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Cal Newport: “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” | Talks at Google

“Follow Your Passion” is Bad Advice. Here is What You Should Do Instead…

In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. Not only is the cliche flawed — preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work — but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping.

After making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving what they do. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.

Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, he reveals. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.

With a title taken from the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to “be so good they can’t ignore you,” Cal Newport’s clearly written manifesto is mandatory reading for anyone fretting about what to do with their life, or frustrated by their current job situation and eager to find a fresh new way to take control of their livelihood. He provides an evidence-based blueprint for creating work you love.

SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU will change the way we think about our careers, happiness, and the crafting of a remarkable life.

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37 Comments

  1. As an older person, I think I have some insight. Pick something you think you would like and stick with it. It will evolve and eventually you will be very adept at your profession and that will make you happy. If not, life is long and you can always do something else later. But you have to stick with something for a long time to become really good at it.

  2. But he misses something important, something that actually is the MOST important : Aptitude. The reason why if you're passionate about something but you suck at it like singing you wont make a career but STILL some people make a career out of singing after having been doign something else for decades is because of aptitude : they actually were good at singing.
    You shouldn't find your passion, you should find what you're naturally good at and then developp it through constant practice.

  3. Yep, good advise. I don't know how many young people (ya know, younger than me) that I've talked to about taking life's road one step at a time, and not caving to the pressure of feeling like you have to have your life mapped out by the time you're 20. Planning is fine, as long as you're ready and willing to be flexible. Yeah, sometimes life's surprises are hard – but they make us better. Other times life's surprises are great; they're part of the adventure that you could have never seen coming. One of my favorite Bible verses along this line is Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

  4. to create something revolutionary one have to follow his passion period.You can be good in your field without following passion just by doing hard work.But to do something that never done before,to change the world with revolutionary ideas you have to have passion.Einstein,Newton,Tesla,leonardo da vinci,vasco da gama,Stephen Howkings,Richard p Fynnman,charlie chaplin etc had great passon for what they did.I think our passion comes from our biological coding.A dancer who naturally good with dancing but bad with logical thinking and a physicist with natural analytical mind and bad with dancing can't just switch their passion and create something extraordinary(assuming both work for the same amount of the time with same concentration).In contrast You become like cal newport who got a degree from MIT which hundreds of people get every year and write a book about it and earn some money

  5. This talk has made my day. I was really getting tired of looking for my passion but I realized that what he said makes sense all the other things that I am somehow passionate about are the ones that I practiced enough and got good at them.

  6. Interesting how he picked two very flawed characters. One killed himself by treating his cancer with spices & herbs, the other mislead the country by pushing anthropomorphic global warming. Both clueless about basic science. Does 'passion' make you stupid?

  7. For someone who is "educated" at top US universities, how can his grammar be so awful? At times he sounds like a total ignoramus, not even knowing the basics of his own language.

    Anyway, he has stumbled on the truth, and I think it has a parallel in social life. This follow your passion tripe has a romantic ring to it, sort of like fairy tales about falling in love. Real life generally doesn't work that way.

  8. I have his book, "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and it really changed my outlook of my own work and what I defined as my "passion". It's allowed me to re-evaluate my life and what I want to do and it's even made me a lot happier about that pursuit. The journey is good.

  9. Steve Job said "follow your passion" because it was the thing that allowed him to waste his time on silly things that eventually bear fruit. For example, Warren Buffet wasted his time collecting discarded horse-race-ticket, and now he is adept at spotting free lunch in stock market. Another example is Steve Jobs wasting his time studying art & eastern mysticism, later he was adept at making artsy product like iPhone. It is true that practising gave you the valuable skills to make you succeed in life, but you need to remember that passions help you thru the gruelling practice session, most people just skip the opportunity to practice when they encounter it, it's like "user interface is too hard… I skip!" "science is too hard… I skip!", they refuse to grab the opportunity because they aren't interested.

  10. "You do not know where your decisions come from, they pop up like hiccups. People have a great deal of anxiety about making decisions, ‘Did I think this over long enough? Did I take enough data into consideration?’ And if you think it through… you find you never could take enough data into consideration."
    – Alan Watts

  11. Although I agree that you don't HAVE to pair your job with a passion unless you really want to, IF you have a passion and you feel the urge to follow it, you should pair it with your profession. You SHOULD. Don't make excuses to justify not going back to college to pursue the career you always wanted, no matter how old or busy you are (if college is a way for you to do it).. . It may not give you the most money, but you WILL be happier. Life/nature doesn't care either way. I work with patients that are terminally ill. Their two main regrets: #1 I regret not spending more time with my family/friends/children and #2 I regret not following my passion/dream/aspiration (which can translate to: not starting my own business, not making up my own future, not going to college to pursue art, philosophy, literature, math, etc. ).

    When you are dying, you won't care about how much money you made or how many hours you worked or how large a home you purchased. You WILL regret not following your passion. Guaranteed. Following your passion.. a cheesy line… but one that can NEVER be cast out.

    I actually think that most people seeing this video are people with a secret passion and they are trying to get 'enabled' to not start the hard work, steps, and discipline it takes to do whatever they are dreaming about wanting to do. They are looking for reasons not to take that first step. It's tough. But there's always someone that's done something a thousand times harder than you.

    This being said, I do believe that there ARE people that shouldn't feel bad that they don't have a passion or dream. If you are one of these people, you don't have to force yourself to find a passion unless you want to take on that journey (?). In your case, it may be easier to just go for whatever and see if a passion develops in whatever path you take. This happens to many.

    … But yeah.. for those of you with a defined dream or passion. Follow it. Don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't or don't have to. You may just regret it when it's your time to go. At least TRY it.

  12. Steve Jobs is probably the worst person to emulate with respect to success because it's debatable whether Jobs was responsible for anything other than being at the right place at the right time surrounded by the right people (talented engineers) who in today's climate would never allow themselves to be subjugated to founder tantrums. Look at Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Theranos, she basically modeled herself after Steve Jobs, right down to the black turtlenecks. She also exhibited the same emotional and personality tendencies of Steve. But unlike Steve Jobs, she didn't have a Xerox Research Lab to steal from and had to actually develop technology in-house, and that led her to fraud because being innovative for real is hard work.

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