Learning the Path to Mastery

Learning the Path to Mastery

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
by George Leonard
Pub. Date: February 1992, First Plume
ISBN- 9780452267565
176 Pages
Success Rating:5

Why I Read this Book: In order to be truly successful I knew I had to understand how to become a master of life and those things important to me. There’s no better place to start.


There is nothing more inspiring than pure excellence. Have you ever witnessed someone do something incredibly well? How did it make you feel? Did it ever inspire you to go out and play that sport or that instrument or tackle that activity? If you’re anything like me, I bet it did. There is a funny thing about the influence that excellence has on us. Unfortunately, I have a feeling it has something to do with how rare it is in today’s world.

Mastery is the process and approach that people dedicate themselves to in order to achieve such superb results. And just like success, the journey for mastery is never over. Have you ever listened to Tiger Woods in an interview after a victory? When they ask what’s next, his response most often is “more practice”. He is the best in the world at what he does yet he continues to push forward on the path to mastery.

George Leonard has taken this rarely practiced art and laid it out to us in a format so simple, most of us could read through it in a day or two. Throughout the book he relates his personal path to the mastery of Aikido to that of all our individual journey’s. You can certainly tell that he speaks from experience.

When it comes to mastery, it is not a question of should I master something, but instead, what should I master? So which area of your life will it be? In one way or another, every one of us is an expert at the polar opposite of mastery–dabbling. Working at something just long enough to get the hang of it but never long enough to endure the frustration and practice required to be any good, let alone, outstanding. Most of us dabble in various recreational sports, hobbies or even our career. You may think there’s nothing wrong going through life as a dabbler but chances are you’re missing out on a great deal of fulfillment when you leave mastery behind. Sometimes without knowing it, the mediocre approach to the activities in life can really weigh you down.

Leonard is not saying we should seek to be masters in everything we do, but we should choose our passions and master those. Especially if it is something that takes up the majority of your time. If we truly want to be outstanding, then there is no other choice.

What I really liked about this book is that it can be first used as an introduction to the topic of mastery but then it serves as a step by step guide to making mastery a part of your life. The instruction starts with the reasons why mastery is so rarely practiced these days and the various things people default to instead. Mastery takes extreme discipline and love for practice and improvement. This is something our society rarely has the patience for with our “get it done yesterday” attitude.

Tony Robbins had a large influence on me reading this book and looking back it reminds me of a point he always makes when it comes to mastery. To be truly outstanding and not just good or even great, the difference is just two millimeters. But it’s those two millimeters that make the world of difference. Take the tangible example of the Olympics and Michael Phelps’ performance this year. How close did he come to losing the butterfly finals? Just millimeters. And despite the fact that the others were only millimeters behind him, the victory was his and only his. That’s mastery. The discipline to take it to the absolute max–those final millimeters. Whether it’s your career, recreational sport or your family, to sincerely be outstanding, you must dedicate your life to one of mastery to experience real success.

Golf is another example. In the beginning you see improvement relatively quickly. At first you can’t even hold the club and then before you know it you can actually make contact and finish a hole. The improvement curve is incredibly steep. But then what happens? You stop getting better. Or at least it feels that way. Your score stops going down and it might even get a bit worse. Then the frustration sets in. And this is where most people call it quits. They determine they’ll never be a good golfer and decide to move on to the next dabbling activity. But for those determined to get better, they do not let the frustration set in. They know that this is a requirement to get better. To get to that next level you might be required to adjust your swing which will make you play worse in the near term but will greatly reward you if you stay dedicated to the practice in the long term. And the process continues–improvement, plateau, digression, to the next level. The only way to truly press on in the path to mastery is to love what you’re doing and love the practice. After all, experience and practice is all life really is, so you better start to enjoy it.

By now we should all know that real success does not come quickly and in fact requires the utmost dedication. Welcome to the path to mastery. There are few words out there that I’ve found to be synonymous with success. Mastery is one of them.

Leonard gives us the tools to take what interests and excites us and to apply the keys to mastery to allow us unreal success. Someone intently dedicated to success is just as strongly dedicated to mastery. The journey is endless which in turn makes the fulfillment just as eternal as we live our lives. As you read each chapter think about your mentors and heroes or the famous greats of the past. Be it Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ben Franklin or whoever you look up to. They all had something in common. They were masters of their life’s passion and have been practicing since the beginning.

It’s fine to dabble in things here and there, but your true success and fulfillment comes from doing the absolute best you can. Mastery is the perfect guide. We all have our own mastery endeavors in our lives and I look forward to you using these tools to find and build yours and inspire others to find theirs. There’s nothing more rewarding.

Like most things in life, it all starts with humble learning and instruction. I encourage you to begin today. Enjoy the practice.

-Reading for Your Success

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Valuable Quotes:

Recognition is often unsatisfying and fame is like sea water for the thirsty. Love of your work, willingness to stay with it even in the absence of extrinsic reward, is good food and good drink.

Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition, the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.

There are times in almost every master’s journey when it becomes necessary to give up some hard-won competence in order to advance to the next stage.

Love the practice.

It might well be, in fact, that much of the world’s depression and discontent, and perhaps even a good share of the pervasive malaise that leads to crime and war, can ultimately be traced to our unused energy, our untapped potential. People whose energy is flowing don’t need to take a drug, commit a crime, or go to war in order to feel fully awake and alive. There’s enough constructive, creative work for everybody, with plenty left over. All of us can increase our energy, starting now.

To compete with someone you have to agree to run on the same track.

The ultimate responsibility for your getting good instruction lies not with your teacher but with you.

The ultimate reward is not a gold medal but the path itself.

To be a learner, you’ve got to be willing to be a fool.