So Good They Can’t Ignore You

I’ve been reading a lot lately.

A few weeks ago I finished The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone, which is a game changer.

Then I started reading a few things centered around stoicism, like The Obstacle is the Way, The Promise of a Pencil, and Letters From A Stoic.

None of those were as easy to speed through, as I felt like I needed to slowly digest those in order to really get what iI needed to get out of them. Then I remembered a book I had come across a while back, called So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport. I had been following Cal’s blog Study Hacks for a few years now, and remembered he had written this book. I had just never read it before.

So I get the book, and BAM! Just one or two chapters in and I’m feeling like this is a moment, this is going to be the moment where everything starts to change. Possibly because I had just come off of the insane adrenaline rush that is The 10x Rule, but combining it with this book really just set things off.

It’s with this book that I’ve finally decided to start a page on the blog for book recommendations, so make sure to check out the link for that at the end of this post.

But for this post, I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to read and absorb everything that Cal talks about in his book. Put another way, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. It should be required reading for anyone who is or has desires to be an artist, a creative, a freelancer, or entrepreneur. It’s that important.

He has 4 rules, which I’ll outline here, but everything is so much more in depth in the book that you can’t just read this post and feel like “yeah, cool, I get it.” Wrong. You need to read this book.

Rule 1: Don’t Follow Your Passion

That’s right. Everything you’ve heard about becoming an artist or creative is wrong. How many blogs have you read, or images that you’ve seen, pimp the idea of “follow your passion”? It seems to be extra important if you’re trying to become a creative or pursue a “right-brained” career path. Cal, however, doesn’t just give you this rule to follow, but explains why the mantra of “follow your passion” gets it wrong. Oh…so wrong.

We’ve been told, heck, I’ve probably even said at some point, that we need to follow our passion in order for this to work. How are you going to get through the hard times when no one is buying your art or paying you for your creativity? What then? Obviously, if you have enough passion you can weather any storm you come across.

This is all bad advice. By highlighting a few examples of people he interviewed for the book, Cal completely rips to shreds this notion and then spends the rest of the book explaining what you should do, which is some of the best advice laid out for readers of this blog. From now on, I’m going to suggest it to every new reader: Read this book.

Rule 2: The Importance of Skill

Alright, if passion isn’t the pathway to greatness, what is? Cal posits that it is skill. In order to become great, to make a good living, to create change in the world around you and do incredible things, it requires skill. Perfect example was of a woman who was working in a professional field like banking or on wall street, who left it all to pursue her passion of becoming a Yoga teacher. So she quit her job, took a month long class to become certified, and opened up shop, at a great expense. Any guess as to what happened?

Right. Huge embarrassing failure. All of which could’ve been avoided. What if she, instead, started taking that instructional course in the evenings and on weekends, rather than quit her job? What if she then spent the requisite time to not only become really skilled as a Yoga teacher, but also making connections with other people and becoming someone remarkable in that space? Within a few months people notice her drive and her ability and ask her why she hasn’t started her own studio yet? Bingo – now is the time to start to go that direction.

The thing is, without the skill, people aren’t going to notice you, and they’re definitely not going to pay you to do what you’re “passionate about”. That’s great that you’re passionate about your music, but unless it’s GOOD, I’m not going to want to buy it. Honestly, unless it’s SO GOOD that I want to buy it immediately after hearing it, I likely won’t buy it.

A few years back The Head & The Heart played a show locally here in Provo Utah at Velour Live Music Gallery. There were maybe 150 people in the audience. They were just starting out and doing one of their first tours. I came in to the show a little late but caught the first part of their set – I hadn’t even taken the time to look up their names or anything.

They began to play, and literally by the end of the song, I had asked someone next to me the name of the band, pulled out my phone, opened iTunes, searched for their music, and purchased their album for $10. It took less than 1 minute to do the whole thing. That happens more than I’d like to admit, but that’s the reality of this line of work. You have to be so good that people have to have your music, or have to work with you. That’s where the bar is set, we likely just haven’t realized that fact yet and have been beating our heads against the wall trying to figure out how to become more passionate.

Cal refers to this phenomenon as Career Capital. It’s what you’re able to trade for things like recognition, PR, success, and control. Until you reach this point, the potential is limited, which is explained further in rule 3.

Rule 3: The Importance of Control

This is where things start to get interesting in the book. As if rules 1 & 2 weren’t awesome enough, rule 3 is where Cal starts walking you through what I’ll call a “Creative MBA”. This is how you turn your art into a career.

Take two scenarios. Two bands, both growing in popularity at the same local venue, Velour Live Music Gallery. A few years ago, Imagine Dragons was just that, a local band playing shows for a few hundred people. They were riding on the back of the great success that Neon Trees had just found from this same local fan base. At the same time, Fictionist was playing equally sold out shows at the same venue, to the same crowds.

Skill wise, Fictionist is arguably a more talented group of musicians. I haven’t seen many other bands that could compete on a purely skill level. However, skip forward a few years and compare the two bands now…

Fictionist’s path was this: they entered the Rolling Stone Cover Competition in the summer of 2011, to become the first unsigned band to grace the cover of the magazine. While they had been a band for 5 or 6 years by that point, they hadn’t spent tons of time touring other than within a few states radius of Utah.

The competition went well and while they didn’t win, they ended up being the only other band signed by Atlantic records, which stemmed from the agreement they had to sign at the beginning of the competition. Needless to say, this was a terrible deal. The band had no control, the deal points were highly skewed out of their favor, and the last years have been stagnant as far as their growth and them being able to pursue their music how they wanted to. They have since left that label, rerecorded their album, and are releasing it next month, likely to a crowd of around 300 people at Velour.

Next, look at Imagine Dragons. I use these examples not to make my Fictionist friends feel bad, but to highlight a main contribution to the success of this band. Control.

Imagine Dragons were playing local shows at the same time as Fictionist, but as early as they could they started booking shows outside of Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. They played often in their home town of Las Vegas. They played up and down California. They did a western states tour. Around this time they started getting some attention and were able to leverage that into a small east coast tour, which they leveraged for bigger shows and bigger tours. Each step of the way they performed their hearts out and won over fans. First and foremost they were an amazing show to attend that made people go home and make all their friends feel bad for missing.

That same summer of 2011, the band was being filmed for a TV show that I was working on. The last day of the shoot was spent filming the band between phone calls with 3 different record labels. Dan, the lead singer of the band, was playing 3 different offers against one another, and ended the day with a deal in place with Interscope records, arguably one of the best deals had in years by any band. While I don’t know the exact details, let’s just say it was far from the 360 deal that Fictionist had to sign contractually.

Rather than rereleasing their album this fall, the band is in the studio working on their second album, following the massive success of their first album:

•Debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 in the US

•Sold 83,000 copies in its first week

•Became the 4th best selling album in 2013

•The top three singles have sold over 11 million copies combined

They’ve also played massive festivals to millions of people all over the world, have had extremely successful tours, and have amassed a massive rabid following of fans.

The biggest difference was control. From day 1 of signing a record deal they had a say in how the band moved forward. They had the ability to choose the deal they wanted. They had the skill necessary to pull it all off, and the requisite work ethic to become one of the biggest names in Rock today, but it all was possible because of the control they had from the get go.

Rule 4: The Importance of Mission

Only after all of these things are in place – removing passion as the main drive to do your work, getting your skill to a remarkable level, and trading that skill for control where it matters, then, and only then, can your “passion” come out of hiding. Want to change the world? Well now you can. *Imagine* if Imagine Dragons released a song to the world where every cent went to charity or to a cause? They could raise a million, possibly millions of dollars in a very short amount of time. That’s a huge impact they’re able to have on the world.

Whatever it is you’re passionate about, this is the path to realizing that passion. Start with skill. Get as good as you can, so good that people not only can’t ignore you, but have to talk about you. They have to buy your music, pay you to design their website, or produce a film that they’ve invested in. Then use that skill to trade for some control. Once you’ve garnered enough control, and repeated the process of trading more skill for more control, then you can turn your focus to your mission, your passion, and affect change on the world around you.

Like I said, you have to read this book. These are only a few examples. There are more to be had in the book, and Cal is a much more persuasive and skilled writer than I am. If you want to make a living as a creative, have the control over your life like a freelancer or entrepreneur, then read this book.

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