Mastery: What Sets Successful People Apart From The Rest


Tamara Jayne


4 min read

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What comes to mind when you think of a successful person?

Perhaps you may think of an entrepreneur who started with nothing but whose fortune is now worth billions. Or an athlete who won a gold medal after training for years. Or the movie star who won an Oscar after years of delivering incredible performances.

What does it take to achieve that kind of success?

Commitment: The key to success

If you look at the lives of successful people, one thing they all have in common is commitment. No matter how naturally talented a person may be, it would be impossible for him to become a master at his craft without commitment and the willingness to learn.

Is it possible for you and me to achieve success in our goals? Yes, if we can understand and achieve the level of commitment that masters have to their craft.

You might not be aiming for world recognition, but I’m sure there are goals you want to achieve that require a level of mastery. It could be completing a marathon, getting a pay raise, or winning a scholarship.

But first, it’s important to understand the kind of learners we don’t want to become.

In his book, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfilment, George Leonard explains that when it comes to learning new skills, there are four types of learners: the Dabbler, the Obsessive, the Hacker, and finally, the Master.

P11_1405_Point 1-The Dabbler

#1 The Dabbler

The first type of learner is the Dabbler, who likes the idea of learning a new skill. He is always trying things out, but gets distracted easily. If his friends start participating in marathons, the Dabbler thinks, “Yeah, I could be a pretty good runner. I used to be a top sprinter back in school.”

He starts training. But the moment he has to work overtime or is invited to watch a late night movie, he ditches his early morning training plans. After a while, he decides that running is not for him, and decides to learn rock climbing. The moment he rips a nail off, he decides rock climbing is too dangerous, and moves on to the next idea of learning something new.

Unless the Dabbler changes his ways, he’s never going to be good at anything.


#2 The Obsessive

Then there’s the Obsessive, who, on the surface seems totally committed to her new skill. She wants to learn coding, so she signs up for a coding boot camp that costs thousands. She also buys a new and expensive laptop and 10 books on programming languages.

She attends meetups with talented programmers to learn from them. The experts tell her that the best way to learn is through lots of practice, by starting with her own small projects and building from there. But she doesn’t want to start small—she wants to see results.

She thinks, “If I can just find a better mentor, read the right book, or put in more hours, then I could win a hackathon in two months’ time.”

Of course, that’s never going to happen, because her expectations are unrealistic. She is unwilling to accept that learning takes time. Working harder or spending more money in her pursuit will just lead to disappointment and possible burnout.

P11_1405_Point 3-The Hacker

#3 The Hacker

Then there is the Hacker, who believes in the mantra “fake it ‘till you make it.” He skips building a strong foundation and always looks for shortcuts.

At first, he may progress up the ladder at a fast pace. He learns how to navigate office politics, win the favour of superiors, and use others to get work done for him. He may get the first few promotions he is after, but eventually hits a ceiling in his learning.

As a middle manager, he may be able to use his title and authority to get his juniors to do things. But he is unable to progress to senior management because he lacks the vision and integrity needed to not only manage a few people, but to lead and inspire an entire organisation. He may be good at hitting deadlines, but not at navigating tough economic climates and ensuring the company stays profitable.

#4 The Master

Finally, there is the Master—the rarest learner of all—who never stops putting in consistent hours, never stops learning, and never stops improving. For the Master, her reward is not in mastering a skill, but in the journey of getting there.

On days that she achieves success, she is thankful, but doesn’t let it get to her head. Her focus is not on past successes but on the journey ahead. On days that she fails, she is still motivated, because failure has taught her something new.

She doesn’t live for the roar of the crowd or the applause of people. She doesn’t live for a pat on her back or dollars in her bank account, although those are nice things.

She lives for the early morning sunrises that greet her each time she gets out of bed and laces up her shoes for a run. She lives for the quiet nights checking and rechecking the figures she’s about to submit after everyone else has gone home. She lives for one more day of practice, one more day of getting better.

She enjoys her craft so much, she often loses track of time when she practices. And one day, after hours, days, and years of practice, she looks back and realises she has blazed a trail to become a leader in her field.

Parting thoughts

If you want to be successful, not just for a moment, but for a lifetime, you might want to spend some time reflecting on what you need to do differently to become a Master.

Crystal Cha is currently a freelance writer and content marketing consultant who helps companies strengthen their brand through creative communications and thought leadership. In her previous job in the corporate sector, she led a marketing team, set up an internship program for the company, and mentored over 30 interns during her time there. Besides marketing, she is passionate about helping young people start their careers on the right foot. For more Career Advice articles, click here.
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