The Key to Mastery

By Marc Smith Sacks, MA, PCC


In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, which states that the key to mastery in any field is, in large part, a matter of practicing it for about 10,000 hours. However, it turns out that the way you practice can matter as much as how often or long you practice…

Consider the 10 year old girl who sees a ballet and says to herself, “Someday, I will be a ballet dancer.” She enrolls in a school where children begin pre-ballet at age 6. She practices intensely, but is discouraged when she finds that she cannot keep up with other dancers her age. She begins to develop some basic skills, but the psychological trap of comparing herself with her peers causes her to feel discouraged, and she struggles to remain committed to her practice. Even if she reaches her goal, the journey will be arduous at best, and the odds of failure high.

Consider another 10 year old girl who goes to the same ballet, but says to herself, “I am a ballet dancer.” She enrolls in the same school, and she faces the same challenges of not being as advanced as her peers. However her experience is quite different. This little girl is not trying to ‘become’ anything. She already holds a powerful and compelling vision of ‘who she is’ which is a ballet dancer.

She accepts challenges as simply a necessary part of her transformation. Like a caterpillar going through metamorphosis, she willingly allows herself to be molded by her practice, because she knows deep within that she already is a ballet dancer and these challenges are part of her journey. She loves the lessons, the challenges, and the practice, because every practice is another opportunity for her to re-discover who she really is. Missing an opportunity to learn and perfect her abilities would be unthinkable. In
essence, she identifies with and even becomes her practice.

Have you ever experienced this type of relationship with practice? This is the mindset of a master, and it is characteristic of a master’s journey. Masters never tire of their practice. When they engage in their practice, they are not trying to get somewhere. They know who they are deep down. They have arrived where they need to be, and they are simply reinventing and rediscovering what is possible. They practice not to become something they are not, but because they are fully alive. They ‘can do no other,’ because they are in essence discovering themselves through their practice.

Consider a skill or competency you aspire to develop mastery in. It may be leadership , parenting, being physically fit, or something else that really calls to your core. The next time you engage in practicing, look inside yourself. Do not worry about getting somewhere or achieving some level of competence. Instead, engage in your practice with this declaration:

“I am a master, on my master’s journey of continuously re-inventing and rediscovering what is possible… and I wonder what is next!”

To learn more on changing your mindset or developing a path to mastery contact us for a complimentary consult.