There’s Only One Way to Mastery. Don’t Skip This

Photo by [Kateryna Babaieva]( from [Pexels]( by Kateryna Babaieva from Pexels It’s simple but not easy — which is why you avoid it

There are different reasons why people succeed in this world. Luck, being in the right place, being born in a particular family, and so on. But there’s one sure-short way that everyone knows but no one truly works on.


It’s the pursuit of being so good at what you do that you don’t have to chase tips and tricks to be successful. It’s an act of supreme focus where everything else is pushed aside. What remains is you and your craft.

The relentless pursuit of being better at what you do has never failed to work. Yes, there will be other factors too. But the funny thing is this — opportunities start coming to you when you’re more prepared than anyone else. When you chase mastery, you create your own opportunities.

You can become lucky if you want. But you have to meet luck halfway down the road. It will not come to your couch and pull you to the big leagues.

Ever wonder why successful people often seem to get ‘lucky’? It’s the result of an external stimulus combined with a prepared mind.

“If you look at the way successful founders have had their ideas, it’s generally the result of some external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. Bill Gates and Paul Allen hear about the Altair and think “I bet we could write a Basic interpreter for it.” Drew Houston realizes he’s forgotten his USB stick and thinks “I really need to make my files live online.” Lots of people heard about the Altair. Lots forgot USB sticks. The reason those stimuli caused those founders to start companies was that their experiences had prepared them to notice the opportunities they represented .”— Paul Graham, How to Get Startup Ideas

This Is Our Biggest Hurdle

As entrepreneurs, we often lie to ourselves. Some more than others — Mark Cuban

We like to believe that there’s a shorter path to success. We look up to the masters of our fields and somehow convince ourselves that they had something we don’t. Or someone came and helped them along the way.

This is our excuse to slack off and procrastinate. And don’t laugh at this thinking it’s not you — everyone does this at some point — some more than others.

Even when we hear stories of decades of hard work, we’re quick to dismiss it. Why? Because we give in to boredom, stress, fear, and confusion. We fear the work that is ahead of us and we get bored with our slow progress in the beginning.

The key is to get past this stage. It’s a trough of sorrow if you will. You seem to not learn anything, no one is reading your writing. You’re just dust. But there’s a beautiful momentum building beneath the surface.

Jordan Belfort calls this The Waterline. When you start something new you are making progress. In fact, you’re making rapid progress — but you don’t see it. Because it’s below The Waterline and it’s not visible yet.

If you nourish it’ll soon convert into a giant wave that will take you where you always wanted to go. Once you’re past this stage, you start to see things clearly. You’re finally above the waterline and people start calling you an overnight success.

And so with this clarity, comes a sense of calm confidence. You can get feedback from others in your field, learn quickly, and take on exciting challenges. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you’re officially in the new leagues. You bring more of your character into your craft and are not afraid to experiment.

And then, as Robert Greene puts it in his book Mastery, there comes yet another level. Now you can bend the rules or rewrite them. You become the person who you once looked up to. Things come naturally to you without even thinking.

And then the cycle repeats itself.

Someone from the outside looks at you and thinks you’re lucky. That situations just align to suit your needs. That reality bends itself according to your will. The fact of the matter is, you’ve likely put in decades of effort to reach this level. But no one else gets it.

You’ve become so good that people can’t ignore you even if they wanted to.

On the other hand, if you ignore this process and think you can gain mastery through your innate talents, use your connections, or have some magic pill, you’ll end in misery.

Time itself will kill you. Every day you think there’s a shortcut, you won’t work on your craft. And the lesser you work on your craft the more miserable you’ll be with time. Years down the line you’ll regret not putting in the work and the effort that it takes to succeed. This agony will eat you inside.

Concentrate Your Forces

Cal Newport has beautifully connected these two topics in his books.

He goes on to preach that lasting success and satisfaction only come through deliberate practice, focus, and concentration. Which he calls Deep Work.

The heuristic is simple. If you want to be cultivating a rare and valuable skill in a knowledge-worker creative pursuit, a non-trivial fraction of your work hours have to be dedicated to this [deep] type of work. There’s actually no way to get around that. — Cal Newport

It’s really that simple. And I’m blown away by how everyone (including me) ignore this idea from time to time.

If you’re not already working on it, here are some things to get you started:

  • **Time-blocking: **At the risk of sounding too simplistic, divide your day into time blocks. Especially for creative tasks like writing, coding, editing, etc. Treat these blocks like you would treat a meeting. Tell everyone that you’re on a call or a conference and you can’t be disturbed.

  • **Focus on one thing at a time: **Don’t be doing or even thinking about anything except the task at hand. It’s difficult but you’ll get better at it with practice. Don’t open tabs that you’re not using. Remove anything from your desk that can distract you. Just focus on the task at hand.

  • Clearly defined outcome: It’s important to have clarity about what you want to do in a given period of time. Is the goal to write a draft? Or is it to finalize it? Or is it to make it ready for submission? When I don’t have a defined outcome, I often choose the easiest option which is to leave it incomplete. (Which is why I have 20 drafts staring at me right now).

  • Limit your sensory inputs: Try to choose a comfortable spot with no visual distractions, unnecessary sounds, too hot, too cold, etc. The aim is to preserve all awareness for the task at hand.

Slowly and steadily over time, you’ll train your ability to concentrate deeply on a subject. An once you build that, you’re rare — and thus valuable. There are endless possibilities because few people are able to master their focus.

The younger you are the better it is. Get started now and don’t chase the false god of overnight success.

This is the only thing you need. Don’t be deluded by shortcuts and tricks. Mastery takes time, devotion, and effort.

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Written on July 11, 2020