Excellence versus Mastery

Mastery is a path, not a destination so I thought I would clarify a few things that have come up in comments . . .

SurrenderYou can be better than 95% of all other people after you have persevered for 1000 hours in one area.

So if you are a runner, does that mean you have to run for 1000 hours?

Not necessarily.

To be a great runner you must RUN, and you must understand nutrition, particularly your own nutrition, and you must understand hydration – race day versus training run, hot days versus cold days, and you must understand lacing patterns – how you tie your shoes depends on the course and the distance, and you must understand . . .

You get the idea.

For example, it took may many years for me to understand that citrus fruits were causing stomach cramps. I didn’t know – coaches kept handing me orange slices; I kept getting sick – I took it as a sign of athletic weakness.

Practically all sports drinks and mixes and race day stuff have citric acid. It took one killer race where I thought I was going to die on the course for me to realize that I can’t stomach citric acid. I only stayed on that course because so many friends were lining the race route and my best friend was right behind me. Glad I discovered it and glad it was so . . . distinct . . .  I will not make that mistake again. Ever.

WRM Photo 1You also learn things like how to find the finish line….

Miss the finish line once . ..

Miss the finish line once when Dave Scott the Father of Triathlons is handing out trophies . . .

Miss the finish line once when Dave Scott the Father of Triathlons is handing out trophies and you went from 2nd place to 4th because you missed the finish line . . .

. . .  and he spends half the award ceremony gooning you about it . . .

Well, you’re on your way to Mastery at that point.

So, the 1000 hours is for you to be better than 95% percent of those who start in an area. To begin Mastery you must spend 5000 hours of deep practice. At 5000 hours you have achieved excellence. When you are on the Master’s path, the time builds naturally. You can’t help but focus more, improve, stumble back then experience brief blips of brilliance.

You can’t live for the brief blips of brilliance though, that is an ego expression. Mastery is surrendering to the learning and continual improvement. Mastery is the antithesis of Ego.

To become a Master you need 10,000 hours of deep practice. By the time you have reached 10,000 hours, you realize that it was never about being the top 1/2 of 1%. It was always about the process.

A Master’s work is never done. Thankfully so.

15 thoughts on “Excellence versus Mastery”

  1. Very inspiring!! A great book that develops this idea even further is “Talent is Overrated,” by Geoff Colvin. Did you know that Tiger Woods’ dad gave him his first metal-headed driver when he was only 7? That’s seven MONTHS old, not 7 yrs. He had to teach him how to hold it without words, since Tiger couldn’t speak yet. Tiger’s a perfect example of 10,000 hours. When he played in his first international tournament at 19, he’d been playing golf regularly for 17 years….

  2. Great article. How many hours for a Grand Master and how many for a Guru?

    If we’re living our passion, then every hour is another hour along the path. An runner can still be practicing as a runner whilst not running – eating, resting, learning about nutrition, thinking about running, tactics etc are all steps towards mastery. Almost every hour perhaps – can’t see partying, dating and alcohol as contributing – there again happiness is important!

  3. Indeed, and interestingly enough, the 10,000 hours you invest your life into, you are PASSIONATE about the topic, the field. Or by going through the 10,000 hours, people who are only sorta interested winnow themselves out.

    I think particularly of Stanley Cup Hockey winning teams.

    It is not that the other team is not incredibly worthy.

    So many trophy years, omg, drooling now, the BEST years, are when the contest goes to 7 games. It is in a manner all about winning ONE GAME.

    But what I see after watching hockey for years is that it is the depth of the bench. It is about the 3 months of playing at that intensity level endurance that makes a team win. It is about rigorous conditioning (think 10,000 hours) together as a team that comes out in that final round of Stanley Cup competition.

    As we say in my family, no blood, play on. A Stanley Cup player who is… injured during a game will return to the ice and PLAY. The only way they don’t return is if they have to be hospitalized.

    In a way, when we pursue mastery, by the time we pass 1,000 hours, people with jobs frankly think we are …. weird. “oh you’re a workaholic.”

    No, you poor thing, you are just chucking your life away on something day in and day out which you loathe.

    I am doing what I LOVE all the time. Even when I also scrub the toilet bowl.

    By the time we pass the 5,000 hour mark, man, we are in the WEIRDO wacked, you are CRAZY, man level.

    Yes. I am. I am crazy about and passionate about what I do.

    Others see what we are doing. Oh you should get more sleep. You should go to bed. You shouldn’t work such crazy hours.

    I remember the Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers playing one of the longest games in history (May 4, 2000). Oh they should have just thrown in the towel. They should have called the game. Blah, blah, blah, it doesn’t matter. Of COURSE it matters. It was about MASTERY.

    That took GRIT. It is not until you hunker down into the semi-finals, having played for 2.5 months already at that level that real grit, training, and resilience show forth. It’s like puking after you row crew. It’s not til you row til you throw that you even enter the beginning of the outer region of the realm of mastery.

    92:01 minutes of OVERTIME in that game. Not The GAME itself, FIVE OVERTIME periods on top of 3 periods in regulation time. THAT’s Mastery. Most of us don’t have it and the DRIVE to do it.

    May we all find inside ourselves what we were put here for to become Masters Of to let our true GLORY emerge and shine forth – for ourselves and for those we are to be the inspiring examples to.

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell

  4. I’ve never thought about this but it sounds so true. I remember my girlfriend telling me that you need 1000 hours of cosmetology training to get your license or whatever you need to start cutting hair in the real world.

    Lisa McLellan

  5. What a great post…

    After 1000 hours, we kind of know the lingo and all the obvious isses that need to be avoided and those that need to be done perfectly. But we are a long way from the nuance.

    I have heard it described as the path from Unconcious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence to Concious Competence to Unconscious Comptence…

    this is a fascinating subject to me…

    Seize the Day,

  6. “Mastery is surrendering…..mastery is the antithesis of ego.” I love that part. It’s one of the simplest and yet hardest things to do when you need to surrender your preconceived notions and your expertise. Before you can take 2 steps forward, sometimes you need to take a step back.


  7. Great post. It’s true a master’s work is never done. Stop learning and growing…like practicing for death.

    Jennifer Battaglino

  8. Continuous learning. If you stop learning, and think you know it all it is time to get out of that line of work.

    Robert Martin

  9. I found out the hard way too that citrus doesn’t like me. I was in the middle of the ocean with what we all thought was sea sickness.

    I’ve read that it takes 10,000 hours for mastery. I need to find that calculator. Curious to see where I’m at in the bridal world.


  10. Even if it is hard work it’s great knowing that mastery can be had. I’m going to bookmark this page.

    Jose Escalante

  11. I love what you say about the one thousand hours putting you in the top %5. I have found this to be true for every pursuit. I’m a fairly sloooooow learner. People around me often look confused…..I seemed so intelligent…..what happened? The truth is I persevered in learning a skill where others gave up this is the only secret I have. Eventually I understand and can apply what I know in every direction possible. Mastery is an experience.

    Keri Eagan

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