There’s a book out there that completely flips the script on the idea of “follow your passion”. That book is So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport. The title, on the other hand, comes from a story involving the comedian and actor Steve Martin:
In a 2007 episode of the Charlie Rose show, Rose was interviewing the actor and comedian Steve Martin about his memoir Born Standing Up. They talked about the realities of Martin’s rise. In the last five minutes of the interview, Rose asks Martin his advice for aspiring performers.
“Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’ . . . but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ “
In response to Rose’s trademark ambiguous grunt, Martin defended his advice: “If somebody’s thinking, ‘How can I be really good?’ people are going to come to you.”
The book was a game changer for me. I remember thinking early in my career that if I wanted to succeed I needed to become more passionate. Heck, one of the reasons my ex-wife divorced me was because, and I quote, “you just don’t seem to be passionate about anything.”
Yeah, that took a while to overcome.
Luckily, this book exists, and I read it. The very first thing I highlighted is this:
When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.
The gist of the book is that rather than finding and connecting with the thing we’re passionate about in order to magically become successful, the actual way that happens is through becoming what he calls a craftsman.
Want to be a writer? Learn and practice the craft of writing. Photographer? Take pictures every day. Musician? Write every day. Perform often. Get better at your instrument, whatever that is, through constant structured practice.
We can do anything we want, and we can ultimately become extremely passionate about it, but that often comes after we’ve put in the work to become the best craftsmen we can be.
The benefit of this approach is that you minimize the chance of having an entitlement mindset, that as soon as you’ve found your passion that the world somehow owes your money, a career, or fame. The world doesn’t owe you anything.
The most successful musicians I know – Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons – are two of the hardest working groups of musicians I know. Same goes for The National Parks, a band that has been touring for years on end and is only now seeing some more national-level success. They were craftsman first, realized they were passionate after becoming craftsmen, and kept getting better and better, letting the work speak for itself.
I’ve never seen someone succeed because of their passion. It always comes down to hard work, and having the mindset of becoming “so good they can’t ignore you”.
This concept can also be used to reverse engineer the success you want. If you want to take your career to the next level, as yourself “what do I need to do for (person who will hire mepay for my artetc) to not be able to ignore me and my work?” Then work backwards from there strategically and consistently. You may not end up convincing that specific person, but by improving your craft, you’ll inevitably get noticed by others that are looking for the thing you’re striving to be the best at.
A few other favorite quotes from the book:
Regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career.
If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value, as you’ll likely be alone in your dedication to systematically getting better.