It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Cal Newport, a computer science professor who also write on studying, work habits, and high achievement. I recently reviewed his latest book, Deep Work, and thought it was excellent. But his previous book is what garnered him a cult following among those are devotees of “deep work.”
Newport’s previous book was So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The premise, “career capital,” is as follows:
- Develop rare and valuable skills (aka career capital), which gives you…
- Creative control over projects, and
- Control over your time (provides time for “deep work”), which will more likely have…
- A positive impact on the world, and result in…
- Working with people you enjoy
The title of the book was taken from a quote by actor Steve Martin:
“Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they want to hear. What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’ … but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’”
How To Get Fired In One Easy Step
I recently read a long diatribe of an “Open Letter To My CEO.” If you Google around a bit, you can find it. It’s sad and pathetic. Every stereotypical thing wrong with Millennials you’ve ever read. The writer:
- Moves from modest area of the country, to the most expensive.
- Has useless degree, surprised it only qualified her for entry level job.
- Whines about entry level job, not being paid 6 figures to make meme jokes.
- Claims she can’t afford food, her Insta is filled with big meals.
- Complains work-provided snacks are not refilled on the weekends.
- Writes open letter to CEO full of her “amazing ideas,” surprised she is fired.
- Works at low-level job for less than a year, is complaining on Twitter about getting her “severance.”
- Signs off with e-begging.
I can’t even.
The “open letter” is the antithesis of “career capital” and “deep work.”
In no way did the writer ever develop any rare or valuable skills. She was only qualified to get a job doing entry-level phone tech-support. But it was her choice to get a degree that has no real, quantifiable benefits. She could have majored in computer science, engineering, or some other degree. She choose to move to one of the most expensive cities in the country. She doesn’t give a good reason why other than she didn’t like where she lived and the weather in her new city was nice.
After penning her “Open letter” she was fired. Even more Googling will show you that she actually hopped on Twitter and started messaging her CEO, practically begging to be fired.
And in typical 21st century post-meta-bullshit banal fashion, she’s trying to spin/pivot the whole thing into virality. Because if you can’t actually do anything useful, maybe you can get a lot of re-Tweets.
Maybe CBS will pick it up for a tv show.
The whole thing is just a mess. The writer is probably a lost cause. But it in an effort to be helpful to any other lost Millennials out there, I decided to put together the following. If you’re not able to be “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” then…
Be Minimally Competent Enough To Not Get Fired From Your Job
Dear New Millennial Hires,
Congratulations on joining the company. If we have hired you, you must have an impressive résumé (or really good connections/relationships which we plan to leverage). I mention this because of the 100 other resumes we received for this entry level position. It’s a buyer’s market for companies — and we bought you. Good job.
The fact that we hired you over all the other available candidates likely leads you to believe that we believe that you have valuable skills, experience, knowledge, and can contribute to the company.
This is an entry-level position. We picked you because you seemed like the most marginally competent person. You have little to no valuable skills, knowledge, or experience. You possess incredibly little that actually provides value to the company. Letting you do anything important would be foolhardy on our part.
As such, you will only be given simple tasks that we think you can handle with close supervision. Stuff like: “Here, carry my briefcase,” or: “Answer the telephone.”
Once you’ve shown that you can do some basic tasks, we’ll eventually graduate you to doing some grown-up work. Don’t mess this up. Sweat the small details. Manage your time effectively. Revise, rewrite, recheck everything you do.
Never assume anything. One of the biggest issues with Millennials we hire today is that they stop as soon as they hit the first obstacle. Don’t do this. Only after you’ve rammed your head against the wall until it’s bloody should you come ask a question. I want to know that you’re tried to figure it out on your first try (i.e., don’t waste my time, it’s much more valuable than yours).
As we will be directing your every task, you might also think we will help you with your career development. That someone will take you under their wing and help you figure out to navigate the workplace. This cannot be further from the truth.
Your career is up to you.
The company is not your mommy or daddy.
The company is not responsible for your development.
The company is not responsible for finding you work.
The company is not responsible for your personal life.
The company is not responsible for your success.
You are responsible for all these things. You must take an active role in the development of your career.
- Want to learn more about a type of business the company is involved in? Go buy books on the subject, ask senior people in our company (or even another!) out for coffee to talk about it.
- Want a mentor? Get out of your cube and find one. Take interest in your potential mentor’s work, offer to help. Be interested in the world, and be interesting yourself.
- Want to be successful? Success is not something that is handed to you. It requires long hours, hard work, and dedication. It requires diligence, frustration, and sacrifice.
Your success or failure at the company will largely be the result of your attitude and mindset. You can either have a fixed, set-in-your-ways, I’m-a-special-snowflake mindset, or a flexible, industrious, growth-oriented mindset. A fixed mindset is intimidated by obstacles, sees effort as fruitless, and takes criticism poorly. A growth mindset embraces challenges, sees effort as a means to achievement, and integrates criticism to improve performance.
To do well in the company, you must possess the latter. Or be fired.