I like to read two types of books. First, fiction books, such as action, adventure, crime, thriller and romance novels, with a captivating story that fuels my imagination. Second, non-fiction books, especially self-help books and biographies, which I read to reflect on and improve myself.
I started reading the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. It is a non-fiction book that says don’t follow your passion but let passion follow you in your quest to become so good that they can’t ignore you. I agree as well that passion alone is not enough to make it a career. To make a career out of passion, you also need to develop rare and valuable skills, also termed as career capitals in this book. When you gain the right skills and become so good at what you do, satisfaction and confidence follow. It is true to some extent that passion is a side effect of mastery. Being good at work makes you feel good. It is hard to develop passion for something that you spend so much effort and time in but not getting good at it. Instead, it can be frustrating and demotivating even if you are doing something you are passionate about. Nonetheless, mastery itself also does not guarantee happiness at work.
In order to feel motivated at work whether or not it is something you are passionate of, you need to feel that you are good at what you do (competence); have control over your day and feel that your actions are important (autonomy); feel connected to other people (relatedness). Besides, great work fuels your creativity, has an impact larger than self, plus you have control of what you do and how you do it. Control and mission are two important traits to acquire with your career capital when creating the work you love. People who love their work can often relate to these traits. Most importantly, in order to get so good at what you do, the book emphasises on deliberate practice where you deliberately stretch your abilities beyond where you are comfortable while also receiving immediate feedback on your performance. Cal also stressed on taking little bets in exploring and taking small steps that propel you towards a good direction. Lastly, he introduced the law of remarkability which says to get a compelling mission-driven career, it must compel people to remark about it to others using a venue that supports such remarking.
When I read this book, I reflected on my work and it resonates with me. I have full autonomy over how I want to spend my day. I believe that my actions in doing this research are important in producing meaningful work and an original contribution to knowledge. I sure hope that findings from my research can be applied in the conservation scene. Nonetheless, I sometimes feel a lack of motivation. It is common for PhD students to feel incompetent. Sometimes I do not know what I am doing and I wonder if I have what it takes to complete this. It is hard to feel competent when I have to keep revising my writing, not knowing when it will be good enough for submission. Furthermore, PhD students mostly work alone, having few, or sometimes no other people on their project, which can lead to the feeling of isolation. Everyone is doing independent work and nobody can help me write my thesis but myself. Looking at it from a different perspective, what I am doing is deliberate practice. Spending hours reading, writing, rewriting, revising, editing feels like a never-ending loop. It certainly does not feel comfortable. But I get constructive feedback on each draft and hopefully the revised draft is an improvement of the previous draft. So, on a positive note, I am deliberately practising to getting good at this. And as Cal says, be patient as it takes time and practice to be so good at something.
This book says following your passion is a bad advice. For me, it works both ways. Surely not everyone starts off with knowing what their passion is until they start exploring. Many people often stumble into a profession and end up loving what they do where their passion for work increase along with their expertise. There are also those who pursue their passion and continue to be better at making a career out of their passion. Either way, it is about getting so good at what you love to do, whether passion comes before or after expertise. It is not just to love what you do and do what you love, but to make it a compelling career.