Why I Stopped Reading So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport After 26 Pages
At the end of 2018, I read Deep Work by Cal Newport.
I loved it, found it insanely valuable, and it became the 5th book that I rated 10/10 that year – out of almost 50 reads.
I don’t give out 10’s willy-nilly but Deep Work was one of the easiest books for me to award top marks to.
It’s no surprise to hear that I was then keen to read other books by the same author, so I excitedly purchased So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
Sadly, I had to stop reading after just 26 pages.
26 Pages of So They Can’t Ignore You
On the cover, it states that this book is about ‘why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love.’
In other words, Newport is trying to demonstrate why just ‘following your passion’ and ‘doing what you love’ is not sound advice. Instead, people should be identifying and following their skills.
(Or, at least, that is the gist I got from the cover and the limited number of pages I read.)
My First Reservations
Before opening the book, I did have a few reservations running around in my head with regards to the topic.
Firstly, I would argue that when starting a business, or taking your first steps into entrepreneurship, one of the most important things is making sure that you love whatever it is you’re about to do.
Running a business is HARD and it will take over your entire life. If you don’t love it, you will quit. It’s as simple as that.
Secondly, I remember reading The Strengths Book by Sally Bibb the year prior, which is all about finding and playing towards your strengths.
One of the points Bibb makes is that we usually love what we are good at. Because you love it you do more of it, and because you do more of it you get better at it, and because you get better at it you love it more.
It’s a neverending cycle.
Passion without skill is very rare. If you have a passion for something, chances are that you practice it a lot. In other words, you’re racking up your 10,000 hours (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell) and you’re mastering it.
Very few people have a passion that they don’t practice – and if they don’t practice it, I would question if it was a passion at all.
Due to these reservations, I was interested to see where Newport went with this book and I was hoping that he would add another dimensional layer to this perspective.
Needless to say, that did not happen and I was left disappointed.
Entrepreneurship Vs Academic
The issues that I have with this book stem from my entrepreneurial viewpoint clashing with Newport’s academic/employee viewpoint.
Entrepreneurs and employees live at opposite ends of the spectrum and we often see the world through a very different pair of glasses.
This book may be insanely valuable for those looking for their idea 9-5 job, but as an entrepreneur, the first section of the book clashed against my own beliefs.
The structure of the book
The book is broken down in four ‘rules’.
Rule 1 details why you should NOT follow your passion and rules 2-4 detail what you should do instead.
After reading rule #1 (the first 26 pages) I had noted several points where I disagreed with the author and instead believe that people SHOULD follow their passion.
It, therefore, made no sense for me to continue reading as I had no inclination of finding out what people should so instead of following their passion.
Where I disagreed
Below are a few of the areas where I disagreed with Newport.
As mentioned, all of these points are in the first chapter, Rule #1 Don’t Follow Your Passion, and the first 26 pages.
Pages 14-15 – “Career passions are rare”
In this section, Newport is trying to dismantle the advice of ‘following your passion’ by trying to demonstrate that career passions are rare.
He uses a study where Canadian students were given a simple questionnaire to try and find out where their passions actually lie.
The results were as follows.
“…less than 4 percent of the total identified passions had any relation to work or education, with the remaining 96 percentage describing hobby-style interests such as sport or art.”
Newport then goes on to question, “How can we follow our passions if we don’t have any relevant passions to follow?”
This was the first part of the book that I majorly disagreed with since ‘hobby-style interests such as sport and art’ are still industries that people can have successful careers within.
I have a passion for the equestrian industry. When I was a child I used to love to ride and if I had taken the above questionnaire, I would have been placed in the 96 percent whos passion was a hobby-style interest.
When people think of going to work in the equestrian industry, their most common thought is that of a rider, trainer, or stable hand. The forget about the rest of the industry which has a global value of $300 billion! (https://www.equinebusinessassociation.com/equine-industry-statistics/)
There are equine nutritionists and feed specialists, physiotherapists, horsebox designers and builders, retail stores, rider clothing, fence design, safety equipment (such as hats and body protectors), equine teaching and education, competition venues and management, tack design and leather work etc.
In other words, plenty of opportunities for you to follow your passion and get a well-paying career within your ‘hobby-style interest’ – this is especially true in today’s modern era where people are getting paid to play video games, blog about the latest movies and entertainment news, or simply vlog about their life!
Page 17 – “Passion takes time”
Using another study, Newport tries to argue that the more time you spend on a job, the more experience you will gain, and the more likely you are to love your work.
“She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.”
This is a very bias conclusion to come to.
If you start a new job and you enjoy it, you’re more likely to hang around and stay in that role for several years.
But, if you start a new job and you dislike it, you’ll probably grin and bear for the time being whilst keeping your eyes on the job boards trying to find something more suited to you.
So, those that had spent more years on the job are obviously going to enjoy the job more, because if they didn’t, they would have left and gone elsewhere.
It’s unlikely to find a person who has spent numerous years in a job role that they hated because if they had any common sense about them, they would have left that job to find something that they did enjoy.
Page 18 – “Passion is a side-effect of mastery”
Here, Newport uses a theoretical framework called Self-Determination Theory (SDT) which details that you need to meet three physiological needs to be motivated at work.
- Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
- Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do
- Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people
Newport uses this theory to build upon his previous point and states, “Perhaps one reason that more experienced assistants enjoyed their work was because it takes time to build the competence and autonomy that generates this enjoyment.”
There are two points that I would like to make here.
Firstly, autonomy and competence don’t always take a long time to build. There are several roles where you could tick these boxes off rather quickly – sometimes within the first week or month – therefore, I think it’s wrong to link this theory to the previous study.
Secondly, all of those three requirements are achievable in job roles where you have followed your passion. In fact, I would go as far as to argue that the likelihood of meeting those requirements is more likely to happen if you DO follow your passion.
Page 25 – “Beyond passion”
In the final section of Rule #1, Newport tries to overcome a common objection.
“Some people I’ve talked to about my ideas have used examples of this type to dismiss my conclusions about passion. “Here’s a case where someone successfully followed their passion,” they say, “therefore, ‘following your passion’ must be good advice.” This is faulty logic. Observing a few instances of strategy working does not make it universally effective. It is necessary instead to study a large number of examples and ask what working in the vast majority of cases.”
This section really saddened me and drove the final nail in the coffin for me deciding to stop reading this book.
If every entrepreneur took that advice, then no one would ever start-up in business due to the alarming failure rate. (“20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% of small business fail in their second year, and 50% of small businesses fail after five years in business. Finally, 70% of small business owners fail in their 10th year in business.”) Since in the vast majority of cases businesses fail, entrepreneurs following Newport’s advice in the above paragraph would not launch their start-up. And not to sound too dramatic, but if this happened on a mass scale, it would lead to the collapse of the economy.
Secondly, if someone has followed their passion and makes a success of it, then it means it’s POSSIBLE. Yes, it’s hard and the odds may be stacked against you, but you have ONE LIFE, don’t regret not taking an opportunity when you had the chance.
Thirdly, for all of those who are reading this who are in a first-world developed country, you have so many opportunities available for you to really live your dreams. Yes, you need to set yourself up for success as much as possible but at some point, you’ve just got bite the bullet and go all-in. You cannot protect yourself against failure. You have to fail, learn from it, and repeat that process many times over before you will be successful. And the sooner you make these mistakes, the better.
In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “life is too short to do shit you hate.”
A bit of backlash
Since publishing that video on YouTube and posting about it on my Instagram, I have received a bit of backlash.
This was to be expected since I knew it would be a controversial topic due to the book and author being so well known.
Not everyone is going to share the same thoughts as I do (and life would be boring if they did).
Most of the comments have been very polite sparking discussions over the content of the book, and others (there’s always a few) have just been rude.
“How can you judge/review a book on 26 pages?!”
On the surface, these people have a point. And I wouldn’t dream of reviewing a book without reading it from cover to cover.
But this isn’t a book review.
I started reading a book that went against my core beliefs as an entrepreneur, and therefore I stopped reading it. Since this book has been on my reading list, and people are expecting a review for it, I thought it would be best to explain why I didn’t finish the book. Hence my video and this post.
This is not me slating the author. As I mentioned in the introduction, I LOVED his book Deep Work and rated in 10/10. But in this book, I just can’t seem to see eye-to-eye with him.
Will I finish the book?
I have discussed the book’s content with quite a few people, and although I understand the points that they are making, I have no plans to continue reading this book.
If you’re a follower of my blog and YouTube channel, you’ll know that I’m a big advocate of DNFing books that you’re either not enjoying or not getting value from.
You don’t have to finish every book that you start reading, and you’re not going to love every book that you start reading either (even if everyone else seems to love it!)
Which leaves me here, putting So Good They Can’t Ignore You back on my bookshelf and watching Gary Vaynerchuk in another video about entrepreneurship.
…and who knows, maybe one day I’ll pick this book back up, re-read it (all of it) and then completely disagree with this whole post!