1-Page Summary: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

So Good They Can't Ignore YouThis is probably the best book I’ve read on how 20-somethings can build a meaningful career. Cal put his brilliant insights on the topic into a simple, useful framework. I’ve enjoyed his blog for many years and often bloggers-turned-authors disappoint (because good bloggers have lots of quick insights, while authors build on one very deep insight, kinda like the old adage “The fox knows many little things but the hedgehog knows one big thing”), but Cal delivers here. It’s clear that he cares and has been thinking deeply on this for many years. Books like these remind me why I love books.

Anything in blue is a direct quote from the book.


“Follow your passion” is flawed, and can be harmful – leading to frequent job/career changes and anxiety/angst.

Career passions are rare – most “passions” are really hobbies (eg, sports)

The better you get at something, the more it becomes a “passion”

The passion movement started in the 1970s. The core illusion: that there is a magic job out there that’s right for you, and will solve all your problems. This illusion applies to relationships too :)

“found that only 45 percent of Americans describe themselves as satisfied with their jobs. This number has been steadily decreasing from the mark of 61 percent recorded in 1987, the first year of the survey.”


“She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.”

“It took Martin, by his own estimation, ten years for his new act to cohere, but when it did, he became a monster success. It’s clear in his telling that there was no real shortcut to his eventual fame. “[Eventually] you are so experienced [that] there’s a confidence that comes out,” Martin explained. “I think it’s something the audience smells.””


Craftsman careers allow you to:
1. Develop skills that are rare and valuable
2. Do something useful and good for the world
3. Work with people you like

Cal is dismissive of the courage culture – the belief that the only thing stopping you from pursuing your dream job or career is a lack of courage (I couldn’t agree more)

“Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors. The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level. The grand masters, on average, dedicated around 5,000 hours out of their 10,000 to serious study. The intermediate players, by contrast, dedicated only around 1,000 to this activity.”


1. Lots of control – but first, you need rare and valuable skills to increase your degree of control

“In one such study, mentioned in Pink’s book, researchers at Cornell followed over three hundred small businesses, half of which focused on giving control to their employees and half of which did not. The control-centric businesses grew at four times the rate of their counterparts.”

2. It’s financially viable – people will pay you for those rare and valuable skills

“Instead, as he explained: “Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.” He also emphasized that hobbies are clearly exempt from this rule. “If I want to learn to scuba dive, for example, because I think it’s fun, and people won’t pay me to do that, I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway,” he said.”

3. There’s a sense of mission, purpose

Usually, this involves mastering a field and getting to the edge of it

“Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.”


“The Law of Remarkability – For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.”

“Pausch captured this reality well when he quipped, “Junior faculty members used to come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you got tenure early; what’s your secret?’ I said, ‘It’s pretty simple, call me any Friday night in my office at ten o’clock and I’ll tell you.’ “”

Take little bets – projects that create new value, can be done in a short time (eg, one month), and produce concrete results for feedback and learning

That’s it, folks. Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy Cal’s book! And, if you’re so inclined, you can purchase it through this Amazon link and I’ll get a little taste :)

Here’s a list of all 1-page cheatsheets, and a list of all books.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.