Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Follow your passion.

Do what you love.

We have been delivered these instructions for years. It seems to make perfect sense; when you do what you love, you’ll do it better, you’ll be happier, and you’ll increase your opportunities for advancement, raises, etc.

That is indeed true. But for many of us, we don’t know what our passion is, and we don’t have a mechanism in place to help us discover it. So until we know what that passion is, we cannot exploit it.

Cal Newport, assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, theorizes legends like Steve Jobs didn’t walk into the front door of Apple with pre-ordained consumer solutions for consuming media – he stumbled in, was fired…and upon his return discovered he had some skills that he hadn’t yet developed. These new skills paved the way for his new view of the marketplace. We all know what happened.

Newport wrote a book about this theory; So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

The notion that you can simply take an existing passion and plug it in to a company assumes you already have the fire in the belly. Newport says that’s generally not possible for most of us.

The secret to building a career you love is instead to develop rare and valuable skills that you can then leverage to take control of your livelihood, Newport writes. Get good, and the passion will follow.

This is nothing short of brilliant. Reading Newport’s words unlocked a gate that I have been standing right in front of.

I reinvented. I am evangelical about the power of reinvention. I love helping people reinvent. I’m pretty good at it.

So why did it take me months to understand that this skill I have could be used to solve a dilemma in our school? I wasn’t good at identifying what was happening in our department.
It took sitting in a few meetings to learn that we had a problem. We needed to do a better job of tracking our kids’ internships and jobs.  After all, we are teaching them skills that are ready for the modern marketplace. Our students can do things media companies need done – now. Our students are ready to be plugged in.
It took exactly one sentence to start the ball rolling.
I was in a meeting a few weeks ago.. We were discussing challenges and opportunities, brainstorming.
All of a sudden, it came to me.
“I’ll take care of the interns.”
It was like a 100-pound bag of rocks had been lifted from my director’s shoulders.  A few weeks later, I have a new title – career services manager. It’s the first of its kind in the university, and is being used as a possible model for similar placement positions across all of our schools.
I have a skill that was valuable to a current challenge we faced. There was a problem that needed to be solved. I was the fix.
Now the passion is following. The more I do this, the more I love it. I love seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when they get placed. I love fixing their pitches and resumes. I love seeing them…invent.
When I uttered that sentence, it was not part of a clever strategy – it was pure luck.
But I did uncover a solution I can share with you. Perhaps your reinvention can come from within your current position. Maybe you can identify some challenges inside your team. Maybe you are the fix.
Your valuable skill makes you too good to ignore.
Doing the work first created passion later.
Take a look around your work world.  See anything you can fix?
John Scott is the career services manager, national online learning coordinator and a media history instructor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention. His debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be released soon. Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.
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