It’s that time of the year when we all look back, examine the good, the bad (and the ugly) of 2016 and look forward with optimism towards 2017. For many of you, that includes setting your New Year’s resolution goals. Instead of wringing your hands trying to figure out what goals to set, I propose you set one and only one goal…become so good, they can’t ignore you.
Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You, is a book written by a Georgetown University professor named Cal Newport. In it, Mr. Newport has some unconventional advice for how we all can build fulfilling careers. Regardless of what stage you are at in your career, Mr. Newport’s advice is timely in this age of instant gratification. If you are looking to make it big, quick, then this is NOT the book for you. But, if you truly want a rewarding career (regardless of which field you are currently in), then Mr. Newport’s research will make a difference and help you plan your attack for 2017.
The title of the book comes from an interview that Steve Martin had with Charlie Rose in 2007. It was in response to a question from Charlie about how Steve got to be where he was, and Steve calmly summed up with that line: which I think is a fantastic way to plan your 2017.
The book is broken down into four high level rules and multiple sub-rules to guide the reader through their journey.
Rule #1 is DON’T FOLLOW YOUR PASSION!
It has been common wisdom that when planning your career, choose something you are already good at or something you already enjoy. . . And just do that. Seems simple enough, but it’s actually horrible advice.
There are many reasons why you should not follow your passion, and many of them show up as additional Rules in the book. The simple reason is that there is no reason to believe success follows passion. Mr. Newport introduces us to person after person, success story after success story, and in all cases, success didn’t follow passion… Passion followed success!
Take Steve Jobs. As is widely known by now, Steve did not have some innate passion for technology. He was a college dropout and a hippie before he found a modicum of success with Steve Wozniak building small electronic trinkets. Small successes produced additional success, and soon, Steve Jobs had the fire in the belly needed to revolutionize the world. Steve Jobs failed at a lot of things before he found Apple.
Following your passion leads to bad decision making. If you love yoga, you will need to do much more than get certified as an instructor to have a blissful, inspired career (this is an actual example from the book – Chapter 5 – “From Courage to Food Stamps”).
Think of your famous sports star. I bet most readers would presume that a Michael Jordan or Lebron James was born to play basketball. But if you think really hard about that, you are bound to see that this can’t possibly be the case. How can a child know passion when they pick up a ball or glove? It is well known that Michael Jordan’s first love was baseball and NOT basketball. His love for that game was so great that he quit basketball at the pinnacle of his career to give baseball a shot. Michael Jordan began his path towards basketball immortality at some point in his childhood when playground tinkering, meshed with his evolving physical traits and his super-competitiveness. He didn’t love basketball and then go for it. He tried it, liked it, kept at it and as his success improved, so did his passion. His passion became so great, that it allowed him the emotional energy to overcome all the adversities that he faced along the way, that would have folded a lesser person.
Time and again, passion follows success. So when thinking about your goals for 2017, let’s postpone the passion and focus on getting you out of your comfort zone.
Rule #2 – Be So Good They Can’t Ignore – Or, the Importance of Skill
Your job is to treat your career as a craftsman, and over time build up a set of rare and valuable skills that you can leverage further at each stage of your career. Get into that proverbial woodshed and do the hard, dedicated work that will lead to rare and valuable skills.
For many of you reading this, you are already in or considering a career in insurance. Rule #2 doesn’t just mean taking exams such as CPCU or CIC. It means more.
Lots of insurance professionals take those exams. Perhaps, an additional rare and valuable skill to have would be to pass exams in actuarial science, portfolio and investment management or even perhaps becoming fluent in a programming language, big data or predictive modeling.
Regardless of the direction you take, put the hard effort in to master the skillset. It will likely take years. As a general rule of thumb, 10,000 hours (more or less) are needed to master a skill.
“You need to get good in order to get good things in your working life, and the craftsman mindset is focused on achieving exactly this goal”
The author calls the resultant skill set, career capital. It is this career capital that affords you the skillset to advance forward. It is this skillset that opens options for you. And, it is this skillset that you can use to leverage your next set of moves. Your career is all about: 1. planting seeds, 2. Nurturing those seeds, 3. Harvesting the resultant growth, to then again, 4. Plant more seeds and repeat the process over again. Your 2017 should be all about planting and nurturing seeds for a future harvest.
Rule #3 – Turn Down A Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control)
In this section of the book, Mr. Newport explains some traps people fall into when spending their career capital. If you think of capital as money, most of the same parallels between these forms of capital are clear.
For example, don’t rush to spend your career capital and don’t spend too much of it. That promotion might look awfully tempting, but consider whether the promotion is another seed to nurture or a dead end. Is it an investment that will allow you to continue to ratchet your skill level higher OR will you be so overwhelmed that you will lose the ability and control to keep moving towards fulfillment and passion?
If you are contemplating a move to start something new (such as a startup), consider how much more difficult it will be for you to control your path if you are in constant desperation mode to pay your bills. There is a quote from Derek Sivers in the book that succinctly guides your decision making here: “do what people will pay you for”. Make sure there is demand for what you have to offer before you attempt to risk it all. Ideally, you should not leave what you are currently doing until you are already getting paid for what it is you want to start. In the example above about the yoga instructor, she should have planted the seeds of her yoga startup well before she took the plunge. She should have already been securing paying customers well before quitting her job.
Rule #4 – Think Small, Act Big (Or, The Importance of Missions)
As you begin to build mastery in your field, as the passion grows, the final piece to a great career (and lifestyle) is to have a mission. Two of the keys to having a great mission are to focus your attention on being distinctive and to also have a forum to market that distinction. For 2017, this means making yourself remarkably different and then making sure you are doing the appropriate networking and branding of yourself to get your mission noticed. You can’t expect to do unremarkable things and get remarkable outcomes. You can’t build an impressive skillset and expect that the world will come throwing money and opportunities at you. The world just doesn’t function in that way.
So, as you plan your 2017, here are some questions to help you ponder your career building:
- What seeds can you plant in 2017 to harvest in 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond?
- How can you create rare and valuable skills for yourself?
- How can you be different? What skillsets will set you apart from your peers, yet still be valuable in the market?
- How can you effectively spread the good news of your acquired skillsets?
These are tough questions. Don’t worry though, we at www.InsNerds.com will be spending all of 2017 helping you through this! Stay tuned.
Set only one goal for this year: Be so good they can't ignore you.
Rules: 1. Don't follow your passion. Passion follows success, not the other way around. 2. Build skill. 3. Turn down a promotion (sometimes). 4. Think small, act big: It's all about focus.