I realize it sounds cliche, but every once in awhile you get lucky when reading a book and discover that the words really speak to you. While the book may not necessarily produce new learning, it may help to confirm or reinforce the thoughts and philosophies you possess. Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You happened to be one of these breakthrough texts for me.
I had already read two of Cal Newport’s books - Deep Work and Digital Minimalism - and thoroughly enjoyed them both. What is fascinating about Newport is not only his age (exactly my age - 37), but his theory on blocking out the noise in life (e.g., social media) so you can experience high levels of productivity and focus on work that really matters. This mindset of committing time to things that really matter and will make you better is a concept I have really been trying to work on these last couple years.
The title of this book actually comes from the actor/comedian Steve Martin who once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Martin explained that his success - like many others who are toward the top in their field - did not come overnight. While others saw a rapid rise to stardom, Martin indicates that it took him ten years of hard work until he finally had his breakthrough. This idea of being willing to put in the time to be great is what underpins the message of Newport’s book.
I think oftentimes I have been guilty of looking at others who are at the top of their craft and think they simply woke up one day and got there. While there certainly are some examples of overnight sensations, in almost all cases the best in the world put in many, many hours of hard work perfecting their craft before they had that breakthrough moment.
After Newport lays the groundwork of the book through Martin’s quote, he then provides practical application for being “so good they can’t ignore you.” He references Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule - the idea that to be great at any one skill you need to commit to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to that craft. To put that number into perspective, 10,000 hours is the same as 1250 “nine to five” workdays, or roughly five years-worth of “workweeks” toward a particular skill. Mastery definitely does not come overnight!
So how does Newport stay committed to measuring the work that gets done? He keeps track of deliberate practice - tallying the hours each day that he devotes to his work. Newport says, “By having these hour counts stare me in the face every day I'm motivated to find new ways to fit more deliberate practice into my schedule.” The practice of counting hours is a habit I have implemented into my daily routine after reading the work of Newport along with James Clear (Atomic Habits) and Jim Collins (Good to Great). Much like Newport, I find myself incredibly motivated to track the number of hours I spend each day perfecting my craft - which for me is a combination of reading, writing, learning, and sharing.
Finally, there were two particular lines in “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” that really fired me up. Although they do not appear together in the text, I have placed them together in the following: “This is a different way of thinking about work, but once you embrace it, the changes to your career trajectory can be profound...If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value.” While at first blush this may seem a little pompous, I do believe there is great motivation that comes from pushing yourself each day to be better and knowing that this high level of focused dedication on work that matters will pay off in the long run.