on 8 October 2012
Superb careers and life advice. Get's straight to the point and demolishes the 'Follow Your Passion' careers advice.
Recommendation: Buy it.
I absolutely love this book! And I loved it for challenging an opinion that I've had for many years. An opinion that was developed after years and years of hearing the cheesy old careers advice of "Find what your passions are in life and then follow your dreams and everything else will somehow work out..."
To be fair to those people - authors, family, friends, careers counsellors - were being very well meaning. Indeed, I've probably spouted the same lines to people I've offered careers advice to. The problem is, as Cal Newport explains in his excellent book, this is BAD advice.
Cal quickly gets to the point that, unfortunately, most of us don't have any burning career ambitions. Yes, there are a few rare individuals who do. Unfortunately the majority of us - myself included - didn't really know what to do with our lives when we were young. Yet we were told that this was not a problem. All we had to do, was 'dig deep' and uncover our (apparently hidden) passions. When we did this, somehow, everything else would be OK. By discovering our passions, we'd then be able to discover the most suitable work for us and our lives would be happy ever after.
Using a series of studies, and lots of anecdotes, Cal punctures this 'career passion' myth. And he does so with surgical precision. His writing style is precise and without waffle .
Once Cal has demolished the passion thing, he lays out, step-by-step, the process by which we can create a career path that offers real fulfilment and success.
I don't want to describe this process in too much detail in case you're tempted not to buy the book. However, in essence, Cal argues that, instead of expecting to be given amazing work from Day One in your career, you have to earn the right to be taken seriously. You do this by focusing on what people find rare and valuable and are willing to pay for. Keep providing superb value and force yourself (through a process of deliberate practice) to get better and better.
By working in a focused way, Cal argues that you'll quickly pull away from your peers. You'll stand out from the crowd so to speak.
Once you've achieved a certain level of career success, you'll have to work hard again to break out of the controls others will try and place on you. Only then will you be in a place where you can carve out your own career niche. Finally, at this point, you'll have the freedom to choose when, where and how you work. Not only that, but by this point, after several years of work experience, you'll probably have a much clearer idea of what it is you like to do i.e. you may have, indeed, discovered your passions by then!
Sounds like a lot of hard work? Yes, it is. Cal doesn't pull any punches here. Which, despite his young age, is a more mature approach than the wishful 'career passion' advocates.
As I see it, Cal's argument is that you need to take a long-term view. You need to understand not only WHAT you're trying to do with your career but HOW you're going to do it. He's pragmatic enough to explain that this process IS tough but, ultimately, highly rewarding.
I've noticed on the Amazon.com site that a few reviewers have criticised Cal for being repetitive. I'd agree to an extent. He tends to rehearse his argument again and again throughout the book.
The reason I think he does so is because he's using a principle of learning that he talks about in his other work (he's written books on studying and learning) which is called, 'Active Recall'. This is where you revisit ideas in order to cement them into your memory. I didn't mind this approach but you may find it tiresome.
Other critics question whether Cal's approach would work for people who are not lucky enough to be well educated or, even, women (most of Cal's examples in his book are men).
Again, I recognise what these people are saying. But I think they're being unfair because success in life is more about attitude and behaviours than whether you've got lots of qualifications.
Yes, having a better start in life is a huge advantage. Coming from a poor, working-class background myself, these disadvantages can and often do cripple the desires and aspirations of millions.
Nevertheless, as Cal's book points out, if you believe you're in charge of your destiny, and work both hard and smart, you'll eventually be so good, they can't ignore you :)