Lessons from reading So Good They Can't Ignore You

Don’t follow your passion

The world is filled with unhappy people who’ve followed their passion and happy people who do work that they’ve become happy about by being good at it.

The trick to being happy in your career is understanding that many of the options place in front of you are actually traps that can prevent you from attaining the things that ultimately lead you to being happy.

Create Passion in What You Do

Passions are created by being good at what you do rather than doing something you’re initially passionate about.

You rarely have enough knowledge to judge what work is worth doing before you do it, so you should just start working on something now.

True experts are created by developing a craft and that only happens when you put out work consistently for a long time and that often means putting out much more work than people realize.

Practice Deliberately

The closest thing to a shortcut in becoming an expert is to spend many hours working on deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is the act of trying to understand what makes high quality work and repeatedly putting out work towards that goal.

Focus on Creating Career Capital to Make Yourself Happier at Work

The biggest factor in being happy in your career is how much control you have over your work.

But it’s easy to fail getting control over your work if your don’t have enough career capital to successfully do the type of work you want to do.

“the first task in building a deliberate practice strategy is to figure out what type of career capital market you’re competing in”

“it’s surprising easy to get wrong”

There are two types of career capital:

  1. auction market
  2. winner-take-all

In auction markets, it’s valuable to build up a diverse set of skills.

In winner-take-all markets, it’s important to become known as the best at something.

Most experts are winners in winner-take-all markets.

These markets are dominated by the results of deliberate practice.

But knowledge workers aren’t trained in deliberate practice, so those who learn and apply it have a significant advantage over their competitors.

Validate your new career path before you pursue it

Cal advocates that people thinking about going solo ask themselves whether people will pay for the new work they want to do.

I disagree. As a consultant with experience working with early-stage companies, I know asking yourself isn’t enough. Promises or verbal assurances don’t cut it. You need people to write checks and sign contracts.

Publicize your work to create career Capital

One of the best ways to create career capital is sharing your work with people who can hire or work with you.

But getting the attention for your work isn’t always easy. The best way is to work on something that’s novel or important.

Find what work your peers cite most frequently as resources they trust and use as part of their work helps make it seem important.

To find something novel, ask yourself what is “adjacently possible”.

In my experience, finding novel work and ideas is the result of purely developing expertise where the level of understanding you have is deep enough that you feel comfort applying ideas across different domains. Actively working to find new ideas, in my view, diminishes the amount of mental energy you have that would naturally spur creativity and lead to the sorts of novel thinking and innovation that create meaningful career capital.

Develop Deep Expertise

You can develop deep expertise by increasing the amount of mental effort you put into understanding the work you’re already doing.

Two ways that Cal does this are:

  1. creating summaries of the work you do
  2. drawing connections between the concepts you work on, on paper

One story from the book that stands out on developing deep expertise is Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in theoretical physics, yet scored only 125 on his IQ test.

In his memoirs, Richard writes how he deconstructed important papers and mathematical concepts as a core habit.

Take Short Breaks to Combat Your Internal Resistance

Cal met huge levels of internal resistance when he tried to perform work towards developing deep expertise.

Cal used two methods to overcome internal resistance:

  1. work on a single task intensely for 1-hour and take a short break (the Pomodoro method)
  2. visually map your progress of summarizing concepts