The craftsman mindset thinks: “How can I improve and have something uniquely valuable to offer the world? Am I willing to stick with this, despite how boring and tedious the process may be?”

“It (the craftsman mindset) asks you to leave behind self‐centered concerns about whether your job is “just right,” and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.” ‐ Cal Newport

“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. This is why I reject the “argument from pre‐existing passion,” because it gets things backward. In reality, as I’ll demonstrate, you adopt the craftsman mindset first and then the passion follows.” ‐ Cal Newport

Why a ‘Craftsman Mindset’ is prerequisite for passion

People who love what they do for a living consistently experience these three work traits:

  • Impact: the quality of your work has a noticeable and positive impact on people you care about (teammate, customer, etc.).
  • Creativity: you have an opportunity to improvise your work and implement your ideas.
  • Control: you have some say over how, when, where you work.

“The things that make great work great (creativity, impact, and control), are rare and valuable. If you want them in your career, you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return.” ‐ Cal Newport

The process of developing rare and valuable skills is hard, and this is why having a craftsman mindset is so critical. Unless you find a way to stick to the process of improvement, despite how much your passion dips, you’ll fail to develop skills that are rare and valuable, and you won’t have enough leverage to demand these rare and valuable work traits.

How to become rare and valuable

Start volunteering for challenging projects at work, and start initiating challenging projects at home. Select your projects based on the skills they force you to develop. Here are three questions to find the rare and valuable skills you need to develop:

  • What particular skill does my team, company, or industry lack at the moment (ex: specific domain knowledge, software program, etc.)?
  • What technologic expertise is in high demand in my industry (ex: SQL programming, Facebook advertising, etc.)?
  • What skills do the people at the top of my profession seem to have (ex: clear business writing, public speaking, time management, etc.)?

When you’ve found a skill you want to develop, use the principles of deliberate practice to develop that skill:

  • Carve out periods of undistracted focus.
  • Push yourself to the edge of your ability; cycle between comfort and discomfort.
  • Seek immediate feedback and mentorship.

Always be asking: Am I becoming increasingly rare (how long would it take me to train a college graduate to do what I do) and incredibly valuable (how badly would people miss my contribution if I quit)?

“If you’re not putting in the effort to become, as Steve Martin put it, “so good they can’t ignore you,” you’re not likely to end up loving your work—regardless of whether or not you believe it’s your true calling.” – Cal Newport



In “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love,” Cal Newport challenges the conventional wisdom that passion is the key to finding work you love. Instead, he argues that developing valuable skills is the more important factor in achieving professional success and job satisfaction. In this review, we will delve into the main arguments and insights presented in the book, and evaluate the effectiveness of Newport’s ideas.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part, “The Problem with Passion,” challenges the conventional wisdom that you should follow your passion in order to find work you love. Newport argues that passion is often fleeting and unreliable, and that it’s not a good basis for making life decisions.

The second part, “The Drill,” provides a roadmap for becoming so good at something that you become indispensable. Newport outlines a three-step process:

  • Decide on a valuable skill. This could be anything from coding to public speaking to writing.
  • Invest in yourself. This means taking the time and effort to learn and practice the skill.
  • Become known for your skill. This means getting out there and showing people what you can do.

The third part, “The Antidote,” provides advice on how to avoid common pitfalls in the quest for work you love. Newport warns against job hopping, chasing money, and letting your emotions rule your career decisions.

Main Arguments:

Newport’s central thesis is that the most successful professionals are those who have developed a rare combination of skills that are valuable to their industry and difficult to replicate. He argues that these skills, rather than passion or talent, are the driving force behind professional success. Newport identifies several key skills that are essential for success, including:

  • Expertise: The ability to perform a specific task or skill at an exceptionally high level.
  • Rare and valuable skills: Skills that are scarce and valuable in the marketplace.
  • Solving valuable problems: The ability to identify and solve problems that are important to others.
  • Creating valuable things: The ability to create something that has value to others.

Newport also challenges the idea that job satisfaction can be found through passion alone. He argues that passion is often a byproduct of success, rather than a prerequisite for it. Instead, he suggests that the best way to find work you love is to focus on developing valuable skills that are in demand in the marketplace.

Insights and Key Takeaways:

  • Skills matter more than passion: Newport’s primary argument is that skills are more important than passion in determining professional success and job satisfaction.
  • Expertise is key: Developing expertise in a specific area is essential for success, regardless of how passionate you are about the field.
  • Rare and valuable skills are valuable: Identifying and developing rare and valuable skills can set you apart from others in your industry.
  • Solving valuable problems is important: Finding a way to solve problems that are important to others can lead to success and job satisfaction.
  • Creating valuable things is a path to success: Developing the ability to create something valuable can lead to success and job satisfaction.
  • Passion is a byproduct of success: Newport suggests that passion often follows success, rather than leading to it.
  • Focus on developing valuable skills: The most successful professionals are those who have developed valuable skills that are in demand in the marketplace.


  • Unique perspective: Newport offers a fresh and counterintuitive perspective on the traditional advice of “following your passion”. His arguments are well-researched and backed by real-life examples, making the book both thought-provoking and engaging.
  • Practical advice: The book is filled with actionable tips and strategies for identifying and developing valuable skills. Newport provides practical advice on how to network, how to learn new skills, and how to market oneself to potential employers.
  • Evidence-based: The book is well-researched and supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. Newport cites studies and case studies to back up his arguments, making the book feel authoritative and credible.


  • Focus on individualism: The book primarily focuses on individual effort and agency, without fully acknowledging the structural and systemic factors that can limit one’s career opportunities.
  • Limited discussions of diversity and inclusion: The book does not fully address the challenges faced by individuals from diverse backgrounds or the importance of creating inclusive workplaces.
  • Somewhat repetitive: Some of the ideas and concepts are repeated throughout the book, making it feel somewhat repetitive for readers who are familiar with the topic.


In conclusion, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is a thought-provoking and well-researched book that challenges the conventional wisdom on finding work you love. Newport’s arguments are well-supported by data and insights, and his advice is practical and actionable. While some areas could benefit from more depth and analysis, the book provides valuable insights into the factors that contribute to professional success and job satisfaction. Overall, the book is a must-read for anyone looking to develop valuable skills and find work they love.


I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to create a fulfilling and successful career. The book’s unique perspective and practical advice make it a valuable resource for job seekers, career changers, and anyone looking to advance in their current role. Additionally, the book’s focus on the importance of skills and networking makes it a great resource for anyone looking to build a career in a competitive job market.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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