yIn high school, I faced a common dilemma among my generation: choosing the "right" career. My passions at the time were drawing, environmentalism, and math which gave me many options: architecture, industrial design, and the various sub-types of engineering. I compared each career path for hours online, went to career fairs, and took personality assessments to find the "perfect fit". I eventually settled on civil engineering, but I still considered switching my major during the summer before college. My mind was filled with many doubts about civil engineering: "Will I get to do creative work?", "Will I be able to make a big impact on the world?", "Will I enjoy it enough?", and "Is this career going to interfere with my other life goals?". If I had read the book So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport a lot earlier, I could have avoided the anxiety and lost hours of sleep. I recommend this book to any student in the same situation because it debunks many myths that are holding students back. From the lessons in this book, I gained the clarity I needed to continue my career path. This book also helped me develop a plan to create a fulfilling career.
Advice Students Aren't GettingDespite all the career assessment tools given to today's high school students, "An estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as “undecided” (Gordon, 1995) and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation (Gordon, 1995)" According to Liz Freedman from Butler University, this career uncertainty occurs because many college students have a dualistic mindset-the belief that everything can be categorized into two extremes. 1 As Newport points out, most of the advice given to conflicted students only promotes this mindset. For instance, Steve Jobs told college graduates,in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking and don't settle." 2 The "Follow your passion" advice teaches students that each individual can only be passionate about one particular career and any other option would be unsatisfying. On the other hand, Newport argues in his book that people can become passionate about nearly any job if they approach it with the right mindset and develop their skills beyond a competent level. Without knowing this, students looking for their passion might give up each endeavor just when they encounter the difficult and unpleasant parts of the learning curve. A better approach would be to accept that no career path is perfectly suited for any individual. The priority should be to base career choices on already existing skills and to strive for excellence in that field. "Follow your passion" supporters reject this approach because it appears to lead to a monotonous work-life, but Newport demonstrates how skills can be used as a bargaining chip to acquire desirable working conditions. Still, people cling to the "Follow your passion" advice because they are told that it is the only way you can make an impact on the world. However, the book has a section on creating a mission and argues that people don't even know what possible contribution they can offer to the world before they reach the forefront of their field. Compared to the advice students commonly receive, this book is a much more reliable guide to getting a productive and satisfying career.
Valuable LessonsFrom this book, I learned to commit to my current path and to focus on turning it into a fulfilling aspect of my life. Because many of the biographies in this book included people who became happy and successful after accidentally entering their field, I realized that almost every career provides enough opportunities to satisfy any individual. Newport does mention some exceptions such as dead-end jobs. Once I determined that civil engineering isn't one of these exceptions, I stopped worrying about it being the "right" career to pursue. Instead, I'm focusing on how I can make civil engineering fit into my ideal lifestyle. I was inspired by reading the biography of Lulu Young, a freelance software developer who has enough free time to take piloting lessons and go to museums with her nephew in the middle of a weekday. After reading her story, I have a better understanding of what the corporate world is like and how she managed to become independent of it. For instance, I learned that that you have to redefine success on your own terms in order to dictate how you want your career to advance. When Young was still working in the corporate world, she often turned down promotions and demanded to have shorter working hours instead. Although many people around her thought she was foolish, she hasn't regretted those decisions because she avoided taking on more responsibilities, stress, and longer working hours. Instead, she pursued more appealing opportunities such as getting a philosophy degree. This made me realize that society pressures people to associate success with prestige and high salaries, and I would end up sacrificing my happiness if I pursue this type of success. After learning these lessons, I am more certain of which direction I want my career to continue.
Taking ActionThis book helped me create a plan for achieving a desirable career. One of my problems was that I did not know how to prepare for my career outside of college and a possible internship. The book's focus on acquiring valuable skills showed me that the best action I can take is to determine which skills are important to my profession and to start developing them. From online research, I already knew that civil engineering often involved structural analysis which is often done on computer software like Matlab. At that point, I decided to start learning how to program on Matlab and a similar software called Mathematica. I also found out from research that civil engineers are split into design-oriented engineers and project-oriented engineers. I prefer to be a design engineer, so I needed to have drafting skills. In addition to Matlab and Mathematica, I am learning to use Google Sketchup and similiar software. Other important engineering skills include analytical thinking and understanding complex concepts. Newport also has to develop these same skills to advance his career in computer science, so he devotes an hour each day to breaking down the concepts in his field's most cited research papers. I applied this to my own career path by finding engineering journals, reading one article each day, and making notes and diagrams. Because I enjoy learning and making progress, having this plan makes me more enthusiastic about my career.
Newport's book provide some of the best career advice that I have encountered. It helped me create a plan to advance along my career path. I gained a lot more confidence in my ability to create a fulfilling career. The book also helps students see the flaws in conventional career advice. Being uncertain about the direction of your career can result in years of lost time and missed opportunities, so young adults need to seek out this type of advice as soon as possible.
2.So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport<