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‘Deep Work’ (rules for focused success in a distracted world) by Cal Newport. Book Review - Pt 1

March 11, 2019


Every year over the summer holidays I visit my grandparents who live in a small beach town on the south coast of NSW. We spend most days swimming and sunbaking at the beach but this year it was a wash out.


On one of those wet days I decided to head to the local library and unexpectedly found Cal Newport’s, ‘Deep Work’. The content was so relevant for my readers that I decided to turn my learnings into a couple of blog posts for you all.


What I found especially fascinating is Newport's belief that passion (when finding work you love) is almost irrelevant. A controversial hypothesis.


If you're interested in my thoughts on his theory, keep reading.

Deep Work: Part #1 - The Idea


In the first section of the book, ‘The Idea’ Newport heavily criticises the belief that all you need to do is follow your passion. Initially I found this disconcerting. It went against a lot of what I had been told growing up.


My father’s mantra was, ‘find something you love and you will never work a day in your life’. I assumed following your passion was a recipe for success. However, if I’m truly honest with myself, this has not been the case in my own life.


Upon graduating from university I had my dream job lined up. It was the exact job I wanted and I worked my but off in that role. I loved it. I lived and breathed it. But four years later, I began to burn out. I was no longer happy, the passion was gone. How could this be? I was told that as long as I followed my passion I would be set, that I would be happy.


Newport makes some suggestions as to why the passion myth isn’t true. He cites much research that suggests those who are happiest in their jobs are those that have been in them the longest and have developed mastery in a particular skill-set. This theory is supported by other notable authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote ‘Mastery’ and Angela Duckworth, the author of ‘GRIT’. Duckworth's book dives deeper into the passion myth and finds that those who have found true satisfaction and fulfillment in their careers were not bitten by the passion bug but instead are those who have spent years developing a skill that they have eventually developed mastery in.


The research debunking the importance of following your passion was concerning me. How could they say that passion is overrated? Were they suggesting I just pick a job and suck it up for ten years until I start to enjoy it? 


After reading 'Deep Work and Angela’s Duckworth’s, ‘GRIT’ I feel like this is exactly what they were saying. According to Newport as long as the job isn't unethical, the people unpleasant or the opportunity for growth limited, then take the job. 


I found Newport's neglect of the importance of passion and enjoyment in the initial stages of one's career concerning. There was also a complete oversight of one’s suitability to a particular career path. At no point does he discuss the possibility of a person being in a job that is just not a good fit, whether that be skills or personality. 


For example; I was working with a client who had recently completed her PHD in Astrophysics and was working on analysing data and writing academic papers all day. She was miserable in her job but couldn’t put her finger on why. She was successful, she loved astrophysics, she got paid well, etc. By doing a simple personality test she discovered her personality type enjoys creative pursuits, working in a team and helping people. From doing this test she could see why her current job was making her miserable and instead started to explore careers that were more in alignment with her values and personality type.


According to Newport’s ideology, this person should have continued to ‘develop mastery’ in her field because she was early in her career and shouldn’t expect things like autonomy and deep work satisfaction just yet.


Even though I agree with Newport and that deep job fulfillment is linked to many years of hard work and mastery, I am concerned about the advice he is giving young people (his audience are university students). Those who adopt his advice run the risk of sticking at careers that are just not suited to them and will never give them the fulfillment and satisfaction they are looking for.


It is predicted that Millennials will have as many as eleven career changes in their lifetime and over thirty job changes. This is a sign that the job market has changed and there is a lack of stability in the workplace economy. To recommend that young people should pick a career and stick at it in order to achieve career satisfaction is potentially wasting years of a young person's life.


Sadly, if the young person doesn’t enjoy their work, they may come to believe it’s because they haven’t yet ‘made it’ or developed mastery in their chosen field. The truth is, you can develop mastery and be miserable. Just look at the number of successful musicians, artists and even academics. Mastery and autonomy in a particular area does not equal career satisfaction if you pick the wrong career in the first place.


A fulfilling and satisfying career is not something that can only be found in a ten year career plan. You can love your job NOW! As long as you know what you're passionate about, what you’re good at and what you want to dedicate your time and energy to, then you can have that job satisfaction today.


If you are in a career that you know isn’t the right fit for you then book a FREE discovery session with me to learn more about how I can help you find a career you love.


If you know that no matter how many years you dedicate to your current career, you’re still not going to be happy, then it's time to make a change. I can help, simply book in a call with me today.


Looking forward to speaking with your soon.






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