Cal Newport, 2012, ‘The Clarity of the Craftsman’ in So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work, NY Business Plus, ch.4.

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

To me, the only good thing about this week’s reading was this quote by Steve Martin. It actually made me feel quite good about the future, the idea of practice makes perfect, of not letting people pass you off as just another content creator (or whatever it might be). It’s weirdly comforting amongst all the anxiety I have coming out of university, as though have control, it’s up to me to be successful at whatever it is I choose to do.

Newport takes this idea, and applies it to the ‘craftsman mindset’, which he states focusses on what you can offer the world (and which he is very much in favour of). He compares this with the ‘passion mindset’, which focusses on what the world can offer you, and which – according to Newport – is a pathway to insecurity and career anxiety. I personally don’t like the idea of splitting work mindsets into craftsmanship and passion, and think that it’s naive to suggest that by focussing on one talent and practising until you are “so good they can’t ignore you” you will be happy, and have no need to question what you are passionate about and whether you’ve chosen the right career path. I also don’t think it’s unhealthy to question what you’re doing now and again, and I think it’s important to feel dissatisfied in jobs that are entry level or generally less demanding because that is what pushes you to get better. I think it’s all a part of the process in becoming that good.

Newport does address this, noting that Steve Martin suffered anxiety attacks during his “decade-long dedication to improving his routine”, however he retorts that by adopting the craftsman mindset you can “leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your hob is “just right,” and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good.”

He disagrees that the craftsman mindset is only viable for those who already feel passionate about their work, and I disagree with that. You should not spend your life trying to be “so good they can’t ignore you” if it’s not something you really feel passionate about doing, and I think it’s fine to spend a bit of time figuring out what that thing is. I don’t think you should let it stop you from doing things, but by all means keep questioning yourself. It’d be weird not to, and I think it would hinder your progress. Not according to Newport though. His argument: “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”.

Compelling career? Probably. Happiness? I’m not so sure.


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