How Do Masters Get So Good?

master

Ever see someone who’s so good at their craft that you’re left in wonder as to how anyone could get that good? Their skill is unparalleled. They are instantly able to conjure up the perfect response to any situation. And, most mystifying of all, they are able to do so effortlessly, almost as if by magic.

How do they do it? How did they get so good?

Well, I’ll tell you how they didn’t do it. They didn’t discover a shortcut. They didn’t find a secret method for success. The standup comedian didn’t discover the perfectly hilarious subjects and vocal tones that make every crowd go wild. The martial artist didn’t memorize a killer sequence of moves that will allow them to fight their way out of every situation. The writer didn’t learn all the rules and techniques, use the ideal structure and format, and start producing masterpieces. The community organizer didn’t obtain a list of all the important local leaders, devise a communication pitch perfect for energizing people into action, and instantly command the attention and respect of an entire community.

In short, the master doesn’t know some big, specific secret you don’t. Instead, he or she lives by two brutally simple principles: passionate curiosity and relentless interaction.

Passionate curiosity has to come from inside. It can’t be taught, and it can’t really be learned. Some people are born with it, others have it awakened, and still others make a conscious decision to care. But it can’t be faked. You need to really give a damn about what you’re doing. You need to love it, and always want to know more, to reach knew levels of intimacy of knowledge in the subject. This is really the prerequisite for success, because it keeps you going in the right direction. You will be driven to find the absolute best approaches because of your love for your craft. All true masters are fans first.

Next, relentless interaction. This is often phrased as “hard work” or “consistent practice,” but both miss the nuance involved in how a master practices. You can work for years perfecting a skill in solitude, only to discover your skill is useless in the real world. Real mastery requires relentless feedback. You need to practice in an environment where you’ll get some sort of a response. You need to try things so you can see them fail, then try them differently, over and over again. Sure, there’s a time and place for private practice. You have to polish the moves you already know. But you’ll never grow into a master without constant resistance.

The standup comedian was a huge comedy fan before giving it a try himself. He became a legend because he went on stage hundreds of times a year, trying out his material, bombing, getting heckled, being ignored, and ultimately figuring out how to connect with the crowd and make people laugh.

The martial artist loved to watch old kung fu movies before she signed up for classes. Now she can defeat any opponent in a matter of seconds, not because of a born gift, not because of all the practice she put in on her own, but because of her years of sparring experience. All those countless times fighting stronger opponents, trying moves only to fall flat on her face, getting kicked in the head, being choked out, and facing defeat over and over again made her unstoppable.

The writer was an avid reader first and foremost, and when he started writing, it wasn’t easy. He started a blog, published hundreds of posts, wrote dozens of articles submitted to even more publications, getting rejected more times than he could count. Finally he started getting published, but that didn’t stop him from seeking feedback, rewriting, and taking note when his pieces performed poorly.

The community organizer wanted to make a difference for the betterment of her world, so she met with local leaders, talked with countless people, and tried to motivate them to action. And failed. So she kept meeting, kept listening, kept asking questions, kept building relationships, until finally she had the social clout in her community to lead its members into righting a great wrong.

This is why so few people ever achieve mastery: they’re lazy and they don’t care. True expertise requires hard, consistent, endless work, and most people just don’t want it badly enough. Or, even if they do want it, they prefer to toil away in solitude and only present a finished, successful product for the world to see. It doesn’t work that way. You need to fail and look stupid publicly over and over, and a lot of people just don’t have the stomach for that. Sometimes you find someone who has the work ethic and fortitude to put themselves out there again and again, but they have a robotic lack of passion that insulates them from absorbing any new information. They simply try the same things again and harder, never caring to explore why what they were doing before didn’t work perfectly.

Masters are so rare, not because complicated steps are required to achieve mastery, but because of an unwillingness to perform the two simple actions. But from those who deeply love their craft and aren’t afraid to test it out over and over across a lifetime, you can expect to see truly amazing things.

Joël Valenzuela
Joël Valenzuela
Editor at The Desert Lynx
Joël Valenzuela is the editor of The Desert Lynx. He is also the founder of the Rights Brigade, a mover for the Free State Project, and a martial art instructor.
  • The biggest challenge to skill mastery is lack of boredom, and it is getting a lot worse for the younger generation. Saw an interview with baseball legend Ozzie Smith (St. Louis Cardinals) where he attributed his fielding to “wall ball” practice in Los Angeles… describing how he had absolutely nothing to do for hours and hours in the summer and just threw a ball against a wall and caught it http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/10/sports/on-baseball-wizard-started-with-his-eyes-shut.html. Have heard chess players and authors make the same point. So it’s both dialectic and perseverance, and the latter is becoming more challenging as – Squirrel! –