The best definition of success I have come across is “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal or goal.” In other words everyone can define their success according to their predefined goals/outcome and each individual’s road map will be different. I believe strongly that personal growth ties in strongly with an individual’s success and that’s what I am expanding on below. 

I have also heard a lot of people say “Do what you love” but I have a slight variation on that. I might love playing guitar but if I am not any good at it then it doesn’t matter how much I love it. I think it is better to live by the motto “Love what you do and keep getting better at it.” Not all of us can do what we love but we have the choice to love what we do for a living. 

What is the requirement for success and mastery? I believe it is the ability to keep getting better and better at what we do for a living. When we really think about it that’s all it boils down to. I like the Nike ad campaign which says “There is no finish line.” They launched this ad campaign in 1977 and one statement included “Beating the competition is relatively easy but beating yourself is a never ending commitment.” This can be a metaphor for us in our learning journey as there is no end. 

Carol Dweck’s excellent book Mindset also suggests that mastery is a mindset. There are people who believe that intelligence can’t be increased (fixed mindset). Others believe that with hard work, learning, training and effort intelligence can be increased. The latter group has what Dweck calls growth mindset. Those individuals with a growth mindset don’t mind failure because they believe performance can be improved as learning comes from failure. She also says people have two types of goals one is learning goals and other is performance goals. Getting an A in French is a performance goal whereas mastering a language is a learning goal. People with learning goals on the long term reach mastery.

One of the tools I have found useful is the three part hedgehog concept articulated by Jim Collins in his block buster book “Good to Great.” The three questions to ponder are

  1. What you can be the best in the world at?
  2. What is your economic denominator?
  3. What are you deeply passionate about? 

It is amazing the amount of information that is available to all of us in our fields. Time was when only a select few could reach mastery in their fields as information was hoarded and not shared or available for everyone. The great thing about the time in which we are living now is the amount of abundance available. I don’t mean only the economic aspect, I actually believe the amount of information that is available to each of us is mind numbing and we can’t possibly learn everything in more than one lifetime .Just look at the following statistic Over 90% of all the data in the world was created in the past 2 years. 

The questions to address in our learning journey are

  • How to get better at what we do?
  • Are we willing to use the enormous information available to our advantage and attain the mastery that is possible for each of us?

Here are 14 simple steps that I believe can get us better and better at what we do

  1. Find the experts in our field of expertise
  2. Read their blogs
  3. Listen to their podcasts
  4. Write down what we have learned
  5. Share what we have learned as it has been well documented that we only learn when we teach
  6. Set goals for our learning
  7. Read broadly for example if we are in management we can read all the management books out there
  8. Take certifications in our area of expertise
  9. Learn something new every day and remember we are never through learning
  10. Apply what we have learned to our work or personal life
  11. We should try to get into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the state of flow where everything seems to fall in place, we are fully energized and feel a complete state of joy in our activities
  12. Listen to audio books or read during commute time
  13. Develop the quality of grit which according to Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania is the single most important determinant of success
  14. Finally the magic word “Practice, Practice, Practice” or to use the words the experts say “Deliberate Practice.” Perform deliberate practice for 10000 hours or 10 years on your areas of expertise and you may well reach Mastery. 

The steps are simple but following it is the key. If we follow this consistently over a long period of time I believe mastery is very much in our grasp though we never reach it completely as it is a never ending journey. The real joy is in the pursuit of mastery and commitment to lifelong learning is the key. There is no quick fix or shortcut. We have to be in it for the long haul. One example of perseverance is Tenzing Norgay who reached the summit of Everest along with Edmund Hillary on his seventh attempt.

I want to finish with this quote from Elbert Hubbard which is very relevant and important on the path to Success and Mastery. “Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.”

The views expressed in this article are my own and do not represent my organization.