The Path of Mastery | Embracing the narrow road
The Cliffs: Mastery can be attained by those who are willing to put in the blood sweat and years. To attain Mastery you must learn to respect the foundation, and you must learn to fall in love with the process. You can accelerate your rate of growth with the right mentor, no one succeeds alone. Read on if you wish to attain mastery in whatever you choose to pursuit.
Word Count: 2400 Importance: Master Level Read Time: 12 minutes Coffee: 50/50
What is Mastery?
Mastery is attained when an individual gains a high level of proficiency and depth of understanding in a discipline. Mastery is Bruce Lee kicking ass with two nun chucks. Mastery is Isaac Newton developing the foundation of modern calculus. You know how Michael Phelps won a total of 18 gold medals at the Olympics? That is the quintessence of Mastery.
Mastery is exceptional because most people will never reach it. Masters often become icons, and are often celebrated for their accomplishments. They are revered because they remind us of the ultimate in human achievement. It is those who dedicate their lives to their craft that ultimately reach elite levels.
Many people do not believe that Mastery is a possibility in their life. People believe that it is only the lucky or the fortunate who are able to reach supreme levels of achievement. With the right blueprint anyone can become exceptional, this article is the beginners guide to Mastery.
The Path Of Mastery
The path of Mastery is a narrow and lonely road.
Most people in their lifetime will never understand what it truly means to be considered a Master. This is because most people are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices that are required to attain the level of Masterdom.
Social conditioning has made it acceptable for us to be mediocre at what we do. Doing everything at a sound level has become the norm. Students often cram for exams studying the night before, instead of spending the time to understand concepts at a deep level. At the workplace people often do ‘just enough’ work to get by, and never accomplish anything to the best of their capabilities.
Our biology does not help us in the quest for Mastery. In nature we often see that:
- Most of your current will go down the path of least resistance.
- Water takes the path of least resistance
Humans are no different as most of us also take the path of least resistance in everything we do. In an attempt to conserve our energy, we create a situation that is inimical towards the quest for Mastery.
Understanding the path
The first step of Mastery is understanding the path. Too many people believe that progression should be linear, they expect constant improvements all of the time. The reality of the matter is that progression is hardly ever linear. You will face adversities and many plateaus that will retard your progression; do not worry, it is all part of the game.
The graphs above are an adaptation of the ones shown in George Leonards book ‘Mastery‘ (a great book on the topic). One of the biggest reasons people never reach their goals is because they give up as soon as progression slows down. The beginning of any learning process tends to be the period in which you can expect the largest amount of growth. After a while the progression inevitably slows down, and different methods will need to be implemented in order to speed it back up. Over the years you will spend countless of hours stuck in the plateau. If you are chasing Mastery you must anticipate the plateaus and have strategies to break through them.
Your attitude to the plateau determines if you will attain Mastery or not. When things begin to get difficult that is when most people give up. You must become stoic in your approach and look for ways to overcome your obstacles. Use the plateau as a way to become more flexible, and adaptive.
The Mindsets of Mastery
In order to reach peak performance in whatever you want to do, you must develop certain mindsets that will elevate you. Below are the three mindsets of Mastery.
The phrase ‘work-life balance’ has been used ad nauseam by the masses, it is a phrase that doesn’t belong in the vernacular of Masters. There is no such thing as balance when you are trying to take your skills to another level. Balance is for people that just want to get by and live a normal life, it is not for those that are obsessive about success.
Success does not ask for balance, it requires thousands of hours of work. You will never be able to accumulate the necessary workload to accomplish anything great if your primary concern is balance. As I said before, Mastery is a lonely road. Most people simply do not have the raw drive or aggression to become great, obsessiveness is crucial for this type of work.
Here are some examples of the obsessive:
- Michael Phelps is said to have trained everyday for five year, spending three to six hours in the pool.
- Michael Jordan practised his shots everyday for years until they were perfect
- Mark Cuban didn’t take a vacation for seven years while starting his first business
- Arnold Schwarzenegger claims to have trained on average three to five hours a day for six days a week during his body building career.
- Isaac Newton spent hundreds of hours working on his ‘Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica’ a book that set the foundation for many concepts in classical mechanics.
Those who are Masters often try and reach an almost spiritual level of execution in what they do. They demonstrate feats that are unprecedented, and almost seem unnatural. Those who have witnessed a Master in their element can attest to this level of performance.
Professor of psychology at Stanford university ‘Carol Dweck’ argues in her book ‘Mindset‘ that there are ultimately two types of mindsets, a ‘growth mindset’, and a ‘fixed mindset’.
A fixed mindset is one that assumes that its potential is limited. Those with fixed mindsets believe that they either have certain skill or that they don’t. People with fixed mindsets never attain Mastery because their thought patterns prevent them from putting in the necessary work. These people avoid challenges because they fear failure.
A growth mindset is one that believes its potential is malleable, and able to be expanded through doing the necessary work. This mindset is crucial for success because it can motivate you to push your boundaries in order to find out your true potential. Failure is not seen as failure, but instead is seen as progression for those with a growth mindset. Each failure allows them to better understand their craft, and to improve.
Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times. His growth mindset allowed him to learn from his failures, and to push through with his craft. Steven Spielberg is responsible for many blockbuster movies that were filmed in the past four decades. According to Forbes, Steven now has a net worth of $3.6 billion dollars. Now that’s Mastery.
Most success stories start from humble beginnings. Some people are born with distinct talents but no one is born a Master. Mastery demands a growth mindset, the sooner you develop one the better.
Respect for the process
Respecting the process is crucial for becoming great. The road is a long one, you might as well enjoy it while you are on it. When trying to become great you must develop a respect for the foundation. The foundation of any skill is crucial, a flawed foundation will never allow for the attainment of Mastery. Building layers above the foundation over time is what eventually will lead you to Mastery. We can use the analogy of a pyramid to explain the importance of the foundation.
You gain a level over the foundation with every new realization that you encounter on the journey. Someone who practices BJJ must first Master the basics, she must first understand the guards before moving on to more advanced movements. Someone who is bodybuilding must first understand how to perform exercises correctly before they starts increasing the weight. The foundation of anything must be respected, you can always go back to your foundations and refine them over time.
The more you practice the better you get, it seems obvious but it surprises me how many people do not take it seriously. Perfect practice makes perfect, you can’t simply keep redoing the same things that did not work. You need to adapt to the situation when trying to become a Master. Sometimes you need to change your methods before you gain the traction that you are looking for .
Malcolm Gladwell in his famous book ‘Outliers‘ claims that it takes an average of ’10, 000’ hours of dedicated practice to reach mastery. In the book Gladwell discuses how in the early 90s a group of psychologists conducted a study of violin students. The study tracked the practice habits of the students over the course of their childhood through to adulthood. By the age of twenty the elite violinist had clocked over 10,000 hours of practice ( practicing an average of 20 hours a week over 10 years). The average violinist only clocked 4000 hours and below. This is but one example of the 10, 000 hours rule.
To put it simply one does not become a Master without accumulating the necessary hours of practice. You need to be willing to do more than double the work that the average person is willing to do. Mastery comes from falling in love with the process, in being able to enjoy every step of the journey to greatness.
Mastery through Mentors
Attempting to learn everything by yourself is foolish, the world is too complex for any one person to figure it all out. To accelerate your progress you need find a mentor that will guide you.
No one succeeds alone
No one succeeds alone, behind every great success is a mentor. Mentors accelerate your progress tremendously because they have already been down the path that you are trying to follow. Mentors often have a deep insight into areas of your discipline that you perhaps were myopic on. Where you see a roadblock they see a yellow brick road. Years of experience often broaden up their perspectives, making them an invaluable resource.
Many people never address their weaknesses, because they don’t even know about them. Mentors see your skill for what it is, their objective view allows them to be able to pick up on your strengths and weaknesses. It’s very difficult to judge our skills objectively, we tend to overestimate and underestimate our capabilities. Having someone who is able to explain your weaknesses can help you advance much quicker.. The road of Mastery demands that we constantly improve.
Below are some examples of Masters who had mentors:
- Bruce Lee was a student of Yip Man, who taught him Wing Chung the precursor of Jeet Kune Do
- Michael Jordan’s called Dean Smith “My mentor, my teacher, second father”
- Warren Buffet was mentored by professional economist Benjamin Graham. A mentorship that began when Warren was just 21 years old at Columbia University.
- Socrates the philosopher mentored Plato, giving him the groundwork to develop his own perspective on philosophy.
- Plato went on to mentor Aristotle.
- Dr Dre mentored Eminem, and Eminem went on to mentor 50 cent.
- Robert Greene (the international best selling author), mentored famous author Ryan Holliday
I hope the list has helped you see the importance of having good mentors.
How to get a mentor
This section deserves its own article, however I will be brief and outline some strategies. To begin with you need to understand that mentorship comes in different forms. Not all relationships are going to be close, you might speak to your mentor once every week or once every year. Below are some rules that you should follow to ensure you get a mentor.
1. Figure out who should mentor you
You need to figure out who you want to mentor you. Come up with a list of prospects that will help you step up your game. I know what you are thinking “How in the blue hell do I meet them?”, patience my child. Before you start chasing superstars like Jay-Z or Tiger Woods, understand that you do not always need big shot mentors. The only prerequisite for a good mentor is them being better than you or having more experience in your field. People often misunderstand mentorship they believe they need to aim super high. The reality is, you have different mentors for different stages of your development. The mentor you have today, might not be the one you have twenty years from now. The more you increase your skill the more you can go on the radar of bigger names, and maybe one day have them mentor you.
2. First Contact
You need to establish first contact. This will take a bit of research on your part, hey I never said it was going to be easy! Figure out where your mentor is, because you will need to be there. No one likes a stalker, so think of yourself as a detective and not some fan boy or girl. Perhaps your ‘mentor to be’ likes going fishing at a particular spot, guess what? You like to go fishing there too! Perhaps your mentor trains at a particular gym, maybe it’s finally time for you to get in shape. Once you figure out where they are you need to move on to the next step, ‘Thinking Win WIN”.
3. Think Win Win
Stephen Covey in his book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people“, highlights the importance of thinking win win. No one likes a leech, what value can you give to the person who is mentoring you? Why should they use up their time to help you? You need to be thinking of ways that you could be of service.
Perhaps you wish to be mentored by someone who owns a successful business. To get their attention you might have to help them with something in their business. You need to be creative, and think of a way to offer some value. Do not be discouraged by whatever work you might end up having to do, remember that it is a means to an end. Mowing your mentors lawn every weekend in order to get some valuable advice that will save you a couple of years of trial and error is well worth it. Sometimes all your mentor wants is a willing student, everyone loves giving advice as long as the person listening is receptive.
So there you have it, a guide to Mastery. The information in this article is only useful if you put it to action. Becoming a Master is up to you. Remember that the path to Mastery is not easy, but it is fulfilling. Instant gratification is the biggest roadblock for many, those who pursue Mastery value fulfilment over it. So what will you become a Master at? Leave your comments down below.