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Blog Short #189: Forget Success, Choose Mastery: Your Guide to Real Achievement

Photo by RyanJLane, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Success is one of those concepts that’s ambiguous at best and suffocating at worst. Why? Because it assumes there’s an endpoint where achievement rests. You get there, and you’re done. You’ve arrived.

It’s an illusion.

You never arrive because learning and personal evolution continue your whole life. There is no reaching perfection, and there’s no end.

The other problem is that the idea of success becomes intimately tied to your ego. It’s a means of confirming your identity, worth, confidence, and passion. Think Tarzan beating on his chest after some feat of acrobatics on his swinging vine.

A better approach is working toward mastery. Mastery is an ongoing process of learning and deliberate practice. You keep working at something and get better and better at it.

The reward is the work itself and the satisfaction you receive from doing it.

When you seek mastery, your focus moves away from ego gratification to humble persistence and determination.

It’s a paradox: If you truly want to succeed, you must check your ego at the door and dedicate yourself to pursuing mastery.

To do that requires some mindset and habit shifts. Here they are.

1. Embrace being wrong.

To get good at anything, you have to embrace the idea of being wrong.

Why? Because it informs you of what you need to work on. It’s a natural part of the journey toward getting better at something.

Learning is a cyclical process of taking a step forward, a step backward, and trying again. Repeatedly.

Act – Evaluate – Adjust – Act again. Repeat this over and over until you improve, and keep improving.

The problem is that “being wrong” gets all tied up with our sense of self. We’ve got this idea that being right – knowing something – means we’re worthy, and being wrong or not knowing means we aren’t okay. We’re not the best. At worst, we’re losers. And, as the saying goes, everyone loves a winner.

Being wrong or right has nothing to do with who you are. It’s an opportunity to learn something you can apply to your life and your goals.

You’re always okay. Your identity doesn’t rest on what you know or believe. It does rest in part on your values, but core values are different from beliefs. They’re the principles you live by.

2. Seek feedback.

Feedback is a critical component of mastery.

It’s part of the ongoing evaluative process that lets you know how you’re doing and where you need to shift your direction.

It’s not easy to hear feedback, at least not initially, if you haven’t consciously worked at accepting and using it.

Who wants to work hard at something and feel good about it only to have someone else point out things that still need work? It’s tough to take that in, especially if what you’ve created or done is something you’ve worked at and feel proud of. It can really smart!

However, getting feedback from someone who knows more than you do and has more experience can motivate you to improve.

The source is important! You don’t want feedback from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing or doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

Feedback from someone who’s ignorant or envious isn’t worth your time. But when you have the right source, feedback is invaluable and necessary if you want to get better at what you’re pursuing.

3. Find the right mentors.

To master anything, you’ll need teachers who are knowledgeable.

You may have many teachers or one teacher, depending on what you’re trying to master and who is available and willing to mentor you.

Finding the most qualified teachers is crucial because they can only take you as far as they’ve gone themselves.

And since your mentors and teachers will be the primary source of feedback, you want to be particular.

That said, sometimes you get different types of input or help from various teachers rather than a single person, and that’s all right, too, if it fits with what you’re working on.

I’ve found that finding one or two very qualified people to help works best. Too much input from many people is confusing and diffuses your process.

Going with a single teacher or mentor helps you get deeper into your process because you’re single-minded and can put all your energy and drive into learning without constantly second-guessing whether you’re moving in the right direction.

It’s working with a green light instead of a flickering yellow one.

4. Replace passion with quiet determination.

Our culture is obsessed with “finding your passion.”

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing something you’re interested in and excited about. Obviously, you want to work at something that fulfills you or that you have a natural inclination toward.

But passion is fleeting and doesn’t move you toward mastery. It’s the everyday actions, habits, evaluation, repetition, and quiet determination that get the job done.

Passion can get in the way because it’s based on emotions that are easily swayed. It can supply the initial drive, but it can also create a quick nosedive because you haven’t established a rational, well-thought-out system to get you to where you want to go. And when you don’t succeed quickly, you lose your drive.

Entrepreneurs often fall prey to passion, and before they know it, they’re overextended and overwhelmed. They’ve boxed themselves into failure because they didn’t apply careful thought, consider repercussions, and do the necessary research to test their ideas before taking the giant leap.

Mastery involves a mindful, organized process that consistently pays attention to incoming information, testing, feedback, practice, and daily action.

It has little to do with confidence or passion and much more to do with informed, dogged persistence and determination.

Paradoxically, it requires some detachment as you work.

5. Tie your identity to core values, not beliefs.

Beliefs are ideas you think to be true, whereas values are principles you live by, such as honesty, sincerity, integrity, responsibility, etc.

Your beliefs may arise from your values and experience, but they might also be passed down in families and cultures and are adopted without question.

Our egos can get tangled up in our beliefs, which tend toward confirmation bias. Rather than objectively questioning and researching before drawing conclusions, we look for information to back up what we already believe.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any beliefs. We all have them, and they add meaning to our lives. But question them, particularly when you’re embarking on a goal-directed path.

To master something, you must let go of confirmation bias and keep your mind open. At the same time, you can apply some core principles to your process.

We’ve created some of those on our list thus far. They are:

  1. Consistent, deliberate practice is necessary to succeed.
  2. Feedback is a crucial component of any creative pursuit.
  3. Open-mindedness to learning and making mistakes is critical.
  4. The process is more important than the outcome.
  5. A “Growth Mindset” is necessary for mastery.

By embracing these core values and applying them to getting exceedingly good at something, you will succeed and keep succeeding.

Now, choose something you want to master and apply these principles. Let me know if they work for you!

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


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