The title comes from a Steve Martin quote. Martin’s goal was to get so good at comedy that he couldn’t be ignored. It’s another way of saying you should work hard at what you do and have some faith that the quality of what you do will eventually pay off. The author expands on this concept: 1) reject “passion”, 2) diligently practice a valuable skill, 3) eventually “cash in” on your high quality skill to live a quality life. Good advice for the post-great-recession world.
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following your passion is not particularly useful advice.
In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.
“do what you love, and the money will follow” has become the de facto motto of the career-advice field.
“Follow your passion” might just be terrible advice.
it’s hard to predict in advance what you’ll eventually grow to love.
These interviews emphasize an important point: Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.
The 2010 Conference Board survey of U.S. job satisfaction found that only 45 percent of Americans describe themselves as satisfied with their jobs. This number has been steadily decreasing from the mark of 61 percent recorded in 1987, the first year of the survey.
Telling someone to “follow their passion” is not just an act of innocent optimism, but potentially the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.
for most people, “follow your passion” is bad advice.
Inspired, I turned my attention from my website to a habit that continues to this day: I track the hours spent each month dedicated to thinking hard about research problems
I’ll call this output-centric approach to work the craftsman mindset.
Irrespective of what type of work you do, the craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love.
Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.
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,
the craftsman mindset: It 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.
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.
As Mark Casstevens put it, “the tape doesn’t lie”: If you’re a guitar player or a comedian, what you produce is basically all that matters.
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.
You need to get good in order to get good things in your working life, and the craftsman mindset is focused on achieving exactly this goal.
THREE DISQUALIFIERS FOR APPLYING THE CRAFTSMAN MINDSET The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike. A job with any combination of these disqualifying traits can thwart your attempts to build and invest career capital.
Alex and Mike both focused on getting good—not finding their passion—and then used the career capital this generated to acquire the traits that made their careers compelling.
it. As you’ll learn more about in the next chapter, Mike literally tracks every hour of his day, down to quarter-hour increments, on a spreadsheet. He wants to ensure that his attention is focused on the activities that matter.
The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level.
“When experts exhibit their superior performance in public their behavior looks so effortless and natural that we are tempted to attribute it to special talents,”
It is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that again and again ends up explaining excellence.
Put another way, if you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.
in most types of work—that is, work that doesn’t have a clear training philosophy—most people are stuck.
This is a great example of deliberate practice at work. “I want to spend time on what’s important, instead of what’s immediate,”
If you’re in a winner-take-all market, this is trivial: By definition, there’s only one type of capital that matters.
Deliberate practice requires good goals.”
Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.
Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, is only one part of the deliberate-practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback—even
“You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
Instead, like many people who end up loving what they do, he stumbled into his profession, and then found that his passion for the work increased along with his expertise.
You have to get good before you can expect good work.
Derek thought for a moment. “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules,” he said. “Do what people are willing to pay for.”
Derek made it clear that this is different from pursuing money for the sake of having money. Remember, this is someone who gave away $22 million and sold his possessions after his company was acquired. Instead, as he explained: “Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.”
As Derek explained to me, he started by pursuing music at night and on the weekend. “I didn’t quit my day job until I was making more money with my music.”
To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question, What should I do with my life?
it too requires that you first build career capital—a mission launched without this expertise is likely doomed to sputter and die.
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.
A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough—it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field. If you want to identify a mission for your working life, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge—the only place where these missions become visible.
If life-transforming missions could be found with just a little navel-gazing and an optimistic attitude, changing the world would be commonplace.
If you want a mission, you need to first acquire capital.
Rule #4 is entitled “Think Small, Act Big.”
Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.
Giles Bowkett loves what he does for a living. In fact, my first encounter with Giles was an e-mail he sent me with the subject line: “My remarkable life.” Giles, however, didn’t always love his career.
The turning point came in 2008 when Giles became a rock star in the community of computer programmers who specialize in a language called Ruby. “It seems as if every Ruby programmer on the planet knows my name,”
He decided to take a job with ENTP, one of the country’s top Ruby programming firms.
A career untamed, he realized, can bring you into dangerous territory, such as being bored while writing computer code for an investment bank. He needed a mission to actively guide his career or he would end up trapped again and again.
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. This is where the people who matter look for talent.
The core idea of this book is simple: To construct work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then cash in this capital for the type of traits that define compelling careers. Mission is one of those traits.
By definition, if it’s rare and valuable, it’s not easy to get.
As I discovered, musicians, athletes, and chess players, among others, know all about deliberate practice, but knowledge workers do not.
Another deliberate-practice routine was the introduction of my hour tally—a sheet of paper I mounted behind my desk at MIT, and plan on remounting at Georgetown. The sheet has a row for each month on which I keep a tally of the total number of hours I’ve spent that month in a state of deliberate practice.
Working right trumps finding the right work. He didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness—he needed instead a better approach to the work already available to him.