Cal Newport wants to find out an answer to a nagging question in his mind, Why do some people end up loving what they do, while so many others fail at this goal ?. Researching on this question leads him on to a path where he finds rather unconventional answers. Through this book , he shares his findings.

Most of us have equate “passion” as intense love affair with one’s work. There is a also a belief that “passion” is a necessary condition in finding THE RIGHT work. In the first part of the book, the author debunks Passion Hypothesis. What is 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.

In interviewing a lot of people, watching interviews of successful people and doing a lot of field work, the author comes to a conclusion that “passion hypothesis” is a myth and says,

  • Passion Is Rare : The more you seek examples of the passion hypothesis, the more you recognize its rarity.Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion. “Working Right” trumps finding the “Right Work”.
  • Passion takes time : Most often a person being passionate of something is usually a consequence of his spending a lot of time honing and improving skills in a particular field.
  • Passion is a side effect of Mastery

If “follow passion” is a wrong advice, and people who love their work usually follow non linear paths, what makes people love what they do ?

In the second part of the book, the author argues that it is skill that matters and passion automatically follows you. Some of the points mentioned in this section are :

  • Craftsman mindset : Referring to all those situations where people crib about their workplaces , the author talks about the mindset that most of these people have. The “Passion mindset”. It is a mindset where one focuses on what the world can offer you. The author takes the side of “craftsman mindset” that focuses on what you can offer to the world.
  • There’s something liberating about the 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; you need to earn it— and the process won’t be easy.
  • 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.
  • Deliberate practice is the key strategy for acquiring career capital

The book then talks about a very important thing , “Control Trap”. We often feel see people saying that they are going to start a firm because they are frustrated with their work.  The author says it is a trap. Starting you company with out developing skillsets, most often, doesn’t work. We are all blinded by the survivorship bias. We see firms started by people and who take control of their lives. However there is a huge unseen cemetery  of screwed ups, who start companies with out developing  valuable and marketable skills. This kind of advice is very useful to people who are “over enthusiastic to start a company and take control of their lives”. In fact most of the success stories we get to hear are somewhat biased in their narrative. Suddenly someone decides that enough is enough. He starts a firm and then becomes successful. However what is often left out in the story is the background preparation that the person would have done, the non linear paths the person would have taken to develop a certain skillset etc.  So sometimes turning that promotion down might be good idea as it will give you time to hone your skillsets. Instead of exercising control in the wrong environment,you are preparing diligently to take control in the right environment.

The book ends with the author applying these points in his own life. So, its not just preaching but he has applied the fundas to his own life.

What I really found interesting about this book is, the careful and well built argument against “Passion hypothesis”.  Most of us see successful entrepreneurs and think that one should start a venture, thinking that it will give them control, solve all the problems that they are facing at work and somehow magically transform them lives from a “cubicle dweller” to a visionary. It’s a Fairy tale. In reality, unless you have acquired some valuable and marketable skillset, finding the work that you love will be a mirage!