Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capability to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.
mastery—the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves.
To the extent that we believe we can skip steps, avoid the process, magically gain power through political connections or easy formulas, or depend on our natural talents, we move against this grain and reverse our natural powers. We become slaves to time—as it passes, we grow weaker, less capable, trapped in some dead-end career.
This intense connection and desire allows them to withstand the pain of the process—the self-doubts, the tedious hours of practice and study, the inevitable setbacks, the endless barbs from the envious. They develop a resiliency and confidence that others lack.
In our culture we tend to equate thinking and intellectual powers with success and achievement. In many ways, however, it is an emotional quality that separates those who master a field from the many who simply work at a job. Our levels of desire, patience, persistence, and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. Feeling motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything. Feeling bored and restless, our minds shut off and we become increasingly passive.
First, you must see your attempt at attaining mastery as something extremely necessary and positive.
Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole. —FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Anyway, he didn’t care so much about the finished product; it was the search and process in creating something that had always excited him.
The voice in this case that is calling you is not necessarily coming from God, but from deep within. It emanates from your individuality. It tells you which activities suit your character. And at a certain point, it calls you to a particular form of work or career. Your work then is something connected deeply to who you are, not a separate compartment in your life. You develop then a sense of your vocation.
Your uniqueness at birth is a marker of this necessary diversity. To the degree you cultivate and express it you are fulfilling a vital role.
In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it.
The game you want to play is different: to instead find a niche in the ecology that you can dominate. It is never a simple process to find such a niche.
Now Freddie determined that he would somehow prove her wrong. He returned to his training regimen with a vengeance. He discovered within himself a passion for practice and discipline. He enjoyed the sensation of getting better, the trophies that began to pile up, and, more than anything, the fact that he could now actually beat his brother. His love for the sport was rekindled.
In dealing with your career and its inevitable changes, you must think in the following way: You are not tied to a particular position; your loyalty is not to a career or a company. You are committed to your Life’s Task, to giving it full expression. It is up to you to find it and guide it correctly. It is not up to others to protect or help you. You are on your own.
The way back requires a sacrifice. You cannot have everything in the present. The road to mastery requires patience. You will have to keep your focus on five or ten years down the road, when you will reap the rewards of your efforts.
In the stories of the greatest Masters, past and present, we can inevitably detect a phase in their lives in which all of their future powers were in development, like the chrysalis of a butterfly. This part of their lives—a largely self-directed apprenticeship that lasts some five to ten years—receives little attention because it does not contain stories of great achievement or discovery. Often in their Apprenticeship Phase, these types are not yet much different from anyone else. Under the surface, however, their minds are transforming in ways we cannot see but contain all of the seeds of their future success.
the goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character—the first transformation on the way to mastery.
First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time. You need to develop your powers of concentration, and understand that trying to multitask will be the death of the process.
Second, the initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. Yet rather than avoiding this inevitable tedium, you must accept and embrace it. The pain and boredom we experience in the initial stage of learning a skill toughens our minds, much like physical exercise. Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process.
This process of hardwiring cannot occur if you are constantly distracted, moving from one task to another. In such a case, the neural pathways dedicated to this skill never get established; what you learn is too tenuous to remain rooted in the brain. It is better to dedicate two or three hours of intense focus to a skill than to spend eight hours of diffused concentration on it. You want to be as immediately present to what you are doing as possible.
You invent exercises that work upon your weaknesses. You give yourself arbitrary deadlines to meet certain standards, constantly pushing yourself past perceived limits. In this way you develop your own standards for excellence, generally higher than those of others.
In the end, your five hours of intense, focused work are the equivalent of ten for most people. Soon enough you will see the results of such practice, and others will marvel at the apparent ease in which you accomplish your deeds.
This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.
It is often the case that in our younger years we learn faster, absorb more deeply, and yet retain a kind of creative verve that tends to fade as we get older.
There are no shortcuts or ways to bypass the Apprenticeship Phase. It is the nature of the human brain to require such lengthy exposure to a field, which allows for complex skills to become deeply embedded and frees the mind up for real creative activity. The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery. There is no possible reversal to this process.
It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground…. But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way. —ZEN MASTER HAKUIN
Life is short, and your time for learning and creativity is limited. Without any guidance, you can waste valuable years trying to gain knowledge and practice from various sources. Instead, you must follow the example set by Masters throughout the ages and find the proper mentor. The mentor-protégé relationship is the most efficient and productive form of learning. The right mentors know where to focus your attention and how to challenge you. Their knowledge and experience become yours. They provide immediate and realistic feedback on your work, so you can improve more rapidly. Through an intense person-to-person interaction, you absorb a way of thinking that contains great power and can be adapted to your individual spirit. Choose the mentor who best fits your needs and connects to your Life’s Task. Once you have internalized their knowledge, you must move on and never remain in their shadow. Your goal is always to surpass your mentors in mastery and brilliance.
We feel, rightly so, that no one should be admired or worshipped merely for the position they occupy, particularly if it comes from connections or a privileged background. But this attitude carries over to people who have reached their position mostly through their own accomplishments. We live in a culture that likes to criticize and debunk any form of authority, to point out the weaknesses of those in power.
To learn requires a sense of humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do. Their superiority is not a function of natural talent or privilege, but rather of time and experience. Their authority in the field is not based on politics or trickery. It is very real.
Understand: all that should concern you in the early stages of your career is acquiring practical knowledge in the most efficient manner possible. For this purpose, during the Apprenticeship Phase you will need mentors whose authority you recognize and to whom you submit. Your admission of need does not say anything essential about you, but only about your temporary condition of weakness, which your mentor will help you overcome.
The reason you require a mentor is simple: Life is short; you have only so much time and so much energy to expend. Your most creative years are generally in your late twenties and on into your forties. You can learn what you need through books, your own practice, and occasional advice from others, but the process is hit-and-miss. The information in books is not tailored to your circumstances and individuality; it tends to be somewhat abstract.
What makes the mentor-protégé dynamic so intense and so productive is the emotional quality of the relationship. By nature, mentors feel emotionally invested in your education. This can be for several reasons: perhaps they like you, or see in you a younger version of themselves, and can relive their own youth through you; perhaps they recognize in you a special talent that will give them pleasure to cultivate; perhaps you have something important to offer them, mostly your youthful energy and willingness to work hard. Being useful to them can build a powerful emotional connection to you over time.
To initially entice the right Master to serve as your mentor, you will want to mix in a strong element of self-interest. You have something tangible and practical to offer them, in addition to your youth and energy. Before he had ever met him, Davy was aware of Faraday’s work ethic and organizational skills. That alone made him a desirable assistant. Considering this, you may not want to go in search of mentors until you have acquired some elementary skills and discipline that you can rely upon to interest them.
The best mentors are often those who have wide knowledge and experience, and are not overly specialized in their field—they can train you to think on a higher level, and to make connections between different forms of knowledge.
In any event, you will probably have several mentors in your life, like stepping-stones along the way to mastery. At each phase of life you must find the appropriate teachers, getting what you want out of them, moving on, and feeling no shame for this. It is the path your own mentor probably took and it is the way of the world.
Developing discipline through challenging situations and perhaps suffering along the way are no longer values that are promoted in our culture. People are increasingly reluctant to tell each other the truth about themselves—their weaknesses, their inadequacies, flaws in their work.
Even the self-help books designed to set us straight tend to be soft and flattering, telling us what we want to hear—that we are basically good and can get what we want by following a few simple steps. It seems abusive or damaging to people’s self-esteem to offer them stern, realistic criticism, to set them tasks that will make them aware of how far they have to go. In fact, this indulgence and fear of hurting people’s feelings is far more abusive in the long run. It makes it hard for people to gauge where they are or to develop self-discipline. It makes them unsuited for the rigors of the journey to mastery. It weakens people’s will.
Often it is the quiet ones, those who give out less at first glance, who hide greater depths, and who secretly wield greater power.
In general, it is by standing out too much that you will spark this ugly emotion, and so it is best to maintain a nonthreatening exterior and to blend in well with the group, at least until you are so successful it no longer matters.
If you have a rebellious or naturally eccentric streak, as is often the case with those who are aiming for mastery, you must be careful in displaying your difference too overtly, particularly in the Apprenticeship Phase. Let your work subtly demonstrate your individual spirit, but when it comes to matters of politics, morals, and values, make a show of adhering to the accepted standards of your environment.
By being efficient and detail oriented in what you do, you demonstrate that you are thinking of the group at large and advancing its cause. By making what you write or present clear and easy to follow, you show your care for the audience or public at large. By involving other people in your projects and gracefully accepting their feedback, you reveal your comfort with the group dynamic.
the product of intense labor and discipline. Sometimes, she reasoned, what you do not reveal to people is all the more eloquent and powerful. She decided to go along with the image that others had of her and her work.
Understand: people will tend to judge you based on your outward appearance. If you are not careful and simply assume that it is best to be yourself, they will begin to ascribe to you all kinds of qualities that have little to do with who you are but correspond to what they want to see.
He developed along the way a particular philosophy that would serve him well throughout his directorial career, which would last into the 1950s: all that mattered was the final product. His role was to get everyone on the same page and guide the production according to the vision he had, employing whatever means necessary to get the results he wanted.
In the course of your life you will be continually encountering fools. There are simply too many to avoid.
The natural tendency with fools is to lower yourself to their level. They annoy you, get under your skin, and draw you into a battle. In the process, you feel petty and confused. You lose a sense of what is really important.
In dealing with fools you must adopt the following philosophy: they are simply a part of life, like rocks or furniture. All of us have foolish sides, moments in which we lose our heads and think more of our ego or short-term goals. It is human nature.
ignoring them if you can.
As you emerge from your apprenticeship, you must become increasingly bold. Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas.
If your work comes from a place deep within, its authenticity will be communicated. This applies equally to science and business as to the arts. Your creative task may not rise to the same obsessive level as it did for Edison, but it must have a degree of this obsessiveness or your efforts will be doomed.
Even if thinking in this way is not natural to you, using diagrams and models to help further the creative process can be immensely productive.
At certain points in this process, lesser types would simply give up or settle for what they have—a mediocre and half-realized project. But Masters are stronger. They have been through this before, and on an unconscious level they understand that they must plow forward, and that the frustration, or the feeling of being blocked, has a purpose.
The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds. Our attention and thoughts become diffused. Our lack of intensity makes it hard for the brain to jolt into a higher gear. The connections do not occur. For this purpose you must always try to work with deadlines, whether real or manufactured. Faced with the slenderest amount of time to reach the end, the mind rises to the level you require. Ideas crowd upon one another. You don’t have the luxury of feeling frustrated. Every day represents an intense challenge, and every morning you wake up with original ideas and associations to push you along.
After we pass through a rigorous apprenticeship and begin to flex our creative muscles, we cannot help but feel satisfaction in what we have learned and how far we have progressed.
Engaged in the creative process we feel more alive than ever, because we are making something and not merely consuming, Masters of the small reality we create. In doing this work, we are in fact creating ourselves.
Although it involves much pain, the pleasure that comes from the overall process of creativity is of an intensity that makes us want to repeat it. That is why creative people return again and again to such endeavors, despite all of the anxiety and doubt they stir up. It is nature’s way of rewarding us for the effort; if we had no such rewards, people would not engage in such activity, and mankind would suffer irreparably from this loss. This pleasure will be your reward as well, to whatever degree you pursue the process.
When he finally left home to study at the university in Leipzig, it was as if he had been set free from prison. All of his pent-up energies, his restlessness, his hunger for women and adventures, were suddenly released and he went wild. He lived the life of a dandy, dressing in the most fashionable clothes and seducing as many young women as he could find. He threw himself into the intellectual life of Leipzig; he could be seen in all of the taverns arguing about this or that philosophy with professors and fellow students.
He hated the conventional life of a lawyer, and he hated all of the conventions that seemed to dominate social life and to disconnect people from nature. He entertained deeply rebellious thoughts, which he channeled into an epistolary novel—The Sorrows of Young Werther.
“The human organs, by means of practice, training, reflection, success or failure, furtherance or resistance … learn to make the necessary connections unconsciously, the acquired and the intuitive working hand-in-hand, so that a unison results which is the world’s wonder … The world is ruled by bewildered theories of bewildering operations; and nothing is to me more important than, so far as is possible, to turn to the best account what is in me and persists in me, and keep a firm hand upon my idiosyncrasies.”
It is instead a deep expression of something natural, something that marked you at birth as unique. In following your inclinations and moving toward mastery, you make a great contribution to society, enriching it with discoveries and insights, and making the most of the diversity in nature and among human society. It is in fact the height of selfishness to merely consume what others create and to retreat into a shell of limited goals and immediate pleasures. Alienating yourself from your inclinations can only lead to pain and disappointment in the long run, and a sense that you have wasted something unique. This pain will be expressed in bitterness and envy, and you will not recognize the true source of your depression.
Because we think well of ourselves, but nonetheless never suppose ourselves capable of producing a painting like one of Raphael’s or a dramatic scene like one of Shakespeare’s, we convince ourselves that the capacity to do so is quite extraordinarily marvelous, a wholly uncommon accident, or, if we are still religiously inclined, a mercy from on high. Thus our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius: for only if we think of him as being very remote from us, as a miraculum, does he not aggrieve us…. But, aside from these suggestions of our vanity, the activity of the genius seems in no way fundamentally different from the activity of the inventor of machines, the scholar of astronomy or history, the master of tactics. All these activities are explicable if one pictures to oneself people whose thinking is active in one direction, who employ everything as material, who always zealously observe their own inner life and that of others, who perceive everywhere models and incentives, who never tire of combining together the means available to them. Genius too does nothing but learn first how to lay bricks then how to build, and continually seek for material and continually form itself around it. Every activity of man is amazingly complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a ‘miracle.’ —FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE