How to be so good that they can’t ignore you?

Possibly, somebody, somewhere, has told you at one point or another that the path to success and happiness is “follow your passion.” This is the motto of countless self-help gurus around the world sporting fake tans. But is the advice nice? If so, why did Steve Jobs create one of the world’s most profitable companies when becoming a Zen master was his passion?

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, avoids the “passion pit” and instead looks for more rational and practical ways to excel and be content with your career. You can learn how the rare and important skills that great jobs need can be created. In your work, you will also learn how to parlay those abilities into independence and autonomy-a “must” for job satisfaction. You’ll also find out how you can find your own mission: an inspiring target to professionally aspire for.

“The passion hypothesis” taught by life coaches and authors urges individuals to “do what they love.” The gist is this: find your passion first, and then meaningful work will appear at your fingertips. But is passion necessarily the right path?

First of all, it is incredibly unusual to have genuine enthusiasm that coincides with professional possibilities. 84 out of 100 Canadian university students replied when asked in a 2002 study that they had passions. Most of the passions they listed, however, had no viable link to available professions, but were hobbies such as dancing, reading and skiing instead. In fact, only four in 84 of the students described interests, such as computer programming, with direct ties to work or education.

Secondly, it can be dangerous for love. More individuals have started to pursue their passions since the birth of “the passion theory” in 1970. Convinced that they can only do work that they enjoy, they move jobs more often. Yet these demands can’t be fulfilled by the job market. As we may not all be experienced beer drinkers or poets, they are disappointed with more work seekers ending up in jobs. In fact, in recent decades, work satisfaction has actually declined; in 2010, just 45% of Americans surveyed were satisfied with their employment, down from 61% in 1987.

This means that looking for the work you were “meant to do” is likely to be a route to constant job-hopping and self-doubt.

Passion is rare, and striving for a job you’re passionate about often leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. It would seem that finding a passion first and then creating a career around it isn’t the route to success. But if it isn’t, how else can you be happy with what you do?

In experience, the answer might lie. A college administrative assistant study found that this was the deciding factor in the satisfaction of the staff. While the work of the assistants seemed dull, their responses differed when asked about their work. A third regarded it as a work, merely a way of paying the bills. Another third called it a career or a road to a better thing. It was considered a calling, or an integral part of their life and identity, by the final third. The more the assistant had experience, the more likely it was that they would love their job and consider it a vocation. So enthusiasm comes with time, because when you’ve become good at it and have built a sense of effectiveness and strong relationships with your co-workers, you are more likely to be happy with what you do.

But the only factor leading to job satisfaction is not experience. Expertise is another one. It is more likely that you will become enthusiastic about it when you have mastered something. This is illustrated by a theoretical theory called the theory of self determination. Three basic factors needed to produce intrinsic motivation have been established by the theory, which in turn is related to higher levels of job satisfaction. These three variables are: freedom, the feeling that you own your day; competence, which is the feeling that you are good at what you do; and connectedness, the feeling of interaction that you have with other people.

To be autonomous and competent means to achieve mastery in your given field. To do that, you don’t need passion, only the willingness to work hard to acquire that mastery.

What you love, don’t do. Learn to enjoy what you do by mastery, autonomy and relationship acquisition. The mind-set of passion revolves around the question: “What do I really want?” This means that individuals who have it appear to question if their work is right for them. They concentrate on the importance offered to them by their jobs, and are very conscious of everything they hate about their work. Outcome? Their work satisfaction and general happiness are declining.

By contrast, the “craftsman mind-set” asks: What value can I bring to my job? The craftsman mind-set acknowledges that no matter what field you’re in, success is always about quality. As comedian Steve Martin puts it: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Focus on the quality of the work you are doing now, instead of always wondering if it is your true calling.

When you adopt the craftsman mind-set, you will not hesitate to do what is necessary to improve the quality of your work. And how can you improve quality? Through deliberate practice, which is practice that stretches one’s abilities and from which constructive feedback is sought.

For example, a chess player must spend nearly 10,000 hours training and learning to become a master. However, that is not all. The best chess players are not the ones who practice more, but those who practice smarter, once Master-level has been achieved. What is that meant to mean? It implies that they are strategically training and seriously learning, that is, engaged in deliberate practice.

In the case of the chess player, deliberate practice might involve studying difficult theoretical chess problems instead of just playing more. Why? Playing does not necessarily push the player outside of his comfort zone, because opponents are chosen randomly, and therefore may not have the skills to really challenge the player. Theoretical chess problems on the other hand can always be tailored to the player’s current level.

Although deliberate practice is often strenuous and uncomfortable, you should not avoid it because only by adopting it can you attain true mastery.

Adopt the mind-set of a craftsman, work hard and get out of your comfort zone. In every profession, the craftsman’s mind-set is beneficial because it helps you develop advanced skills and mastery by promoting deliberate practice. That’s a good thing, because it’s more possible for people with unusual abilities to get fantastic work. These are the unusual jobs in which employees can be imaginative and have authority over what they do.

So how do you get one? In a supply and demand employment market, if you want a rare and valuable job, you need equally rare and valuable skills. These skills are called career capital, and they are what helps set you apart from other individuals.

Through the craftsman mind-set: it forces you to get better at what you’re doing. To get a great job, collect career capital by acquiring rare and valuable skills.

Research has shown that being in control is a key ingredient to a happy, meaningful life. This is also true of work, where there are a few control-related traps to avoid.

For a start, we often think that control acquired without career capital is sustainable. It isn’t. Another trap is the temptation to relinquish control gained at work in return for a promotion.

For instance , assume you have gained such mastery of your job that you are granted a fair bit of autonomy by your boss in managing your job. If you decide to make a change like cutting back your hours, you’re probably going to face opposition because it’s going to be seen as a challenge by your boss. They could lose an important team member.

To avoid losing you, your company might try to promote you. Beware though, the salary may be better, but you’ll probably lose your hard-earned control as you have to take on new, unfamiliar tasks.

To retain power and autonomy in your job, acquire career resources. If you have a goal, each job is more motivating. People who have a helpful, meaningful job objective are more happy with their job and better able to manage even challenging jobs.

Check out my related post: Is your work a job or career?

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