My Thoughts on “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”

Allan X
8 min readJan 21, 2018


I guess this is more of a book review so shouldn’t be on Medium but it’s also my rebuttal. Maybe I’m just not the target reader for this book…

I wrote most of this while reading the book so it’s a bit messy. I’ve tried cleaning it up but a lot changed and even I’m not sure what my point is… hence the title.

Don’t follow your passion

That’s the first advice the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You sets out to prove. He tells the story of Thomas and fulfilling his desire to be a monk.

After reading the chapter, I already have a few issues… I’ll keep reading as it’s an “assignment” but I am going to take the time to respond with my views as I read.

So let start by telling you how that advice (didn’t) worked for me.

I Tried Not Following My Passion

First, I didn’t follow my passion so spent four years getting a Finance degree which turned out to be pretty useless. At most it got me a job in the financial industry… but it cost $200,000 which took me 3 years to make back as the Tech sector took off like a rocket…

I got good grades, thought I knew what I was doing and went to one of the top schools so I would be guaranteed to get a job but it didn’t go as planned.

On the other hand, following my programming passion got me a job.

Programming and problem solving have been part of me since I was a kid. But back then I was told don’t follow your passion. Study Finance instead because that’s what’s hot.

But after I embraced my passion instead of resisting it, it’s turned out pretty nicely and probably better than a career in banking (the non-programming roles).

The Only Way to Know is to Try

My second argument is that you won’t know until you try. It took 4 years for me to reach that conclusion. And at that point, I firmly stated to my dad that a financial career wasn’t for me. But without actually doing it, you will be left with “what-if”. My dad would’ve always said:

What if you became an investment banker, you could be making more…

Other than the fact now it’s physically impossible and the stress would probably kill me, that’s actually what he said for years until I became deaf…

Thomas’ initial feelings about Buddhism are similar to my regrets for not getting a Computer Science degree but I’ve moved past that. But if he didn’t experience it himself, there would always have this unfulfilled desire. Like the saying goes:

The grass is always greener on the other side

Once the myth has been busted, you can move on more freely which where I’m heading now.

I also realized a lot of tech news is just hype. Only a small minority get to do that stuff. Those technical interviews are just gatekeepers and perhaps a poor one… Once you get in and maybe past the honey moon period, a lot of people are saying it’s not that great. You don’t really use the stuff they test you on…

So yes his journey and mine (the Finance one) ended in failure. But like Edison said:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

But just because it didn’t work for him doesn’t mean it won’t work for others. What about those other monks. How did they get there? Why are they still there?

Actually, I came across an another book Why Buddhism is True which says things a bit differently. Maybe becoming a monk isn’t the answer, but there are things where a bit of Buddhism will actually help you (mindfulness and meditation).

The chapter finishes with the following conclusion:

There are many complex reasons for workplace satisfaction, but the reductive notion of matching your job to a pre-existing passion is not among them

Yet somehow that’s actually what worked better for me. Perhaps I’m in the minority of people that has a passion that others are willing to pay for…

And you know already have these:

Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do
Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people

I have a lot of autonomy in my job because my managers know that I know what I’m doing. And the new team I joined a few years ago is more relatable…

Being Too Good

Now the problem with being so good, especially in tech, is that you may be pidgeon-holing yourself or ignoring the big picture. And times change, situations shift. For example, what about all those experts that failed to predict the market crash?

Or you may be so good they can’t ignore you now. But what happens when you become irrelevant? That administrative assistant is probably going to be replaced with a robot…

it’s at this point that you might respond, “Who cares!” If the passion hypothesis can encourage even a small number of people to leave a bad job or to experiment with their career, you might argue, then it has provided a service.

Well if you don’t keep growing and maintaining the ability to move, what is she going to do when she’s jobless because her services are no longer needed? Some skills are transferable but the nuances that she became so good at aren’t.

Again in tech, it’s a big problem. Some people become so specialized they can’t shift when times change…

The Magic Right Job

I disagree. The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do.

I haven’t found this yet but I am realizing in terms of a job, it may not exist for me. I need to find an alternative route. I realized the job is not the only thing that matters. It’s just what pays the bills. And for that I just need to be good enough.

For fulfillment, which seems to be the crux of his book, I look at other ways. I guess that’s the same thinking as my parents. They have most of their fun at nights and on weekends…

My Problem May Just Not Be the Job

I think what I really want now is to find a way to use my skills and continue developing. To me, the job/career is not the end all be all. My problem is not the job or becoming so good I can’t be ignored. That’d be nice, but all I want is to go to the next level. I want to keep growing. But as they say:

You use it or you lose it

I need to find a way to use what I already know and continue to learn and grow. I guess what I need is to find a “second job” that fits my true calling. For me that’s my next step.

It’s probably what my parents realized. It’s not as simple as your job but what do you really want in life?

Being so good at your job is probably not the right answer to that.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You… But You Don’t Care

Honestly, I think this would be a better title for the book. He says passion isn’t important but all his examples have a passion or at least a strong motivation.

The message I should be getting from this book is just put your head down and keep going and become really good at whatever your job is.

But examples like Steve Martin, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson suggest that what is needed is innovation, different thinking, and a lucky break… not just being really good at your job…

Again my problem is not the job, it’s that I’m not hitting the next level that I want to hit.

Passion versus Craftsman Mindset

Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.

Well I have offered myself many times in many ways but it seems the world doesn’t want me… To me if you measure your self-worth based on others think of you, you have a big problem. And I guess I have some experience with that.

  • I was never popular in school
  • I am very good at what I do already but don’t get many opportunities to show it off so if I actually cared how many Stars and Likes strangers give me, I would be very depressed
  • I am already a craftsman but doesn’t get me far; all these projects don’t seem to matter in interviews… but being able to quickly solve esoteric problems does…

TLDR I am confident I can do the work I can’t get in. My current job doesn’t have much growth. My skills are already getting old. And so even if I’m good, I’m still unfulfilled.

So now what? Quite frankly I disagree with his view of passion mindset. Everyone wants to know what they can get back for what they can do.

Passionate people are those that would actually do it for free. To them a Dream Job is one where it does not feel like work but play. But they’re still going doing the work and give people value…

His Examples Show a Whole Lot of Luck and Seem Biased

Quite frankly his interviews and examples have a selection bias by only looking at the successes but not the people that did similar but failed.

To me, it’s like looking at the stock market and saying it always goes up. Well actually a lot of companies went bust but by the time that happened they were no longer in the indexes.

Let’s use the Steve Jobs example he used to illustrate.

  • He takes on $250,000 in funding from Mark Markkula
  • He works with Steve Wozniak to produce a new computer design that is unambiguously too good to be ignored.
  • There were other engineers in the Bay Area’s Homebrew Computer Club culture who could match Jobs’s and Wozniak’s technical skill, but Jobs had the insight to take on investment and to focus this technical energy toward producing a complete product

There’s hard work but like a lot of famous people, it’s a confluence of lucky events and taking the right risks. He also took advantage of Wozniak a lot… And well Steve Jobs wasn’t exactly the most consistent guy… just someone who was in the right place at the right time.

Hard work in itself does not pay off like the author is claiming. Steve was a drop-out, did whatever he wanted.

Oh and by the way, there’s no mention about his tendency to take advantage of others… is that also a trait we should emulate? There’s also these emails…

Also I’m not 100% sure but the people he interviewed seem to be all White, without any disabilities. So what about all the discrimination that that minorities have to overcome to get a lucky break?

Maybe There is No Right Answer

After reading 20% of the book, I just had to put it down. This book just doesn’t vibe with me. There were maybe a few excerpts that were memorable but they had nothing to do with his thesis.

From my experience after reading a lot of these books, all self-help gurus have their opinions and beliefs that have clearly worked for them. I’ve signed up for a lot of courses that promote different things as well trying to get a definitive answer, something that just works. I guess that’s the programmer part of me… It’s either a 1 or a 0.

But I see ideas that I agree or disagree with. It’s just that I see a lot of more of them than most people. But the thing is as far as I know, there is no holy grail.

The only thing that will work for me is whatever works for me… not you or anyone else.

And the only way to know is to try it. You cannot just skip to the end.