The Road to Mastery

I love watching movies, so over the Thanksgiving weekend, I watched quite a few in my free time.

The Bourne Identity was one of those. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a man who wakes up on a boat and can’t remember his name or how he got there. He follows the clues and eventually learns that he’s a secret government operative. In one particular scene he’s sitting in a diner with Marie, a woman he is paying $20,000 for a ride, the following:

“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”

What can you do so well that you’d remember how to do it even if you had amnesia? At this point in your career, where are you on the road to mastery?

As a kid there were just a handful of things I devoted my time to after school: reading, Girl Scouts, and ballet. By high school, I was spending over seven hours a week at the ballet studio including private lessons. Part of the deal with private lessons required me to attend the class several years below me. At sixteen, I was in a class with ten-year-olds.

I could have viewed that as being sent back for remedial lessons. Like I didn’t learn what I needed to then so I had re-take those classes. But that’s not what it was. I was required to take those classes so I could refine my movements. Those classes were very slow for me compared to what I was used to.

The saying “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” is attributed to the Navy SEALs. Practice something slowly so the activity becomes ingrained both physically and mentally. Then, when you need to execute quickly, your overall performance of the task will be improved.

When I encounter a new real estate administrative assistant in our office, I’m often asked, “How do you know all this stuff?” That’s a funny question to me, because I think, “How does anybody know anything?” They study it. They train for it. They internalize it and they use it.

I can read a book in just a couple of days. But I don’t just read books. I study books. I engage with them by underlining the passages that speak to me. I think about what I underline and sometimes make notes in the margins or write a journal entry about the topic. When I study a book, it takes me one to two weeks to get through it.

I read the best books multiple times. I will pull books off my bookshelf and flip to the highlighted passages and read those again.

I do the same with podcast episodes and old training materials.

If I want to master a concept, I have to engage with it slowly. Then, when it comes time to teach that concept or use it in my work, I can execute it quickly. I know my stuff.

What I set out to master changes with the needs of the business. When I first started as an executive assistant, I set out to master building a database and marketing to it. Fourteen years later I’m on the road to mastering the hiring and accountability processes.

And of course, I’ve had coaches, mentors, teachers, and trainers along the way. No one succeeds alone. Having someone show you the road to mastery is way easier than trying to find the road yourself. If you’re interested in coaching, be sure to get on the waiting list for a new course I’m creating in collaboration with Ops Boss Coaching:

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