"So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport

AUTHOR: Cal Nnewport

AUTHOR: Cal Nnewport

As part of the Chapter 1 of the Diplomatic Planner, we explore themes of skills and development. The point of the chapter is to help to assess what your best and worst skills are, particularly when it comes to identifying hard and soft skills. Finding a good career fit determines a balance of hard and soft skills and many a times, we are told to follow our passions when it comes to our job. But what if the jobs we want require us to have hard, technical skills we simply don’t have? Will that stop you from pursuing the job you really want, even if it is a few years down the line? What sounds great on paper may become your worst nightmare, so how do you end up loving what you do instead of chasing something that you love?

To help you explore some of these critical points, we recommend the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport to support Chapter 1 “Skills for a Changing World” of the Diplomatic Planner. What is refreshing about this book is that the author moves away from the passion trap, ie, being encouraged to go after something because you are passionate about it. Following your passion is a good motivation but impractical advice at times, especially if you have to move abroad and possibly start from scratch. Newport looks at more realistic and practical ways to succeed in career satisfaction with a focus on how to grow hard skills for specific jobs.

From Newport’s point of view, passion is rare and striving for a job you are passionate about will often lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. First of all, real passion that coincides with professional possibilities is extremely rare, a hypothesis that he tested with 100 Canadian university students. He found that students who were most passionate only identified areas of hobbies like dancing or reading, rather than an area of profession. In fact, only 4 out of 84 students identified passions with direct connections to work or education such as computer programming. Newport also notes that passion can be dangerous. The notion of only doing work that you love means a higher rate of switching jobs in an environment where the market can’t keep up which leads to many job seekers ending up in unhappy roles to make ends meet. Instead of doing what you love, the author suggests that we learn to love what we do by acquiring mastery, autonomy and relatedness, which applies very well to the international relations field.

While passion may have led you into international relations, passion will certainly not be your friend when grinding on a daily basis. Rather than relying on passion to get your through the door, focus instead of crafting experience that fits the job that you are after. This is a big reason why the early chapters of the Diplomatic Planner focuses on skills and experience rather than outright passion. However, passion comes with time and the more experience you get in a particular job, the more opportunities you will start to see. When you have mastered something, it is more likely that you will become passionate about it. The scientific theory of ‘self determination theory’ demonstrates this.

The theory identifies three basic factors that generate intrinsic motivation which in turn is linked to higher levels of job satisfaction. These are: autonomy (when you have control over your day), competence (when you feel you are good at what you do), and relatedness (when you feel connected to other people). To be autonomous and competent means achieving mastery in your field, and to do this, you don’t necessarily need passion but the willingness to work hard. And the willingness to work hard, as described in the Diplomatic Planner, is a strong soft skill that all organisations seek in their candidates.

Newport reminds us that the passion mindset revolves around the question: “What do I really want?” which puts a negative spin on your current role. Instead, use the craftsman mindset of thinking by asking yourself: “What value can I bring to my job?” which highlights more on the positive side. You start to focus less on passion and more on quality. But how can you improve quality? Through deliberate practice which is a theme that runs through many of the resources recommended for Chapter 1. You need to be able to stretch your abilities and ask for constructive feedback.

The craftsman mindset is helpful to apply in the field of international relations because it encourages you to acquire specialised skills, which is great because rare skills attract better jobs. Newport refers to these rare skills as ‘career capital’ where if you want a rare and valuable job, you need to acquire rare and valuable skills. Career capital forces you to get better at what you are doing, and maintain control and autonomy in your work.

Newport also informs us to be mindful of promotions. Sometimes a promotion with better pay may sound good but may lead you to relinquish control of your time, personal management and leadership style. To avoid losing “you”, be weary of losing your hard-earned control by taking on new and unfamiliar tasks that may be at your expense. Every job is more motivating if you have a mission. When you have a meaningful goal, you will feel more satisfied at handling even stressful work. Your mission may be to use the earnings from your current job to fund your charity, or build your networks with the intention of building your knowledge of the field you are working in. This will only be useful to you if your mindset is focused and aligns with specific skills you are trying to acquire. Your career mission shouldn’t be your first step but several steps, much like a roadmap. It will help you get to each point safely and with purpose. Leverage the small but significant wins to advance in your mission, and when you inevitably fail on occasion, learn from your failures and improve.

In short, the lessons from this book is to use the craftsman mindset to acquire career capital and pursue your mission on a step by step basis. Find value in the work you do instead of chasing after passion, and learn to be so good that they can’t ignore you.

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development toolkit for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register