Truth be told, I have been struggling a lot lately with my mission. My mission, as I have made clear to you all, is to inspire people who feel stuck in a boring, unfulfilling, or downright shitty job or relationship.
But my goals are not as clear. Yes, I want to help as many as people as possible. Yes, I want to do remarkable things. Yes, I want to earn a full-time income doing this.
But am I honestly working towards that?
I’m not doubting that I have the ability to help people change their lives for the better. I know I can and do.
My struggle, as eluded to in my post, The Struggle Within, comes from a deep emotional level that is hard for me to explain.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my future and what I really want to accomplish with my life and I’ve taken a good bit of time to get away from technology. I’ve also spent some time in solitude (mainly through hiking) in order to gain some clarity.
It was during this time that my good friend, Ian, called me to tell me about a book. He is familiar with my struggles and said I needed to read this particular book.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You
It’s called So Good They Can’t Ignore You and he told me it just might be able to help me with my internal struggles.
Ian has been a friend and someone I have turned to for business advice since I started blogging in 2010. He runs a very successful tennis instruction site called EssentialTennis.com, and I hold his opinions in high regard.
So I bought the book in the hopes it would shed some light into my frustrations with my business path.
I finished it in a day and a half and what I had hoped was going to be the catalyst for me transforming my business into something greater, I found quite the opposite.
It actually called to attention a much different question; am I on the right path?
The author Cal Newport’s premise for the book is questioning the often overused catchphrases like “follow your passion” and “do what you love” as it pertains to finding your true calling and/or work that matters.
He dismisses these statements, claiming they are dangerous and lead to chronic unhappiness and failure.
And if you know anything about me or this blog, you know that his “wisdom” flies in the face of everything I stand for and basically dismisses what I have come to adopt as my philosophy on living life.
His main point is that following your passion is terrible advice. I, in contrast, preach that following your passion is essential for doing work you love.
This is not intended to be a book review, but rather an overview of his philosophies. Under other circumstances, I wouldn’t waste my time writing about something like this, but this book makes sense. A lot of it.
The book can be summarized by the following points:
- The theory of choosing a job/business based solely on what you are most passionate about is flawed because actual “career” passions are rare and trying to find yours leads to high job dissatisfaction rates, job/business hopping, and chronic unhappiness. Since you are always striving to find your “real” passion and never seem to, your life become a hamster wheel of dissatisfaction.
- Following your passion is bad advice because most people don’t have a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered and then matched to a suitable career.
- Passion is a side effect of mastery. In order to love your work, you must provide a rare and valuable service to others. You must also have autonomy and a sense of being connected to others in your work environments.
- Taking on a mindset of what you can offer the world is a far better (and more effective) approach versus what the world can offer you. It’s what the author calls the “Passion Mindset” versus the “Craftsman Mindset.”
- Become “so good they can’t ignore you” in your chosen endeavor and you will ultimately find happiness and passion in your work.
- Becoming “so good” requires an almost fanatical dedication to your work. He mentions the 10,000 hour rule frequently as a way of achieving excellence. This is often a grueling and arduous process but must be done anyway.
- Focusing on your passions makes you focus on what you don’t like about your work and leads to chronic unhappiness. ( I can agree with this one). By constantly asking ourselves “what do I want” or “what do I truly love”, we are left unfulfilled because there are rarely concrete answers, but rather ambiguous ideas. Cal reports that this mindset is almost guaranteed to leave you perpetually confused and unhappy.
- If you want something rare and valuable (such as a highly rewarding career), then you need to provide something rare and valuable in return.
- Having the courage to quit your job is not enough, but rather it needs to be accompanied by skills of great and real value.
- To find your career passion, you must have a mission. A mission gives you a focus on your goals and maximizes your impact on the world. A mission requires career capital in which we can offer something valuable first.
The Passion Hypothesis
The Passion Hypothesis states “the key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job (or business) that matches that passion.”
This has become an extremely poplar niche for “lifestyle design” type bloggers to write about. Follow your heart and the money will follow, is a common mantra.
Ever since Tim Ferriss wrote the 4HWW, millions of people have jumped on the “pursue your passion” bandwagon and I have too.
Life coaches are popping up everywhere you look and most have a similar message stating that we must follow our passion in order to find our life’s work.
But Cal not only brushes this notion aside but tells us that this is terrible advice.
He instead tells us the following:
- Career passions are rare. Instead, most are passionate about their hobbies and are not viable business opportunities.
- Passion takes time. It not just something where you wake up one day and say “I think my calling is saving bottle nosed dolphins.” Instead, he says that we will find our passion mastering certain workplace skills.
- Passion is a side effect of mastery. Meaning the more efficient you become at something, the more likely you are to consider it a passion.
- Following your passion leads to us looking for the “right” career or business that is truly our life’s work, which it turn leads to job hopping and self doubt because we rarely find it.
- Although the “passion” movement has exploded over the last 10 years, we are unhappier as people than we have ever been.
In his words, Cal states:
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.
He has examples to prove his theory, which of course can be viewed from either side. He doesn’t share any stories of people who followed their passions and actually succeeded.
Any one of us could do a study proving that following your passion is more effective than his teachings if we really wanted to. But that’s not the point of all of this. My point is that there may be something to all of this.
If you spend too much time focusing on whether or not you’ve found your true calling, the question will be rendered moot when you found yourself out of work.
The Passion Mindset VS The Craftsman Mindset
The Passion Mindset is the focus on what value your job/business offers you. Like with what I do here. I look at ETG as a way to help people but also offers me the opportunity to work from home, travel if I desire and work from anywhere. Things that I value.
The Craftsman Mindset is the focus on what value you can bring to your job/business. The theory is that once you provide tremendous value at work, you will begin to find your passion and reap the rewards of a fulfilling career.
He shares a story of a particular “lifestyle design” blogger who subscribes to the passion mindset. The story details a man who quit his 9-5 job at age 25 in order to pursue his passion. His passion is being able to live the life of an Internet entrepreneur and show others how to do the same.
According to the author, this blogger’s only product was his enthusiasm for not having to conform to society and work a “traditional” job. Sounds familiar….
The story continues to tell how this blogger struggled to gain readers, keep them interested and ultimately disappears altogether. The reason being is that his enthusiasm was not a valuable trait and he had no career capital from which to draw and build on.
I agree with the fact that we must provide a value to people or there is no business. As it’s been told to me many, many times; blogging is not a business. I get that.
The author’s example shows us one person who tried the passive income route, which clearly takes a great deal of work in order to build something that generates significant income.
But his point also hit a little too close to home for me as well.
While reading this book (and since), I have thought a great deal about this. What value am I offering my audience? Is my passion for ending the grind enough? Is it a business model? What can I provide that will meet this criteria?
Career capital is defined as the skills you have that are rare and valuable to the working world. This is the key currency for creating work you love (according to Cal).
In essence, what he is saying is that those who do not possess remarkable skill at their chosen work (i.e. the millions of people leaving their careers to find something more meaningful, but have little or no experience in) are screwed.
His focus is on creating a compelling career and this is done only by having 3 things:
- Creativity. Having the ability to be highly creative in your work.
- Impact. Being able to make an impact on people and/or the world.
- Control. Being in control of your time and future.
And while I agree with these things, they can be found in any endeavor regardless of whether or not you have innate skills in it.
He suggests that because so many are focused on having all these things in their work, they rarely come to fruition because by the time they’ve invested enough career capital (i.e. learned a valuable skill), they have already quit to pursue something they (incorrectly) think will be more fulfilling.
The Courage Culture
This is something that is very popular right now among lifestyle-type bloggers. It’s the idea that the only thing standing between you and your dream job/business is the courage to take that first step (i.e. grab your balls).
Cal claims this is dangerous because in ignores the importance of having career capital to back up your aspirations and leads to people quitting their jobs for a new situation, which often puts them in a far worse situation than they were previously.
I have to disagree with this flat out. Take me for example. I quit my career, left behind all kinds of “security” and income in order to do what I love.
Am I in a much worse situation because of it? I would argue the exact opposite to be true. While I many not have the same financial resources that I did, my quality of life has improved ten-fold. Can you put a price on that?
I honestly believe that had I stayed in my job, I would have gone the way of stressed out cardiac patient and been a miserable son of a bitch for the rest of my heart attack ending life.
He also mentions Pamela Slim’s program, Rebuild Your Backbone, which is geared towards people struggling with taking that first step towards following their dreams. He states that this “Passion Mindset” approach strips away merit and that without real skills and real value offered (in addition to the courage needed to follow your dreams), this doesn’t make sense and is a recipe for failure.
The Passion Camp
I am obviously in the passion camp. I honestly believe that following your passion is how you find what will make you tick. This book does not dissuade me from my beliefs, but I do see many of his points on why solely following your passion may not be the best approach to finding work you love.
I’m also a HUGE fan of Gary V, who is all passion. He screams, curses, and beats it down people’s throats; do what you love and you CAN monetize it.
I wholeheartedly agree.
This book disagrees with this notion. For example, Gary, in his 2008 Web 2.0 Expo speech, says if you love The Smurfs, then you can find a way to make money talking about Smurfs. This book would argue that there is no real value being offered in this scenario and would be a poor decision to pursue it.
A Few Issues Here..
Here are a few things that I don’t agree with and don’t like about this book:
- He trivializes lifestyle bloggers/entrepreneurs and almost makes a mockery of this career choice. He also fails to mention any successful case studies of people who are making a full-time living from going after what they love without the “required” career capital.
- Most of his studies are done on highly educated people (he has his PhD from M.I.T) and the book takes an almost condescending tone towards those not formally educated.
- He seems to value academic merit and education more than anything else. Education is very important I agree, but there are things far more valuable than getting a piece of paper.
- Says “regardless of what you do for a living, approach it like a true performer.” For example, although you may hate your job, you should strive to excel in it, which may ultimately lead to you being more passionate about it.
- Is geared towards the employee mindset people, which many of us are not.
- Putting all your focus and energy into your job, whether or not you think it’s your calling.
- Courage to try a new field is not wise because you have no skills or “career capital” yet.
The Big Questions
And as many things that I don’t like about this book, I hate to admit that I agree with some of the things he says, especially the things that are in direct contrast to what I write about here.
After reading the book, I felt like I was a deflating balloon. And because of this, I knew there were some hard truths in here that I was unwilling to look at and/or accept.
I have begun to rethink my business direction and focus because of this and know it can only serve to help me grow as a person and as a business owner.
As I read it (and reread it), I kept asking myself the same difficult questions:
- What valuable service am I providing right now?
- What rare skills (or career capital) do I have in my business as a blogger here?
- Am I pursuing something that I can truly excel at?
My answers are more disturbing than the questions:
- I am selling inspiration right now. I’m selling the possibility of being able to make a huge change in your life by seeing how I did it in my own life.
- I honestly am struggling to think of my unique skills. I have many skills that are valuable but I am not offering anything remarkable here, other than my story.
- I can’t honestly say yes here. I am struggling to find my marketable skills that will set me apart from the million other bloggers. Yes, I can write well. Yes, I have the ability to connect with people on a deep level. Yes, I can inspire people to change. But is it enough? Can I teach YOU how to do what I’ve done and then inspire you to actually do it? And if so, is THAT enough?
These questions and answers are really forcing me to reevaluate my path here and where I want to go.
Also, given the topic and its impact on me, I decided to reach out to Cal and although he claims that he is purposefully difficult to reach (and doesn’t use social media), I sent him an email anyway. My hope is to revive my Podcast one last time and interview him. We’ll see if he responds…
I’ll be sharing more about this in a future post, but for now, it’s over to you…
I really want to talk about this! What are your thoughts on his ideas? Which points make sense and which don’t?