The path to mastery
I recently started attending a weekly self development mastermind where I live. It’s a group of twelve fairly like minded people who all share an interest in personal development and growth. We’re all interested in improving our lives and so we get together once a week and share tips and ideas on ways to improve our lives by improving ourselves. I really like these meetings and find myself leaving feeling inspired and motivated. There’s something powerful about getting together with like-minded people and sharing ideas with people who have similar goals in life.
A theme that often comes up during these meetings is the idea of “The law of attraction”. It was a concept made famous in the movie The Secret a few years ago. But it’s certainly not a new or novel idea. Authors like Napolean Hill And Wallace Wattles were writing about essentially the same concept decades earlier.
When I first heard of the concept of The Law Of Attraction I really resonated with the idea. It seemed to make such perfect sense. I never really bought into the idea that you could just visualize millions of dollars and it would somehow magically appear. But the idea that to a large extent our thoughts and perspective on life will dictate how and what we experience in life rings true to me. If we go around focusing all our energy on negative things, it’s going to be pretty hard to maintain a good mood and attract the people and situations we want into our lives. Conversely, if we focus our energies on the positive aspects of life, the “sunny side of the street” if you will, then it makes sense that you’ll have an easier time attracting the situations and feelings you desire.
However, I think there’s a tendency in the “self development” community to over emphasize the idea of the law of attraction and place far too much importance on it. It’s awesome to have a really positive attitude about life and think happy thoughts about what you desire, but I think there’s much more to real transformation and success than simply positive thinking. If all it took to achieve our desires was focusing on what we want for extended periods of time, I would have become a rock star and married Natalie Portman years ago. Clearly, just thinking positively about our goals isn’t enough.
I’m really interested in the idea of success and mastery. I’m inspired by people who find something they’re passionate about and figure out a way to become successful in their chosen field. Life is far too short to spend our time doing things we’re not passionate about, or even worse despise, simply to maintain our existence and survival. I don’t claim to have the universal formula for happiness, but I think over the years I’ve discovered something pretty close. In a word, growth.
When I look back over my life and reflect on periods where I’ve been the happiest, those moments are almost always related to experiencing some sort of personal growth. Some of these periods were preceeded by periods of months or even years of frustration, until I was able to finally push myself out of my comfort zone and move forward. Whether it has been experiencing breakthroughs in relationships, business or music, the common denominator that has led to the most fulfillment throughout my life has been the process of growth and development.
Which leads me back to the “law of attraction”. Again, it’s a great idea and there is something to it. But it’s just one part of the equation when it comes to success and happiness. The most important part, or at least equally important part, of the equation is simply time. To become really successful in any field, you need to develop a high degree of skill or mastery in your chosen endeavor. Developing skill takes time. You can’t just visualize yourself becoming a great guitar player, you have to actually practice and put in the work required to become great.
There are two great books on this subject. One is “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell that I read a couple years ago. The other, that I just recently finished, is “Mastery” by Robert Greene. Both books do a great job at explaining the path to mastery and they both allude to the “10,000 Hour Rule”. The 10,000 hour rule is the idea that on average it takes most people a minimum of around 10,000 hours of experience in their chosen field to reach a level of Mastery. I’m not talking about Kim Kardashian level of Mastery, although you could argue she has mastered the art of publicity and promotion. I’m referring to people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, John Coltrane and so on. Both authors cite numerous case studies of people throughout history who have achieved high levels of success and concluded that one of the biggest factors that contributed to the mastery of their chosen field and subsequent success, was simply the sheer amount of time they devoted to the pursuit of developing their skills. It takes time to attain greatness.
We live in a fast paced world that loves instant gratification. We want a quick fix. We’re attracted to shortcuts. We all want to take the path of least resistance. There are no shortcuts to mastery. This is why I think devoting yourself to something you’re passionate about is so important. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing you’ll probably just give up way before even getting close to mastering your craft. Here’s how Robert Greene, the author of Mastery, explains it:
“To really become an expert or master requires the infamous 10,000 hours, or even 20,000 hours—perhaps the difference between being a chess master and a grandmaster. To apply yourself to a field or to a problem for that long a time means there will inevitably be moments of boredom and tedium. Practice, particularly in the beginning, is never exciting. To persist past these moments you have to feel love for the field, you have to feel passionately excited by the prospect of discovering or inventing something new. Otherwise, you will give up. In my chapter on creativity I discuss what I call the primary law of the creative dynamic: “Your emotional commitment to what you are doing will be translated directly into your work.
If you go at it with half a heart, it will show in the lackluster results, in the laggard way in which you reach the end. If you are doing something primarily for money and without a real emotional commitment, it will translate into something that lacks a soul and has no connection to you. You may not see this but you can be sure the public feels it and will receive your work in the same lackluster spirit you created it in. If you are excited and obsessive in the hunt, it shows in the details. If it comes from a place deep within, the authenticity of the task will be communicated.” There is no getting around the law. There is no mastery or power without passion. Through all of my research, that much I am certain about.”
When you devote yourself to a path, whether it’s becoming a great musician, or a great business person or a great anything, you will confront obstacles. If instead of quitting, you learn how to overcome and transcend those obstacles, you will grow. If you keep moving forward and keep growing you will attain a level of mastery. Whether or not you become the next John Coltrane or the next Michael Jordan isn’t really the point. As cliché as it sounds, it’s really about the journey and not the destination.
When you learn to not give up and push yourself to new heights, you grow as a person. This sort of growth and transformation leads to a type of happiness and fulfillment that’s very different than the fleeting type of happiness many people seem to pursue. Unlike the fleeting thrill of a one night stand or a few glasses of wine, the happiness that comes from personal growth is much more stable. Maybe happiness isn’t even the right word, it’s more of a sense of contentment and stability about your place in the world that becomes a permanent part of your character. It’s about being able to look at life square in the eye and say “bring it on bitch, I got this.” When you develop that sort of mindset about your life and your goals, it’s hard to not have a smile on your face when you wake up.
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2/14/2015 01:32:44 am
You are right, of course, but such dedication is rare. The reason is that simple truism that saying 'yes' to one thing is saying 'no' to others. It takes an obsessive personality to master just one aspect of the many possibilities that one can aspire to. It also takes a genetic talent for a musician to be able to play masterfully.
2/14/2015 03:21:56 am
Absolutely it's rare, which is what makes it so special. And yes of course there is an opportunity cost to all of our decisions. Whether it's committing to a person, a place or a career we are simultaneously saying no to all the other options we have. But there's a special form of growth that occurs when we stick to something, or several things, and see them through.
2/14/2015 01:56:17 am
Great post, Aaron. I agree that a positive attitude is important, particularly in a business as tough as the entertainment industry. However, in addition to having a great attitude, only hard work and persistence will separate the successful artists from the rest. If you are passionate about what you do, it helps you deal with the frustration that is part of being in this business. As a manager of an up and coming singer/songwriter and a band about to break out on to the national stage, there are days that I could easily have quit if I wasn't so passionate about my clients. Some times that passion is enough to land that new gig in anew city. And when you do achieve some success, even smaller ones, it is enough to keep those passion fires stoked.
2/14/2015 03:42:11 am
Great article Aaron. I agree with you're overall thinking on this subject. I am passionate about creating music but sometimes it is just not possible to get to it on top of everything else going on, which includes a full time day job. It's this part that gets very frustrating at times.
2/14/2015 03:43:23 am
I can relate, which is why I advocate finding making you're "day job" something you're passionate about.
2/14/2015 07:27:45 pm
Very good write up. Since my mind is not so much analytical, instead of defeating or denying the ideas, I'd like to share some story and true experience of my life: When I was a little boy, I said to myself whilst listening to my favorite song 'I want to be one of the best Djs in the Europe'. I was growing in a poor estate, worst neighborhood, social issues were everywhere. But they were also part of who I am and who I wanted to become. I was unable to generate any growth, but I was able to master the 10,000 hours of DJing in that world and attract some following. In 2004 I decided to emigrate to England with hope of buying better equipment, more records and maybe create my DJ oriented record label. I worked (and still do) so hard to make any money for a living and to keep myself pushing it forward. But the darkness came out when I got rid of the social issues and pursued a better way of living. All of my competence and expertise in my field is worth nothing in this world here in the UK. There are class and mentality differences, different social issues. I had to modify my 'DJ business plan' or scrap it completely due to lost interest. All 10,000 hours are gone forever, and I have to admit it, they will not make any difference to who I want to be, because my will is based on what's currently available in this present moment (or rather what's more profitable), not on who I wanted to be back then. Without this mindset I wouldn't be able to learn things I have learned so far. But the reality is even worse - all of my current and past expertise isn't worth a penny if I don't know how to sell myself and how to create strong social ties between different ethnic groups. You have to accept yourself and accept others. But what if your living between different social class that doesn't motivate and inspire your work? What if nobody in your surroundings share your ideas? In the creative world a mind needs to feel free and appreciated. Otherwise one will end up just like Van Gogh with a self-cut ear.
2/15/2015 06:09:27 pm
I like the idea of visualization and positive thinking. Like you've written, positive thinking (hoping) alone won't get you where you want.
2/18/2015 10:52:50 am
Great post, Aaron. I, too, believe the "promises" or preconceived ideas surrounding the laws of attraction must be kept in perspective. Visualizing may help, but in and of itself won't make a desire appear. In addition to the books by Malcolm Gladwell and Robert Greene, "Talent Is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin may be one to visit as well. I just started it (borrowed from the library). He similarly makes a strong case for "deliberate practice" being one of the keys to skill development and eventual mastery - simply putting in the time - two hours a day versus 15 minutes, e.g. I also like what you had to say about passion. Hits home big time. Personally, I'm doing my best to keep the musical fire stoked. Lately I've been going in and out of burnout. Holdin' on, holdin' on. Thanks again, man.
4/28/2015 09:42:08 pm
I agree with the article too, but like Ray I have a full time job too which makes it a challenge for me too. But I also understand where there's a will there's always a way.
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