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Professor’s Undergraduates Inspire New Career Advice Book

Calvin Newport

Calvin Newport

September 25, 2012 – Calvin Newport, assistant professor of computer science, says the common career advice to “follow your passion” is dangerous.

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (Business Plus, 2012), Newport says pre-existing passions have little to do with how most people end up loving their work.

Talent and skill, he writes, is what should determine people’s career paths, he says.

“…People with compelling careers instead start by getting good at something rare and valuable – building what I call ‘career capital’ – and then cashing in this capital for the traits that make great work great,” Newport writes in his book. “… You need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.”

The computer science expert decided to write the book after his interactions with undergraduates on campus.

“Many students seemed to feel this pressure that they had to figure out, by their first day on campus, what they were meant to do with their life,” he says. “This led to anxiety that often manifested itself in frequent switches of college majors – as soon as a major would get difficult the students would question if it was truly their calling.”

Newport says the issue can persist after graduation and lead to problems such as chronic job-hopping and dissatisfaction. Some of the rules he sets out include:

  • Don’t follow your passion
  • Be so good they can’t ignore you (the importance of skill)

The book’s title comes from comedian Steve Martin, who replied "Be so good they can't ignore you” when asked how to be successful in a career.

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