Book review: Mastery

Book cover for Mastery by George Leonard

For my last morning read of 2019, I chose Mastery by George Leonard. Mastery was regularly referenced in other books I’ve been reading as part of my personal development journey. When it showed up on The Learning a Day blog that I follow, I knew it was time to move it up towards the top of my reading list.

Mastery was originally published in 1992, almost 30 years ago. Personal development books typically follow the latest trends and fads. I try to stay away from those and stick to the classics that stand the test of time. The question is, was Mastery one of those classics or just a book that built off the trends of its time?

I’m not going to keep you in suspense. Mastery is a classic. It is one of those books that has stood the test time, and I expect it will continue to do so. I anticipate that the concepts Leonard covers may even become more relevant as time passes.

The key premise of Mastery is that we need to focus on and dedicate ourselves to our craft to be the best in what we choose to pursue. It applies to all facets of life, whether it’s sport, relationships, career, or hobbies. Given that our current culture rewards the hero story, the person who appears to achieve expert status without trying, Mastery is antithetical to our modern, media-driven culture. What Leonard rightly points out is that the hero story is not just the exception to the rule, it’s simply not true. Real, lasting Mastery comes through dedication, learning, and relentless pursuit of wanting to be the very best at one chooses to do in life.

Leonard proceeds to reveal that the path to this mastery is not a straight line. There will be points of frustration. There will be plateaus. These are the places where most people get frustrated and quit. Instead of quitting, we need to embrace the plateau. The plateaus present challenges that make us grow. They force us to love the practice of our craft instead of our unattainable goal of ultimately mastering it. In other words, mastery is not a destination. It is a journey on which we are always learning. There’s an excellent summary and diagram on The Learning a Day blog that captures this concept.

At the risk of over-simplifying Leonard’s work, he breaks down the concept into 5 keys:

  1. Instruction – learning the basics of the craft
  2. Practice – repetition and practice of the craft
  3. Surrender – embracing learning at every stage along the way
  4. Intentionality – creating a vision and plan of where you to go, and how you’ll get there
  5. The Edge – being unafraid of taking risks and pushing the limits

This summary doesn’t do each of his keys justice. I’ll leave it to you to pick up the book if you want to dive into the details. You won’t be disappointed.

Mastery is one of my Must Reads. It is a foundation book in my library of personal development books. More than instructional, I found the book inspiring. It debunks the myth that experts are born and shows that they are made through learning and dedication. Experts master their craft through instruction and practice. They embrace the plateaus and dedicate themselves to lifelong learning. And they achieve the highest levels of performance by deliberately pushing the limits every once in a while.

Mastery is one of those books that I will want to revisit every now and again. And it will definitely be on the list when I get around to publishing my recommended reading progression of self-development books, which I hope to get to later this year.

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