So Good They Can’t Ignore You

“What goals do you want to accomplish this summer?”

Huh. I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer to this. For the past few years of my life, I have set goals for myself for big blocks of time like this. I had an idea of what I wanted to do this summer, travel to another country – probably couch surf with locals and get to know them, spend some time at monasteries to meditate, and write a lot more. But goals-wise, I was blank. Sitting down outside thinking about this question, I started to realize that I was getting a little too comfortable. So I just finished the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a book I borrowed from the same friend who asked me this question, and it has sort of been a wake up call, changing the way I view my goals and future.

Rule #1: Don’t follow your passion

So reading this made me reminiscent of this post I made over winter break: Don’t Pursue Your Dreams. The passion hypothesis – this hypothesis claims that they key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion. Cal Newport goes on to talk about how this passion hypothesis is not only false but also potentially dangerous. Passion comes from first actually being good at something. Half-assedly dabbing yourself in multiple activities trying to figure out what to put your time into, trying to figure out what you’re “passionate” about is an act of innocent optimism that will lead to life a confusion as you are constantly wondering where your passions lie while time passes. And at the end of the day you don’t have anything valuable to offer.

Rule #2: Be so good they can’t ignore you

Be so good they can’t ignore you is the phrase Cal uses to talk about building career capital, a term he coined to describe the skills you have that are rare and valuable to to the working world. Having a substantive career capital is the key for creating the work you love. This rule resonated the most with me because it was essentially a wake up call that while I want a bunch of shortcuts in my life, if I want to cultivate a substantive arsenal of value I can offer to the world, hard work is necessary. I know I have talked about this before in my posts, but I feel that this drive and grit has subsided a bit during break. And it’s time for that to change. Thinking about the skills that I have are rare and valuable, I don’t have much really haha. These are currently the skills most important to me which I consider are rare and valuable: writing, meditating, and learning. So one way I have changed after reading this book is the way I view my time at Swarthmore. I’m going to be that student that uses his time in college to cultivate an extremely strong foundation of career capital up to the point where I am confident that I can find opportunities to get paid for doing things anytime I want. I want to be the first person people think of when they’re thinking that they need a person to do ____.

Deliberate Practice: The style of difficult practice required to continue to improve at a task. Deliberate practice requires you to stretch past where you are comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance. In the context of career construction, most knowledge workers avoid this style of skill development because, quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable. To build up large stores of career capital, however, which is necessary for creating work you love, you must make this style of practice a regular part of your work routine. This is the type of practice that I have subjected myself to as a musician and an athlete, and reading Cal talk about it really substantiated this type of practice in the skills I want to develop like writing and programming.

Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Control)

So this rule is mainly about the importance of control when creating the work you love. I don’t have much to say about this yet since I’m building the career capital in my life. But Cal warns readers of the dangers of trying to introduce more control into your working life when you have not acquired enough career capital. Which tl;dr means not to demand too much control in your life if you don’t have any actual skills to back yourself up.

Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big (Mission)

A mission is another important trait to acquire with your career capital when creating work you love. It provides a unifying goal for your career. It provides a unifying goal for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question “What should I do with my life?” The unifying glue that connects everything I’m doing in my life. Blogging and journaling have definitely helped me become more in touch with myself, and my mission right now is to master all the difficult challenges in my life. I go more in depth into this as well in my post: Don’t Pursue Your Dreams.

I don’t want to be the person who graduates college searching for the ultimate job for myself. I don’t want to be the person who spends time thinking about a career that sounds appealing to me. I want to be the person who comes out of college, hell this semester with rare and valuable skills that will make me compelling. So what do I want to accomplish this summer? I want to write a lot more, especially in the vein of self-help posts that have a lot of popularity on this blog. I also want to write about my experiences living in another country, vigorously reaching out for feedback so that I can improve my writing to the point where other people want me to write for them. And you know me, I’ll always be playing music and programming on the side >:)

Thanks for the wake up call.

Let’s go.

Don’t Rely on Motivation

Dad: My blood circulation is getting worse, seems like I’m getting old haha.

Me: Do you know how to fix it?

Dad: Yeah, I need to start exercising.

Me: So why aren’t you exercising?

Dad: I have no motivation.

One thing I’ve been beginning to realize is how much of an unhealthy emphasis we put on motivation, this internal force we believe we need in order to start doing anything. However, this mindset is burdensome because it requires us to be in a certain mental state before we can actually get anything done. Our moods and emotions are always changing too. You can have a newfound motivation to start going to the gym after making your New Year’s resolution in front of all your friends, but this resolution hype will only last you so long. So instead of the usual mental over physical mentality most people talk about, here’s a new theory I’ll go along with in this post.

Be physically present

That’ll get you halfway. Back in my junior and senior year of high school, I was commuting to San Francisco from the Peninsula almost every day to work. Everyday, I would leave the office at around 9:30pm and be pretty tired, definitely not in the right mentality to hit the gym to workout. My brain was tired, I just wanted to go back home and watch YouTube or talk to my friends before heading off to bed. So my mindset became sort of a pair of mental crutches I was trying to support myself on, and they sure as hell wouldn’t be able to bring me to the gym. After a couple weeks of going back in forth in my head, debating whether I should push off the gym or not (ultimately with nothing actually happening), one thing I started to do was just taking the BART (public transportation) directly to the gym, not stopping at home. I was tired as hell, but I walked into the gym. Bright lights shining at me, everybody else was working out. Well, I’m already here right? Being physically present is half the battle. Just being there was more than I could have ever done wasting time debating in my head whether or not I should just go home and rest. Just showing up there took away the “motivation prerequisite” that was holding me back so much. I thought I needed some form of motivation to get pumped and work out, but all I need to do was just show up.

Make rituals

Before walking into the gym, I would drink a cup of black coffee or a pre-workout juice to let my body know that for the next hour, I would be focused on working out. Having a ritual like this made working out into a sort of daily habit that I would do, sort of how many people in the military make their beds every  morning as a way to feel organized and start their day. To post in this blog more frequently, I’ve started a ritual where I would take a shower before writing a post. Writing this now, I’ll try making my bed every morning starting tomorrow to start getting in the habit of meditating every morning I wake up. You should think of a good habit you want to get into too, and start to make your bed as a ritual to get into it together with me!

Setting a physical place is to do accomplish other things that don’t necessarily have a designated place (like a gym) also helps a lot. I know for doing work, I go to the common area in our Science Center on campus to get homework done. For writing blog posts at home, I sit on the couch in the living room.

Motivation doesn’t have to be a prerequisite for us to achieve our goals. In fact, thinking that motivation fuels action can be harmful because we can’t always rely on our mental states – they are always changing. The most reliable way to achieve a goal is through good habits, and the first step many of us forget to take in developing those habits is just being there.