Do you want know how to be so good they can’t ignore you?
Have you ever wondered how you can become the master of their craft, position yourself as an expert and stand out in a very crowded marketplace? Why do skills actually trump passion in the quest for work you love? How do some people end up loving what they do for work and become incredibly successful at what what they do, while so many others don’t?
To learn how to be so good they can’t ignore you, I interview Cal Newport, author of the award winning bestselling book So Good They Can’t Ignore You and founder of the awesome blog, Study Hacks.
Listen Now – Interview With Cal Newport
More About This Show
The Lifestyle Architects is a podcast and web show that will help YOU design your life, build your business, and live your dream. It features the most inspiring and successful lifestyle entrepreneurs, thought leaders and other change makers in the world doing extraordinary things.
The show format is both a podcast and web show (YouTube).
Cal Newport is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, a book which debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. He has also written three books of unconventional advice for students. His ideas and writing are frequently featured in major publications and on TV and radio.
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 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. 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.
If you want to listen to this episode on YouTube you can do so here. (sorry, no video interview for this one)
Here are some things you’ll discover in this show:
- The reason why Cal Newport wrote So Good They Can’t Ignore You
- Why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love
- How to become the master of your craft to achieve greatness in business and life
- The difference between the craftsman mindset and the passion mindset
- The difference between deep and shallow work (and how to almost limit distractions completely!)
- Why Cal Newport has no social media accounts
- Cal Newport’s take on how to position yourself as an expert in your field (to charge premium prices)
- And much, much, more!
Now, let’s break down everything that Cal Newport shared about how you can be so good they can’t ignore you, and much, much more actionable stuff you can implement today to master anything and achieve greatness in your business and life!
But heads up – this is a 9,948 word “epic” guide and in some cases extremely detailed. It took me well over 25 hours to write.
It will take you about 20-25 minutes to read (depending on how fast you read of course).
So Good They Can’t Ignore You was written because Cal Newport needed the information that was in it.
It conceived during a pretty important transition in Cal’s own career as he was moving from graduate school into professorship. That was the stage where he would start applying for professorships.
And he figured, if there’s any time in his life that he needed an answer to the question “how do people end up loving what they do for a living”, this was the time he need to have that answer.
Cal set out to write the book because he wanted to know what the answer to this question was.
How do real people in the real world, actually end up loving what they do?
His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You came out of that investigation.
Cal has been a writer for a very long time. When he had a question that was interesting to him, he was already in the habit of writing a book.
If you look back through his bibliography, you see that when he was a college student and his early years of grad school, he was writing books on how to be a more successful student, how to be a more efficient and low stress standout student.
Cal says that he wrote books on those topics because he was interested in that when he was a student. Then when he made the transition into the working world, he wrote a book about how to be successful in the working world of course.
The thread that goes through all of this is that parallel to his career as an academic is his career as a writer and there’s not orthogonal pursuits.
So Cal was in the habit of writing books about topics that are interesting to him when he got to this career transition.
With ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’, he started from scratch. It was his first career book. All the research, stories, and everything you can read and hear about in there, is the result of a couple of years of pretty intensive research and writing.
Rule #1 – Don’t Follow Your Passion
Follow your passion is dangerous advice! Click to tweet!
If “follow your passion” is bad advice what should you do instead?
The key thing here is the distinction. And this is a distinction that has been lost in a lot of the recent conversation about career advice.
There is a distinction between the goal of ending up passionate about your work and the specific strategy of following your passion which means you identify a pre-existing passion, and use that as the basis of career choices.
In our current conversation on work, we’ve mixed those two things up. When someone says, “Oh, you should follow your passion”, often what they mean is that you should follow the goal of having work that you’re passionate about. But that’s different than the specific strategy of letting you identify a pre-existing passion and use that to make career choices.
When Cal Newport started researching how people end up passionate about their careers, it was actually very rare that they identified a pre-existing passion and then just followed that and everything was okay.
The path to passion in your work turns out to be more complex and more nuanced and often quite a bit more interesting, which is what Cal was trying to uncover in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
When Cal says that you shouldn’t follow your passion, it has to be super clear that he wants you to be passionate about your work of course. But this idea of that you have a pre-existing passion that exists inside of you that you just need to identify is not really backed up by any real evidence or research.
Example – The “Passion” of Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs is a perfect example.
The reality of how people end up loving what they do for a living – if you go back and pour over the various biographical sources that we have about Steve Jobs early years, you see that in no way that he was passionate about technology entrepreneurship in the period leading up to Apple Computer.
The year before Apple Computer was founded, Steve Jobs actually was fired from a technology company he was involved in with Wozniak. He was fired for complete lack of interest and effort. He just left to go hang out at the All One comment for an entire season without telling the founder.
So this was not someone who was very passionate about technology entrepreneurship. If anything, his deep interest at the time was in Eastern mysticism.
Apple Computer was something he stumbled into. It wasn’t a pre-existing passion. But then it developed into something that he was fiercely passionate about.
That’s actually the common pattern.
Passion is something that you develop. It’s something that you cultivate. It’s the goal of the way you approach your career. That’s the reality of meaning and satisfaction in the workplace. It’s not a trait that exists in advance. It’s not something that you have before your job and then you use it to choose your job and that’s how you end up happy.
It’s actually the goal that you’re trying to get to. And you actually have to work hard to develop passion in your career. It’s something that you cultivate over time like Steve Jobs did and many other people like Cal Newport and myself have done.
The framework Cal Newport discovered is that if you take ten people who love what they do or are passionate about what they do, maybe about eight of those ten would have done the following thing.
So the first thing they did is developed rare and valuable skills. If you have a rare and valuable skill, you have something called career capital (a term Cal coined). If you have this substance, the more rare and valuable your skills, the more career capital you have.
How people end up loving their work is that they invest this capital once they have it to gain really compelling traits in their working life. So depending on their personality, they might invest this capital to get a lot of autonomy or control over their time.
Someone with another personality might invest this capital to get a lot of power or influence or impact on the world. Someone else might invest it to be able to spend more of their time in a state of creativity or connection with people.
But the point is that these types of traits like autonomy, impact, creativity, and connection – all these traits that make great jobs great, are themselves desirable, rare and valuable. So if you want them in your working life, you have to have something to offer in return and that’s often your own rare and valuable skills.
When you step back and look at people who love what they do, you see that their love for their work increased along with their skill. This is exactly why. As they get better at what they do, they gain more control over their career. They have more options, they demand more and they use that to craft their career into something that’s increasingly more compelling to them, increasingly resonate more with their personality and to what they value in life.
That’s the framework that is way more consistent for ending up loving what you do.
Instead of saying that you have a pre-existing passion that for some reason you were born with and you’ll just match that to your job and then be happy. Instead of following that simplistic Disney movie slogan approach to career advice if you instead say “I’m going to take something interesting to me but it doesn’t have to be my true calling.”
It’s much better to go out there and build up rare and valuable skills. And as you build those skills, use those as leverage to take control of your career and shift it in directions that resonate to you. This, more complicated approach is way more consistent if your goal is to end up finding great meaning or satisfaction in your work.
The reality of this framework is that if you want to end up loving what you do, then it’s building up those rare and valuable skills that matters more than anything else. It matters much more than trying to find this sort of mythical match before a job that you were somehow born to do.
The more career capital you have, the more control you have over your life. Click to tweet!
Example – Cal Newport’s Career
If we look at Cal Newport’s own career as an example, autonomy is another thing that was very important for him. Intellectual impact is something that is really important to him as well.
Cal has always liked ideas. And he thinks that’s an important thing to do. He could step back years ago and say:
“If I build up this type of career capital, if I spend the time to get good at a particular field, let’s say academic science, which is what I do. I can then cash in that capital for very cool traits in my working life. In particular I can become a professor at a research institution which means I can be paid to basically think big thoughts and write about them and compete in the marketplace of ideas to get those thoughts recognized and do so entirely on my own terms, on my own schedule with very little control from overhead.”
That’s very desirable for someone like Cal Newport. That’s a job that has a lot of great traits… talk about eight years of very hard work to be able to get that job.
That’s a classic example of career capital theory in action.
You say, “Whoa, I’d love to be a professor and just sort of think, and write, and do these things. Okay, how do I get that? Oh, I see. I’m going to have to build up all this capital.”
So you build it. You exchange it. And now you have a job you love.
But that’s not the same thing as saying, “Oh, I’m passionate about being a professor and that’s it, and then I just went and became a professor and now I’m happy.”
It’s much a more complicated exchange where you build capital and then exchange it over time for the things that matter.
Cal Newport’s Take On Jim Collin’s ‘Hedgehog Concept’ From Good To Great
Cal Newport says that he would throw out the circle that says “what you really like” or “what you are passionate about”. He thinks that we put way too much emphasis in our career discussion on pre-existing inclination or pre-existing talent, the notion that there’s something intrinsic to you that plays a major part in the career choice.
The reason Cal says that, is because when you actually study workplace satisfaction, what you find is that people’s interests, satisfaction and love for particular types of work grows along with their carer capital and the investments they make.
So when you start looking, before you’ve started that process at finding what you’re really interested in, that’s actually not a very good question because your interest for the subject does not exist at the beginning at the same level as it’s going to exist once you have invested a lot of time to build a career around it.
Choosing A Career
Cal says that he would much more loose those standards.
He thinks the choice of what you do should come down to three things:
1) It should seem interesting to you but that’s the bar. You don’t need to have a deep, strong passion for it.
You have a deep, strong interest for it because those deep, strong interests and passions almost always have to develop over time. They don’t exist in advance. So just that something is interesting is enough.
2) It needs to be in an industry where you like the people and it’s not against any of your morals or values.
Otherwise you’re just not going to have the motivation to stick with it.
3) It should be a path that is going to allow you flexibility in investing your career capital once you grow it.
It has to be an industry that is interesting to you, that you like the people in it, and that it’s not against your values.
And if you get good, you’ll continue to get better and will gain more and more control over how you run your career.
If you have those three things, you can build a career that you’re deeply passionate about.
But if you look for the “passion”, in the beginning you’re going to end up spend the next “ten years” just roaming thinking, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” and never finding an answer to it.
Cal really downplays the pre-existing inclination and interest part of the equation because that can be a red herring, something that leads to a lot more confusion and anxiety than you really have to go through.
If you’re in a job you don’t like, the key with this approach is to stop thinking about match and start thinking about capital. So if you don’t like your job, and it doesn’t have the right traits in it for you, just step back and say that the problem is either that you have the career capital but you haven’t invested it yet.
In which case, you need to start using your skills as leverage and transforming your life into something that resonates. Or you just don’t have enough capital. You may be new to this job and you’re not particularly good at it. Therefore you can’t expect it to be great. Your thought should rather be, how you can build up your capital as quickly as possible.
This is one of the most important activities and the most overlooked activity in workplace, meaning and satisfaction is that a significant fraction of your time, especially early on in your career should be dedicated to systematically and deliberately building up your rare and valuable skills.
So if you walk through the door at a new company, one of the first things you should be looking for is, what they value there. Then, think about how you can systemically train yourself at something that’s valued there in the same way that an athlete, musician, or chess player would systematically train and build their ability.
Almost no one in the knowledge work field systematically trains abilities. So if you do this, and you approach key skills like an athlete, chess player, or musician, you can build career capital at a rapid rate.
The more capital you have, the more you can take control of your career and get rid of the traits that are making you unhappy and gain the traits that are going to make you more happy and fulfilled.
There’s this notion if you study people who love what they do, a significant fraction of these people – one of the reasons they love what they do is because they have a strong “WHY”.
Cal Newport calls this mission. Simon Sinek (bestselling author of Start With Why) calls this why. But it’s the same idea.
You need the why or mission, and then you’ll go off and pursue it.
But, if you actually study the research, how do these types of “missions” or “why you do it statements” come out in the first place?
Let’s say you sit down with people who have these compelling career missions that their whole life is build around and study their stories. What you find out is that you actually have to get pretty good, if not exceptionally good at a particular field or set of skills before you’re really going to be able to identify a compelling, plausible mission or answer to that questions of why.
Cal has a somewhat contrarian answer. Your mission or why is absolutely important. If you can find a mission for your career that’s going to be great, but you have to get incredibly good before you’re going to identify a good one. So don’t sit around in advance and try to figure out your mission with your life or your career.
Instead, choose something that’s interesting and get good as soon as possible. Once you actually get close to the cutting edge of your field, it’s only then all the research tells us that you are well positioned to start identifying truly transformative, compelling type missions or answers to the question of why.
It all comes back to finding something interesting that doesn’t conflict with your values, that you like the people in and gives flexibility for capital. And jump in and start building the skills as quickly as possible. That’s the foundation for all of these good things that we’re looking for down the line in terms of love for our career.
How To Become The Master Of Your Craft
The first thing to keep in mind is that what we know when we study this question is that your interest will grow along with the skill.
People often get a little bit intimated by the idea that if you have to be excellent to love what you do. Does that mean that you have to spend the next five years being miserable while you’re getting better? And then only then once you’re done, that you’ll love your work?
The good news is that’s not the case. As you get better, you’ll get more passionate and motivated for your work which will make it even easier to get better. So your passion and meaning will grow with your skill. It’s not a binary thing where you have to spend 10,000 hours and then reap the rewards.
Let’s talk practically how you can do that.
It’s a way of practicing in which you have a particular goal. You have to stretch yourself. You stretch yourself beyond where you’re currently comfortable and pursuit of that goal. You use ruthlessly honest feedback to see how you’re doing and to redirect your efforts towards exactly what’s going to make you better.
For example, you spend time with a professional guitar player practicing. This is exactly what you see when you watch them practice. They have this strain on their faces. They’re trying to move their fingers just a little bit faster than they’re comfortable with, with the lick. They can hear as soon as they hit a wrong note and start all over. They know right where the trouble spots are.
Deliberate practice is very difficult but it builds skills at a phenomenal rate. Cal argues that you can absolutely do this in the world of knowledge work. You can sit down and do this with learning how to code computers. You can sit down and do this with learning how to write. You can sit down and do this with learning how to do a sales call or in person pitch.
Any place where you can say, “Okay, here is the specific skill I’m trying to improve. Here is what the particular actively that I’m going to do that’s going to stretch me and I have clear feedback on how I’m doing so I can keep my energy focused.”
Anywhere you can do that, you can apply deliberate practice. It gives you phenomenal increase of skills at a sort of phenomenal rate. It’s one of the most under appreciated strategies in the world of knowledge work right now.
Example #1 – Become An Awesome Podcast Interviewer
Let’s say you want to transition out of something and maybe start as an entrepreneur and build your personal brand online as a podcast interviewer.
Can you really start developing these rare and valuable skills from scratch by deliberate practice?
What you might do there from a deliberate practice approach would be to look at some interviewers who are really good at what they do. You can look at some masters on NPR or Andrew Warner of Mixergy as great examples of people who are doing in-depth long form interviews.
Then, listen to the interview and dissect. Try to understand what makes this good. What are the key things that this particular interviewer does that makes this a really good interview?
It often helps to contrast it. Maybe get some podcasters who aren’t good and listen to them side by side. Then ask yourself, what does this one have that the other one doesn’t have.
Then you have these particular things you think that interviewer does well. Some of them might be that they’re incredibly prepared. They have these questions that show that they really understand. Some of it might be in the delivery. Their answers might be short and clear. Or maybe it’s something about pausing. Whatever it is, you will start to identify specific things.
You can give yourself a specific challenge for the next interview you do. For example, you can say to yourself that you’re really going to keep in mind to try to stretch yourself in the preparation, or that you’re really going to try to ask short questions etc.
Then you can actually go and do the activity. So you do the interview or do the preparation with this particular stretch goal in mind that you identified by studying people who are better than you at it. In other words, you need to push yourself during the interview, and then you step back afterwards. You listen to it and say, “Well, how well did I do there? Where am I still falling short?” You critique and give feedback.
If you approach podcast interviews with this mindset, ten interviews in to it, you would be substantially better at your craft than if you instead just did ten interviews and hope just by the sheer experience of doing that, you would get better.
And the key insight to deliberate practice is that it’s intelligently directed effort to improve your skills and gives you a trajectory of skill improvement that is way steeper than simply just repeating the act again and again.
Example #2 – Cal Newport’s Own Writing (Mini Case Study)
Let’s take Cal Newport’s own writing as a case study.
Something Cal has found in his own ten year professional writing career is that blog posts for example do not improve your writing skill by themselves because there’s nothing that’s pushing you to stretch.
So every time Cal has made a leap in writing skill, he has had to actually set up a deliberate practice style challenge.
Cal’s books do exactly that. With each new book he writes, he made the format and style more complicated and more demanding. When you’re writing for something that someone paid you for and you and an editor stretch yourself to try to do it as well as possible. So the books would improve his writing skill.
In-between his second and third book, Cal wanted to get better and his blog posts weren’t doing it. There’s not enough stretch on the feedback.
Cal found an online magazine in which you had to write for an editor and they would either accept or reject your pieces. He did a series of articles for them where he literally for each article had broken down a particular skill from studying non-fiction writers that he wanted to improve.
Then he would pitch an article that would allow him to practice that skill. Writing the article itself would stretch him because if he didn’t write it really well they would reject it. There’s an editor who’s going to read it or reject it. He gave himself a series of those challenges. Five of those articles probably stretched his writing ability three times more than a year or two of blog posts.
So this notion of if you can find a way to stretch yourself on a particular identified skill and get feedback on it really does work. It’s not even a fair comparison to the standard approach of just doing something a bunch of times.
Cal says that he has habits that come and go when I ask him if he has a daily writing habit or something that works for him.
Writing every day is an interesting habit. A lot of professional writers do it. It’s a hard habit to have if you write professionally but not as your only job because it’s not always possible.
If you tell yourself that you have to write every day can actually be dangerous for someone like Cal, because there will be a day where he has to miss it. And then he feels like he let himself down and violated the system. Then, once you violated a rule, the whole thing falls apart.
Habits are interesting, but you have to be careful with it. But if you threw deliberate practice at what you’re doing right now, for example working on a book, the deliberate practice theory would say that daily practice is important, but where is your feedback and stretch?
Find a way to get feedback and stretch into what you’re doing as well because writing every day is a good habit to form. It does build skill. But you’ll hit a plateau.
Without particular stretch being evaluated with feedback you’ll hit a particular skill plateau and you’ll just stay there. It required deliberate effort to try to move through from one level to the next.
Money or rejection which are kind of the same thing is the stretch and feedback you need.
Any place where someone could potentially say no tend to work great. For example, they’re going to give you money or they’re giving you just valuable space and they’re going to say no unless it really is good. Anytime you can get money or rejection on the line, then that’s going to get you more stretch. You’re really going to stretch because you don’t want them to reject it. You don’t want them to not pay you.
Elite guest posting or trying to actually get things publish in other venues, especially places that pay is a great way to do that.
And for non-fiction writing it also depends. If you’re self-publishing your book, you don’t have this option. But if you’re open to traditional publishing and going through the traditional publishing path in non-fiction is perfectly calibrated for deliberate practice because it doesn’t have you just write a whole book and then see if publishers like it.
You have this path where you first have to get an agent. And to get an agent you need to have built up enough portfolio of good writing that they think that you can actually write the book.
So in other words, you have to stretch yourself to get an agent.
If you can get the agent, then they’re going to help you write this proposal to try to get the publishing contract that requires you to do more stretching and refining of your thinking.
If you can get that contract they will then pay you before you even write the book. So you have this real pressure on you to write the book well. You have an editor looking over your shoulder. At the end of that you actually end up having done quite a bit of deliberate practice at these various stages.
Traditional non-fiction publishing turns out to actually be a fantastic path if your goal is improve your writing as quickly as possible.
Deep Work vs Shallow Work – Limiting Distractions
Something I personally found very interesting when I did the research for this interview, is that Cal Newport doesn’t have any social media accounts at all, and he has never had any for that matter either. He makes himself pretty hard to get in touch with for obvious reasons (although you can always send him an email of course).
Cal says that he is a big believe in what matters is what you do best.
Your most rare and valuable skill is what gives you the most leverage of your career and allows you to make the most meaningful and satisfying life.
Cal’s approach is that with the time he has, he likes to focus it as much as possible on developing and using his one or two best skills. He feels really strongly about the importance of the ability to work deeply. That’s a hard skill that you have to cultivate and it’s a really important skill.
This is a conversation we’ll probably have more and more in our knowledge work economy now that we have so many distractions is that we should talk about this ability to work deeply and without distraction as a tier one skill.
How well is my deep work ability? What am I doing to develop it? What is my company doing to help me develop and foster this skill?
This is actually the next book Cal Newport is working on now. It’s all about that we need to start thinking about this ability to work deeply as not a side note but actually as one of the core things that’s important in our current type of economy.
Have you ever sat down to write a really epic blog post or guide (like the one you’re reading now) but every 10-20 minutes you check Facebook or Twitter to see whats going on? Or maybe answer the phone etc.
There’s a split there between deep work and shallow work.
Deep work is when you’re working without without distraction on something that’s cognitively demanding so it pushes your mind to its limits.
Shallow work is something that’s relatively easily replicable; email, social media, tweaking around the design of your website – anything that’s relatively low demanding cognitively and can be replicated by someone else without too much training.
It’s important to think about our work day in terms of these two things as being separate. There’s a time you’re doing deep work and it has to be completely deep. No distraction, full focus.
And then, there’s a time when you’re doing shallow work and you can do that completely shallow. If you keep a clear distinction between those two things your instinct is absolutely right. You’re going to get better faster. You’re going to produce a better level of output. And you’re going to do all that at a much higher rate.
Separating deep work from shallow work, using those terms and keep them completely unique.
Cal says that he doesn’t do any shallow stuff while he’s doing his deep work. This can have massive positive benefits on your work day and your career as well.
He thinks of the big problems we have surrounding deep or shallow work in our culture right now is that we still think of deep work like a habit (i.e. flossing) that it’s something you can do of course. You know how to do it. It’s just a matter of kind of getting in the habit of doing it.
So we say, “Yeah I should really just turn off my distractions more. I really should try to get in the habit of working without distractions more.”
That’s the wrong way of thinking about it. Deep work is actually a cognitively complex skill like trying to memorise a string of thousand numbers, trying to juggle, learn a new foreign language or something like that. It’s a very cognitively demanding skill that you actually have to train.
Deep work is not a habit, you just have to make sure you put aside the time for it. You have to train before you can do it.
So you can just tell yourself that you want to do four hours of deep work without distraction every day but if you haven’t trained yourself do that over time you’re not going to succeed at it.
Once you see it as a skill to be trained and not just a habit that you decide to do, you’re going to have a much better chance of success. So it does that time.
There’s a lot of different things you can do to train this ability, but the first step is understanding, “Oh, deep work ’s not trivial.” It actually is if you want to do this regularly in your life and get all the benefits, you’ll have to put in some hard hours to get really good at it. It’s not flossing your teeth we’re talking about here. It’s the hard stuff.
Craftsman Mindset vs Passion Mindset
Craftsman’s mindset focuses on what you can offer the world. The passion mindset focuses on what the world can offer you. Click to tweet!
This is a key distinction between people who end up really loving what they do and people who end up sort of confused and job hunting and anxious is that we’ve taught in recent years this passion mindset that what matters is finding the right job for you and when you think about jobs or arrive at a job all of your thoughts are about is this the right job for me? What are they offering me? Do I really like this? Do I not like this part of it? You’re asking what’s the world offering me.
Whereas a craftsman mindset focus on what you can offer the world. What are you doing that’s valuable? How can you be better at that?
Your goal is to be as valuable as possible to the world.
If you shift to this craftsman mindset you’re way more likely to end up loving your work because that’s the mindset in which you don’t get caught up on the little things that are annoying you and will be irrelevant five years down the line when you’re much better. Instead, you put your energy to building rare and valuable skills quickly, which as I’ve mentioned, is the key to meaning, satisfaction, and passion in your working life.
From a mindset point of view, that’s the shift that Cal Newport is pitching in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, especially if you’re new to an industry or a career don’t spend so much time obsessing over what people are offering you and whether you like it or not, and put a lot more effort into what you’re doing. If you’re not offering real value and getting better and better, there’s no way you can expect a working life that you really enjoy.
Why are people like Ramit Sethi, Derek Halpern etc. so successful when so many other people fail trying to do the same thing as they do?
Ramit Sethi Case Study
What you see If you take someone like Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, is a definite craftsman mindset. He constantly (as long as Cal has known him for all these years), has a clear measure of how valuable he is. Usually in… how well are these products doing? How big are my audience numbers? He relentlessly and systematically tries to improve himself and stretch himself in those areas.
Ramit uses these hard metrics to do it:
- How many readers do I have?
- How much revenue is coming from these projects?
- How can I improve that?
I’m going to try this and this is going to be hard. I’m going to stretch myself. Click to tweet!
It’s important to measure if it worked out. Did this product make more than the last? Did this type of writing make my blog bigger or smaller?
Take those lessons, and ask yourself, what’s your next stretch? Let’s push yourself and stretch.
Ramit is out there, methodically and systematically getting better and better at what he does. And where he is now as this sort of grand figure in the world of information products and online information is the result of taking this five or six years and like a craftsman systematically building that craft and looking for the hard feedback.
You want the hard feedback:
- What’s the revenue numbers?
- What’s the readership numbers?
This didn’t work. Then you know that you need to do this better.
Ramit is a personification of what happens if you take a craftsman mindset to your working life. You will see a very quick acceleration in terms of your skills, value and all the benefits in terms of loving your life and meaning and satisfaction that come along with it.
If you go back to the early days, Ramit Sethi’s first product was this PDF guide that he sold for $4.95 and barely made any money because it’s a really small amount of money and he put an incredible amount of effort into it.
The passion mindset would have said: “Oh, this is hard. Like, people didn’t buy this. This must not be what I’m meant to do. I don’t have this great life now. I’m not making all this money and loving what I do. Let me go try something else.”
Ramit had the craftsman mindset. He said, “Okay, there’s my metric. Here’s what worked. Here’s what didn’t. Most of this didn’t work. What’s the next stretch?”
And then what’s the next stretch after that? What’s the next stretch after that? And he did that for what it took, five or six years. Now he has all the things the people think about when they get into that industry.
It was five or six years of deliberately improving his skills that got him to the point where he is today.
How To Stand Out In A Crowded Space
The title of Cal Newport’s book says become So Good They Can’t Ignore You. That’s Steve Martin’s advice to people who want to be successful in the entertainment industry. There’s no shortcut. You just have to be excellent – and be so good they can’t ignore you!
So, how do you actually do that? That’s a good question when you have a lot of other people trying to do the same thing.
This is where the deliberate practice mindset, and the deliberate practice approach comes in, which is key to the craftsman mindset comes into play.
Most people in any field, they do want to be good and they do want to succeed in it, but they’re not really willing to do the type of deliberate skill stretching again and gain and again that someone like Ramit Sethi did for example.
Here’s an easy heuristic when you’re thinking about your day. When you’re considering an activity to do, ask yourself, “If I took a newly minted college graduate, how many hours would I have to train them before they could do the activity that I’m about to do?”
Your bias should be towards filling your day as much as possible towards activities in which the answer to that is very, very large because those are the activities that you have been building up skill over time. Those are going to be your highest leverage activities. When you’re doing activities that depend on skill that you’ve built up over a long time and continues to improve on those skills you’re going to get way more return on it.
A problem a lot of people have when they jump into a new industry, especially an entrepreneurial industry where there’s no supervision from let’s say a boss, is that they want to feel busy but they fill too much of their days with these low leverage activities, activities you could train a college graduate to do in a couple of hours.
If you spend all day tweaking your your WordPress theme on your blog, doing social media, retweeting links and moving things around, tweaking the profile etc., these are all things that basically anyone could do after a little bit of training. So they’re all low leverage activities.
Instead, what you should be doing is what you do best and let yourself get even better at that, which means maybe that you have to put more effort into the interview you’re doing, and the preparations in order to getting better at that.
Maybe you need to put more energy into sales since you’ve been building up these sales contacts and making more sales than before. Then you can focus on getting better at that. That’s hard, since it took you a very long time to get really good at it.
It’s basically this split between if you can deliberately improve your skills. If you can keep your attention focused on these types of activities that are hard, that you’ve really worked up a lot of ability in, you can move really quickly. If you take someone who’s just as busy and just as stressed who’s not deliberately practicing and who’s working on low level activities, most of the time they’re just not going to advance as fast.
For example, you decide that you’re actually not going do do regular series of original content blog posts. Instead, you’re going to put all of your energy into this case study interview on your podcast.
As you get better and better, you’re going to put more energy into that and just not spend as much time on anything else. That’s actually a very deliberate approach because now you’re maximising the rate at which you get better at what you do best, which is ultimately what matters.
You’re only as valuable as what you do best. Click to tweet!
If you’re just doing a lot of different things just okay, the hours don’t mean anything and you’re not producing that much value. You’re much better off choosing something and that you need to do this much better.
If you want to get really good at this one thing, and just investing your energy into it and deliberately improving that, you’ll see amazing results over time.
For example, if you want to write and put all of your efforts into the blog, then that’s great, but you’re going to have to say something new with that blog, something very valuable. It can’t just be, “here’s another post where I have some thoughts or links to some things”. You’re going to have to really systematically build something valuable there.
If you want a podcast, then you can put all your energy into becoming a fantastic podcast interviewer and editor, which is the key to making these really good (although I like to keep things simple so I don’t actually edit much at all myself for my podcast, The Lifestyle Architects!).
If it’s coaching or something like that, then maybe you’re going to put a lot more energy into becoming better at coaching, and the sort of word of mouth referrals to become a superstar coach in this segment.
If you look at Robert Greene’s book, Mastery, this is what people who become really good and master things do. They obsessively focus on something and put all of their energy into that and push it to a high level. Once, they’re good at something, then of course a lot of other good things happen as well.
Law Of Remarkability
A lot of the really big bloggers (individual bloggers), go even more remarkable and they actually go off and do something with their own life that’s remarkable that they are writing about.
For example, some of the biggest hits in the blogging world right now, you’ll see people like Mr. Money Mustache.
He has amazed a following because he has done something remarkable. He retired at the age of 32. He found how to live very cheaply and well, and in about ten years be able to save enough to retire and live the rest of his life off that income. It’s a remarkable thing and he has a remarkable audience.
Another example is one of the largest blogs out there right now called Young House Love. It’s just this couple that buy old beat up houses to live in and then renovate them room by room and the document it with beautiful photography. They’re actually out there doing something because people who are interested in home improvement and making their home look better will be like, “these people are doing it, and I want to follow them doing it”.
Go out there, do something remarkable and document it! Click to tweet!
That seems to be one of the best formulas right now because you’re actually out there doing something remarkable and documenting your own experiences.
It turns out to be a very powerful thing but it also takes a massive amount of energy and focus.
In the advice or non-fiction space, what really does work?
The law of remark ability works well. You do something that’s remarkable. In terms of positioning social proof is very valuable. So figure out what your social proof is going to be.
There’s a few different strategies:
1) Day job strategy
You go out there and do something that itself is social proof that’s very hard to do and competitive and shows that you are really good at this thing. Then you can build advice off of that.
This is where Cal Newport himself is with his positioning. He talks about a lot of his writing, like focus, deep work, getting good at things really fast. His social proof is that he’s trained. He received his PhD in the theory group at MIT and is a computer science professor.
His whole life has been surrounded by the world’s best focusers, the people who can focus and do the hardest possible thinking. That’s what Cal does for a living and he’s talking about what he learned in his world. People tend to listen to that, because they see where that’s coming from.
2) Go out there, and do something remarkable that gives you social proof.
For example, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income and John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur On Fire has their monthly income reports. That’s a not only a great way showcase transparency in their business, but it’s also a fantastic way to position themselves stand out from the crowd, because most people in their industry are not willing to put themselves out there in the same way Pat and John do.
Mr. Money Mustache don’t have a job, and lives completely off his savings, and shares his numbers how he did it.
You can actually do something remarkable too. Did you pay off a lot of debt? Do you live off a company that’s not just talking about how to live off your company.
You do something remarkable. And then that’s your foundation for giving advice.
3) Have enough success with whatever you’re doing that will give you the social proof you need.
For example, you’ve worked with big companies or worked with famous people. That gives you social proof that your advice actually works.
Those are three great strategies for positioning yourself as an expert in your field to charge premium prices.
They all come out of the same foundation that you’re absolutely right. You need some sort of social proof foundation if you really want to raise to the premium level of what you’re doing and built a strong, powerful and premium personal brand.
Law Of Financial Viability
This is an idea that Derek Sivers taught Cal Newport. He calls it the law of financial viability.
Do you want to know how good you are and what your value is at something? Just ask people for money for it because people are always willing to say positive things to you.
But people don’t like to give away their money. They will not give away money unless they absolutely feel like they are getting value in return.
In other words, it’s an incredible neutral indicator of value to ask people for money and to see if they give you money is the equivalent of bringing in an expert in your field who’s completely objective (who’s going to do an audit and tell you how good your are at your thing, how valuable your offering is at the moment).
People like Ramit Sethi probably use this quite effectively coming up is okay, let me offer something for sale, let me offer a service, let me offer this.
Instead of being afraid of asking for money or offering something for sale, say:
“Hey, that’s my coach. Those revenue numbers that’s the only good feedback I have and good or bad it’s incredibly useful for me because that’s what I use to see how good I am and know where I need to get better.”
Cal Newport’s Morning Routine
Cal Newport and many other successful people in the same situation keep incredibly strict control over his working time. He has things mapped out on the monthly, weekly, and daily schedule.
When he starts a work day, he knows what he’s doing during every hour during that work day. It’s carefully considered and mapped out to make sure that he’s getting the most out of the workday.
For example, this is part of the reason why it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have sources of distraction like social media and these types of things, because he doesn’t really have time for it in his work day. There is not any just sort of open time. Cal says that he works on very carefully planned things, then he’s done.
On the weekly scale, he plans how his work is going to shift over the days of the week.
On the monthly or quarterly scale, he sees how projects are going to unfold. Then, he needs to shift over to this in order to get this read in time. That’s a habit that’s relatively common among people that are relatively high output, is that Cal’s routine is built around strict control over his time.
Once he has that routine, each day can look very different from the rest. He’s not someone that always do this work at a specific time. He says that he has enough stuff in his life that he can’t keep any of those schedules sacrosanct. There’s some mornings he might have to go in early and do a meeting. Some evenings, he might have to leave early the next day etc.
Cal has a very little regular routine that he always does this work in this way, but he has this incredibly regular invaluable habit of structuring and controlling his time. Even though each day might look quite different from the day before, there’s a sort of great underlying structure to what he does.
Conclusion: Summit It All Up
Cal Newport is convinced that passion passion in your working life is the side effect of doing something really well and using those skills as leverage.
So you don’t follow your passion, you cultivate your passion. The simple change in thinking can open up great improvement.
And when it comes to how do people actually get really good so they can cultivate this passion, Cal is a big believer in this notion of deliberate practice. That means that you have this undistracted, deep time where you take the skills you’re best at and stretch yourself. If you do that consistently and you use the skills you gain doing that as leverage to take control of your working life is an incredibly consistent pattern for building a really meaningful and satisfying passionate working world.
Don’t follow your passion, but let it follow you in your quest to become really good at what you do. Click to tweet!
Cal Newport Speaks At World Domination Summit 2012
Relevant Resources And Links Mentioned In This Episode
Study Hacks – Cal Newport’s very popular blog with over 100,000 monthly readers!
- How to Master Anything in Business and Life with Robert Greene (episode 13 of The Lifestyle Architects Show)
- Premium Positioning with Nick Reese (episode 17 of The Lifestyle Architects Show)
- Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich
- Derek Halpern of Social Triggers
- Derek Sivers
- Mixergy with Andrew Warner
- Mr. Money Mustache
- Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income
- John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur On Fire
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Mastery by Robert Greene
- Start With Why
Now It’s Your Turn!
What do you think? Do you have what it takes to be so good they can’t ignore you? Leave a thoughtful comment below sharing the MOST IMPORTANT insight you got! Be specific – tell a story, please. I’ll respond to every one.
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