Totally recommend it!
One of my favorite lines, which also sums up the book, is this:
Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, “so good that they can’t ignore you.”
That might sound dream-crushing, especially if you want to do something creative. But the book was wildly inspirational.
One of the major themes in So Good They Can’t Ignore You isthat you should “focus on what value you’re producing in your job” rather than focusing on what the job can offer you.
This is probably obvious to doctors and accountants and restaurant owners, and most people in the world who studied high school Economics. Somehow, because I’ve chosen writing, and writing is “art,” I thought it was exempt from all those rules; embarrassingly I never thought about the fact that I could be offering value to the world. Or that by “offering value,” I’d actually have more success. So it goes without saying that I’ve also never asked myself: “How can I get good enough to offer something to the world?”
I think three routes to offering value to the world through The Pen are:
I’ve thought about “good” as being chosen—by editors, by readers, by publishers, by bosses, etc. Which often feels lucky (or just as often: unlucky) but always out of my control. So it was empowering to reframe how I think about this.
Because Cal Newport is a computer scientist, this book doesn’t just dance around ideas, it breaks down how to work so that you actually get better—instead of just putting in the 10,000 hours and magically hoping for improvement.
This book also spoke to me because there are so many “lifestyle design” blogs out there, arguing that it’s easy to say, travel the world and work remotely, all you have to do is go for it.
Sometimes I feel like a chump for having banal goals like “wanting to buy groceries” or “wanting to afford a coffee table from Jonathan Adler.” Like I’m not being serious about my desire to travel and write, and too lazy to get all minimalist and focused.
This book makes the case that you aren’t ready to take the leap to follow your passion full-time until people are paying you for it. (Again—it’s just commonsense, but this is missing in some of the blogs I read and also in my own thinking.)
ALSO, THERE’S MORE I LOVE IN THIS BOOK: a question I’ve wondered with friends is, “what’s the right amount of satisfaction to expect from a job?” and this book is empowering in that it puts the onus on me, the worker, to create it—not to expect a job to make me happy.
This is all a very long way of saying I had this book on the mind when we went to the Rodin Museum, which is a really fantastic spot in Philadelphia, and I hope you get to go there if you’re in Philly.
Rodin EPITOMIZES SUCCESS—he’s considered the father of modern sculpture.
What I didn’t know, until this weekend, was that Rodin never set out to change his field—he just tried to get really good at it.
And that must have been what kept him chugging along while he was getting rejected, because he dealt with a TON of rejection in his career, both from himself and from the world.
For example, he tried three times to get into the top arts school in Paris, and was rejected every time.
He was self-taught because he had to be, and, to quote Wikipedia’s entry on Rodin, he took a “craftsman-like” approach to his work.
He also rejected just about every fantastic sculpture he ever created for “The Gates of Hell.”
One of the galleries at the Philly Museum houses every iconic sculture of Rodin’s, such as “The Kiss” and “The Thinker” and they were all originally created to be part of Gates of Hell, but then ultimately Rodin didn’t include them. (He did include the Thinker, but a different, later version of it.)
By the way, The Gates of Hell took 37 years to complete.
The guy just really, really wanted to be good.
He took the passion out of it; he focused on skills.
A simple lesson for all of us (me) in need of a little reframing.
Thank you, Cal! And thank you, Rodin!