The Single Most Important Skill For a Thriving Career

Sandy didn’t know the answer.

She’d had moderate success building her own business, then transitioned into a middle-management job working for someone else, but now her career had flatlined. And all because of a question she couldn’t answer.

Fill In the Blank

Sandy couldn’t fill in the following blank:

“The ability to ________ is becoming increasingly rare at the same time it’s becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

The question bedevilled her. What is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare and valuable in our economy that anyone in any career could cultivate and thrive with?

The Obvious Wrong Answers

Though Sandy was unable to come up with the right answer, she had no trouble coming up with wrong answers, so that’s where she started.

Wrong answers included the ability to “write emails”, “attend meetings”, “post on social media”, and “chat on Slack”. None of those were becoming more rare nor more valuable.

And since they weren’t the answer, Sandy figured she may as well start doing less of them while she continued searching.

Imperfect Answers

Sandy thought of lots of other possible answers to her question that weren’t as obviously wrong, but didn’t quite fit.

“The ability to learn,” was one of her first instincts, but it was too general and couldn’t be said to be becoming increasingly rare.

“The ability to code” was also not becoming increasingly rare. It was overly specific too.

“The ability to perform home repairs” was also too specific, though it was definitely becoming increasingly rare and valuable, as Sandy discovered all to painfully well when she had to do renos recently.

She thought of hundreds of others, but couldn’t find the perfect fit. Exasperated, Sandy finally gave up. “Life isn’t so bad anyways, right?” she thought.


Even though she’d given up, Sandy figured she may as well double down on eliminating distractions she knew weren’t the answer and focus on work she knew would be hard for others to replace.

Then something funny happened.

Her performance started taking off. She started getting way more work done than her peers in much less time. And her skills got stronger and stronger.

People noticed.

She got a promotion.

Then another one.

Then she realized she’d stumbled on the answer to her question.

The Answer

Sandy’s answer, the increasingly rare and valuable skill that enabled her career to thrive, was the ability “to perform deep work.”

In a perpetually connected open-office world, Sandy had gone the opposite direction. She’d disconnected and hunkered down. Now, instead of reacting to  trivialities she focused as much time as she could doing proacive work that pushed her to the edges of her capabilities . Because the ability to do so was so rare and so valuable, her career thrived.

“Deep work” was her answer.

Cal Newport doing deep work

Do You Want to Develop The Skill?

Cal Newport Deep Work coverEveryone can benefit from developing the ability to perform deep work. It’s not easy though. Society’s forces are pushing us the other way. That’s what makes it so rare and so valuable.

If you want to learn how, Deep Work by Cal Newport is your guide. It will inspire you to develop a deep work practice of your own and give you practical strategies for doing so. That way, like Sandy, you too can dig deep to rise to the top and achieve your full potential.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *