WoW 041: On creating value and mastery [Words of Wisdom]

When it comes to your calling, what will lead to compound growth over the long term?

Create value consistently and stay on the path to mastery.

Whether you're a stay-at-home parent or run your own business, learn to think and act in a way that will bring compounding value to the world.

What leads to this ability to add value that will have compound growth over years and decades?

At least five things are necessary to create significant value over decades: deep presence, service, virtue, long-term thinking, and mastery.

Let's look at each.

Deep presence. One of the greatest threats we face in the modern world is our lack of what I call deep presence. We have distracted ourselves to stupidity and the death of our souls. The internet, cell phones, and social media have fragmented our attention, and it has become exceedingly rare for people to regularly engage in thoughtful reflection, deep work, and patient conversations.

So go slow. Prioritize time to get quiet and reflect.

Expose yourself to new ideas.

Read voraciously.

Embrace being uncomfortable and try new approaches to things you don't understand. What you don't know is more important than what you know.

As a general rule in our culture, you probably need to prioritize time to think more about what you are doing than you currently are. You may think about the future and worry, but perhaps not so much in careful reflection and just sitting in pockets of silence. I wrote more about that here. Spending time prioritizing strategic thinking leverages your action for growth.

Focus on serving other people. The only way to grow your career that will last the test of time is to focus on what other people need and help them get there—creating real value in the world. Help others without expecting anything in return.

It always does return to you, rarely in expected ways. People can sense if you're treating them transactionally or genuinely hoping to help. However you lead, selfishly or selflessly, you're teaching those around you to do the same.

To generate significant value over time, you must commit to generative partnerships. Teams that are treated with generosity will go farther in the long run. If you seek to use your power at the expense of others to get the most for yourself, it will hurt others along the way and will hurt you if you fail. People will know you tried to take advantage of them, and it will break trust. But you might be successful in your endeavor. If you succeed in pushing others down to get ahead or placing yourself in the spotlight at the expense of others, they will know. If you want to go far, go together, as equals.

Grow in virtue. Your character will determine your limits, and your character's depth is the foundation on which your life is built.

The more solid the foundation, the longer the structure will last.

Our depth of virtue will always be revealed. You can't fake patience, peace, and joy.

Choose the narrow path. You will grow in character, courage, and discipline by choosing to sacrifice and take the narrow way.

Part of growing in virtue is taking care of yourself. If you don't sharpen your tools, they will become dull. Your primary tool for impacting the world long-term is your character.

A necessary part of virtue is the ancient concepts of repentance and confession. If you don't regularly own and apologize to others, you are either isolated or in denial.

Only true resilience will help you last the test of time and the thousands of setbacks you will face on the path to creating significant value. Develop the character to be courageous in the face of uncertainty, curiosity for its own sake, and unshakeable faith in your purpose.

Think long-term. Long-term priorities mean you avoid trying to take shortcuts. The only way to create profound value in the world is to head in the same direction over the long haul consistently. We all want something for nothing, and there's never a guaranteed outcome, but the best investments are long-term bets.

Instead of caring what people think of you for what you do today, choose to care what you will think of your life based on what you do over the next decade or two. Don't focus on what people on the periphery think.

Choose to care about what the people think who are closest to you and who you trust and respect.

Pursue mastery. Practice skills daily. Develop a practice. Honor your practice. Keep showing up whether you feel motivated and inspired or when you are full of doubt or terror. You'll go through a thousand moments of each end of the spectrum.

Keep working on your craft. Stay on the path to mastery.

Perhaps this sounds simple, and in some ways, it is. But for many people, it's exceedingly difficult and rare. One of the most important things you can do to create significant value is consistently working exceptionally hard on the fundamentals of your craft.

True greatness in your craft can't be faked. You must earn mastery.


"You must convince yourself of the following: people get the mind and quality of brain that they deserve through their actions in life. Despite the popularity of genetic explanations for our behavior, recent discoveries in neuroscience are overturning long-held beliefs that the brain is genetically hardwired. Scientists are demonstrating the degree to which the brain is actually quite plastic—how our thoughts determine our mental landscape. They are exploring the relationship of willpower to physiology, how profoundly the mind can affect our health and functionality. It is possible that more and more will be discovered about how deeply we create the various patterns of our lives through certain mental operations—how we are truly responsible for so much of what happens to us."

Robert Greene, Mastery

"You realize that you have a decision to make at some point along the journey, if not now. You're tempted to drop tennis and go out looking for another, easier sport. Or you might try twice as hard, insist on extra lessons, practice day and night. Or you could quit your lessons and take whatever you've learned out on the court; you could forget about improving your game and just have fun with friends who don't play much better than you. Of course, you could also do what your teachers suggests, and stay on the long road to mastery. What will you choose?

This question, this moment of choice, comes up countless times in each of our lives, not just about tennis or some other sport, but about everything that has to do with learning, development, change. Sometimes we choose after careful deliberation, but frequently the choice is careless—a barely conscious one. Seduced by the siren song of a consumerist, quick-fix society, we sometimes choose a course of action that brings only the illusion of accomplishment, the shadow of satisfaction. And sometimes, knowing little or nothing about the process that leads to mastery, we don't even realize a choice is being offered. Yet even our failures to choose consciously operate as choices, adding to or subtracting from the amount of our potential that we will eventually realize."

George Leonard, Mastery


Have you decided to be on the path to mastery?

How can you slow down and deepen your presence?

What do you need to surrender to grow?

Who can you focus on serving?


If you'd like to dig deeper on this topic, consider reading one or both of the above books on mastery.

Live wisely,


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