Master the Craft and Reach Mastery

Siim Land

The most creative people have one thing in common. They are extraordinarily good at what they do. In fact, their genius might seem out of this world and innate. For most it’s unattainable. For those who master the craft and reach mastery it’s achievable.

Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare and Albert Einstein were all the best at what they did. The fact that we’re still referencing to their work and using them as models of ideality is proof to that. It doesn’t only apply to their single vocation. Napoleon Bonaparte was as excellent at strategy as Goethe at writing.

The pinnacle of their achievement was mastery over their chosen craft. The art of war, science, literature, painting, philosophy etc. all have the same principles when it comes to cultivation by the practitioner.

What mastery is.

Mastery is comprehensive knowledge about a subject or a skill in an activity. It’s a level of proficiency at something that can be characterized as excellence. A display of finesse and expertise. A state of adeptness and an act of pure genius.

It shows that a practitioner can master the craft of their choosing and has reached expressions of it that are considered to be magnificent, even of highest virtue.

As if a person has managed to reign supreme over their art and manipulate it according to their liking. However, such superiority is not the actual case. Much rather, it’s more like flowing alongside their activity and growing one with it.

The artist is in a constant process of attainment and becoming. On a journey with no final destination that makes up the whole of their being.

That’s why talent is out of the equation. We think that Mozart was innately gifted with supernatural ability to play the piano and compose music but in reality it was just the result of constant practice and the desire to improve. His genius wasn’t something he was born with but was embedded within him by his environment and cultivated by his habitual mode of being. It’s who he was and the craft made up his entire life. As a result, he became one of the greatest artists of all time.

According to the 10 000 hour rule, if you practice something for 4 hours a day it would take you almost 7 years to master the craft. What any artist, writer or scientist can tell is that they get humbled by their profession every time. Even after 20 000 hours of practice there’s still room for improvement as complete mastery can never be attained.

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It’s about becoming a student of life and an apprentice to the craft itself. The purpose of this relationship isn’t only to reach near perfection by the practitioner but to get in touch with one’s inner creator and manifest this symbiosis of infinite potentiality into being.

Master the craft.

Attaining mastery is one of the best things we could be striving towards. Excellence requires extraordinary results which is unachievable by mediocrity. Something up to par isn’t noteworthy. Only displays of amazing virtuosity that leave us with feelings of jaw-dropping awe and bewilderment suffice. That moment of pride over our accomplishment makes it all worthwhile.

At the same time, it’s the process itself that contributes to this. As the apprentice develops to master the craft they begin to learn more about who they are and mould themselves into being. During the act of creation the artist is in a conversation with their soul and translates this dialogue into reality. It’s growth both internal and external, which is the essence of life itself.

To begin this journey of self-actualization we need to master the craft of our choosing. There’s definitely a lot to pick from but that’s not what mastery is about. With time constantly running down on us we mustn’t spread our attention too thin. Only concentrated effort and focus will lead to enough skill level.

Our selection ought to be somewhat restrictive but not too limiting. Instead of setting boundaries we have to transcend them by not perceiving any.  Rather than seeing only parts of the whole we need to see the entire thing. With infinite possibilities everything’s attainable. In so doing we can even go beyond mastery as was the case with Leonardo da Vinci who was an excellent scientist, artist, inventor, philosopher and writer all at the same time.

Sometimes it’s the craft that actually chooses the practitioner. More often than not it’s what we already love to do and are good at. It’s the result of doing something just for the sake of it and the enjoyment it provides.

This freedom from the outcome enables oneself to set free their creative side and let their thoughts flow. Only with no expectations and lack of attachment can infinite potentiality be reached. Desire makes the apprentice want to take something from the act and is forced. It emphasizes this dichotomy between the two and will always prevent oneness with the craft. Reaching mastery entails as much giving to the profession as receiving from it, which is a lot more powerful.

How to reach mastery.

Actually, it can never be completely attained. Perfection is an ideal too far out of anyone’s reach. There’s always something to improve upon and even godlike skill is still a diamond in the rough with some edges to be smoothed out.

We shouldn’t yearn for it either. It, yet again, presupposes desiring an outcome and enforces this duality, which we should overcome. Mastery shouldn’t be reached just for the sake of it but, in addition to that, for the intrinsic value it gives to the practitioner. The journey itself is much more important than the destination.

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It can be said that to an extent mastery happens in of itself. Surely, the 10 000 hour rule signifies how much effort has been put in but it isn’t an actual indicator of progress. Doing something doesn’t mean that we’re improving. Deliberate practice and active engagement with the activity is what makes one master the craft. Consciously tinkering with one’s skills and experiencing growth is what makes an apprentice out of the novice, which eventually leads to becoming an adept. It’s about constantly developing as a practitioner and getting better.

Moreover, we can never realize that we’ve attained masterhood. A true practitioner will always remain a beginner in their own eyes and any feeling of superiority means that there’s still much to be learned. We can only reach a certain level of proficiency that indicates how good we are.

Stages towards mastery.

Despite the fact that mastery is a lifelong quest of perfecting the craft there are still a lot of steps along the way that show the practitioners ability. They’re all similar in terms of the student teacher relationship but distinctive in how much freedom and room for expression is available.

It’s a linear progression but it doesn’t mean that once a certain stage has been reached any decline can’t occur. Any comparisons are to be discarded as well, because they’re all equal and always inferior to the art, which is the ultimate master and whose expertise is out of this world. The craft is as if an entity itself with perfect substance hailing from Plato’s realm of forms and being manifested into this reality by the artist.

  • The initial spark of interest. Before one begins the apprenticeship they will find out the right path for them. At first there’s curiosity towards something that seems interesting to the individual. It involves knowing thyself and what we like to do. The craft lies within oneself already and we simply need to get in touch with who we are. After this introduction the person gets more and more attracted towards the activity and becomes intrinsically motivated to do it.
  • Accumulation of knowledge. Once the activity becomes more appealing the person starts to practice it. At this point it’s done just for the sake of it. The desire to improve is sincere and comes from wanting to simply get better. Beginning the learning process lays the foundation to something greater which the individual has not yet realized. Everything’s still very new and fascinating. Certain motives and models begin to emerge which influence the path ahead by directing the future course of events.
  • Acceptance of the calling. At one point the person gets hit by a sudden realization. So far they’ve only followed the rabbit and their curiosity without knowing that they’ve actually entered a wormhole. They love the activity so much and understand that this is what they’re meant to do. Moreover, they want to get even better at it. This recognition may be a pure coincidence but now it’s not just a hobby anymore. They decide to dedicate themselves to the craft.
  • Begin the apprenticeship. This call to adventure marks the beginning of the hero’s journey. The person is now a student and still a novice. Accumulating knowledge has just started and there’s so much to learn. Wisdom can come from different sources and in the form of mentors. Having teachers to model is great but the ultimate master is still the craft itself. That’s why it’s important to put everything into use. Practice vigorously and always find ways to improve. Be completely humbled by your current skill but not frightened by it. Initial resistance and failure along the way are only stepping-stones towards success. Ignore the fear of being incompetent and simply embrace this inferiority.

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  • Get intermediate. The beginning is always the hardest part. It will never get easier, just our ability to deal with it improves. After a while we get better. The initial progress increases our confidence and reveals that we can actually do this. Our skills aren’t by any means up to par but it doesn’t feel like we’re struggling that much. In addition to resistance there’s now also courage. It helps us to face fear and comes from gaining reference experience. We see that behind every obstacle lies the opportunity to develop ourselves further and learn from our mistakes. However, we need to remain humble and respectful. We’re crossing the chasm but we haven’t by any means made it. Operating from the perspective of our ego can make us slip and even the greatest artists can fall into a downward spiral. Nothing ought to be taken for granted especially when we want to master the craft. Don’t become arrogant and maintain progress.
  • Attain masterhood. After a lot of time we reach a certain level of proficiency. Our skills are now quite high and even magnificent. It can’t be said exactly when it happens but eventually it just does. We simply realize that we’ve gotten really good at this. Adversity still haunts over our work but things begin to flow with ease. At this point we can express our creativity as we don’t feel that restricted by the apprenticeship any more. The words of others also reassure our expertise. Rather than being totally inferior we master the craft. We become one with it and almost equal. What the artist breaths, thinks and does is now a direct manifestation of his inner creator. It’s an interdependent relationship with no superiority. Complete mastery would place the practitioner above the act itself but that’s unachievable.

There are also additional things to consider before entering this initiation of pure art.

  • It will take a lot of time. To master the craft we need to put in extraordinary amounts of effort. The 10 000 hour marks only a vague milestone which doesn’t actually indicate real progress. The apprenticeship will last for a lot longer. It will take a lifetime and is like an everlasting Odyssey.
  • It will never be easy. Even though our skills might improve we will never reach a point where there’s no resistance. In fact, it gets harder along the way. As a novice we suffer from the limitations of our ability but as a master the turmoil involves realizing what it takes to master the craft.

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  • There will be failure. In the beginning we’re going to fall down countless amounts of times. Instead of being afraid of defeat we should yearn for it. Without getting our hands dirty we will never create enough stimulus for growth. Wisdom is derived from experience which means that we have to get out there and just do it. That way our failures will become the stepping-stones to our success.
  • It requires dedication. To master the craft we need to fully commit to it. There are a lot of hours to be filled with practice and it won’t happen overnight. That’s why most people will never reach mastery. They lack the necessary devotion and will quit before the first obstacles. Instead of wanting immediate pleasure we should aim for delayed gratification which we get only a lot later. In retrospect the pinnacle of our achievement will make it all worthwhile as our life has been more meaningful.
  • You have to love it. Going on this lifelong journey filled with hardship, effort and failure requires us to be obsessively possessed by what we do. To master the craft we need to be constantly thinking about it, find ways to improve, never settle and incorporate it into our mode of being. That’s why it’s important to know whether or not you’re on the right path. Being passionate about your art means that you can spend hours doing it without feeling like you’re putting in any effort. It’s an active engagement with something higher than ourself but at the same time is already a part of us. The ultimate goal is to reach mastery but in reality it’s the process itself that we enjoy the most.

Master the process.

To master the craft one has to actually get good at what they’re doing. William Shakespeare was such an excellent playwright because he was great at everything it included. He knew how to examine the world around him, interpret his own perceptions, come up with creative ideas, write up stories that would manifest his thoughts into reality and convey it all into the minds of other people.

There isn’t only a single activity that contributes to this. It’s more like a combination of certain acts that make up the craft. At this point we can let our creativity flourish as it differs between everyone.

Getting good, then great, then excellent is the only way to master the craft of our choosing. Progress is rarely linear but with peaks and valleys. That’s the nature of things which doesn’t actually hinder overall development.

The best thing we can do about inevitable change is to master the process. It means that it doesn’t matter what circumstances we’re in because we already have enough expertise to always keep improving.

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We’ve attained this reference experience and incorporated it into our being. The act of doing our art has to become an unconscious part of us. This skill set is the result of going through the motions countless amounts of times. There isn’t much to this other than a lot of deliberate practice.

Master yourself.

The foundation to all of this is mastery over oneself. If the apprentice can’t muster enough internal forces to undergo this dreadful quest then he will never master the craft.

The period of novicehood requires saint-like patience when it comes to the time frame.

There will be times when quitting half-way through seems very appealing, but it’s during those moments where those who succeed to push off immediate gratification and become adepts are separated from the rest of the pack.

Being able to control one’s thoughts and emotions, having discipline, taking the necessary action, doing things with no motivation, and sticking to it all require a lot of self-mastery.

Even when those characteristics aren’t met at first they will be cultivated during the process. Constantly learning and trying to master the craft will train one’s willpower and mental toughness. This grit will enable one to not only excel at the profession but will transition over to other areas of life as well.

Mastery over oneself and the craft teach how to achieve anything and reach excellence as a person as well as an artist.

What it means to master the craft.

I’ve stated that mastery is one of the best things to be striving towards. Let me explain what it means to master the craft. What’s the point of it and how will the practitioner’s life change.

  • Reach your truest potential. We’re all capable of a lot more than we think. Even though mastery can never be completely attained it still opens up a doorway to infinite potentiality. We can’t even realize how vast this space is. There’s so much to improve upon even for the adept and the learning never stops. If that’s the case then why bother? It’s the process itself that is significant. As we undergo this everlasting Odyssey we bring more meaning into our existence. It’s pathological by nature but a part of the circle of life.
  • Express your creativity. True art begins once you master the craft. When you attain a certain level of adeptness you get more freedom. Up until that point you’re shaping your skill and style. The learning never stops but it gets less forced as you improve. As an apprentice you try to stick to certain rules out of fear of failure. Once these limitations have been transcended the strokes of the brush begin to move with ease. That’s where the artist is flowing alongside their activity.
  • Manifest your greatness. Become so good that it hurts. Leave yourself and others in awe of your skill and virtuosity. Simply looking at the work brings tears into one’s eyes as it’s beautiful to comprehend what has been accomplished. This ability is embedded within all of us. The purpose of this isn’t to boast about our expertise or indicate some kind of a superiority. Much rather, it’s done to display the grand achievement of human excellence and creativity.
  • Never stop growing. There’s perfection and there’s our greatest work. The difference is that in the eyes of the artist the former is unattainable. It’s pure being out of this world coming as if from Plato’s realm of ideas where only substance exists. Walking the path towards mastery is about constant learning and adaptation. The practitioner will always remain a novice and to master the craft they need to undergo lifelong apprenticeship. To become one with this is a humbling and an enlightening experience which makes it all worthwhile.

Check out the video I’ve made about this.

The fruits of mastery are sweet and the process is intrinsically rewarding. It’s about reaching levels of near perfection and attaining godlike skill in our craft. There isn’t a single domain it’s restricted to and can be applied to every area of our life. The foundation to this is achieving mastery over ourselves first and foremost. It’s the greatest feat to be striving towards. That’s also the topic of my book Becoming a Self Empowered Being which shares the principles of accomplishing this holistically and teaches how to carry out one’s calling.

What is your craft and how do you intend to master it?

  • This is actually very motivational and reminds us that failure is ok, and even essential in order for improvement. I’ll give your book a read sometime!

    • Thanks! Yes, failure is necessary.

  • I felt like I was listening to your soul as I read that. Loved it

    • Thank you so much! I must say I was trying to cultivate mastery.

  • Hi Siim,

    Truly one of the most inspirational article I’ve read so far. Indeed we are forever a student to our chosen craft and it’s a shame that only a few out of the billions worldwide become masters in their craft. Our world will certainly be a better place if we have more of these people.

    I believe more people should read this article. Anyways, I thank you for this great article. Cheers!

    • Thanks! Yes, it’s about mastering life itself as well.

  • Mastery…yes. Great advice!

  • Hi. You stopped by my blog and I have say I am glad – I am really loving your writing. Consider me signed up to your mailing list! I like the idea behind mastery and maybe one day I will master something, but for now there has not been something in my life that I have been so passionate about that I would do the 10,000+ hours.

    • Thanks! In my opinion pursuing mastery coincides with living your calling which makes it the only thing we should be doing in the first place. Get on it! 😀 P.S. Loved your writing as well.