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The Improv Life: My Thoughts on “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport

The Improv Life: My Thoughts on “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport

This book was inspired by Steve Martin’s famous quote that he uses as a ready-to-go answer for how to be successful in entertainment whenever he’s asked that question.

One of the book’s main arguments is that passion is overrated, and that chasing a career fueled by passion is extremely difficult and leads to burnout and bitterness when your dream gigs don’t arrive in the timeline you had in your head.

Instead, he urges you to collect “Career Capital” – a high level of skills and experience in a very niche sub field that you enjoy working in which allows you to leverage those skills for more opportunities to your liking.

The more “Career Capital” you can acquire, the more control you can acquire in what type of work you can do.

Finally, if you can center the work you do around a “Mission” (work that excites you, utilizes your skill, and keeps you growing through challenges) then you have it made.

It’s a good quick read, especially for anyone who may find themselves in a career slump and wants to get back to a place where they’re doing work they like.

However, one thing stood out.

It’s a little ironic that this book’s main argument inspired by the author’s interpretation of Steve Martin’s original quote – Be so good they can’t ignore you – is antithetical to the reason for Steve Martin’s success. His passion for comedy and performing and pushing himself as an artist beyond his limits is why he broke through and became successful.

That discovery eats away at me, and I’m trying to find a middle ground where the truth of Steve Martin’s original quote and Cal Newport’s twisted-but-practical interpretation can coexist and feed off each other.

This reminds me of when I heard Metallica’s main riff for “Search and Destroy” sampled for a trap song that I hated the instant I heard it. I got that some people would like it, but I knew the original song too well to accept this crap track.

This was a good book, but the twisted interpretation is going to bug me for a while.

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