Rule #1: Don’t follow your passion

About the “passion” of Steve Jobs:

You’ve got to find what you love…. [T]he 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.

Soon after, an unofficial video of the address was posted on YouTube, where it went viral, gathering over 3.5 million views. When Stanford posted an official video, it gathered an additional 3 million views. The comments on these clips homed in on the importance of loving your work, with viewers summarizing their reactions in similar ways:

“The most valuable lesson is to find your purpose, follow your passions…. Life is too short to be doing what you think you have to do.”

“Follow your passions—life is for the living.”

“Passion is the engine to living your life.”

“[It’s] passion for your work that counts.”

“ ‘Don’t Settle.’ Amen.”

In other words, many of the millions of people who viewed this speech were excited to see Steve Jobs—a guru of iconoclastic thinking—put his stamp of approval on an immensely appealing piece of popular career advice, which I call the passion hypothesis:

The Passion Hypothesis

The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.

This is a terrible advice. Do what Steve Jobs did, not what he said.


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

Rule #3: Turn down a promotion

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Working right trumps finding the right work. He didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness—he needed instead a better approach to the work already available to him

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little bets” (borrowing the phrase from Peter Sims’s 2010 book of the same title). As you might recall, a little bet, in the setting of mission exploration, has the following characteristics: It’s a project small enough to be completed in less than a month. It forces you to create new value (e.g., master a new skill and produce new results that didn’t exist before). It produces a concrete result that you can use to gather concrete feedback

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The more you try to force it, I learned, the less likely you are to succeed. True missions, it turns out, require two things. First you need career capital, which requires patience. Second, you need to be ceaselessly scanning your always-changing view of the adjacent possible in your field, looking for the next big idea. This requires a dedication to brainstorming and exposure to new ideas

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. If I had to describe my previous way of thinking, I would probably use the phrase “productivity-centric

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The Law of Remarkability For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

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You’re either remarkable or invisible,” says Seth Godin in his 2002 bestseller, Purple Cow.1 As he elaborated in a Fast Company manifesto he published on the subject: “The world is full of boring stuff—brown cows—which is why so few people pay attention…. A purple cow… now that would stand out. Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing.”2 When Giles read Godin’s book, he had an epiphany: For his mission to build a sustainable career, it had to produce purple cows, the type of remarkable projects that compel people to spread the word

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Here we discovered the importance of little bets. To maximize your chances of success, you should deploy small, concrete experiments that return concrete feedback. For Chris Rock, such a bet might include telling a joke to an audience and seeing if they laugh, whereas for Kirk, it might mean producing sample footage for a documentary and seeing if it attracts funding. These bets allow you to tentatively explore the specific avenues surrounding your general mission, looking for those with the highest likelihood of leading to outstanding results.


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Rule #4 is entitled “Think Small, Act Big.” It’s in this understanding of career capital and its role in mission that we get our explanation for this title. Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.

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Rule #3 explored one answer to this question by arguing that gaining control over what you do and how you do it is incredibly important. This trait shows up so often in the lives of people who love what they do that I’ve taken to calling it the dream-job elixir. Investing your capital in control, however, turns out to be tricky. There are two traps that commonly snare people in their pursuit of this trait. The first control trap notes that it’s dangerous to try to gain more control without enough capital to back it up. The second control trap notes that once you have the capital to back up a bid for more control, you’re still not out of the woods. This capital makes you valuable enough to your employer that they will likely now fight to keep you on a more traditional path. They realize that gaining more control is good for you but not for their bottom line

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Rule #1 dismissed the passion hypothesis, which says that you have to first figure out your true calling and then find a job to match. Rule #2 replaced this idea with career capital theory, which argues that the traits that define great work are rare and valuable, and if you want these in your working life, you must first build up rare and valuable skills to offer in return

good summary

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The Law of Financial Viability When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on

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Do what people are willing to pay for.

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financial viability, which says you should only pursue a bid for more control if you have evidence that it’s something that people are willing to pay you for

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In other words, in most jobs you should expect your employer to resist your move toward more control; they have every incentive to try to convince you to reinvest your career capital back into your career at their company, obtaining more money and prestige instead of more control, and this can be a hard argument to resist.

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The Second Control Trap The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change

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The First Control Trap Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable

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Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment

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You stretch yourself, day after day, month after month, before finally looking up and realizing, “Hey, I’ve become pretty good, and people are starting to notice

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Step 5: Be Patient

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Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, is only one part of the deliberate-practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback—even if it destroys what you thought was good

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This is what you should experience in your own pursuit of “good.” If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level

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Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable

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If you show up and do what you’re told, you will, as Anders Ericsson explained earlier in this chapter, reach an “acceptable level” of ability before plateauing. The good news about deliberate practice is that

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Returning to Geoff Colvin, in the article cited above he gives the following warning about deliberate practice: Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in

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4: Stretch and Destroy

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Geoff Colvin, an editor at Fortune magazine who wrote a book on deliberate practice,7 put it this way in an article that appeared in Fotune: “[Deliberate practice] requires good goals

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Step 2: Identify Your Capital Type

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career capital market. There are two types of these markets: winner-take-all and auction

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Step 1: Decide What Capital Market You’re In

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The Five Habits of a Craftsman

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if you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better. This is what happened to me with my guitar playing, to the chess players who stuck to tournament play, and to most knowledge workers who simply put in the hours: We all hit plateaus

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The “serious study” employed by top chess players sounds similar to Jordan Tice’s approach to music: They’re both focused on difficult activities, carefully chosen to stretch your abilities where they most need stretching and that provide immediate feedback. At the same time, notice how chess-tournament play sounds a lot like my approach to guitar: It’s enjoyable and exciting, but it’s not necessarily making you better

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The participants, as it turns out, were wrong. Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors. The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level. The

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Previous studies had shown it takes around ten years, at minimum, to become a grand master. (As the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson likes to point out, even prodigies like Bobby Fisher managed to fit in ten years of playing before they achieved international recognition: He just started this accumulation earlier than most.) This is the “ten-year rule,” sometimes called the “10,000-hour rule,” which has been bouncing around scientific circles since the 1970s, but was popularized more recently by Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling 2008 book, Outliers.3 Here’s how he summarized

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This focus on stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback provides the core of a more universal principle—one that I increasingly came to believe provides the key to successfully acquiring career capital in almost any field.

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HREE DISQUALIFIERS FOR APPLYING THE CRAFTSMAN MINDSET The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

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THE CAREER CAPITAL THEORY OF GREAT WORK The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love

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Basic economic theory tells us that if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return—this is Supply and Demand 101.

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Most jobs don’t offer their employees great creativity, impact, or control over what they do and how they do it

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craftsman mindset: It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is “just right,” and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.

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Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm. “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused, which probably explains why Bronson admits, not long into his career-seeker epic What Should I Do With My Life? that “the one feeling everyone

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First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. This is especially true for entry-level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy—these come later. When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle

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Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives

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To simplify things going forward, I’ll call this output-centric approach to work the craftsman mindset

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liked that phrase—the tape doesn’t lie—as it sums up nicely what motivates performers such as Jordan, Mark, and Steve Martin. If you’re not focusing on becoming so good they can’t ignore you, you’re going to be left behind. This clarity was refreshing

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This young generation has “high expectations for work,” explains psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, an expert on the mindset of the modern postgrad. “They expect work to be not just a job but an adventure[,]… a venue for self-development and self-expression[,]… and something that provides a satisfying fit with their assessment of their talents

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You can visualize this shift by using Google’s Ngram Viewer2. This tool allows you to search Google’s vast corpus of digitized books to see how often selected phrases turn up in published writing over time. If you enter “follow your passion,” you see a spike in usage right at 1970 (the year when Bolles’s book was published), followed by a relatively steady high usage until 1990, at which point the graph curve swings upward. By 2000, the phrase “follow your passion” was showing up in print three times more often than in the seventies and eighties

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SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work: Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people

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She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work

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In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do

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Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of organizational behavior at Yale University, has made a career studying how people think about their work. Her breakthrough paper, published in the Journal of Research in Personality while she was still a graduate student, explores the distinction between a job, a career, and a calling7. A job, in Wrzesniewski’s formulation, is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity

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“I didn’t go out with the idea of making a big empire,” he explains. “I set goals for myself at being the best I could be at what[ever] I did.”

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These books, as well as the thousands of full-time bloggers, professional counselors, and self-proclaimed gurus who orbit these same core issues of workplace happiness, all peddle the same lesson: to be happy, you must follow your passion. As one prominent career counselor told me, “do what you love, and the money will follow” has become the de facto motto of the career-advice field

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The Passion Hypothesis The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion


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Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, “so good that they can’t ignore you

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If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job