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Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, redefines the rules that govern career greatness.


Rule No. 1 

Don’t Follow Your Passion

“The advice of ‘define your passion and then go after it’ can actually be harmful,” says Newport. “It can lead to unhappiness, uncertainty, and chronic job-hopping. The best thing to do is hone a valuable skill and have the courage to leverage it and pave your own path. In his 2005 Stanford University commencement address, Steve Jobs said, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do.’ But his story was more complicated than that. The path to a passionate working life is much more than sitting down and asking, ‘What am I meant to do?’”


Rule No. 2 

Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

“If you simply show up every day and do your job, you’re going to hit a plateau and stop improving. The people who burst through that plateau tend to be much more deliberate about learning new skills. They challenge themselves to pick up knowledge they didn’t have before. There’s a reason Steve Martin is one the best comedians of our time: He diligently focuses on his routine and constantly pushes himself to sharpen his technique.”


Rule No. 3 

Turn Down a Promotion

“A computer programmer I know was working at a low-level job, doing software testing, when she figured out a way to automate the process, which saved time and money. The company then offered her a promotion. If she took it, she’d have greater responsibility and be in charge of more people. But instead, she said, ‘I don’t want a promotion; I want a demotion. I want to work 30 hours a week so I can earn a philosophy degree part-time.’ When you’re valuable, you gain control. For my friend, proving herself allowed her to choose her own path, which wasn’t up the ladder.”


Rule No. 4 

Think Small, and Act Big

“People often jump too quickly into identifying major goals. A real mission—something feasible that can actually make a difference—is hard to devise until you’ve gained some real expertise and career capital. Big, broad thoughts often only lead to small actions. When a goal is informed by experience it tends to be more narrow and, thus, more achievable. Build up the knowledge that allows you to form a reasonable goal, and then make big changes because of it.”


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