As humans, we’re by nature wired to seek mastery in some form or another; it’s what makes our lives more fulfilling and fun. That mastery can take all sorts of shapes: new skills, crafts, new side projects, etc.; it doesn’t need to be work-related. Writing, woodworking, debating, chess, sports, drawing, puzzle, etc., are all possible examples of this. Seeing ourselves grow over time gives us meaning and a sense of progression in life, outside of work, especially in the case of a passion project. Sadly it’s not all fun and game to truly master something; it’s the other way around; it’s complex, gruesome, and time-consuming.
Mastery requires sacrificing a non-trivial amount of time to develop the skill(s) required and commitment to the process. On top of that, you need to have perseverance because it can be a very long process. While this might put you off from trying, don’t worry, there are techniques you can leverage to make it better. They are not shortcuts but frameworks and ideas that will help and enable you to go on that journey better prepared.
The professional shows up even when she doesn’t feel like it. The professional understands the market, the customer and the price to be paid for work that’s worth paying for.
The professional mindset is a very mindset to have when trying to master a complex skill. A professional is someone who shows up, no matter what, to get the job done. It’s as straightforward as that. There’s no wondering “do I feel like it or not?” or “I’m tired it can wait tomorrow” if it’s supposed to happen, you make it happens. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no cancellation ever; life happens, and so do emergencies, sickness, accidents, etc. Those are things out of our control and may prevent us from doing the work, and that’s fine. The difference is that those events are actual events and are not “us” getting in our own way. Depending on what you’re trying to master and the point you are on the journey, it can be effortless to find excuses to delay progress.
The opposite mindset of a professional is an amateur. It doesn’t mean you’re “bad” unskilled here but simply that you don’t take it seriously or care to master that skill/craft. It’s perfectly fine to be amateur in all sorts of things, things we do purely for fun or necessity, like cooking, but we need to be honest about it. Being an amateur means you will never reach mastery or take a lot more time and energy to get there. That, in turn, also means you may never be able to market that skill or use it for advancing your career or life forward.
Professionalism and showing up no matter what is also what some people call “character,” and it’s what gives you grit and perseverance during challenging times. You prove to yourself and others that you’re committed and reliable in that area. With that also comes confidence in yourself, which is another important piece on the way to mastery. Knowing and proving day after day and time after time that you’re a professional is one of the key features that enable the next idea framework to help master hard things.
Small improvements compounding
Small differences in performance can lead to very unequal distributions when repeated over time. This is yet another reason why habits are so important.
People often underestimate the genuine and potent power of small things compounding over a long period. If you take the time to get better at a skill and improve by 1% every day, that means after a year, you’ll be 360% better. That’s a vast improvement. The trick is to find something small enough to do it every day or at least most days. That sort of slight improvement is often in the form of habits, as those are easily compoundable and improved. After some time, they become automatic, so there’s even less pull to stop.
This small improvement idea is also often seen in sports at a high level where they often compete for that final 1%, but it’s also common in other areas, like video games. Some well-designed and very challenging games series like the “Soul” games (Dark Souls, Bloodbourne, etc.) are perfect examples of this in action. If not skilled enough at the moment in the game, a player will end up repeatedly dying while going slightly farther each time until they reach a point where it gets easy and can move on to the next challenge.
There are, however, some downsides to be aware of with this rule; it works the other way around too. You can get worst at something 1% per day, and before you know it, it’s dangerously out of whack with where you want it to be. The best method to prevent this from happening is straightforward, take a step back and reflect. Is this habit/skill going where I want it to go? Yes, great, keep going; No, time to change things. Often we only need to look in which direction we’re going to realize something is off, no need to wait for significant events or life-changing situations. However, the good news is that if you have to change things, you can do it 1% at a time.
At this point, if you’re committed to being a professional and you improve by 1% every day, there’s not much left, but get started. With those two things in mind leveraging each other power, there’s not much you can’t master. Because it will be hard and it will be complicated at times, but to get there, no matter where “there” is, you need to go one step at a time by showing up and getting at least a little bit farther.