Category: Blog

Mastery Requires Hard Work (and Lots of It) But Good Work Doesn’t Require Mastery

“If people knew how hard I worked to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful.” – Michelangelo

By now its the rare person who hasn’t heard that to be expert at something, to be a “master,” one must practice 10,000 hours.

Take heart though, you can be pretty damn good after a couple thousand hours.

And you can certainly be useful after 500 hours of practice at something.

Let’s not confuse functional competence with mastery.

One is who is functionally competent at something can certainly add value… and charge accordingly.

Is mastery a worthy goal? Certainly. But the idea that to be at the top of one’s game requires 10,000 hours of practice can have an un-intended – and chilling – effect on budding practitioners. People with valuable contributions to make, real art to make, might give up if they think that it’s 10,000-hours-or-nothing.

So let’s be careful with how we parse K. Anders Ericsson’s “discovery” (it wasn’t, as is popularly believed, something that Geoff Colvin or Malcolm Gladwell discovered (although their books were useful additions)).

Will you have to practice 10,000 hours to be masterful? Yes. Can you make contributions, and serve, (well) before that? Absolutely.


I know that I went off on a tangent with this post, not really addressing the intent of Michelangelo’s quote above, but I think the diversion was useful.

Yes, some wouldn’t be so impressed by Michelangelo’s works if we knew how much he worked – and failed, I am sure – along the way. But I’d still be impressed.

In fact, probably more so, because his beautiful work could be held in contrast to the stuff he produced along the way that we never got to see (but we’d know was part of his process… ).

So: work hard, practice lots and lots of hours, knowing that not everything will be a masterpiece, and that you will produce works of value prior to mastery.

Stop Lying To Yourself (aka Making New Year’s Resolutions)

Imagine I offered to give you $5 each day, for a year, beginning on January 1.

The 1st comes and I give you five dollars, and the next day, and the next and I was consistent in giving you the five dollars for say, three weeks. But ’round the 20th of the month I miss a day. On the 21st you’d ask “What happened yesterday? You didn’t give me that five dollars, like you promised and have been for a few weeks now?” I apologize and sheepishly say “Well, I can’t give you yesterday’s money, and I don’t have today’s, but I’ll get back on track tomorrow.

That next day comes and I have the money again, but only $3.50. You think to yourself “Well, this isn’t too bad, but it’s still not the full five dollars?” I apologize and tell you I’ll try and have the full amount tomorrow.

The next day I don’t show up, and over the next couple weeks I only show up half the time, and only sometimes have the full amount. By the end of February I stop showing up. I don’t answer your calls or e-mails and you give up on seeing me, or my daily five dollars, ever again.

What would you call me? How would you describe me, given what I said at the outset and how I behaved?

You probably say I was a liar, at the very least you would say I was dis-h0nest. You might try to give me the benefit of the doubt and say I did my best, but I couldn’t keep up my agreement. You would certainly be very reluctant to trust me again and probably wouldn’t put much stock in what said going forward.

So what is the difference – really – between the scenario I just described and New Year’s resolutions?

There really isn’t a difference. A promise is a promise and a broken promise is a lie.

So what happens when we make New Year’s resolutions and break them? We lie to ourselves.

Lie to yourself and you won’t trust yourself.

Stop trusting yourself and you’ll stop believing that you can do much of anything – and certainly not anything of consequence.

What to do?

1) STOP making New Year’s resolutions.

2) START with manageable, authentic change efforts when they make sense.

Happy New Year!

Do You Need To Change?

“If no changes were necessary for you to achieve financial independence, you’d already be there.” – John Cummuta

I grabbed this quote because it speaks a general truth.

The truth is whatever it is we want would already be in our lives if no changes were required.

I know that you may not agree with that statement, perhaps not even understand it, so let’s break it down and I’ll see if I can’t persuade you.

First, the more abstract, challenging bit: “whatever it is we want would already be in our lives.”

I’m not talking about all the things that outside influences want you to have – those are not authentic desires. The reason being is you won’t work hard for those sorts of things. Only the most trivial of those things will be present; you’ll achieve those goals because of some other reason (that matters to you… )(thinking you have to to stay part of a family or group of friends, for example).

The things that you have to work hard for, and will work hard for, are the things you want.

Secondly, by definition, anything you want, that isn’t present, in exactly the form you – truly – want requires a different condition. It requires to change something.

Perhaps you need to think differently? Or do differently? Whether it be better, or in a different way, or at a different time, or…

Perhaps you need to stop doing something?

Whatever change you need to make waits for you to make it. And it may require multiple changes, either all at once or one after the other, until you create the condition that what you want requires.

To sum up: you have to be crystal clear about what you truly, deeply want. And you must be willing to to do the work and make the changes required to make your goal a reality. Until you do both, sufficiently and intelligently, what you want will wait for you, patiently, and perhaps, permanently.

The Primacy of Emotions

“People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” – Zig Ziglar

In fact, emotions are why we do everything.

Logical, thoughtful, consideration may be a precursor to action, but without the animating energy of emotions nothing happens.

Yes, our thoughts determine our lives, but emotions actually create our lives.

I recently had a bit of a revelation: emotions are our thoughts embodied.

That “definition” might not seem all that ground-breaking – and for anyone but me, it’s likely not – but having a way to understand the link between our thoughts and emotions has been personally very useful.

Emotions are how we (get to) physically experience our thoughts.

Understanding that our physical experience of life is through our emotions, and that emotions are the catalyst for all movement, is fundamental to achievement and happiness.

If we are able to master our emotions – i.e. choose our thoughts wisely and the physical states they beget – we can master our lives.

In a practical sense, one thing you can do to begin to master your emotions is notice and record them.

As an exercise, notice and record your emotions at regular intervals during the day; also, see how specific you can about what you’re feeling.

To take this a step further, when recording your emotions, ask yourself what thoughts are required for the various emotions (and, if these thoughts serve you – or not… ).

What You Can Do Is…

Are you doing what really matters? And that really matters to you?

If not, you must do two things: 1) do the job right in front of you the absolute best you can; and 2) create and work a plan to get you the work you want.

I know what you’re saying: “I can’t do that, I have bills, a mortgage,… ”

You can.

If Viktor Frankl can make being imprisoned in a concentration camp into a meaningful – and useful – experience, then you can kick-ass in your current job while create your exit plan.

About the only time it’s okay to “just-stay-where-you-and-make-the-best-of-it-while-you-wait-for-circumstances-to-change” is if you’re in a concentration camp in World War II (and according to Frankl, those were people most likely to succumb to conditions).

Otherwise, get clear on what you want, what’s required to make it real and get busy doing what your dream/plan requires.

You don’t have to quit tomorrow and dive into something new, unprepared (in fact, that would be the height of folly). But you do need to tell yourself the truth about what you want, write it down and work on it every day.

It’s that simple really:

  • tell the truth about what you want
  • create a workable plan for its creation
  • work on it every day