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On The Path To Achieving Mastery

Achieving mastery requires some uncommon things. That’s obvious enough, if it were simple and common, there would be many more masters.

“All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare”


But what goes into achieving mastery?

  • A roadmap
  • A system
  • A mentor / feedback
  • An embrace of the path
  • Removal of ego

Let’s go into a little more detail.

Know Where You are Going

First, you need a clear understanding of what you are attempting to master and why it matters. This informs the skills you seek to develop, the methods you employ, and affirms the reason why you are committing to the journey. You will often see this called purpose or framed as discovering your calling. Whether the calling comes first or results from the beginning stages of mastery is debatable: the need for motivation and clarity of purpose is not.

Develop Intentional Practice

Second, you need to cultivate a system of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is a well-coined term reflecting intentional practice that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Often done with a coach or mentor, this type of practice is common in athletics, chess, and music, but relatively rare elsewhere. It’s the type of practice that feels uncomfortable. There is strain associated with it. It often comes with resistance. It requires expert feedback. Deliberate practice is rarely, if ever, actually fun. As a result, few do it or do it consistently enough to make a difference.

Once you are armed with a roadmap of where you want to go, an understanding of why you want to get there, a mechanism to obtain feedback, and the comfort with the sacrifice and intentional decisions it will take you are halfway to starting.

The Journey Is the Destination

Third, you must embrace the reality of growth. Growth is not linear. The path is meandering, and you will spend the vast majority of it struggling. Thus, you must embrace not just the goal of mastery, but the process of achieving it.

George Leonard, author of the (excellent) short book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, describes this as the mastery curve. It looks something like this:




I think another reality of loving the path is to recalibrate your priorities. It isn’t about output, it’s about learning. Mastery takes years. Adopting what Cal Newport calls a craftsman’s approach (outlined in So Good They Can’t Ignore You) s a critical step in re-framing your work and developing the patience you will need for the continued pursuit.

Humble the Master Is

Finally, you must be willing to look foolish. You cannot learn with surrendering ego. Be willing to unlearn, to experiment, to regress if necessary.

What it boils down to is an uncommon and consistent application of relatively common sense things:

  • Find and understand your motivation/purpose
  • Embrace learning, seek a teacher
  • Lean into the process, for that is all there is
  • Push through resistance, it’s a sign you’re on the path
  • Stay humble


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Last modified: January 16, 2019