So Good They Can’t Ignore You: A Book Review

Apr 30, 2020 | Education

I am on this one-book-a-week kick doing my best to take advantage of this spare time all thanks to ‘Rona. This past week, So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport was my pick of the week. Let us review.

From jump street, Cal makes it clear that he is against the Passion Hypothesis; and at one point he even goes as far to call passion dangerous. That was a bit far-fetched for me, but I gleaned his point and for the most part I agree. I like to dance in the nuance and Cal just ripped the Band-Aid and for that reason our approaches are different, but we landed in almost the same place.

The point of it all is to find the work you love. To do that, Cal presents 4 tasks:

  1. Debunk the Passion Myth. Cal suggests to throw the whole thing away!
  2. Build Your Career Capital. My personal favorite.
  3. Gain Control (Gradually). Don’t be stupid, do not make any sudden moves.
  4. Realize Your Mission. Which is different from passion, how?

The first three chapters are something to muster through, but you once arrive beyond it, Cal starts cookin’ with grease. If you read nothing else from this book, read the craftsman mindset. Build whatever blueprint comes to you for your work and professional goals. This section is highly insightful. Its content should be taught in high schools throughout the nation. Seriously, an entire course could be taught just on Career Capital alone. He lists 5 steps to become a Craftsman:

  1. Identify the capital market you are in and the type(s) of career capital you should acquire for success.
  2. Define the specific type of capital to pursue and where you can learn them.
  3. Define “good.” Establish a clear goal to work toward.
  4. Be patient. You need time to improve and avoid distractions.
  5. Move outside of your professional comfort zone.

I won’t spoil the fifth step for you (read the book), but two methods are worthy of mention—the 10,000-hour rule and deliberate practice. The first time I heard of the 10,000-hour rule I was in undergrad and then the focus was on acquiring the time.  While still important, Cal uses guitar player Jordan Tice’s story to emphasize that it is not just putting in the time, but how you do it. The mere act of banking time does not inherently lead to mastery yet how you build, modulate, and graduate your practice time produces such fine showmanship in a way that you’ll be too good to be ignored. Quality over quantity, if you will.

“When I told Mark about Jordan, he agreed that an obsessive focus on the quality of what you produce is a rule in professional music. ‘It trumps your appearance, your equipment, your personality, and your connections,’ he explained. ‘Studio musicians have this adage: ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’ Immediately after the recording comes the playback; your ability has no hiding place.”

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Page 36

I am no musician, yet I highlighted two lines from the passage above as two of my favorite quotes because they can be translated for meaning into any profession. Since ability has no hiding place, you better be damn good.

As I read this book, I quickly began to follow these steps. They are fruitful. I am mostly following these steps specifically as it is related to the “capital” I need to apply grad school, even still it works. I have begun to manifest small successes already.

Aside from career capital, 10,000 hours, and deliberate practices, the other two take-aways I gained from this book are honest feedback and little bets. If you are a person who is adamant about investing in yourself, these two are gems! (Read the book.)

Cal does not relent on the value of feedback in various stages throughout the process from informing readers about its timing, its stretching, its impact, and more. Feedback does not just improve you and your work, but it also helps to produce new work. This very thing happened to me just last week when I asked for feedback for my professional biography. Though many respondents’ comments improved my content there was one suggestion that truly inspired new content.

Cal borrowed the term ‘little bets’ from former venture capitalist author Peter Sims’s book of the same name. From that title,

“Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance, they make methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of failures and from small but significant wins.”

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Page 178

This passage sat with me because without even knowing it I had made a few little bets last year when I decided to redirect my career trajectory. Cal’s book now allows me to be more intentional about investing in myself, learning from my mistakes and failures, and staying true to my own evolutionary model—that humans are not just one thing and that we do not have it all figured out, instead we grow as we go and evolve into who we intend to be and how we intend to be it.

Speaking of evolution, my favorite interviewee was Dr. Pardis Sabeti. Now she has a clear mission: to use new technology to fight old diseases (p. 276). Her work is purposeful as it aims to do just that, nothing more, nothing less. But she didn’t always know that. She evolved. In high school, she was obsessed with mathematics. Introduced to biology, she loved that too; so, she majored in it in college. In grad school she studied genetics; later in this journey, infectious disease piqued her interest, particularly in Africa. Today, Sabeti is a computational biologist and a medical & evolutionary geneticist, which tells of the math, biology, and genetics she was—dare I say passionate about—as early as high school. I reveled in her career path because it demonstrates what I believe about the design of humans—there is a commonality and evolution at the same time. Our interests and skills often live in the same house but does not always have the same address. And that’s okay.

By the end of the book, Cal explained how he applied each of the rules he discusses throughout the book, and I love it! His application is honest and practical. I specifically fancied the three-level pyramid he details as a way to apply Rule #4. So much so that I made my own graphic as a reference.

The weekly exposure is a game changer. Though in the past ten days, I have practiced more daily exposure. Nonetheless, I am more astute in my content and in-the-know about happenings in my field. At some point this week that led to two professional connects on LinkedIn, one of which is a faculty member for a school I plan to apply to.

Before I go, I want to share this free time-tracking software I learned about as I was reading. I wanted to apply some of Cal’s time management advice, but I didn’t want to keep everything in an Excel spreadsheet. Talking this over with a fellow faculty member, she shared that Toggl would get the job done. It has helped me tremendously. I hope it fares well for you too.

If I have not told you already, read the book. Thanks, Cal.

~Love, Light, and Career


  1. Sierra Bizzell

    I’m going to have to add this book to my summer reading list. I want to commit to reading more this summer since I will have some extra time. What other books are you reading this summer?

    • Ms. Jae

      You should! We can discuss afterward, if you like. Thanks for reading and commenting. ~Blessings, Ms. Jae!


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